Late last week Patsy Ramsey, the mother of the murdered pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey died. This has led to renewed reports of the death of JonBenet Ramsey in the British press. The Observer published a balanced overview of the still unsolved murder case (ironically it appears to have been in preparation for some time before Patsy Ramsey’s death from cancer) and The Guardian published an authored obituary yesterday. I felt a little uncomfortable reading the obituary as on my reading of it there was an innuendo that Patsy Ramsey had been involved in the death of her daughter. Of course legally we cannot defame the dead but I perceived a lack of balance in the obituary that concerned me and prompted me for the first time to write to the reader’s editor of The Guardian.
Mrs Ramsey was never prosecuted for murder. Accordingly she was never convicted. The police procedure and prosecution were subject to criticism later by a subsequent local district attorney. In a defamation action in 2003 a district judge held that there was virtually no evidence that the Ramseys had killed their child, in 2002 the District Attorney (supporting earlier investigation by Lou Smits, a retired brought in to the investigation by the local police force) argued that the original investigation was flawed in not pursuing a theory that an intruder was involved (given various contemporaneous scene of crime photos that indicated the possible involvement of an intruder); a failure to investigate non-family DNA found on the clothes of the murdered girl. Some of these elements are referred to in the Observer article.
The murder was considered in a number of British documentaries. They included one from Channel 4 in 1998; and two from ITV Real Crime: Who Killed the Pageant Queen? (from 2001); and Who Killed the Pageant Queen? Suspects (from 2004). The latter two were based on Smits’s investigation. I remember viewing these documentaries (hence my interest in Patsy Ramsey’s death) and remembering the persuasive nature of the evidence presented in the latter one in particular. Smits demonstrated clearly that there was no compelling case against the Ramseys, and that the original investigation was flawed in many respects.
I found the idea of beauty pageants for children (and generally) somewhat distasteful. In the interviews with the Ramseys in the documentaries while having sympathy for their plight I did not warm to them. However, to me they seem the victims of institutional incompetence and ineptitude which fed a media frenzy and witch hunt. That my favourite newspaper appears to perpetuate this in an obituary following the early death of Patsy Ramsey saddens me.