Nearly 15 years ago, I was recruited by the Globe tabloid to investigate the murder of JonBenet Ramsey in Boulder, Colorado.
My story was chronicled in Lawrence Schiller’s New York Times bestseller, “Perfect Murder, Perfect Town,” which featured my tale as a cub reporter immersed in the most sensational child murder case in American history.
During my time on the JonBenet Ramsey case, I tracked down the origin of the murder weapon, infiltrated the Ramsey’s church, spent nights tracking intruder suspects, worked for the Boulder Police Department as a confidential informant, had secret conversations with District Attorney Alex Hunter, and made presentations to the F.B.I. I even became acquainted with John and Patsy Ramsey.
For several years, I secretly hoped I could prove the Ramseys were innocent. Not only did I feel compassion for them in the wake of relentless media attacks, my interaction with them forced me to recognize them as real people instead of mere names in newspaper print.
In 2006 however, after Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer, I came to terms with the fact that the most compelling evidence suggested that she was somehow involved in the death of her daughter – even if it was just an accident covered up to look like an intentional killing.
When the Ramseys woke up the morning of December 26, 1996, they allegedly found a three-page ransom note left on the spiral staircase of their home demanding the odd sum of $118,000.
It was signed, “Victory! S.B.T.C.”
In my opinion, the handwriting in the ransom note had striking similarities to samples of Patsy’s that I’d collected over the years, and there were also what I considered to be coded messages in the note that had special significance for Patsy.
Many reporters assumed the $118,000 ransom demand was somehow connected to the $118,000 bonus John Ramsey coincidentally received that year from his company, Access Graphics, but what most people do not know is that the number 118 had a sacred meaning to Patsy.
As a devoutly religious woman who had relied on Christian faith healing, two of Patsy’s favorite books on the matter held the key.
In 1994, the Colorado Woman’s Daily did a cover story on Patsy in which she admitted that she was relying on Christian faith healing to overcome her illness. In that article, Patsy said she relied heavily on a spiritual book by Dodie Osteen called, “Healed of Cancer.”
Osteen wrote in her book that she recited Psalm 118, Verse 17 every night before going to sleep over and over again. It read: “I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord.”
Patsy’s neighbor, Betty Barnhill referred another book to me that she had loaned Patsy called “Be Healed,” by Marilyn Hickey. In the second paragraph of the very first page, the author also reiterated the importance of reciting Psalm 118 regularly.
It was undeniably clear to me that the number 118 had a deeply profound importance in Patsy’s life, and so the appearance of this odd number in the ransom note was unlikely to be a coincidence.
What was most interesting about Psalm 118 however, was not Verse 17 – it was Verse 27, which read: “Bind the sacrifice with chords unto the horns of the altar.”
When JonBenet was murdered on Christmas night she was struck violently across the head with an unknown blunt instrument and asphyxiated to death with a white, nylon chord, which bound her wrists together.
The ending of the ransom note was signed, “Victory! S.B.T.C.”
Some journalists erroneously believed that phrase was a war reference to John Ramsey’s training in the Philippines at Subic Bay Naval Base (they believed it could mean Subic Bay Training Center).
During my biblical research however, I learned that the word ‘Victory’ had a very special meaning to some Christians in that it represented Christ’s victory over Satan.
According to Patsy’s books, when it came to Christian faith healing, it specifically meant one’s victory over their illness, the cause of which was also believed to be Satan.
In that 1994 magazine article, Patsy appeared on the cover holding a cross hanging from her neck. She told the reporter that her reverend, Rol Hoverstock gave her the cross, and that she believed it saved her life.
I have always, unequivocally believed that the S.B.T.C. acronym meant, “Saved By The Cross.”
I then tried to imagine – if a deeply Christian woman wanted to make it appear that an intruder had killed her daughter on Christmas night, what kind of person would she envision as the killer?
Who would she want to blame it on?
To me, the answer was obvious.
During the 1980’s and 1990’s, many people believed stories about Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA). Typically, SRA involved the attempted kidnapping of children for sexual molestation and sacrifice, and in some stories, children were strangled or tied up.
SRA proved to be nothing more than media made hype, but it caused a worldwide moral panic for several years, especially within Christian communities and among parents. It even resulted in false criminal prosecutions such as the California based McMartin pre-school trial.
It is my firm belief that JonBenet’s killer was a deeply religious person who was calling out to God for help in a hysterical panic after the little girl died, someone who was trying to convince themselves that Satan was responsible for their actions.
Who would believe such a delusion?
Someone who believed their illness was caused by Satan, someone who read books that blamed every bad worldly occurrence on the dark angel; someone deeply religious who actually believed there were Satanists out there and knew about Satanic Ritual Abuse; someone who thought if they staged the murder to look like a cult killing, police may believe that’s what it was, unaware of the fact that the SRA phenomenon had already been widely discredited within law enforcement circles.
In fact, when police first arrived at the Ramsey house and searched it the morning JonBenet went missing, they found a bible open on John Ramsey's desk open to Psalm 35 -- a passage about being falsely accused of a crime.
I wasn’t the only one who felt that religion somehow played into the cover up of the murder.
Several years after lead detective Steve Thomas publicly professed his unequivocal belief that Patsy was the killer, another investigator, James Kolar examined the case.
Kolar, concluded that Patsy was the killer because many of the religious statements she made to the media after JonBenet’s death mirrored the types of deeply religious statements Susan Smith made after she killed her own children.
After Kolar made his presentation to Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy, she did the unthinkable by releasing a written statement clearing the Ramseys. Lacy however, was not the original district attorney who investigated the crime, Alex Hunter was, and Hunter had always told me in private that he believed Patsy was the only logical suspect – as did almost all my sources in the Boulder Police Department, Colorado Bureau of Investigations and F.B.I.
Shortly after Lacy’s announcement that she exonerated the Ramseys, I wrote a piece for Fox News Opinion explaining why I believed she had made a fatal mistake. Since her successor Stan Garnett took over, law enforcement officials have resumed investigating their original theory that Patsy was involved.
My translation of the ransom note does not explain everything that happened Christmas night in 1996 at 755 15th Street in Boulder, Colorado. It does not explain the fact that a panel of expert pediatricians told police they believed JonBenet’s hymen demonstrated ongoing, prior, sexual abuse.
It also does not explain away the miniscule foreign DNA that experts found commingled in JonBenet’s blood, located in her underpants – a piece of evidence cherished by intruder theorists who insist it is proof her killer was an intruder.
But as former LAPD Detective Mark Fuhrman once told me: not everything in a murder case is going to add up. You have to look at the totality of the evidence.
As much as I’d love to believe that DNA was not an unrelated, accidental transfer and that Patsy was completely innocent, I cannot. In addition, I do not believe that any other member of the Ramsey family was involved in JonBenet’s death or the cover up of her murder, because neither proposition is what the totality of the evidence suggests.
Finally, there were personal observations I made that led me to think Patsy could have been involved.
One summer day in 1997 I sat beside the Ramseys in church only a few months after JonBenet’s passing. At one point, the reverend, Rol Hoverstock put his hand on John’s shoulder and compassionately whispered to him, “You’re a good man, John. I know you didn’t do this.”
Minutes later, when he walked by Patsy sitting alone in an empty pew, the two made eye contact, but instead of greeting her as he did John, he angrily looked away and drifted right past her.
That stunned me.
Later, John Ramsey wandered into an empty children’s playroom as if he were collecting memories from his daughter’s past, and Patsy quietly looked at him from a distance, and then burst into tears. I will never know how or why JonBenet’s death began, but I sincerely believe that losing JonBenet brought Patsy excruciating pain. When people have cheered for her prosecution, I have felt compassion for her as well as other family members who have endured this tragedy.
From time to time, I pray for JonBenet, but I have also prayed that Patsy Ramsey’s tired, heartbroken soul has finally found peace on the other side.
Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is an investigative journalist who has researched the JonBenet Ramsey murder case for nearly 15 years.