It was a story that held the headlines and spawned a thousand discussions. A little girl found murdered, a mother distraught, and the shadow of suspicion placed on the mourning parents. And to make things worse, it happened at Christmas time.

Well, Patsy Ramsey is now dead of cancer, but even though it happened 12 years ago, we now know that the DNA present on the child’s clothing was not that of the parents, and they are officially cleared of the crime.

In a statement seeking to silence suspicions surrounding relatives of the slain 6-year-old, prosecutors in the U.S. said new testing techniques on male DNA found on JonBenet’s clothes did not match any family members.

There was a lot of speculation at the time that the child was accidentally killed by the mother or her brother, and that the parents tried to “cover it up” by staging a sex crime. There were many variations of this story, mostly pointing to the parent, partly out of envy of the family, and part because the mom had her daughter in beauty contests, which a lot of people outside the South consider weird.

Suspecting parents is normal for cops. As a doctor, I’ve seen two kids killed, one by the father and the other by mom’s boyfriend. But usually within a week, you pretty well know who did it: family members start saying: He always had a temper, he used to beat up our daughter. So usually the police look at family members first in such crimes.

But  the failure of an inexperienced police department to investigate other leads in the case probably led to the failure to find who did the crime. After all, this was a child who was on stage and in beauty pagents, so was vulnerable to a stalking pedophile. It could have been a lot of people.

The Reuter’s story mentions one pedophile who was cleared of his claim of guilt by this same DNA.

Many who knew the family condemned the press coverage of the case, and many lawsuits were filed in response to the various accusations of misconduct including libel by various parties.

But more recent breakthroughs in DNA identification has cleared the family. The DNA inside the child’s clothing has long been known not to match the family, but many thought it was a contamination from another cause. Now, however, “touch” DNA analysis has found matching DNA on the sides of two sets of underclothes at the waist, suggesting that the DNA came from a perpetrator, not an accidental contamination of evidence.

The bad news is that there is no match for the DNA so far.

So the story continues, but at least the family is no longer under a cloud of suspicion.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket. 

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