A Death In Paradise

Excerpts from "Perfect Murder--Perfect Town," by Lawrence Schiller, to be published by HarperCollins. (c)1999 by Lawrence Schiller and KLS Communications, Inc.

Who killed JonBenet Ramsey? In the 26 months since the body of the 6-year-old child-pageant contestant was found in the basement of her parents' sprawling Boulder, Colo., home, there have been no arrests. To the police--and to much of the public--the girl's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, are key suspects, but the Ramseys steadfastly maintain their innocence. The celebrated case--with its bizarre three-page ransom note, war between cops and prosecutors and endless tabloid speculation--is the subject of Lawrence Schiller's 621-page book ""Perfect Murder--Perfect Town,'' which is being published this week. Schiller hasn't solved the crime, but his book is a richly detailed exploration of the Ramsey family, the crime and the culture of the city in which JonBenet died. The author, who draws on 571 interviews to reconstruct the Ramsey case, is accustomed to mapping crime's tangled terrain: in the 1970s Schiller won exclusive access to Gary Gilmore and provided Norman Mailer with the basis for ""The Executioner's Song.'' A 62-year-old producer, director and photographer, Schiller also wrote ""American Tragedy,'' the definitive book on the O. J. Simpson case. This exclusive NEWSWEEK excerpt takes you inside the Ramsey investigation, with all its twists, turns and lingering mysteries. ""I think there will be a resolution to the case,'' Schiller says. ""I think all the evidence will come out, but that doesn't mean someone will be convicted.'' At the moment, a grand jury in Boulder is weighing evidence and taking testimony. It is expected to conclude its work in March.

""Do roses know their thorns can hurt?'' JonBenet asked me that one morning. I was the landscaper at the Ramseys' home during the last two years of her life. I remember how intelligent JonBenet was. That's why I never talked to her as if she were just a little kid. So when she asked me about thorns, I told her, ""They're a rose's shield. They keep away animals who might eat them.''

She would follow me all over the yard, finding something to do wherever I was working. All the topics you'd call natural science seemed to interest her.

""What is a year?''

""That's the length of time it takes for the earth to make one trip all around the sun.''

""So I've been around the sun five times?''

""Right. And you've almost finished your sixth trip.'' I added that I'd completed the journey twenty-seven times. That stopped her. So many trips, she exclaimed.

That was probably the last time I spoke to JonBenet. Six weeks later I took the morning paper from my front steps and saw it. I don't even remember now what the headlines said.

I wanted to go over to the Ramseys'. Later that day, I did drive by. It was crazy--media, police, yellow tape going all around the house. Just totally crazy. I didn't even try to go in. I kept driving.


FOCUSING ON THE FAMILY ON THURSDAY MORNING, DEC. 26, 1996, THE BOULDER, COLO., Police Department received a 911 call at 5:52 a.m. The caller, Patsy Ramsey, said her daughter, JonBenet, had been kidnapped and there was a ransom note. When the first officer arrived eight minutes later, he searched the house for the child and for any sign of forced entry, but found nothing. It was still dark outside.

By noon everyone was still waiting for the kidnappers to call. An hour later JonBenet's father, John Ramsey, searched the house for something that might have been taken along with his daughter. Moments later he found JonBenet's body--wrapped in a white blanket, her mouth covered with duct tape--in the wine cellar in the basement of the house. It was 1:05 p.m.

At Boulder police headquarters, Det. Sgt. Larry Mason got a page from the Ramsey house: ""We've got a body.''

""Oh, f---,'' Mason said, half aloud. ""Ron,'' he told FBI Special Agent Ron Walker, ""it's a homicide.''

Walker, an experienced FBI profiler, knew that finding JonBenet's body in her own home meant there had probably never been a kidnapping. In the case of a homicide where the dead child is found in the parents' home, the FBI's standard procedure is to investigate the parents and the immediate family first and then move outward in circles. Then would come people who had frequent access to the child--babysitters and domestic help. The next circle would contain friends and business associates. The outermost circle would be strangers. The technique was to avoid leaping over these concentric circles too quickly.

Fifteen minutes later Mason and Walker arrived at the Ramseys' house. First they looked at the body, lying now at the foot of the living-room Christmas tree, a noose around JonBenet's neck. Then they went downstairs to the wine cellar. Mason noticed that there was something about the crime scene--he couldn't put his finger on it--that made it look unnatural. Meanwhile, in the Ramseys' study, another detective overheard John Ramsey talking on the phone to his private pilot. He was making plans to fly somewhere before nightfall. Moments later Ramsey told Mason that he, his wife and his son would be flying to Atlanta that evening. ""You can't leave,'' Mason told him. ""We have to talk to you.''

At 7 p.m., Detectives Fred Patterson and Greg Idler knocked on the door of the Ramseys' housekeeper, Linda Hoffmann-Pugh. That morning Patsy Ramsey had told police her housekeeper had a key to the house and had major money problems. The police told Hoffmann-Pugh that JonBenet had been murdered. She screamed and couldn't stop shaking. After the housekeeper settled down, they asked her to print some words on a sheet of paper--Mr. Ramsey, attachE, beheaded and the number $118,000 (unknown to her, all phrases in the ransom note)--but Linda was too upset to write. She assumed that JonBenet had been beheaded.

The police spent three hours talking to the Pughs that night. Had Linda ever witnessed any signs of sexual abuse in the Ramsey household? Had JonBenet ever wet the bed? Had Linda seen semen, blood or anything unusual on the child's bed? On anyone else's bed? Hoffmann-Pugh would know for sure she was a suspect when the police returned the next day to search her house and fingerprint her. At a local doctor's office, she cried as the police yanked strands of hair from her head and she gave blood samples.

On the afternoon of Dec. 27, Pam Griffin found a telephone message from Patsy's sister Polly. ""Patsy needs you right now.'' Griffin was the seamstress who made JonBenet's pageant costumes and was Patsy's confidante about beauty pageants. At the Boulder home of John and Barbara Fernie, friends of the Ramseys', Pam, a former registered nurse, touched Patsy's skin and realized she was dehydrated. She brought Patsy some water and made her drink it. ""You need to brush your hair,'' Pam told her. ""You need to lie down a little bit.'' But Patsy stood up to greet each new person who arrived to offer condolences, and as she did, tears streamed down her face. Hours later, Patsy finally took Pam's advice and lay down in the bedroom.

Patsy reached up and touched Pam's face. ""Couldn't you fix this for me?'' she asked. Pam thought she was delirious. It was as if Patsy were asking her to fix a ripped seam. ""Patsy said something like, "We didn't mean for that to happen','' Pam would say later. Pam couldn't say why, but she remembered feeling as if Patsy knew who killed JonBenet but was afraid to say.

While Patsy slept, Pam went downstairs. She found John in the living room holding the Ramseys' other child, Burke. To Pam, John Ramsey seemed to be in a trance. His face was blank. His eyes were red. ""I don't get it,'' he said over and over. Then he got up, walked outside, shook his head and asked aloud, ""Why?''

Ten months earlier, in the spring of 1996, Pam had telephoned Kit Andre, a dance instructor she knew. ""I've got a great child for you,'' Pam said.

The following week, Patsy and JonBenet drove to Kit's dance studio. Patsy told her they needed a song and dance by summer. Kit scheduled three lessons a week.

This child can dance, Kit thought, as JonBenet tried a few movements--a little rhythm, then a few steps.

""Now let's try this.'' A few more steps.

""Now try this,'' JonBenet said with a laugh, mimicking Kit. The first lesson went by fast. During the third lesson, Patsy knocked on the studio door. ""It will be better if I'm here,'' she insisted. ""I've done this before.''

Patsy got up and danced with JonBenet. Side by side, mother and daughter. Kit now knew that she'd have to teach the song Patsy's way.

""She was a fabulous child,'' I told Patsy at JonBenet's memorial service in Boulder. ""She was a star.'' I never saw JonBenet in a pageant. Never saw her do the routine I taught her until I saw that pageant video on TV. I've looked at that video several times. They made JonBenet look like a clown. Someone else taught her those pseudo-adult movements, the provocative walk, the poses, all of it.

The pageants were Patsy's gig. JonBenet was her alter ego. Patsy had the money, she had the costumes and she had the kid. She could relive her own pageant thing. You got the picture right there.


WITHOUT CONSULTING JOHN OR PATSY, MICHAEL BYNUM, JOHN Ramsey's friend and attorney, told the Boulder police that the Ramseys would not give any more testimonial evidence without a criminal attorney present and they would no longer share privileged information with the police. The entire family would, however, give blood, hair, fingerprint and handwriting samples. At 5:40 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 28, a heavily sedated Patsy gave the police her first handwriting samples on the second floor of the Justice Center. ""Will this help find who killed my baby?'' Patsy asked a detective. Then she added, ""I did not murder my baby.''

That evening the police interviewed Linda Hoffmann-Pugh for a third time.

I was working for Merry Maids, a bonded agency, when I met Patsy. Seventy-two dollars a day. Monday, Wednesday, Friday. She was warm and kind. Just a sweet person. But she had a hard time keeping up with the laundry. She was doing lots of charity work and was involved with her children's schooling.

These weren't naughty children. They dressed themselves, and Patsy did JonBenet's hair. JonBenet spent a lot of her time sitting on her bed watching Shirley Temple movies on her VCR. She loved them all.

She also loved being in pageants. If she didn't want to go, Patsy didn't make her. Nedra, Patsy's mother, used to bring lots of things for JonBenet to wear. Some dresses were made from scratch, but Nedra and Patsy's sister Pam had fun altering most things. They prepared differently for each pageant. Sometimes it would take a month.

In the summer of '96, JonBenet started wearing those diaper-type panties--Pull-Ups. She even wore them to bed. There was always a wet one in the trash. By the end of the summer, Patsy was trying to get her to do without them. Then JonBenet started wetting the bed again. Almost every day I was there, there was a wet bed. Patsy said she wasn't going to use Pull-Ups again. She just put a plastic cover on the bed. No big deal to her. By the time I'd come in the morning, Patsy would have all the sheets off the bed and in the laundry. JonBenet's white blanket would already be in the dryer--a stackable unit in a closet just outside JonBenet's room.

The more I think about it, JonBenet could not have been killed by a stranger. I didn't even know that room [in the basement] was there. How could a stranger know to go there? How in the world did this happen?


By JAN. 2, THE D.A.'S OFFICE AND THE POLICE CONSIDERED THE Ramseys prime suspects. The cause of death was a blow to the head in conjunction with strangulation. The coroner also found half-dried blood at the entrance of the child's vagina and on her underpants. This indicated some type of vaginal penetration. There was no evidence of an intruder. The detectives had found pry marks on the exterior door leading to the kitchen, but no shavings on the ground below, and the lock had been set from the inside. Barbara Fernie told the police she had seen the pry marks before the murder and they were already old by then. No one in the neighborhood had seen or heard anything suspicious--other than a reported scream. The detectives present at the autopsy conjectured that a substance on JonBenet's upper thighs, revealed by a black light, being tested by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, must be semen. The ransom note had been written on the Ramseys' own pad of paper. With no evidence of an intruder, who but one of the Ramseys could have written it?

Within two weeks, however, less and less of the forensic evidence pointed to the Ramseys. At the same time, none of it pointed to anyone else. Then, on Jan. 15, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation came back with the analysis. The substance thought to be semen was in fact smeared blood. There was no semen. JonBenet's body had been wiped clean, leaving a residue of blood.

This news changed everything. The D.A.'s staff knew the police now had to delete ""slam dunk'' from their vocabulary.

A KILLER'S FOOTSTEPS? ON THE NIGHT OF JULY 2, 1997, THE DETECTIVES SPENT HOURS inside the Ramsey house running through different scenarios of what might have happened on Dec. 26.

From JonBenet's second-floor bedroom, it was less than four full paces to the top of the carpeted spiral staircase that led down to the ground floor. The 13 steps of the staircase could have been maneuvered in the dark by someone who knew them. A visitor--or an intruder--would need a light, the detectives reasoned, even if they did not have to control a struggling child.

A flashlight found on the kitchen counter on Dec. 26, which was normally kept nearby, could have been used either as a light or as a weapon--in the kitchen or in another room.

Continuing with the scenario, the detectives saw that once they were down the staircase, there were several likely directions to the basement--none of them allowing for quickness or ease of movement. A logical direction for the killer--or for a terrified JonBenet who was running away--would be down another short flight of stairs toward what the Ramseys called the lower hall or butler's kitchen. There a door to the left allowed a quick escape into the narrow side yard on the home's north side--but no access to the garage or basement.

Or, coming from the spiral staircase, someone might head straight for the door that led directly to the brick patio at the southwest corner of the ground floor and then to freedom down the back alley.

But to reach the basement from the spiral stairs, where the ransom note was discovered, a perpetrator or a fleeing JonBenet would be forced into a more circuitous route.

Once down the stairs to the lower hall, the detectives realized, the perpetrator could only reach the basement stairs by crossing that room, climbing yet another short flight of stairs, then turning to the right to reach the door to the basement. The problem was that the door swung out into that narrow hallway. It became an obstacle that would force you to sidestep or squeeze around it to get to the staircase to the basement. This was a highly unlikely path for anyone who knew the house, and a stranger wouldn't have known the door was there.

The second route to the basement from the spiral staircase would first lead toward the patio doors, right by where the flashlight was kept, then veer left, through a 25-foot-long kitchen, where a fleeing JonBenet or an intruder would pass an island counter and three high chairs.

At the end of the kitchen was a short hallway, into which they would have to make a left turn, and there, immediately to the right, was the door to the basement. Opening that door, however, the detectives discovered that they were in total darkness. There was no light switch on either wall at the top of the stairs or immediately outside the basement door. Any stranger would grope in vain for a light. Eventually you might discover it set high on the wall behind your back, opposite the door.

Once in the basement, a stranger would find no fewer than four closets, two storage rooms and a hobby room. The wine cellar, where the Ramseys typically kept construction materials, was at the end of one basement corridor--past the boiler room, and behind a door.

The investigators considered the possibility that JonBenet fled from her bedroom to this remote hideaway in the middle of the night to elude someone. If so, she would have run a straight path from the bottom of the basement stairs directly to the boiler room, winding up in front of the latched wine-cellar door. Only someone who knew the house intimately could make this journey quickly.

If JonBenet had been hit with the flashlight in or near the kitchen and ran to or was carried unconscious to the basement, the perpetrator would have followed the same route into the boiler room, winding up in front of the wine-cellar door.

The detectives felt that in every scenario, JonBenet spent the final moments of her life just outside the wine-cellar door, where the police had found wooden shards from a broken paintbrush used to tighten the noose. That was also where they found Patsy's paint tote. The tote contained the unused portion of the brush and additional paintbrushes similar to the one used in the murder. After JonBenet was killed, the police surmised, her body was taken inside the wine cellar.

By Sept. 30, 1997, Steve Ainsworth of the Boulder sheriff's department had already spent six months on loan to the D.A.'s office to help investigate JonBenet's murder. He had found it both fascinating and frustrating. Some of his fellow sheriff's deputies had told him he was wasting their time looking for an alternate suspect. Ainsworth would reply, ""Maybe so, but that's a door you're going to have to close sooner or later, so you might as well get it done now.'' The Ramseys had not proven themselves in his eyes to be ""master criminals.'' Ainsworth felt the only real piece of evidence against the Ramseys was that they were home when their daughter died. But there was evidence that pointed away from the Ramseys--for example, a shoe imprint in the wine cellar next to JonBenet's body, a palm print on the door to the room, broken glass on the suitcase found under a basement window, a scuff mark on the wall below the window--although nothing indicated a specific person.

Ainsworth thought the crime scene exhibited an ""organized disorganization.'' In his opinion, the cord and duct tape that Ramsey said had covered the dead JonBenet's mouth had been brought to the house. That's why the roll from which the tape was torn was never found. Neither was the remnant of the cord. ""Using the pad and pen from the house,'' Ainsworth told one deputy D.A., ""was a stroke of genius,'' a ruse within a ruse. The intruder had made it look as if the Ramseys had committed the murder and had then covered it up in such a way as to make it appear that an intruder had killed JonBenet. He, like D.A. investigator Lou Smit and deputy D.A. Trip DeMuth, believed Patsy and John were innocent, and felt the investigative work by the Boulder PD to exclude others had been ""perfunctory.''

For nine months the police had been checking the alibis of a large number of possible suspects. John Ramsey's older children by his first marriage had been cleared, and the Ramseys' ex-friends Fleet and Priscilla White were no longer suspects. But still under investigation were the family's ""Santa,'' Bill McReynolds, and his wife, Janet; housekeeper Linda Hoffmann-Pugh; part-time reporter Chris Wolf; Bud Henderson, who owed Ramsey's company $18,000; a recently released inmate, Kevin Raburn; an Internet Web site poster, and one member of the Ramseys' church. (All deny any involvement in the murder.)

QUESTIONS--BUT FEW ANSWERS IN JUNE OF 1998 THE D.A.'S OFFICE CONDUCTED JOHN AND PATSY'S second set of formal interviews. The Boulder PD had questioned them the previous year. D.A. Alex Hunter and his newly acquired grand-jury consultant Michael Kane decided that Patsy and John would each be questioned by a team of one investigator and one lawyer. Lou Smit and Michael Kane would handle John, while Trip DeMuth and Tom Haney of the Denver PD would take on Patsy.

As Haney began, he knew that Patsy would be vague--it was her style, as he had discovered by watching the videotapes of her TV interviews. Haney had been warned by Det. Steve Thomas of the Boulder PD that Patsy would crank up the charm and could become religiously charismatic at times. In the first two days, Haney went through Patsy's story of what had happened on Dec. 25 and 26. Photographs taken by the police at the Ramseys' house after the murder had been assembled into several thick books. Haney took Patsy through nearly all of them. She said she saw nothing out of place except for a few things in JonBenet's room. Then Patsy noticed a small stuffed white toy bear in a Santa suit in one photograph. It was among the other toys on another bed in JonBenet's bedroom. She told Haney she didn't know where the bear had come from. The toy had not been taken into evidence by the police after the murder, and now it seemed to be missing.

For two days, Pasty was polite and charming. ""I just did my best,'' she kept saying. Patsy's performance was not making a good impression on Tom Haney. One minute he would be talking to a sophisticated, articulate Miss America contestant; the next, she'd be trying to charm him. On the third day, he went all out.

What would you do if I told you we had evidence that shows you're not being truthful? he said, looking directly into her eyes.

Let's see it, Patsy said, as if she had been brought up on the streets of Brooklyn.

We're not in a position to show it to you now, Haney replied. You have lied to me, he added.

Pal, you don't want to go there. Don't start that, she snapped.

The tougher the questions became, the tougher Patsy became. Once, she raised her hand across the table, in front of Haney's face and said, You're going down the wrong road.

When Haney took the offensive, Patsy Ramsey was ready for him. She had the answers, and she didn't care if he liked them or not.

When the case detectives viewed the tapes of the third day, they gave Haney four stars. He'd gotten to the real Patsy, they believed. She had exhibited the hard side of her persona. A side capable of bringing harm to her daughter. Still, it was almost impossible to believe that she'd gone from being a normal mother, which until then she had given every indication of being, to being a murderer that night. Haney had never been able to come up with a motive for the killing, and now, after three days of questioning, he had not been able to find a trigger that might have set Patsy off--if she was the killer.

One deputy D.A. viewing the tape felt it would be unreasonable to assume that Patsy Ramsey, out of the blue and coldbloodedly, placed a noose around her daughter's neck and used it as a garrote. Logic suggested, however, that Patsy might have hit her daughter on the head with a heavy object by accident and rendered her unconscious. Then, believing JonBenet was already dead, and unable to face the idea that the world would see her as her child's murderer, she might have set about to cover it up. If that were true, at that moment Patsy Ramsey became her daughter's killer.

Of course, the deputy D.A. had to admit that there were holes in his theory. What was the motive behind the blow--deliberate or accidental--that caused Patsy, who had never been seen so much as slapping her kids, to hit JonBenet on the head? If she did hit the child by accident, why not call 911? If Patsy was together enough to carry out a cover-up, she had to be capable of seeking medical attention.

Over Thanksgiving break in 1994, the Ramseys went to Georgia. I was working for them as their housekeeper. When I came to work Monday morning, the house was flooded. A window in John's third-floor bathroom had been left open by a painter. Then the wind blew the shutter, which apparently hit the hot-water control on the shower and turned it on. The water must have been running for three days. It destroyed the bathroom floor, ran down into John Andrew's [John Ramsey's oldest son] closets and out into his room on the second floor, and all the way down into some rooms on the ground floor.

When John and Patsy showed up, they went straight upstairs. We were all standing in the bathroom. There was water everywhere. John was in his stocking feet; he always took his shoes off when he came into the house. He slammed the window shut. Then he realized his socks were wet. That made him furious. He was more mad about his socks being wet than about the house being ruined. I looked into his eyes, and they'd almost changed color. He was so angry. Really angry. I don't know how to explain it. It was like this light switch had come on behind his eyes. It was the last straw.

He didn't freak out, didn't throw things. But you could see the rage. You could feel it. I mean, it was powerful. I wanted to get out of the room, but Patsy was standing between me and the door. I'm not saying he didn't have a right to be angry. I'm just saying I saw him angry. I saw the coldest eyes. He never said a word, but it was right there in his face. It was palpable.

Patsy was freaking out. It was ""What are we going to do? We're having the Christmas house tour . . .'' He was angry, but she was in a total panic. The flood had ruined Patsy's image of what her perfect house should look like.


ON SUNDAY, SEPT. 13, MICHAEL KANE, BRUCE LEVIN OF HUNTER'S grand-jury team and Det. Jane Harmer went to see Linda Hoffmann-Pugh. They had brought several thick books of crime-scene photos, the same ones shown to Patsy earlier in June. For three hours, Hoffmann-Pugh reviewed the photos taken inside the Ramseys' house.

They showed her a picture of JonBenet's white thermal blanket--the one in which she had been found dead. It had many brown-colored stains on it. Some of them looked like dried blood. Then they showed her a picture of JonBenet's bed, which looked strange to her. It had other sheets than those she had used to make the bed just two days before the murder. Looking at the comforter, you couldn't tell that the blanket beneath it had been pulled off. The bed in the photo looked barely disturbed. Hoffmann-Pugh knew that to pull the blanket off, you had to first remove the comforter, otherwise the comforter would get messed up. Maybe the sheets and white blanket she used hadn't been on the bed at all the night of the murder. She told the police that they might have been in the washer-dryer in the cabinet outside JonBenet's room.

The Ramseys didn't even have a clothes hamper, she said. When they took off their dirty clothes, they would just leave them lying around. The only things that went directly into the washer were JonBenet's urine-soaked sheets and blanket, so that they wouldn't smell. Only someone who knew which washer and dryer the Ramseys used for JonBenet's sheets and blanket would know where to find the blanket if it wasn't on the bed. Just as important, the washer-dryer was built into a cabinet near the staircase. Hoffmann-Pugh speculated that whoever killed JonBenet knew where the blanket was that night and probably took it out of the dryer.

On Tuesday, Sept. 15, the grand jury convened at the Justice Center to hear the Ramsey case. It had been 628 days since JonBenet was found murdered in her parents' basement. ""The system will put it right,'' John Ramsey had often said. He had begun to think that way while waiting for their April 1997 police interviews. When those interviews failed to diminish the police's interest in him and Patsy, he waited for the next chance to put things right. A second set of interviews with the D.A.'s office, in June 1998, had changed nothing. Now the grand jury was meeting, and his lawyers had told him to expect Patsy to be charged, since experts were saying that she had written the ransom note. He just didn't know how to tell her.

Nevertheless, Ramsey didn't lose his faith in the process. They would have to wait for a jury to decide. Only then would he and Patsy be exonerated.

A MYSTERY'S MANY FACES She is a haunting victim--a beautiful little girl from a rich family. And, more than two years later, there is still no answer to who killed JonBenet. Here are some of the characters, and key moments, in the case.