The murder of 6-year-old beauty pageant queen JonBenét Ramsey back in 1996 is one of the most notorious crimes in American history. The brutal killing of a young girl living with a seemingly wholesome, affluent family shocked the entire nation. If such an atrocity could happen in a place like Boulder, Colorado, people wondered, couldn’t it happen anywhere?
From the start of the troubled investigation, investigators cast a critical eye on the Ramsey family. Parents John and Patricia, and even JonBenét’s older brother, Burke, were all subject to massive public scrutiny. Now, decades later, Burke Ramsey is finally acting on rumors — and his moves were controversial to say the least.
In the winter of 1996, the Ramseys were an upper middle-class family living in Boulder. Patriarch John was the president of a computer system company, and mother Patricia was a loving caregiver to her two children: Burke, aged 9, and JonBenét, aged 6.
JonBenét wasn’t your average six year-old; although she participated in all kindergartner activities, she was also an accomplished beauty pageant contestant who’d won multiple titles, including Little Miss Colorado and National Tiny Miss Beauty.
Everything was peaceful within the Ramsey household that year until the early morning of December 26th, when Patricia awoke to notice an odd letter resting on the staircase. She bent down to pick it up.
Neil Jacobs – CBS
While reading the note, Patsy was horrified to realize that it was actually a handwritten ransom letter. Whoever penned it was claiming to have taken her little girl! Even scarier, the writer was demanding $118,000 in order to get her back.
US Customs and Border Protection
Although the letter specified not to contact any cops or authorities, Patsy did just that, calling 9-1-1 at 5:52 am. Police cars showed up at their address on 749 15th street, below, within minutes.
Flickr – Jennifer Boyer
Right away, observers noticed something was seriously awry with the ransom request. First of all, John remarked that $118,000 was the exact amount of money he’d received as a bonus that year. Could this be a coworker seeking to get money out of him?
Authorities also pondered another significance behind the strangely specific number; perhaps it was referring to Psalm 118, which dictates “O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever.” Was this a religiously motivated crime?
My Jewish Learning
Upon searching the house, investigators found nothing. Therefore, considering it to be a kidnapping, the only room they cordoned off as an evidence site was JonBenét’s bedroom. Friends and family came over to comfort the distraught family, thus contaminating the entire crime scene.
Edwards Air Force Base
Without any clue as to who had taken JonBenét or where she was, John Ramsey agreed to pay the ransom amount. However, the hours passed, and as they waited for a call, nobody ended up coming to claim the money.
This is when a detective had the idea to ask John and a family friend, Fleet White, to search the house again in an effort to see if anything was amiss. Even the tiniest detail could be crucial.
So JonBenét’s father went down to the basement. He opened a door that the family usually kept latched, only to make a horrifying discovery: his young daughter’s body, bound and covered in a blanket. She was dead.
Overcome with grief and devastation, John Ramsey carried his child’s body upstairs. The shattered father never could have anticipated the storm of unspeakable accusations that would soon be levied against him.
YouTube – 9News
The Ramsey parents were immediately placed under intense scrutiny, suspected by investigators for the seemingly staged note, lack of forced entry, and their apparent reluctance to cooperate with detectives. Patricia had an explanation for the latter accusation, however..
YouTube – 9News
Patricia alleged that the reason she and her husband were hesitant to assist in the investigation against them was because they desperately wanted resources instead to be directed externally, towards the actual killer.
However, while the Ramseys were never formally indicted rumors flew defaming them and alleging their involvement in their daughter’s early demise. Patricia Ramsey died in 2006, two years before the couple received a formal apology from Boulder County.
Find A Grave
One person who’d never even been considered a formal subject by the state was still reeling from the trauma of false accusations. That person was Burke Ramsey, JonBenét’s older brother, who’d been only nine years old at the time of her death.
YouTube – Murd og Mysterier
For years many unsubstantiated theories floated around surrounding Burke. Most stipulated that the boy had hit his sister with a hard object, not intending to kill her, and then either he or his parents had written the strange ransom note in an attempt to cover up the crime.
Between 1999 and 2000 Burke Ramsey sued a number of publications including media outlets and tabloids for defamation of his name. After this, no one dared to accuse him of being the killer…until a 2016 CBS special aired that did just that.
This final slandering of his name in the face of such a profound personal tragedy was too much for Burke, and he filed a formal lawsuit against CBS, alleging that rather than seeking the truth, all they wanted was “to accomplish their goals of achieving ratings and profits.”
After decades of silence on the subject, Burke finally gave a single interview in a last-ditch attempt to exonerate himself. Now, finally, the lawsuit has been settled “amicably.” The exact dollar amount has not been released, but the initial lawsuit sought upwards of $750 million in damages.
Lin Wood, the Ramseys’ attorney, said, “It is now my professional and personal wish for this family that they no longer suffer the pain of false accusations in the future. I sincerely hope the CBS case is my last lawsuit for these fine clients and friends.”
YouTube – CBS
JonBenét Ramsey’s death has become a topic of fascination for true crime fanatics, being endlessly debated across online forums. No one can work out the puzzle, though the same can be said for many of the world’s most infamous crimes.
On January 2, 1999, 11-year-old Mikelle Biggs was pedaling her bike in circles just four houses down from where she lived with her parents and three siblings in Mesa, Arizona. Clutching several quarters in her hands, she eagerly awaited the ice cream truck.
Then, just 90 seconds after her younger sister, Kimber, had last seen her, Mikelle was suddenly gone. Her bike laid in the middle of the road—tires still spinning—and the quarters she’d held were scattered across the asphalt.
With no sign of her daughter anywhere, Mikelle’s mother, Tracy Biggs, desperately called the police. Immediate evidence suggested “she was running from somebody,” said detective Jerry Gisse. “It wasn’t somebody that she knew or wanted to be with.”
And so began one of the most intensive investigations ever conducted by the Mesa Police Department. National news aggressively covered the disappearance of the sixth-grade honor student who aspired to be a Disney animator.
The night Mikelle disappeared, investigators set up road blocks and interviewed passing motorists. Meanwhile, authorities posted fliers with her class photo all over Mesa. That was only the beginning…
In the following weeks, investigators consulted psychics on the whereabouts of the 11-year-old girl. They even tracked down and questioned every single ice cream vendor in the state! Unfortunately, no meaningful evidence turned up…
Investigators looked closed to home, too. Just two blocks from the Biggs’ family home (pictured) lived a man with a criminal record that included child molestation. Nothing the authorities found, however, indicated he’d been involved in Mikelle’s disappearance.
News 9 via the Washington Post
From there, investigators interviewed 20 sex offenders in the region—that also proved to be a dead end. Leaving no stone unturned, authorities even suspected Mikelle’s father, Darien, pictured here with Tracy. But he, too, ended up with a cleared name.
ABC News / YouTube
Years passed. Despite receiving 10,000 tips from the public, conducting 500 interviews, collecting 800 pieces of evidence, and searching 35 abandoned San Tan Mountain mine shafts, investigators couldn’t find Mikelle. The case had officially gone cold.
Fast forward to 2009—10 years after Mikelle’s initial disappearance—and investigators in Mesa received yet another tip. This one, however, didn’t come from an Arizona resident. Strangely, it came from 1,500 miles away in Neenah, Wisconsin.
On March 14, 2009, a man had walked into the lobby of the Neenah police department and handed over a dollar bill he’d found “in a collection of money for Girl Scout Cookies,” Neenah Police Chief Kevin Wilkinson (pictured) said. The dollar was far from ordinary…
Ron Page / USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Written along its perimeter in scratchy, childish handwriting was a simple message: “My name is Mikel [sic] Biggs kidnapped From Mesa AZ. I’m alive.” This discovery was a revelation for investigators.
There were discrepancies with the bill, however, and Chief Wilkinson noted them despite not having known about the original 1999 case. “The oddity in the note,” he said, “is that her first name is spelled wrong… it would sway you to believe that it might not be legitimate.”
But other evidence suggested it was worth following up. “Why would you pick that,” Chief Wilkinson wondered, “a case that’s nearly 20 years old? It’s somebody who knew something about that case.”
For that reason, the dollar bill was too crucial to ignore. “We don’t get a lot of tips anymore,” Mesa Detective Steve Berry said. “But we occasionally do. We always follow up on it. We always hope that might be the one that breaks the case.” Would it be?
Unfortunately, optimism wasn’t high with investigators. “There was a little spring of hope for a second, and then reality set in,” Neenah Detective Adam Streubel added. “There is nothing you can do with [the evidence], which is rather frustrating.”
Collecting fingerprints on the bill would’ve been useless; the bill could’ve changed hands hundreds of times. Still, the handwriting could be matched if they had other meaningful evidence to compare it to. But what did the family think of this 10-years-too-late discovery?
Kimber Biggs—who’d held onto her sister’s red teddy bear for decades—tried analyzing the handwriting on the bill until it made her sick thinking about the fate of her sister. Mikelle would have been 30 by that point.
East Valley Tribune
“Is [the bill] a hoax?” Kimber asked. “Did someone play a cruel joke?” She suspected so. “The fact that her name was spelled wrong [on the bill] is kind of discredited. I don’t think that would be something she’d do.”
Regardless, as of 2018, the Biggs family remained committed to finding out the fate of their beloved Mikelle. “Someone knows something,” Kimber said, “and someday we will have answers.” But for one family, getting the answers they were looking for was just as difficult as not knowing.
January 7th, 1969, was a particularly bustling morning for students in Harvard University’s anthropology program. It was the day they were to take their last final exams, and the class was so busy they almost didn’t notice one thing was noticeably out of place…
Harvard Business School
Jane Britton, a 23-year-old star student with a passion for Near Eastern archaeology, was nowhere to be found. This wasn’t like Jane; she was always the first to class and was extremely invested when it came to schoolwork.
Jane’s boyfriend, James Humphries, was the first to notice her absence. He knew that something must have been awry if Jane hadn’t made it to the ultra-important test. Had she fallen suddenly ill?
Humphries called Britton and, receiving no answer, decided to go straight to her residence at 6 University Road. Britton lived alone in a fourth floor apartment, but had lots of neighbors — many of whom were involved in the Harvard community.
The nervous boyfriend knocked on the door. Hearing nothing, he waited a second and then knocked again. Still, no response. Then he heard another door creaking open in the hallway, and he looked up in alarm.
Boston 25 News
Standing behind him was none other than Donald Mitchell, Jane’s friend and next door neighbor. Warily, the two men decided to enter the silent apartment. They took a deep breath and crossed the threshold.
Boston 25 News
Donald Mitchell and James Humphries gasped. They had found Jane Britton, but she was not in good shape. The young woman was lying face-down on the floor and appeared to be stiff.
Filled with unspeakable horror, Mitchell slowly turned over the girl’s cold body. Suddenly, he jumped back. The front of her torso was completely soaked in blood. The two men called the police and waited.
Tom Roussey – WJLA TV
As soon as the police arrived at the scene of the crime, they began the hard work of piecing together exactly what had happened the night before that had led to Jane’s early demise.
Eye witness accounts stated that she’d spent the evening ice skating and getting dinner with her friends and boyfriend. Then, at 10:30 pm, she and Humphries returned to her apartment for a hot cocoa.
Britton would only leave the apartment one more time before coming back for the final time that night. She’d gone over to the Mitchells’ apartment to retrieve her cat, Fuzzy, and indulge in a bit of late-night sherry. She then arrived home around 12:30 am.
However, despite the sherry, toxicology reports would soon reveal that the alcohol never entered her bloodstream at all. This led investigators to conclude that the girl had been murdered within an hour of leaving her neighbors’ residence.
Don Mitchell – Boston
The cops asked neighbors to reveal anything they might have seen or heard that seemed out of the ordinary. The Mitchells insisted nothing had caught their attention. However, other neighbors did have some suspicious details to share…
Boston 25 News
One building resident reported hearing strange noises coming from Britton’s fire escape the night before, while another related seeing a strange man running through the streets at around 1:30 am.
Boston 25 News
While these reports definitely raised eyebrows, they weren’t incredibly helpful. There was no sign of forced entry, and in fact, Britton’s door had been unlocked. This particular detail was the source of much controversy.
Flickr – Mr.TinDC
This is because a girl had been murdered in the very same building not six years prior, by the Boston Strangler himself. Security was awful in the building, the doors were impossible to lock, and public outrage over the perceived negligence grew.
Although it was found that Britton had been sexually assaulted — semen was found at the crime scene — back in the 1960s, investigators didn’t have the technology necessary to connect the sample to a specific perpetrator.
DNA Diagnostics Center
The investigation kicked off with law enforcement training a lens on those in her community, specifically students in her anthropology department who she’d gone on a recent school-related trip to Iran with.
One of the reasons for this was that red ochre, a clay-like substance used in Ancient Persian burial rituals, had been found on the body. Detectives assumed the killer must have had an intimate knowledge of Iranian culture.
Reports also circled of apparent animosity on the Iran trip. This added more credence to the theory that one of her own classmates may have played a part in Jane’s brutal killing. Soon, however, things would take a surprising turn.
State Archives of Florida
Investigators realized that the ochre was not symbolic, but rather, had come from Jane’s own paintings. Additionally, students and professors said the perceived hostility on the trip had been way overblown. Their only lead had been effectively squashed.
Blogspot – Daniel Keating
Still, there was one more concerning detail that detectives continued to focus on. A stone given to Jane by the Mitchells, one sharp enough that it could ostensibly be capable of killing someone, was missing from her apartment. Was this the murder weapon?
A mere two days after her body was found, the Cambridge police chief came out with a divisive announcement. First off, they’d found the sharp rock in question. And secondly, they were closing the case to the public until further notice.
The blackout of information didn’t stop people from speculating, though. Some said that, given how well-liked Jane was in her community, the murderer had to have been a stranger. Others thought about it a bit differently…
Some people claimed that Jane was a little too friendly, and sometimes hung out with the countercultural crowd — “the hangers-on and acid heads who you would not call young wholesome Harvard and Radcliffe types,” an anonymous source close to Britton remarked. Rampant rumors persisted while evidence dwindled.
Without any concrete facts to go off of, speculation could only go so far. Eventually the case stopped progressing completely. Jane’s mother died in 1978 and her father in 2002, both going to their grave not knowing what had happened to their little girl.
Find A Grave
Decades passed and the world slowly seemed to forget about Jane. Then, in 2017, things took a decidedly dramatic turn when multiple requests from the public to reopen the case were finally granted.
The Morning Call
Finally, a half century after Jane was found dead in her apartment, the semen samples recovered from the crime scene were tested. By this point the technology was advanced enough that results could connect them with a suspect. And that’s exactly what happened.
The semen was consistent with a man named Michael Sumpter. He was a convicted rapist and murderer, and his rap sheet undoubtedly fit the bill of someone who would commit such an unspeakable crime. There was one slight issue, though…
Michael Sumpter was dead. He’d passed away years ealier in 2001. In order to confirm him as the killer, they used the next best thing: his brother’s DNA. Sure enough, it was a match. After all these years, the truth was finally out.
Angela Rowlings – Boston Herald
Not only was there forensic evidence to implicate Sumpter, but the timeline also matched up. He’d been working less than a mile away from Jane’s residence during the time of her death.
To make things even more tragic, Sumpter had assaulted another woman in the same neighborhood three years after Jane’s death. If only her murder had been solved earlier, then a second woman might have been spared.
“A half-century of mystery and speculation has clouded the brutal crime that shattered Jane’s promising young life and our family,” Jane’s brother has said. “The DNA evidence match may be all we ever have as a conclusion. Learning to understand and forgive remains a challenge.”
It’s tragically common for cases to go unsolved. That’s why it’s so cathartic when closure actually is reached. When one California adventurer started out on the journey of his life, he had no idea he’d wind up at the center of one of the strangest cold cases in American history.
The University of Utah
Everett Ruess was born in March of 1914 in Oakland, California as the second child to parents Christopher, a probation officer, and Stella, an artist and poet.
From a young age, Christopher challenged his son to read heavily and encouraged him to study the great philosophers. Everett later began to write poetry himself, and he even took up archery.
But it was adventure that became Everett’s true passion, and he began showing an appetite for it as early as 1930 when he was just 16 years old. During that summer, Everett hitchhiked from Oakland to the town of Carmel-By-The-Sea, an impressive 100-mile journey.
The following year, after graduating from Hollywood High School, Everett purchased a burro and set out on his first major expedition. Over the course of ten months, Everett would come to see iconic locations like the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park.
Conde Nast / DOI
Not only was this trek an ambitious one, but it also set the foundation for the adventures Everett would seek out in the years to come. Unbeknownst to the young explorer, however, his next expedition would change everything…
In November of 1934, 20-year-old Everett Ruess rode into the remote Utah township of Escalante accompanied by two pack burros. A settlement founded by Mormons in 1876, Escalante was a place where the arrival of a stranger was a rarity.
Everett made his camp just north of the town, pitching his tent in a sunbaked area along the Escalante River that was perfect for mid-day naps. The townspeople visited Everett often, making small talk and giving the friendly adventurer the lay of the land.
The Salt Lake Tribune
The children of Escalante took a particular shine to Everett, and during his time there he took them riding and even treated them to a movie. After spending a few nights in town, Everett packed his burros and disappeared into the wilds of Utah. He was never heard from again.
The New York Times
So what happened to the young explorer? Well, in 1999 David Roberts, an adventure writer for National Geographic Magazine, sought to find an answer to the 65-year-old mystery. The first stop on his investigation? Escalante.
After arriving in town, Roberts sat down with 74-year-old Norm Christensen, one of the children charmed by Everett during his stay in Escalante in 1934. Norm, who was only 10 at the time, was one of the last people to see Everett Ruess alive.
According to Norm, Everett set off into the Utah desert after leaving Escalante, traveling southeast along the Hole in the Rock trail. This historic route had been plotted by 19th-century Mormon settlers and was a tried-and-true passageway for navigating the desert. Or so they believed.
The Durango Herald
Roberts also spoke to a 91-year-old man while in Escalante named Melvin Alvey, who met Everett during his stay in town all those years ago. Melvin wasn’t surprised that Everett had disappeared, as even then he believed that the young man was ill-equipped to survive the harsh winter climate of the Utah desert.
However, historical reports show that Everett was still alive at least a week after leaving Escalante, having traveled 50 miles through the desert. We know that he came across two shepherds and some cattlemen, but after that, he simply vanished.
High Country News
Despite Everett’s disappearance, red flags weren’t raised until almost three months later. This wasn’t out of the ordinary, though, as Everett had sent a letter to his family weeks earlier saying that his journey would likely prevent him from communicating for a month or two.
SassafrasLaneVillage / Etsy
But when the letters Christopher and Stella sent to Marble Canyon, Arizona — the place where Everett was expected to re-emerge into civilization — were returned unopened, they quickly grew concerned. After contacting the postmistress, a search party was dispatched from Escalante in March of 1935.
Eventually, the same two shepherds that had crossed paths with Ruess the previous November stumbled upon an old campsite in a steep-sided canyon known as Davis Gulch. Although Everett’s burros were found alive — albeit severely malnourished — there was no sign of the young explorer, his diary, or his camping gear.
While no traces of Ruess were found, it was widely believed that he was murdered while trekking through the desert. More specifically, the group of cattlemen — who were the last to see him alive — were the supposed culprits behind Everett’s disappearance.
Canyon Country Guide
In fact, Norm Christensen revealed that one of the cattlemen, a man by the name of Keith Riddle, had confessed to Everett’s murder. However, Riddle died in 1984 and no definitive evidence was ever found that pinned him to the crime.
But in 2008, 74 years after Everett’s disappearance, a tip from a Navajo who claimed to have witnessed Everett’s murder led a man named Denny Bellson to the skeletal remains of a body at Comb Ridge. The bones — found in a crevice 60 miles from Everett’s last camp — were tested against the DNA of Everett’s nieces and nephews. It was a match!
The Durango Herald / Only in Your State
Heartbreakingly, however, it was later discovered that the DNA test had been botched and that the Comb Ridge remains belonged to a Native American. And so, the truth behind Everett Ruess’ disappearance still remains a mystery to this day.
High Country News