Protesters unhappy at the lack of a decision in the assassination example march outside the justice centre in Boulder, Colorado, in 1999. Photograph: Reuters
So Patsy, in particular, was shocked by the negative public reaction to the pageant photos after her daughters slaying. One newscaster said the six-year-old resembled a hooker. Fairly much only pageant photos of JonBent were used in the media, even though she had only been in nine pageantries. There was a definite intimation in the now-hysterical media coverage that to put your child in a beauty pageant was weird, unnatural and sexually suspect. JonBent was simultaneously deified as a photogenic angel and vilified as small children temptress, and her parents were criticised for fetishising her looks, while the public and media did precisely the same thing themselves. What I find on the pageant video you dont do that to a six-year-old, JonBents former dance teacher, Kit Andrew, says in Perfect Murder, Perfect Town.
But there is an alternative way of looking at the pageantries. Child beauty contestants, while unusual in Colorado, are scarcely unknown in the US. Thousands of pageantries still take place every year, and no one is saying every mother involved is a potential killer. In fact, far from incriminating the Ramseys, the pageantry photos could be seen as almost exonerating them: it could very easily to believe that the pageants brought JonBent to the attention of a local paedophile, and several have since been suspected, but never charged.
John and Patsys general demeanor was also deemed suspicious by the police, the media and the public. The Ramseys didnt appear to behave the way mothers in this situation are supposed to behave. They didnt cling together and constantly consolation and reassure each other, John Douglas writes in The Instances That Haunt Us.
But John and Patsy were, they write themselves, in shock and medicated so we could function for weeks after the murder. So to judge how they spoke, looked and interacted as being indicative of something was not really fair. But this is what happens to every mother who loses a child in a high-profile lawsuit: their behaviour is scrutinised for clues.
When a parent loses a child, the most natural human reaction is sympathy. But that is not what many feel for parents in high-profile suits. When Madeleine McCann went missing in 2007, her parent, Gerry, and including with regard to her mom, Kate, is commonly criticised: Gerry, some sniped, was too articulated and Kate seemed too pretty. What kind of mom sets on eye darknes when her daughter is missing? Kerry Needham was dismissed as a feckless teenage mom when her baby son, Ben, went missing on Kos in 1991. When two-year-old Lane Graves was killed by an alligator at Disney World in a freak accident earlier this year, parenting chat sites were inundated with people criticising the mothers for letting a little boy play near the water in the evening, as though that were unusual on a Florida holiday.
Parent-blaming is all-too-common these days, and usually the point is to construct other parents feel better about their own parenting abilities. But in cases such as that of JonBent, something else is going on. By demonising mothers who have suffered a terrible trauma, the rest of us can reassure ourselves that they are different from us: those mothers are flawed, even evil, and we are good and therefore most children will never go missing in Kos, in Praia de Luz, from our house in the middle of the night like theirs did. The rush to blame JonBents parents can also be partly put down to the public needing to reassure themselves that, contrary to what the Ramseys told, murderers dont break into houses and slaying children where they should be most safe. That only happens when the parents themselves are killers. And yet.
Brennan tells: In 2000, I wrote a piece that ran in the Dallas Morning News pointing out that, nine months after this crime, someone transgressed into a house near the Ramsey house and was in the process of assaulting a nine-year-old girl in the middle of the night and was chased out by her mother. The girl went to the same dance studio as JonBent. The police said they believed it had no connection to the Ramsey case.
After used to describe the case for 20 years, Brennan says he has come to believe the family werent involved: If you look at the autopsy photographs and you ensure the deep furrow in her neck created by that ligature, you see a tremendous amount of force was employed. That does not suggest staging to me the person who did it, meant it. But the Ramseys have nothing in their background to suggest that this level of evil dwelled in their hearts, he says. But this theory, like the ones about whether the Ramseys behaved how they were supposed to, relies on imagining how we would behave if most children had been killed, or if we had killed them accidentally. But no one can do that accurately. And anyway, its irrelevant, since the case is about the Ramseys , not anyone else.
It is entirely possible JonBent was killed by a member of their own families. It is also very likely the instance will never be solved: Patsy has since succumbed and the suit gets colder every year. The ghoulish hysteria around her slaying has lasted more than three times longer than JonBents life did. Ive covered lots of big stories: the Challenger, general elections. But this it is something that Im thinking about all the time, says Brennan. It is an impossibly complex, apparently unsolvable riddle. It is also the death of small children, killed with shocking brutality. But its hard to see the truth beneath the schlock.
The Killing of JonBent: Her Father Speaks, 9pm, 11 December, Crime and Investigation; Who Killed JonBent? Lifetime Movie, 10 pm, 18 December; The Case of JonBent Ramsey, 22 December, More4