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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Ruled Out

While the Ramsey investigation was still in its early stages, a lawyer named Darnay Hoffmann got interested in the case, ultimately convincing himself, and trying to convince others, that Patsy must have written the note. He started posting on the forums as "New York Lawyer," and one day he addressed me (i.e., "docG") directly on Jameson's Webbsleuths site, with the following information:

Posted by New York Lawyer, on Mar-21-99 at 07:09 PM (EST):  
New York attorney Darnay Hoffman spoke to Boulder Assitant District Attorney Bill Wise in March of 1997, and your theory was the first one adopted by the Boulder Police Department. They believed, at first, that John had acted completely on his own, hiding the body of JBR with the intention of disposing it after the police had followed the phoney trail of a bogus kidnapping. They felt that Patsy had been completely kept out of the loop by John, until the handwriting evidence came back looking suspiciously like hers. Then they thought that Patsy was covering for a child molesting John. But these theories were eventually abandoned for a Patsy did it alone theory. So at least you can see: Your theory was the original theory of choice until other evidence surfaced.
I must say I'd forgotten all about this post until sifting through my files the other day. I had early on developed the impression that the BPD simply had no clue. Looks like I was wrong, and actually it's gratifying to be reminded that what now seems obvious to me seemed likely to the Boulder police as well.

Darnay identifies the fateful turning point as follows: "They felt that Patsy had been completely kept out of the loop by John, until the handwriting evidence came back looking suspiciously like hers." And of course, once Darnay got wind of that, he went off to the races. As did so many others.

His account isn't quite accurate, however, because the earliest results ruled out both John and Patsy. These findings came barely two weeks after the murder:

Consider this, from the New York Daily News, Jan. 9, 1997:
Two weeks after Colorado pageant princess JonBenet Ramsey was found slain, police are still analyzing the handwriting on the ransom note and say they have not positively linked the writing to a suspect.
Officials took pains yesterday to deny a Denver TV report that lab analysis of the handwriting ruled out JonBenet's parents.
"We haven't excluded anybody at this point," said Carl Whiteside, director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, where the note is being analyzed. "We still have it in the crime lab, and we haven't completed the investigation," said Whiteside, who spoke only to deny the KUSA-TV report. (My emphasis)
Since, as we now know, John Ramsey's legal team had hired at least one handwriting "expert" very early on, the report being denied almost certainly came from the Ramsey camp. This is the earliest such report I could find, and already contains the fateful phrase: "ruled out."

Four days later, on Jan. 13, we get this from the Boulder Daily Camera:
In another development, Newsweek magazine reported in a cover story due on newsstands today that handwriting analysts hired by JonBenet's parents, John and Patricia Ramsey, have ruled out family members as authors of the ransom note. . .
Pat Korten, the family's media consultant, said Sunday he was disturbed by the leak to Newsweek but wouldn't comment on the truth of the report. "I don't know where that information came from," he said. "I'm not in a position where I can reveal any results of the investigation of the work we've done."
Again, that magical phrase: "ruled out." One might wonder why the authorities would permit their prime suspect to conduct his own independent investigation, and especially to muddy the waters by leaking the findings of his own investigators to Newsweek, where they would appear as part of a cover story, no less! Hey folks, truth is stranger than fiction. Consider also that Newsweek articles would require at least a week of lead time, suggesting that the leak must have arrived at their office no later than Jan. 6th or 7th. Very prompt action on a case hardly more than one week old. Ramsey's people must have been very well paid!

By March 15, it was official. From the Boulder Daily Camera:
John Ramsey could not have written a ransom note found in the family home the day his 6-year-old daughter, JonBenet, was found strangled in the basement, sources close to the investigation say.
Two groups of handwriting experts, one from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the other hired by the Ramsey family, have reached that conclusion, sources say.
However, the same two groups of experts differ on whether the girl's mother could have written the note. CBI document examiners have concluded that comparisons with samples provided by Patsy Ramsey do not provide enough evidence to confirm or deny her authorship of the three-page note, a source said.
Meanwhile, unidentified experts hired by the Ramsey family - described as "nationally known and respected" - have concluded there is a slight chance Patsy Ramsey wrote the note, but that it's "highly unlikely." 
 Here we have the turning point Darnay was alluding to. John is ruled out, but Patsy is not. Not really. Not quite. But for some reason this finding is enough to turn the case completely on its head. The most obvious suspect becomes "ruled out," and the least likely suspect, as far as I can tell, becomes "ruled in." The rest, my friends, is history.

What I would like to know is:

1. What influence did the Ramsey examiners have on the examiners from the CBI? Did they work completely seperately, or did they, at any point, form a team, thus tainting the case?

2. What was the basis for their decision to rule John out? How is it possible to rule a leading suspect out simply on the basis of some exemplars that might not match those of the "ransom note." Can the techniques used by "questioned document examiners" usually confronted with forgery cases be applied to a case such as this, where deliberate deception is to be expected.

3. Did all the examiners rule John out at first, or were some persuaded to go along with the others, to present a unified front?

What does seem certain, as far as I can tell, is that the judgement of none of these "experts" was ever questioned by anyone connected with the case. No effort seems to have been made to challenge their decision or get them to explain what their criteria were, i.e., what was the scientific basis for ruling someone out in such a case. I wonder also whether any of these "experts" had ever had any experience at all with a case of this kind, in which handwriting was deliberately disguised so as to point away from its true source.

Finally, I wonder whether any of these "experts" ever laid eyes on the following document, which as I've already demonstrated, bears many similarities to the "ransom" note:

[Added at 9PM 7-31-12:

From an article by Alli Krupski in the Boulder Daily Camera, June 18, 1997, Giving info to Ramseys a mistake?
By providing the parents of JonBenet Ramsey with police documents and other evidence related to the girl's murder, authorities may have seriously damaged the homicide investigation, according to some legal experts. .  .

. . . legal experts say investigators don't typically supply a victim's parents with police reports before filing charges against a suspect. "The reason is that ... an investigation is still proceeding and the information is not public (before an arrest)," said Christopher Mueller, a law professor at the University of Colorado.

Gregg McCrary, a former criminal profiler with the FBI, agreed. "It really is outrageous, and it's certainly not recommended procedure," McCrary said. "Any chance of getting any new information is gone when you give them the reports. The investigation needs to remain confidential with the investigative team and should not be shared with anyone outside that team, especially potential suspects." . . .

Allowing the Ramseys to obtain the ransom note and parts of the autopsy report also may hinder the inquiry, McCrary said. "They may not remember what's exactly in the note, and now they can study how to disguise their writing," McCrary said. "If they are guilty, you're just feeding them information they can now mold." (My emphasis) ]


  1. When did they get a copy of the note and the autopsy report?

  2. As far as I can tell, they must have gotten a copy of the note very early on, perhaps even the day after the murder. Not sure about the autopsy report, but the note must have been examined by John's "experts" within a week or so of the murder in order for them to be reporting on it so early in January.

  3. I think the note is in code. It's simple. The family had three cultural stores of phrases in common that they could expect the BPD not to share, or not fully: A set of movies, a set of video games and a set of family expressions. Many of these appear in the note. Delete them and the real message, from one Ramsey to another perhaps, is what's left. I think the meaningless redundancy of "safe and unharmed" when simply "unharmed" would do is a reference tot he floor safe, and the weird gratuitous mention of bringing "an adequate size attache to the bank" is an instruction to bring the suitcase downstairs to an area of the grounds (?) the family knew as "the bank" as in snowbank or riverbank e.g. It was an instruction to empty the safe into the suitcase and get it out to a specific location in the yard. Just a guess.

  4. The note has functioned for many people as a kind of Rorschach test, in which they see either what they want to see or what their imagination leads them to see. With all respect, I have to place you in the latter category. There are certainly situations where one might expect to see a coded document, but the murder of a child in the home of a family with no history of clandestine operations or bizarre behavior of any kind, is not one of them. What I see in the note is a very clever piece of staging, which would have been very convincing if the police had not been called so early and the body had been removed from the house. For me it is a very straightforward, if obviously deceitful, document.

    1. DocG, is it possible that JBR really was kidnapped, but then murdered and returned to the home after the kidnappers discovered that police had been called, as per the instructions in the note? I know she was not beheaded, and I know an intruder would have to be quite bold to return to the house, and probably could not have gotten in any case, with LE present, but given the ineptitude shown by the BPD, it might be possible. Otherwise why did John wait till his second search of the house to "discover" the body if he knew where it was all along? Just a thought. Appreciate your reply

  5. Some very interesting work done by poster Whaleshark at Websleuths.

  6. Thanks for the link. What Whaleshark demonstrates is certainly valid. It does look as though the writer added a few squiggles here and there, to disguise his hand. And I certainly agree as far as the resemblance to John's deposition is concerned. But I'm not sure what all the excitement is about. The note is certainly a deceptive document and it's to be expected that we'd see various attempts to disguise the writer's hand.

    Where I totally disagree is with all the speculation regarding Patsy's involvement. And I must say it puzzles me that so many are still so determined to see the coverup as some sort of collaboration between Patsy and John. The 911 call is inconsistent with such a collaboration and if you want to insist there was a collaboration after all, then you need to explain why the call was made when it was, with the body hidden in the house.

  7. I agree there is no reason to speculate on PR's being involved.

    But it's interesting that we now know exactly how the handwriting was disguised.

  8. the make sure you are well rested....unconscious alibi making as the ramsays would have been well rested when they awoke to the note on the stairs.wouldnt they??
    the ego stroking of johns company and reputation identifies the writer as having admiration and respect for this man. kidnapping or murdering ones daughter doesn't show such respect. could be interpreted as self in the second with extreme nasasistic self presovation.
    I'm on the fence about who did what and when....but it is compelling the 911 call.
    patsy does sound panicked and then you can feel her energy change and the muffled post call.
    likea lightbulb went off.
    or shes a fantastic actress.
    my gut feels there is elements of truth in all theorys involving the ramsays.
    just a travesty that the cops weren't prepared. Arndt felt straight up suspicious and couldn't get any back up goingtill she had a body suddenly appear at her feet.....who doesn't know not to touch a crime scene?????
    the fact john found the body ...moved the body is not a coincedence