Santa and the housekeeper: The forgotten JonBenet suspects

By Emma Reynolds of news.com.au

The 1996 murder of six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey made international headlines. Photo / AP
The 1996 murder of six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey made international headlines. Photo / AP

Television viewers following the recent twists and turns in the chilling JonBenet Ramsey murder case may have seen the speculation that Burke Ramsey killed his sister.

But another powerful TV special that airs next week in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the child beauty queen's death has put forward new theories.

Who Killed JonBenet Ramsey? unearths some bizarre evidence that suggests housekeeper Linda Hoffman Pugh and "Santa Claus suspect" Bill McReynolds should have been further investigated.

JonBenet Ramsey with mother Patricia. Photo / Supplied
JonBenet Ramsey with mother Patricia. Photo / Supplied

The two-part special on CNN offshoot channel HLN looks more deeply into alternative theories than this week's explosive The Case Of JonBenet Ramsey.

Experts in CBS's The Case Of JonBenet Ramsey considered that nine-year-old Burke could have killed his six-year-old sister by hitting her over the head with a torch, and their parents, John and Patsy, covered up the crime by staging an elaborate murder scene involving a mysterious intruder.

In a recent interview, 29-year-old Burke denied that he harmed his sister, and said he suspected a paedophile who stalked child beauty pageants was the killer. He also denounced the CBS documentary theorising he killed his sister as a "false and unprofessional television attack" that is riddled with "lies, misrepresentations, distortions and omissions."

'ALL CHILDREN ARE SPECIAL TO SANTA ... SHE WAS EXTRA SPECIAL'

Mr McReynolds was a colourful local character with a long, white beard who visited homes around Boulder, Colorado dressed as Father Christmas. He had attended a party at the Ramsey's home days before JonBenet was reported missing on Boxing Day morning 1996.

"All children are special to Santa," he is shown telling a TV interviewer in archive footage.

"She just happened to be extra special to me. She was very thoughtful, a very caring little girl and she actually gave Santa a present. You can imagine how rare that is."

Family friends said Mr McReynolds, who died in 2002, "struck up a friendship" with JonBenet, and he allegedly handed JonBenet a note found in her bin saying she would "receive a special gift after Christmas."

One particularly strange detail is that Mr McReynolds and his wife Janet were involved in a remarkably similar incident 22 years earlier, when their daughter was abducted on Boxing Day 1974 and saw a friend being sexually assaulted.

Mrs McReynolds wrote a bizarre play in 1978 based on the real-life murder of an Indianapolis 16-year-old, who was molested and tortured before her body was left in a basement.

Her husband adored JonBenet, who had given him vials of gold glitter that he took with him when he had heart surgery. He described her as "pensive, almost retiring," to the Denver Post.

"I felt very close to that little girl," he said. "I don't really have other children that I have this special relationship with - not even my own children or my own grandchildren ...

"When I die, I'm going to be cremated. I've asked my wife to mix the star dust JonBenet gave me with my ashes. We're going to go up behind the cabin here and have it blow away in the wind."

The couple provided hair and handwriting samples to police, but were never formally linked to the murder. After speculation over their possible involvement in the case, they quietly moved to Cape Cod.

The new program suggests a third possibility. What if someone familiar with the family, who had access to the house, committed this heinous crime?

THE HOUSEKEEPER

JonBenet Ramsey. Photo / Supplied
JonBenet Ramsey. Photo / Supplied

We heard from the Ramseys' housekeeper Linda Hoffmann Pugh in the first documentary, which revisited her testimony that Burke had smeared faeces over his sister's bedroom walls and left a "grapefruit-sized" piece of excrement in her bed.

What we didn't hear about was how Mrs Pugh and her husband Mervyn were among the first suspects.

The housekeeper had "asked Patsy to borrow $US2000 shortly before Christmas," Fred Patterson from the Boulder police department tells the HLN program. "They had familiarity with the house, they knew JonBenet. It would have been possible to go to house and take JonBenet without having a disturbance."

Police found the same brand of duct-tape used to cover JonBenet's mouth in the Pughs' home.

Mrs Pugh pointed the finger at Mrs Ramsey in a dramatic book, which flouted Colorado's rules forbidding witnesses from repeating what they said before a grand jury.

The housekeeper, who testified in 1999, said the jury's focus was mostly on JonBenet's mother, The Denver Post reported. "It was almost all about Patsy, down to the underwear she had purchased from Bloomingdales," she said. "They wanted to know how she related to JonBenet. I felt in my heart they were going to indict Patsy."

She told the grand jury that Patsy had become moody before Christmas 1996. "I think she had multiple personalities. She'd be in a good mood and then she'd be cranky. She got into arguments with JonBenet about wearing a dress or about a friend coming over. I had never seen Patsy so upset.

"I don't believe Patsy meant to kill her. I truly believe it was an accident that just continued."

Mrs Pugh said she thought about JonBenet every day and would not turn off her porch light until the child's killer was found.

WHY NOT THE RAMSEYS?

Dr Phil explains Burke Ramsey's bizarre composure and odd smile in front of the cameras left viewers troubled.
Dr Phil explains Burke Ramsey's bizarre composure and odd smile in front of the cameras left viewers troubled.

For this eminently respectable family to be behind JonBenet's murder requires some mental gymnastics. While Mrs Ramsey's stage mother role struck many people as deeply strange at the time, pageant kids are now a familiar phenomena, whatever we may think of them.

The Ramseys appear to have deeply loved their child. They had no history of child abuse or domestic violence, which might be expected if either had really snapped and killed the little girl.

If they covered up for Burke, they would have had to tie a nylon cord tightly around JonBenet's neck and calmly stage a crime scene in the basement. Mrs Ramsey would have had to painstakingly write a two-and-a-half page ransom note in handwriting so different to her own that it has never been definitely matched.

Then they would have had to spend years crying and lying to TV cameras and teaching their child to lie, too. All this when the boy was too young to go to prison in the state anyway.

JonBenet was found with unknown DNA in her underwear and abrasions to the vagina, leading many to conclude she was sexually assaulted.

In 2008, then-District Attorney Mary Lacy exonerated the family when their DNA did not match and issued an apology.

The Ramseys' neighbourhood was home to 38 registered sex offenders. In 2006, just after Mrs Ramsey died from cancer, former teacher John Karr confessed to killing JonBenet. But he had no new information, could not be placed in Boulder at the time of the crime, and his DNA did not match that found on her body.

Another suspect, Michael Helgoth, died shortly after the murder in what appeared to be a suicide, according to CNN. A stun gun like the one police believed left two marks on JonBenet's lower back was found next to his body.

An original prosecutor on the case said Helgoth had footwear that was consistent with footprint evidence, had reportedly made statements "similar to Karr's" to a friend and was found near a baseball cap with the letters SBTC - used to sign off the ransom note.

Another suspect, 52-year-old Gary Oliva, was arrested on child pornography charges this June.

Hundreds of DNA tests have failed to find a match, but does the sample mean anything?

Top forensic scientists have claimed the DNA could have been left on the underwear during manufacture.

In 2013, it emerged that the grand jury did vote to indict the Ramseys in 1999, but Ms Lacy's predecessor Alex Hunter discarded the decision, because he did not believe he could possibly prove they were responsible beyond reasonable doubt.

Boulder's chief law enforcement official has said new evidence is needed before we can find out what happened in that basement.

Twenty years on, there's a faint chance this case could be solved.

- news.com.au

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