Twenty years after her death, the child pageant queen is taking over TV
There’s a trend in television right now for deep dives into crimes gone by, both as documentary series (like Making a Murderer and O.J.: Made in America) and as dramatic retellings (American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson). With so many new shows in the works, the unresolved case of JonBenét Ramsey’s murder nearly 20 years ago is leading the next wave.
JonBenét Ramsey’s dead body was found in her parents’ basement on Dec. 26, 1996. The six-year-old child beauty queen had been strangled and struck on the head. After discovering a ransom note on the stairs to the kitchen of her family’s home in Boulder, Colo., her mother, Patsy Ramsey, realized her daughter was missing and — despite instruction in the letter warning her not to — contacted the police. Patsy, JonBenét’s father John, and her older brother Burke, 9, were later suspected of committing the murder. No charges have ever been filed. In fact, despite several grand jury hearings, more than 140 people having been investigated as suspects, the existence of 1,400 pieces of evidence, and more than 50,000 pages of investigative documents, the case remains open.
The story has captivated the nation ever since that day in 1996, and it’s especially at the forefront as the 20th anniversary recently passed. Here’s a guide to the JonBenét projects landing in your living rooms.
Airdate: Spring 2017
Format: Documentary film
Watch this one if: You need more drama. Billed as “a sly and stylized exploration of the world’s most sensational child-murder case,” the material will take a closer look at the child star’s death and the fervent speculation that still surrounds it. Shot in the Ramseys’ hometown (at the time of the murder) in Colorado, the film explores the lasting imprint the crime has had on society and examines how the crime has impacted and shaped the attitudes of the generations of parents and children that followed. Kitty Green (Ukraine Is Not a Brothel and The Face of Ukraine: Casting Oksana Baiul) directs.
Dateline NBC: Who Killed JonBenét?
Airdate: Sept. 9, 2016
Format: Two-hour special
Watch this one if: You want to hear from the original investigators on the case. Former Boulder, Colo., police department detective Jane Harmer will discuss why she agreed with the grand jury recommendation to indict JonBenét Ramsey’s parents as well as the district attorney’s decision not to pursue charges against the Ramseys. Meanwhile, Bob Whitson, a retired detective sergeant at Boulder PD who was at the Ramsey house on the day the murder investigation began, explains why he believes an intruder killed the little girl. The special will also include never-before-seen case documents and interview tapes.
JonBenét: An American Murder Mystery
Channel: Investigation Discovery
Airdate: Monday, Sept. 12, 2016
Format: Three-night special
Watch this one if: You want to see JonBenét’s brother’s lost interview. Brought to you by Weinstein Television, Jupiter Entertainment, and American Media, Inc., this three-part special will present new evidence and include exclusive interviews from the highly-publicized case as it reexamines the evidence chronologically in an attempt to challenge long-held beliefs. “ID will re-explore every angle, every shred of evidence, and every ‘whodunit’ theory to allow our viewers to draw their own conclusions on the case,” Henry Schleiff, group president of Investigation Discovery, said in a statement.
Airtime: Sept. 12, Sept. 13, and Sept. 19, 2016
Format: Three-part interview with JonBenét’s now 29-year-old brother, Burke Ramsey
Watch this one if: You favor Dr. Phil’s interviewing technique. The show’s 15th season opens with the exclusive interview spread over three episodes. After two decades of silence, Burke Ramsey opens up to the doctor about that fateful day. “I remember my mom searching my room that night saying, ‘Where’s my baby? Where’s my baby?'” he tells Dr. Phil in the interview. Dr. Phil promises to ask Burke the tough questions including, “Has it ever occurred to you that your parents actually thought you did this and didn’t ask you because they didn’t want to know?”
The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey
Airdate: Sept. 18 and 19, 2016
Format: Four-hour docuseries
Watch this one if: You really want to feel like you’re stepping back in time into the investigation. The series reunites the original investigators of the crime and pairs them with new experts — including a former New Scotland Yard criminal behavioral analyst and a retired FBI supervisory special agent — as they re-examine the unsolved murder case. The team, armed with advances in technology, new interviews, and replicas of key rooms in the Ramsey’s home, re-examines the evidence and draws new theories and conclusions. The project is executive produced by Tom Forman (Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, 9/11). (This entry was updated upon the network’s announcement that it was scaling the special down from six to four hours.)
The Killing of JonBenét: The Truth Uncovered
Airdate: Sept. 5, 2016
Format: Two-hour documentary
Watch this one if: You want to hear from JonBenét’s father. The documentary boasts never-before-seen case details — including Burke Ramsey’s 1998 interview tape, detailing his first-hand account of the events at that time — and new analysis from an independent child psychologist, as well as the first sit-down interview with John Ramsey in which he shares his diaries from the time of the murder and exclusive DNA evidence that will shed new light on who actually committed the murder.
Who Killed JonBenét?
Airdate: Nov. 5, 2016
Watch this one if: You prefer a reenactment of events to a documentary. This TV movie goes inside the details of what happened that fateful day in 1996 in an effort to uncover the truth. The film promises to use newly surfaced information to revisit the crime with a fresh perspective and analyze the plethora of competing theories regarding the beauty queen’s mysterious murder. Eion Bailey (Band of Brothers) stars as Detective Steve Thomas; Michel Gill (Mr. Robot) plays John Ramsey; Julia Campbell (Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion) is Patsy Ramsey, and Payton Lepinski takes on her first role as JonBenét. The movie is produced by EveryWhere Studios.
Stay tuned for more. It’s inevitable, right?