BOULDER, CO — It’s easy to feel a little sad for Mark Beckner, the former Boulder, Colorado, police chief and Reddit newbie who did an Ask Me Anything segment this weekend, unaware that his answers were accessible to the entire world.
Beckner was the police chief during the JonBenet Ramsey case. Six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet was found murdered in the basement of her home in 1996. The case, full of lurid twists and turns, gripped the nation and made her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, into celebrities as well as persons of interest in the case.
Despite suspicions, the Ramseys were exonerated in 2008 after DNA evidence pointed to an unknown male unrelated to the Ramsey family. Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy even wrote a letter to the family apologizing for any pain caused by a suggestion of involvement in the crime.
To this day it is still unclear who killed the little girl.
On Reddit, Beckner’s responses shed a lot of light on some of the more complex and questionable parts of the case. However, he later told the Boulder-based Daily Camera newspaper that he had misgivings about the online chat, calling it a “misunderstanding and naivete on my part.”
Since Beckner’s comments have been deleted, it’s impossible to link to individual responses, but all of his answers can be found in a cached version of the thread at http://extras.denverpost.com/jonbenetAMA.html.
Though Beckner may regret the AMA, Reddit users were impressed with his candor, and we still learned some really interesting things from his answers:
1. What happened physically to JonBenet
Beckner: “We know from the evidence she was hit in the head very hard with an unknown object, possibly a flashlight or similar type item. The blow knocked her into unconsciousness, which could have led someone to believe she was dead. The strangulation came 45 minutes to two hours after the head strike, based on the swelling on the brain. While the head wound would have eventually killed her, the strangulation actually did kill her. The rest of the scene we believe was staged, including the vaginal trauma, to make it look like a kidnapping/assault gone bad.”
2. His personal theories on who did it
Beckner: “I have avoided saying who I believe is responsible and let the facts speak for themselves. There are several viable theories.”
3. Patsy Ramsey’s infamous handwriting test
Context: The day JonBenet was found dead, her mother Patsy claimed she found a 2.5-page handwritten ransom note in their home, demanding $118,000 for JonBenet’s return. The police later determined the note was written on paper from a notebook in the Ramseys’ house. The Ramseys underwent handwriting analysis to determine whether they could have written the note. John Ramsey’s sample seemed to show he didn’t write it, but Patsy Ramsey’s sample was labeled “inconclusive” and police at the time said they would pursue “unrehearsed” samples to examine. However, in the letter to John Ramsey, District Attorney Mary Lacy mentioned that she did not consider anyone in Ramsey’s immediate family to be under any suspicion in the commission of the crime.
Q: “When Patsy wrote out the sample ransom note for handwriting comparison, it is interesting that she wrote “$118,000″ out fully in words (as if trying to be different from the note). Who writes out long numbers in words? Does this seem contrived to you?”
Beckner: “The handwriting experts noted several strange observations.”
4. The uniqueness of the 2.5-page ransom note
Beckner: “The FBI told us they’d never seen a 2.5 page ransom note.”
“No note has ever been written at the scene, and then left at the scene with the dead victim at the scene, other than this case.”
5. Whether the crime scene was mishandled
Context: The investigation was plagued with claims the crime scene at the Ramseys’ house was not preserved properly, and that unauthorized individuals were allowed to move about the crime scene while the investigation was in progress.
Beckner: “Yes, the crime scene was not handled properly and this later affected the investigation. [The Ramseys’] position in the community may have had something to do with decisions made that day, but I think the primary reason was a perfect storm-type scenario. It was the Christmas holiday and we were short staffed, we faced a situation as I said earlier that no one in the country had ever seen before or since, and there was confusion at the scene… As a result, some evidence was compromised.”
“Yes, after that initial day, we felt pressure from the DA’s office not to push too hard on the Ramseys. This was a constant source of frustration and much could be written about this and the reasons for it.”
6. Whether the motive for the killing/assault was purely sexual
Context: A 1999 grand jury report indicated there was reason to believe JonBenet was “sexually assaulted.” Details from an autopsy and comments from some experts, including one cited in a 1997 Vanity Fair article indicated the girl had abnormal genital injuries or conditions that could suggest sexual contact of some sort prior to the day of her death.
Beckner: “It just didn’t seem to fit the totality of the circumstances. Remember, she was hit on the head first, hard enough to render her unconscious. Then there was the staging of a kidnapping. Why do that if the motive is purely sexual?”
7. What he thought about the John Mark Karr confession
Context: John Mark Karr was a father and teacher residing in Thailand who, in 2006, claimed he was sexually involved with JonBenet at the time of her death and that her killing was accidental. However, DNA tests confirmed he was not a match to DNA found in the girl’s underwear, and there was no reason to believe he was anywhere near the scene.
Beckner: “My gut reaction was that [District Attorney] Mary Lacy did not know the facts of the case and was making a big mistake. His confession, once they shared it with us, did not match the evidence at the scene. After she asked for our help in proving he did it, we knew in about 18 hours he was not the guy. We were able to confirm he was not even in Colorado at the time by just doing some routine checking and then obtained photos of him in Georgia at the time. The DNA test, which she thought would prove he did it, proved her wrong.”
8. How the case affected his career
Beckner: “For me, it actually helped propel me to the chief’s position once Tom Koby left. It also gave me some credibility in the community based on a different approach I took with the media. I was more open and forthcoming with the media and I think that helped.”
9. Why people are so fascinated with this case
Beckner: “The media attention and the intrigue of a good murder mystery attracts lots of people. Add a small beauty queen and it only intensifies the interest. If only 1% of the population is crazy, in our country alone that would mean there are about 3,600,000 crazy people out there wanting to give us their wacky ideas.”