Casting JonBenet

The case of murdered 6 year old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey still fascinates today. Originally reported as a kidnapping, her strangled body was eventually found in the family home. Her parents were publicly if not legally tried but the case remains unsolved. In ‘Casting JonBenet’, streaming now on Netflix, director Kitty Green uses members of the Ramseys’ Colarado hometown to recreate JonBenet’s last hours. But more than that, the film documents the actors’ reflections on the crime, their theories, their impressions, and their own personal connections and recollections.

Green explores the mythology surrounding the 20-year-old crime, and palpates the collective memory, to which even we, the viewer contribute. It makes for a very different, almost hybrid documentary, that doesn’t so much shed light on the JonBenet case but reminds us of how we’ve all coloured our own recollections over time. The movie’s casting call includes the following characters:

MV5BMTY3NDU3ODUwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjE3NTE5MDI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1738,1000_AL_The Mother, Patsy Ramsey, seen by many as suspect #1 since the kidnapping note was determined to have been written on her stationary with her pen from inside the home. Was she jealous of her beauty queen daughter? Frustrated by another bed wetting episode? Did she accidentally kill her, then try to cover it up? Interviews with the press were defensive and unsympathetic. Do you identify with her grief or crucify her for her mistakes?

The Father, John Ramsey, destroyed vital evidence when he moved his daughter’s body, despite being cautioned not to. There were no signs of an intruder. His intuition in finding the body struck police officers as suspicious – did he know too much? And then rumours of sexual abuse circulated. Plus, the family let the ransom note’s 10am deadline slip by without a word, and John was booking tickets for the family to fly to Atlanta that same day.

The Brother, Burke Ramsey, was shielded by his parents from the press as a child but recently came off as creepy if not culpable in an interview. A flashlight in the family home fits perfectly with a gash on her head, and could explain a skull fracture. A piece of undigested pineapple found in JonBenet’s stomach seems to have come from Burke’s nighttime snack – did he strike out in anger? And marks on her back are consistent with toy train tracks in his room. Did her brother kill her and his parents cover it up?

A convicted pedophile living in the area was found with a picture of her in his possession. He also had a stun gun – could this explain those marks on her back? He’d also placed a call to a friend not long after, confession to having “hurt a little girl”. And the knots in the garrote used on JonBenet were consistent with knots used when he tried to choke his own mother with a telephone cord.

Santa, actually a friend of John’s dressed as Santa, visited the home just days prior to the Boxing Day murder, for a party at which the children each sat on his lap. He seemed to pay particular (too much) attention to JonBenet, and even arranged a “secret” meeting with her later.

The only new information in this documentary is the dirty laundry being aired by the actors, about themselves. But it’s a compelling look back and a bracing reminder that JonBenet’s killer was never brought to justice.

 

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35 thoughts on “Casting JonBenet

  1. Sarca

    This is a peculiar case. I somehow don’t think the parents are responsible for killing her…but I think they knew who did it and were covering. I haven’t watched the recent stuff on this case, but I can get behind the theory that Burke is somehow responsible. Something about this time too…there was a dark sadness that surrounded John and Patsy. And they were so vilified. Of course, I don’t know the truth about their involvement, just my perceptions.

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    1. SLIP/THROUGH - Dan

      I agree with your theory. The brother accidentally hurt his sister.

      From other case file documentaries, they mention he loved pineapple and milk. He was eating it when she came downstairs, late at night. She may have took some and angered him. Pineapple was found in her stomach upon autopsy.

      It’s heartbreaking to think, but if Mom found her son hurt her daughter, they may call 911 and create story of kidnappers.

      The extra weird part though is the strangulation angle. If she was badly injured, then gasped awake, the parents would have ambulances arriving already. What the son did would be clear. I’m thinking dad could be ordered by mom to make sure she was dead. It’s almost as unbelievable as parents killing their own child, but it saves their other child.

      They could have also thought if daughter survived head injury, she would be disabled permanently, or they could just be committed to the ransom note they made and the phone call to authorities. For me, this kind of theory is much more believable than satanist cults, killer Santas, or pedophile rings (that the community Cast as Jon Benet’s killer).

      Fascinating subject matter. Regardless who did it, we can’t change the ending. No matter who we cast as the killer, a little girl is dead. Whatever reason, it wasn’t reason enough.

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  2. Sean

    It’s such a strange case and this “documentary” does a good job of showing that everyone has a theory about what happened – there are some very strange ones! It’s hard to believe it’s been so long since this was a news item.

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  3. Lilyn G

    This is one of those times where something really just gets under my skin, almost irritationally so. What’s the point in this (not your review – the show itself) other than making a cash grab based on the tragic murder of a little girl? As you said, there’s no new information, it’s just people spinning theories on something that happened 20 years ago. If the family is perfectly innocent (which I doubt, but..), were they involved in this in any way? Did they give consent? That’s what I’m truly curious about. Because if even one of them loved JonBenet, I can’t imagine the pain that having all this stuff brought to screen again could do them. (I’m speaking from the viewpoint of a mother who has lost a child. I can’t even bear to look at pictures of my deceased little girl, and it’s been 4 years.)

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  4. SLIP/THROUGH - Dan

    I loved it. Very compelling structure.

    The way I look at it, WE are Casting Jon Benet with this documentary.

    We are given multiple theories, multiple versions of each character (except Jon Benet), so that we can decide what happened and how. Very smart. Very bold.

    The film also shows how we are curiously drawn to sensational cases like this. We all come up with our own theories. By using community members, this is more clear. If there was no media, no Tv, no radio, no news, this little town would still be Casting The Killer of Jon Benet.

    Man… Netflix knows how to let a documentary helmer be free to create. Another impressive doc on the streaming service.

    Thanks for highlighting such a non-blockbuster for review on your site. I hope the word spreads. I was really surprised with how good this was. If you haven’t already, check out TOWER for another rule-breaking and entirely enthralling documentary.

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  5. D. Wallace Peach

    I remember the time well and it was so sad. It would be hard to watch a fictionalized account. My brother was murdered in 2003 with no arrests. It’s a lot harder to get justice in these cases than you’d think even when they have a pretty good idea of who the murderer is. I wish it was all Law and Order easy!

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    1. Jay Post author

      I can’t imagine the pain.
      Since this doc doesn’t look to the authorities at all, we only hear from regular townspeople – and that’s enough to see how complicated it would be, how many leads to follow up, it’s crazy how many ways it got spun.

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  6. J.

    This whole case is really pretty grim; loads of theories, but no-one will ever know the truth. I think I spotted this on Netflix here…

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  7. Birgit

    Image was huge with this family and I have seen image destroy families. I have had women come see me about their credit driving a Lexus but was also their home! They were homeless but you wouldn’t know it because they came in with Louis Vuitton handbag, dressed beautifully, makeup perfect but they had no home and were deep in debt. They washed up in the mall and would go get their make up done for free or to the Shoppers Drug Mart to get it done. The mother was all about image which is blatantly obvious. I will bet that the boy was overlooked and his anger got the better of him. She would trust him and they went down to the basement and he hit her with the flashlight. He probably got scared and told his parents right away. Rather than telling the truth and having their son get the help he needs, they covered it up. Look at me go! I don’t think it was a stranger but someone close. If it was a family friend, there would be no way they would have covered that up and having that letter written up is a cover up, a sad one but a cover up. The only reason they would have done this would be to protect someone else they loved just as deeply so that means a son.

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  8. kmSalvatore

    This case fascinates my husband( homicide detective). He reads everything he can on it! Drives me batty! I don’t know that he’d watch this though? And the last interview I saw., I have to agree. That “brother ” well he is a bit different..,

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      1. kmSalvatore

        As a child and as an adult . Hey Jay I know you all are the movie queen and kings:) but if your u for a book to read.. check out the book. . Seven million, true story , and my husband helped on the case .

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      1. Jay Post author

        I wish reading put me to sleep! I often end up reading all night. I did last night. No sleep for me. And it wasn’t even a great book, just a sleepless night.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Brittani

    Aside from O.J’s verdict, this was the first big news story I remember as a kid. Her face was everywhere. I’m not really sure what the point of this movie is if it’s not a documentary and it’s just randoms speculating though. I may watch at some point. I do think someone in the family probably did it.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yeah, I didn’t know what to make of it. But it was interesting to see what kind of person thought the father looked guilty, or the mother, and who was more sympathetic to them. It really makes you question the concept of juries – we all have backgrounds that colour our perceptions.

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  10. Courtney Young

    It’s fascinating that this unsolved murder is still talked about today. I remember vividly seeing the magazine covers of her as a young girl myself. Although it doesn’t seem tasteful, I can’t help but to admit being intrigued by this.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes I remember it too, and thinking how creepy and sexualized she looked in her high heels and makeup. It really coloured my perceptions of the case, and of her parents. She is downplayed in this.

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  11. Moody Moppet

    I watched this documentary. It’s haunting. I also heard that it’s all about Burke’s getting angry at his sister and hitting her with the flashlight. The parents, not wanting to lose another child covered it all up. Murder cases always scare the shit out of me, especially when it comes to children. What going on in this world? go figure…

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  12. Brenda

    I have to say I found this documentary disturbing and pointless. The way the actors are milked for personal info and impressions (even if they do crave the spotlight) is creepy. It just highlighted, to me, the American voyeuristic fascination with violence without shedding any light on it. I was drawn into the film, but afterwards wished I hadn’t watched it.

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