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’ Colorado 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:
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.