Over the winter break, I came across a TikTok rabbit hole filled with various theories for the JonBenét Ramsey murder. These videos, all ranging from 15 seconds to three minutes, were each filled with information on all aspects of the Ramsey murder. Some videos came in a “series” where the creator made multiple videos with information and background to start, and then finished the series with a video or two stating their theories. After about 45 minutes of watching these TikToks, I started to look up more information on the internet, quickly understanding why these teenagers had become so focused on solving this murder.
If you’re unfamiliar with this case, or were just too young to remember, JonBenét Ramsey was born on August 6, 1990, and passed on December 26, 1996, at the age of six. On the morning of her death the family found a ransom note on the kitchen counter. It stated JonBenét had been kidnapped. Investigators found this note to be peculiar. The note was about three pages in length, written with a writing utensil found in the Ramseys’ kitchen, in Patsy Ramsey’s handwriting, and requested a sum of money that was identical to John Ramsey’s Christmas bonus. Many thought the note was staged, as JonBenét was found, dead, in the family’s basement.
There were multiple violations in the way the crime scene was handled. When JonBenét was found, her father moved her body upstairs, moving and contaminating any potential evidence. Family members, friends, and neighbors came into the Ramsey home and cleaned surfaces in the kitchen, went into the basement to look at the crime scene, and continued to walk through the home. With this many compromises to the crime scene, hope for any evidence for a conviction would essentially be gone.
JonBenét’s murder remains a mystery 25 years after her death, but will TikTok creators help solve this cold case? The human drive for closure manifests differently for everyone. According to Jerome Kagan, a psychologist from the 70s quoted in an article from the New Yorker, “When we can’t immediately gratify our desire to know, we become highly motivated to reach a concrete explanation.” Because this desire to know has been brewing for a quarter of a century, it is no surprise that it continues to manifest in the next generation. But why do people, who weren’t born until the early 2000s, care so much about solving this murder?
True crime is an industry that continues to grow, whether via different podcasts, TV shows, movies, documentaries, or books, there is plenty of access to true crime resources in the 21st century. While the ethics of true crime media are certainly up for debate, there is no doubt that there are ways that these forms of media can obtain justice and closure for victims, their families, and those who identify with them. One thing that seems to be a common denominator of many well-known or “popular” cases is the malpractice of investigators.
It is no secret, especially over the course of the past eighteen months, that the public’s critique of police practice is on the rise. The JonBenét Ramsey case, much like that of Tamla Horsford, has been rendered unsolvable due to the misconduct of investigators. With issues like lack of crime scene security, improper handling of corpses, and removal or contiamination of evidence by bystanders. These cases have been deemed unsolvable or an accident due to the failure of investigators to follow procedure while collecting evidence.
When taking recent police conduct and this country’s longstanding history of racism into account, police misconduct might come as less of a shock in the case of Tamla Horsford, as she was a black woman. One question the JonBenét Ramsey case poses is, “If investigation of the murder of a young, famous, pretty, rich, white little girl can become corrupt, what does that mean for victims from different races, genders, and socio-economic statuses and their investigations?” JonBenét Ramsey was not only a victim of murder, but a victim of theft. She has been robbed of a fair investigation, adequate trial, and justice in every sense. If this is what can happen to a young girl from a well-off family, can victims that do not look like her also be victims of their status pre-mortem?
If this is the case, then it might be necessary for true crime media to stay popular and hold a prominent place in the eyes of the public. While some could argue that it is unethical to monetize the trauma that victims and their families have endured, the true crime podcasts from middle-aged white women, and TikToks from younger creators, are potentially beneficial to bringing closure to the families of these victims. Debate of the ethics of the income that creators make from trying to piece together these crimes is certainly warranted, but if that income is unethical, what is to be said about the income of the investigators that rendered it nearly impossible to solve the case in the first place?
While these creators might be using the trauma of the JonBenét Ramsey case to gain their 15 minutes of fame, it is all the more likely that their intention is to bring more answers to this case. The human brain needs closure, and considering the uncertain circumstances of the pandemic, it is no surprise that people, especially young people, try to satisfy that need via other avenues. As psychologist Arie Kruglanski states in an article from the New Yorker, “[the] individuals’ desire for a firm answer to a question and an aversion toward ambiguity are a drive for certainty in the face of a less certain world.”
While true crime might not seem like a logical way to cope with a pandemic that has spanned four years, the need for closure and certainty isn’t entirely logical either. While what really happened to JonBenét Ramsey might never be proven in a court of law, an attempt to find answers, and justice, seems to be the choice form of control for young people. Sharing it on social media also might help others, also trapped in this era where answers are far too sparse, find an avenue of control to cope with a world where control seems to be an illusion.