Twenty-four years after JonBenét Ramsey’s death, her family still has questions – and a new documentary aims to reignite the search for answers to the still-unsolved case.
In "JonBenét Ramsey: What Really Happened?” (now streaming on the new Discovery+), the journey to find the truth about the 6-year-old, who was murdered on Dec. 26, 1996, unfolds through the narration of Lou Smit, a Colorado Springs, Colorado, homicide detective who came out of retirement to help with the case and kept an audio diary.
Smit’s voice is heard in previously unreleased audiotapes as he works tirelessly to find evidence and uncover the truth, even as others on the case worked against him.
In an interview with USA TODAY, JonBenét's father John Ramsey, who appears in the documentary along with Smit's daughter, son and others connected to the investigation, said he was “grateful (Smit) was brought into the case” but only knew him by reputation, which included solving more than 200 homicide cases.
JonBenét’s brother John Andrew Ramsey, who also appears in the documentary, says Smit’s dedication was to JonBenét, not to the Ramsey family.
“If he had thought for a moment that Dad or (his late wife) Patsy were capable of this murder, he would have pursued them to the end of this Earth,” he says. “Lou was a true victims’ advocate, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Smit’s audiotapes were also new to both John Ramsey and John Andrew Ramsey as they watched the film.
“I was not aware of the audiotapes… It’s a real asset to solving this case, still,” John Ramsey says, adding that hearing Smit’s voice again gave him a “nice warm feeling. He was quite a person … a legend in Colorado for what he’d accomplished in his career.” (The detective died in 2010.)
John Ramsey admits he didn’t watch the whole film, realizing it would be too painful – “It’s just hard to revisit that for me, quite frankly,” he says – but spoke to a major theme of the film: how the police misjudged him and Patsy.
“The death of JonBenét took away my desire to live for a while; the actions of the police took away my ability to live normally and that, to some extent, continued for a long time in the way we were treated and assaulted,” he says.
Contrary to what some may think, John Ramsey says he felt “uplifted by our fellow humans in public." Instead, he and his wife “were getting crucified by” the police.
“The police drew a conclusion immediately that day, the next day and then tried to find the evidence to prove it. And the evidence they were finding was, unfortunately for them, contradictory to their conclusion," he says. "But they never admitted that and struggled with that for years and spent millions of taxpayers' dollars trying to prove otherwise."
John Ramsey says he doesn’t fault the Boulder Police Department for their lack of experience in solving homicides but does fault them for refusing help from people who “knew what they were doing at the time,” including the FBI and people like Smit.
“That’s where big egos get in the way of what should be done right,” he says.
John hopes the documentary will “keep the case alive. We’re hoping somebody will come forward with some information that will be helpful.”
John Andrew echoes the sentiment: “There’s no upside in doing these documentaries for my dad and I personally; it’s painful. We’re reliving a trauma… but it’s a lever we pull to apply pressure to the police to do the right thing.”
But it also serves as a lesson.
“What the police did to our family is a massive miscarriage of justice, and it needs to be documented, it’s history, it’s the unfortunate truth. It shouldn’t happen again. It shouldn’t happen to another family.”
“Hopefully, police departments can learn what was done wrong,” his father adds.
The documentary ends with hope that new DNA technologies will help solve the case once and for all, giving Ramsey’s family some closure and validating Smit’s hard work.
John Andrew says he’s spoken to labs and scientists who are familiar with the case and “all (are) willing to help. But right now, the case resides with the Boulder Police Department, and they aren’t listening, so we’ll have to apply some pressure to get them to listen to some experts. This can be solved," he says. "It's gonna take hard work, it's gonna take passion... If you don't have the heart, it doesn't get solved. And the reality is, the Boulder Police don't have the heart."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: JonBenét Ramsey documentary hopes to ‘keep the case alive’