Burke in the living room with the bowl of pineapple

One of the best ways to learn about true crime is through documentaries. This medium allows for narration, videos and images, testimonials and interviews with people involved to all be compiled in one place. However, with editing and trying to get as many details of a case as possible into a two-hour film or maybe a six-hour miniseries, there is the danger of constructing a reality that isn’t all true.

For example, the death of JonBenét Ramsey. The two-part special CBS did for the twentieth anniversary of her murder was heavily criticized for how the team of specialists came to their conclusion that JonBenét’s brother, Burke, was guilty of her murder. This is not a unique conclusion; many have speculated the involvement of the Ramsey family members in her death over the last twenty years.

The mediatization of JonBenét’s death manipulates facts, even if the person covering the tragedy is trying their best to represent it accurately. The misrepresentation in the case of JonBenét started when news first broke of her murder. The photos shown on the news were of her all dolled up in her pageant outfits, with makeup and dyed hair. She appeared to be much older than six years old and was uncomfortably sexualized.

JonBenet pictured as a normal child vs. the glamorized, pageant look her mother crafted. Photos from criminalminds.wikia.com & Wikipedia.

JonBenét pictured as a normal child vs. the glamorized pageant look her mother crafted. Photos from criminalminds.wikia.com & Wikipedia.

In CBS’ piece, “The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey,” one of the key pieces of evidence was the original 911 call placed by Patsy Ramsey. The phrasing of the call was bizarre in itself and the linguistics have been picked apart by professionals. But at the end of the call, there are a few seconds of muffled voices between Patsy’s last words to the 911 operator and the end of the call. The investigative team felt that whatever is being said in the background of those few seconds before Patsy hung up the phone was crucial to their investigation, so they attempted to decode it by enhancing the audio with techniques that were not available in the 1990s.

In doing this, they came to a conclusion that sounded like a complete reach. It was what they wanted to hear in order to raise the stakes and make the show more dramatic. One of the investigator listened to an enhanced audio segment that sounded like a whisk against a metal bowl and said, “Oh, wow. I think I hear a man say, ‘We’re not speaking to you.’” Another investigator agrees with him immediately. In my opinion, this conclusion is not legitimate, but I’ll let you watch for yourself.

The show also did a recreation of the Ramsey’s house, which was a total gimmick and allowed them to jump to conclusions about tiny things. While they claimed there could be hidden clues in the house, any hidden clues that existed at the time of the murder were probably hidden in photos and video footage as well, making this recreation nothing more than a museum staging. It is a hyperreality, a creation somewhere between the truth and fiction.

The only tangible evidence from a crime scene that can be trusted is evidence taken at the time of the crime. Anything else is speculation. Even if the recreated house looks “picture perfect” when compared to crime scene photos and videos, the problem is that it does not contain the DNA evidence. While the simulation came from a place of genuine determination to solve this case, all the reproduction did was help the CBS investigators tip the scales in their favor. We also have to remember that the original crime scene was handled poorly and that the evidence taken the day after JonBenét’s body was found was barely reliable.

Georgia Hardstark, one of the hosts of my favorite podcast, My Favorite Murder, wrote two articles for Elle.com about “The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey.” In her second one, she expressed frustration at the stretches made by the investigators in order to fit the suspect they already favored.

“Whenever there is a conclusion that ignores important details in order to point to one scenario in a case that has a lot of possible theories, it invalidates that scenario. It is extremely frustrating to me,” Hardstark wrote. “I’m sure the producers needed some sort of wrapped up package to present at the end of the series, but eventually the rest of the evidence is going to invalidate all the correct evidence that was presented by the show experts.”

As someone who has researched the case extensively and covered it on her podcast, Hardstark has tried to look at the case from every possible angle. She didn’t feel that CBS was completely unbiased in their investigation. She started her second article by saying:

“It’s pretty clear from this first episode that the show is going with the theory that JonBenét’s brother Burke did it, and that their parents covered it up—which, if I’m being honest, is my favored theory as well. But there’s still so much evidence to explain away before one can confidently buy that story, which The Case of has failed to do as of yet.”

Was Burke Ramsey responsible for the death of his sister? We’ll never truly know. But the Ramsey family lawyer is suing CBS over the claims made on the show. 

— Caroline





It can be proven that Ted Cruz is *probably* not the Zodiac killer

I’m not picky about which form of media I consume when learning about murder. Like I mentioned before, I recently discovered a great podcast called My Favorite Murder. I’ve also seen some good documentaries (but actually haven’t watched “Making a Murderer” yet!) and read countless articles.

However, one of my favorite ways to learn about creepy unsolved murders and other odd cases is Buzzfeed Unsolved.” Sadly, there are only 10 videos, but I included my favorite one above. This 20 minute analysis of the Zodiac killer is incredibly in-depth and one of the longer videos the two Buzzfeed employees who created the series, Brent and Ryan, have done.

In every video, Brent and Ryan start by explaining the crimes concisely but creatively before moving on to previously held theories, what the police thought at the time, where the evidence leads and then discuss which theory they each agree with most. They explain the crime briefly but well so that people who already know the story, like myself, are still interested but those who haven’t heard of the famous murder or serial killer they’re discussing don’t feel alienated.

What I like about the format of the “Buzzfeed Unsolved” videos is that they do incredibly detailed research and have the visuals to back it up. Each video includes photos of anyone mentioned, from victims to suspects. There are also original crime scene photos, but never anything too graphic. Just enough so you get the feel for what happened in the moment. In this specific video, they also have scans of letters the Zodiac killer wrote to the San Francisco Chronicle. Obviously I have the internet and know how to use it, but it’s great to have all that information neatly packaged in an easily accessible video that I can watch while I fold laundry or eat a snack.

There is footage of Brent and Ryan, but most of the videos are comprised of voiceovers, mostly Ryan’s, meshed with key phrases written on screen, photos and video footage. In some of the videos, like the Zodiac one and their Black Dahlia video, Ryan and Brent have the opportunity to go to the actual crime scenes (well, the spots that were crime scenes 40-50 years ago). The Zodiac video starts with them at the first Zodiac crime scene, which immediately sets the stage. I don’t know about you, but I’m more likely to keep watching a video with an opening like that than an opening of someone sitting at a table with pages of notes in front of them.

Many key phrases and quotes, like lines Ryan picks out of the Zodiac letters, appears on the screen in an easy to read and large font. When talking about suspects, there are often bulleted lists shown next to either photos or drawings of said suspect. Comprehensive closed captions are also available, which makes the video accessible to anyone. Between the captions and photos, it is possible to watch the “Buzzfeed Unsolved” videos without sound if necessary.

I’m not a big Youtube commenter – I don’t want to get stuck down a rabbit hole – but these videos have thousands of comments from others regarding theories. Viewers also suggest other cases for the pair to cover, give feedback on the video format and more. The videos also have exponentially more “thumbs up” than “thumbs down” – the Zodiac video has over 90,000 upvotes versus 800 downvotes – and upwards of three million views each.

The presentation is a perfect combination of multiple elements and much more engaging than just watching one person sit at a desk and spout theories. Ryan and Brent are obviously friends as well as co-workers, with Brent often being the logical straight man to Ryan’s more imaginative nature and tendency to grasp at straws or believe the likely impossible. I also appreciate that casual language (and occasional swearing), because I feel like I could be friends with these guys. Especially when they mention the Ted Cruz is the Zodiac killer meme. In fact, if they need another member for the team, they need look no farther.

— Caroline

Murder? That’s a messed up obsession.

I love murder.

Well, I love reading about it. And talking about it, listening to podcasts about it and watching tv shows and documentaries about it. Serial killers, famous unsolved murders, you name it. I don’t remember when I first realized my love for true crime, but my friends and family are so aware of my interest in it that one year for my birthday, my sister bought me a notepad shaped like a chalk outline.

"Murder Ink" by Fred & Friends http://www.fredandfriends.com/desk-%26-paper/murder-ink/MINK.html

“Murder Ink” by Fred & Friends

Recently I have experienced a revival of sorts due to a podcast my co-worker introduced me to called My Favorite Murder. The podcast is run by two women who love to talk about their favorite murders and are delighted to learn that other people they know share this passion. They ask for listener submissions of the worst murders in their hometowns and discuss every case in a hilariously off-color way. I listen to it while I’m cooking, at the gym, etc.

I’m a journalism major and advertising minor who isn’t sure if she wants to go into either of those fields post-grad. I very much enjoy consuming media of all types and always try to stay informed on news and pop culture. This is true of both current culture (memes, the election, etc.) but also of major cultural events in the past, like the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. My first memory of that case is seeing a 10-year anniversary news report with closed captions on a tv in a busy airport. I was on my way home from my mom’s cousin’s wedding in St. Louis, with my parents and sister, and I read the captions on the screen while we waited to board our flight.

Since then, I’ve read and heard more about it occasionally, but haven’t been obsessed with it. When all four of the television specials about the murder air this year for the 20th anniversary, I will probably be glued to my laptop, obsessively tracking the details and composing a narrative in my head of who I think killed her.

I don’t have a preference for solved or unsolved cases, just the ones with the craziest juicy details. If it’s a one-off case, I like it to be a messed up as possible. If it’s a serial killer, it can be a bit more mundane. Honestly I can’t tell you why I love murder so much.

With this blog, I hope to learn more about why people are so captivated by true crime, myself included. What it is about hearing the grisly details that is so enticing? Why do we have a fascination for an act so heinous, we can’t even begin to imagine committing it ourselves?

Maybe I’ll understand why at some point. But even when I do, I’ll keep being obsessed with murder.

— Caroline