The decades-old unsolved murder of JonBenet Ramsey is getting a new wave of scrutiny, thanks to a new documentary that aired Sunday night on CBS. An especially vexing aspect of the case is the 911 call that Patsy Ramsey, JonBenet’s mother, made after JonBenet disappeared but before she was found dead. The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey attempts to answer one of the biggest questions about that call: Why did Patsy Ramsey hang up so quickly?
Patsy — who passed away in 2006 — called the police after discovering a ransom note in her home. She spoke with the 911 operator for around a minute, then abruptly hung up — or did she attempt to hang up but fail to actually do so? That question has been the focus of a years-long debate among law enforcement, investigators and amateur sleuths, and despite the fact that audio of the phone call is freely available, there’s still no consensus.
Some people, such as a former Boulder police detective Steve Thomas, think she accidentally didn’t hang up, and allege that faint discussion between several other individuals can be heard after Patsy stops talking to the 911 dispatcher. Others, namely the FBI and Secret Service, have analyzed the tape and concluded that no additional conversation is audible after the Patsy reportedly hangs up.
Ramsey’s parents were long suspected of somehow being involved in their daughter’s death, but DNA evidence fully exonerated both of them in 2006.
The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey convened several experts in an attempt to solve this mystery. One of them, former FBI agent Stan Burke, found Patsy’s conduct on the phone call suspicious. “When you make that phone call, someone close to you has disappeared — you’re sending out that phone call for help,” Burke said in the documentary. “I’ve looked at a lot of 911 calls over the years. They’ll hold on until the police get there. That’s your lifeline — that help indicates hope. The moment you hang up that phone, you end the hope. And for that phone to be hung up, you gotta ask yourself: Why?”
Former FBI profiler Jim Clemente broadly agreed with that sentiment, telling the filmmakers that Patsy exhibited “behavioral things that I think are extremely unusual.” Moreover, Clemente stated definitively that Patsy “did not hang up the phone.”
The documentarians also spoke with Kim Archuletta, the 911 dispatcher who took the call. Archuletta — who also believes the phone wasn’t properly hung up — said that Patsy’s statements seemed rehearsed. "I just remember having that sunken feeling that something wasn’t right,” Archuletta said. “The problem was, if you hear the frantic in her voice as she’s speaking to me, where she couldn’t even answer my questions, it immediately stopped [after she hung up].“
“What bothered me immensely [was that] it sounded like she said, 'OK we’ve called the police, now what?,” Archuletta continued. “And that disturbed me. So I remained on the phone, trying to hear what was being said. It sounded like there were two voices in the room, maybe three different ones. I had a bad feeling about this. To me, it seemed rehearsed.”
It’s quite possible that we’ll never know why Patsy hung up, or if she indeed hung up, and the mystery of this 911 call is just one more reason why the case continues to fascinate the public after almost 20 years.