A Broken Window Is Key To JonBenét Intruder Theory

by Caitlin Flynn

When JonBenét Ramsey was found murdered in her family's basement on Dec. 26, 1996, many members of law enforcement and the public formed strong opinions about who could have committed the crime. All three members of the Ramsey family maintained their innocence and were cleared of any involvement in the murder due to DNA evidence in 2008, so the JonBenét Ramsey intruder theory remains as one possible explanation for what happened. This theory hinges on the idea that someone broke into the family's home and carried out the killing without waking any of the JonBenét's family members. The case remains unsolved, but a broken window in the Ramsey house offers more clues related to the intruder theory, which will be examined when CBS' docuseries The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey concludes on Monday, Sept. 19.

Though the window in question happened to be in the basement, where JonBenét's body was found, it may be completely unrelated to the crime itself. According to The Denver Post, John Ramsey told investigators that he broke the window when he was locked out of the house at some point before the murder. It was unclear how long the window had been broken, but the newspaper noted that a spider web had formed on the window-well grate outside by the time of JonBenét's murder.

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Although the Boulder Police Department initially dismissed it as "impossible" that the killer entered through the window, Rolling Stone reports that the theory has been revisited. Retired Colorado detective Lou Smit, who was a proponent of the intruder theory, proved that it was possible. In footage that was recently released for the first time in A&E's documentary The Killing of JonBenét: The Truth Uncovered, Smit successfully entered the basement by climbing through the broken window himself. He believed that a smudge on a photograph near the window could have been caused by someone sneaking in the window. (The window was open when investigators arrived at the crime scene.) Smit pointed to additional evidence — a suitcase under the window with an unidentified footprint on it, and foliage underneath a grill that was directly in front of the window, which meant that the grate had probably been moved.

Smit also addressed the belief that, if an intruder indeed entered the home, there would have been footprints in the snow. In 2001, The Boulder Daily Camera reported that Smit had presented photos taken on Dec. 26, 1996 that showed patches of the Ramseys' lawn where no snow was present. However, it wasn't specified whether or not these patches were near the basement — so, although it adds evidence to the intruder theory, it doesn't necessarily mean the break-in site was the basement.

Like so many other aspects of this case, every answer leads to more questions. It's impossible to know whether or not the killer entered the home through the window or found another way in. Smit proved that an adult man could fit through the window, but if JonBenét's killer was larger than the detective, they would have needed to find another way to get inside the house. Unless the killer is caught and offers a full confession and explanation of what happened on Dec. 26, we'll likely never know how exactly they were able to enter the Ramsey house.