Monday, July 14, 2008

A Touch of DNA

by Pat Brown

A "bombshell" piece of DNA evidence has emerged in the long unsolved murder of JonBenét Ramsey and cleared John and Patsy of any involvement in the death of their daughter, according to District Attorney Mary Lacy, who has written a long letter of apology to the family.

Touch DNA, a new technology developed by Bode Laboratories near Washington DC, has discovered nonfamilial DNA on the sides of JonBenét's long johns. "Touch" DNA is a process which allows analysts to scrape targeted areas of clothing for DNA that might have been left by the perpetrator of a crime.

In JonBenét's case, it was surmised her killer might have pulled down her long johns to commit a sexual assault upon her, thereby leaving microscopic skin cells that the new Touch DNA technology could identify.

A knife was scraped along the waistband and sides of the long johns and previously undiscovered genetic material was found. Tests proved the DNA to be from a male unrelated to the Ramseys. This new DNA supposedly matches some other unidentified DNA found on JonBenét's panties years ago.

Quite convincing stuff until I realized what was missing from this picture: Patsy Ramsey's Touch DNA, and JonBenét's Touch DNA. When I further considered how easily this Touch DNA might have transfered off of any other person to the hands of Patsy or JonBenét—and then onto the little girl's long johns and panties—my confidence in this new evidence waned.

JonBenét had had an exciting and busy day, this last day of her life. She had gone to a party with her parents and enjoyed the company of a number of other adults and children. She then fell asleep on the way home. John carried her into the house and to her room. He laid her down on the bed and took off her coat and shoes. Then Patsy removed her pants and replaced them with the long johns.

Reviewing who might have touched what—and when and where they might have done so—we can see John would have had the least opportunity to touch JonBenét's underwear (if he were not involved in the crime) as while he was carrying her, the underwear was still covered by her outer clothing. Patsy, on the other hand, certainly must have handled her undergarments. Where then is her Touch DNA on the long johns that she forced onto the sleeping child? This is not an easy task and I would bet she had to get a good grip on the waist band to pull them on properly. Surely, she touched the sides of the long johns as well.

And what of JonBenét? Isn't it likely that her own Touch DNA is on her panties (as she would have pulled them up and down to go to the bathroom)? Wouldn't her Touch DNA also be on the long johns since even sleeping children's hands may come in contact with their clothes as they toss and move about?

Furthermore, skin cells pass easily from one human to another, so that Touch DNA on JonBenét's clothing may have come from someone she touched before she touched herself. Touch DNA, therefore, is better as a test of inclusion rather than exclusion. If some 40-year-old sex offender ends up matching the DNA on JonBenét's underwear, well then, he would have a lot of explaining to do. However, if the match is an eighteen year old—someone who was but six years old at the time of JonBenét's murder—then John and Patsy are hardly off the hook.

We have also, at this point, only the DA's word that the tests were done properly and that they yielded those particular results. The DNA evidence has not been made public nor has it been examined in a court of law for its validity.

Lastly, let's say we accept that the DNA evidence came from a third party. It would seem likely that there should be more of that DNA at the scene. Where is it? If the perpetrator was careless enough to not wear gloves while sexually assaulting JonBenét, should we not find many more of those skin cells on her shirt, on the blanket, on the ransom note, etc.?

While no one is guilty until proven guilty in a court of law, the presence of DNA from an unknown source doesn't necessarily prove a one-time suspect innocent either. Of all people, the DA should know this and that letter of apology should have been kept in reserve until enough evidence surfaces to effect the arrest and prosecution of the actual killer of JonBenét Ramsey.


Levi said...

I've never seen a case as controversial as this case.

And Pat I agree with you about this case. Where is this touch DNA that was collected at the crime scene, where was it on the ransom note, where was it on the garrote? There are so many questions that have yet to be answered.

And Wendy Murphy appeared on my radio show last night and made some interesting points. If DNA has cleared the Ramsey's like Mary Lacy says, why doesn't Mary Lacy release the rest of the evidence collected that could possibly implicate the Ramsey family, so the public can make up their own minds.

Why do they not release the tests on the grape fuit she ate, two hours before her death?

Why do they not release the information that was collected on John Ramsey's computer in Michigan? There was a search warrent for CHILD PORN.

If we are supposed to believe this PR incident, maybe the DA should release the other information so the public can put everything in context and make up their mind.

Levi said...

I've never seen a case as controversial as this case.

And Pat I agree with you about this case. Where is this touch DNA that was collected at the crime scene, where was it on the ransom note, where was it on the garrote? There are so many questions that have yet to be answered.

And Wendy Murphy appeared on my radio show last night and made some interesting points. If DNA has cleared the Ramsey's like Mary Lacy says, why doesn't Mary Lacy release the rest of the evidence collected that could possibly implicate the Ramsey family, so the public can make up their own minds.

Why do they not release the tests on the grape fuit she ate, two hours before her death?

Why do they not release the information that was collected on John Ramsey's computer in Michigan? There was a search warrent for CHILD PORN.

If we are supposed to believe this PR incident, maybe the DA should release the other information so the public can put everything in context and make up their mind.

Pat Brown said...

Yes, Levi, there certainly is a litamy of concerning behaviors and evidence in this case.

One other unknown piece is an email I have from John Ramsey in response to one I sent him. I noted the language and scenario in the ransom note was similar to that of "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories and the lettering of the ransom note was exactly the same font and size (as if one laid the note on top of the words in the book and traced them so as to disguise writing). As the Ramsey's son was just the right age to be a reader of these books, I told John my theory and mentioned the killer might have been in the son's room and borrowed one of these books to fashion his note.

John responded by commenting on the police incompetancy but said nothing about my theory. I found this odd as usually a family will jump on any new possible concept, even if it is absurd, and want more information on it or ask me to talk to the police. He did neither but said he would keep my email.

One other thing that always bothered me about the ransom note was the opening, "Listen carefully!" No one uses that when writing a note someone will be reading. This is only used when dictating while looking at another.

And so the evidence stacks up....

Levi said...

Pat, I think the ransom note was something to throw police off guard. This was a completely staged crime scene.

The ransom note, the blow to the head post mortem, the stun gun, the knife that belonged to Burke.

Whoever wrote the ransom note had a very high comfort level in the home, and was obviously not afraid of getting caught. If they did what you say they did, that just proves the point they were comfortable in the home.

Most of the time, if a stranger wants to abduct a child, they want to get in, and get out as quick as they can.

BrotherMoon said...

The following are items that show up in both the Ramsey case and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (book, play and movie);

"Sandy Stranger had a feeling at the time that they were supposed to be the happiest days of her life, and on her tenth birthday she said so to her best friend Jenny Gray who had been asked to TEA at Sandy's house. The speciality of the feast was PINEAPPLE CUBES WITH CREAM, and the speciality of the day was that they were left to themselves. To Sandy the unfamiliar PINEAPPLE had the authentic taste and appearance of happiness and she focussed her small eyes closely on the pale gold cubes before she scooped them up in her SPOON, and she ... Both girls saved the CREAM to the last, then ate it in SPOONFULS."

Pineapple was found in JonBenet's intestine. A bowl with pineapple and milk and a spoon next to a glass with a tea bag in it were found in the home.

""Oh dear," said Rose out loud one day when they were settled to essay writing, "I can't remember how you spell 'possession.' Are there two s's or -?""

'Possession' was misspelled in the ransom note.

"It was impossible to know how much Miss Brodie planned by deliberation, or how much she worked by instinct alone. However, in this, the first test of her strength, she had the VICTORY."

The ransom note was signed off "Victory S.B.T.C" .

There are many things in the crime that are also part of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Why?

Women in Crime Ink said...


Your theory is interesting. Perhaps you would consider fleshing it out for a guest contributor spot at Women in Crime Ink. Submission guidelines are found in the sidebar under "Your Turn."

Best regards,
Women in Crime Ink

Anonymous said...

If they had found child porn on any Ramsey computer someone would have been arrested. In and of itself that would be a crime.

Did they release tests and evidence when Susannah Chase's boyfriend was cleared? Not that I've seen. There is still the possibility that someday there might be a trial. That has to be protected no matter how much the rest of us would like to see those test results.

It was pineapple (not grapefruit) and digestion times are not set in stone. She could have eaten it hours earlier or she could have woken up and eaten some and gone back to bed.

Wendy Murphy was wrong about the Ramseys being questioned about drugs in connection with the pineapple. Check the interviews.

A person whose perceptions are auditorially based (as opposed to visual or kinesthetic) would write "Listen carefully." Just as a vusual person would write phrases like "See what I mean?"

I enjoyed the show. I just wish Wendy Murphy hadn't talked over everyone and that there had been more discussion on this new DNA finding.

Pat Brown said...

I am assuming you are being humorous here, Brother Moon, but you bring up a valid point about the issue of coincidence. It is amazing how many times in an investigation there are bizarre coincidences which drive one crazy. Sometimes there are a number of suspects who have such amazing matching "evidence" that it starts looking like everyone is a good suspect. This shows why no one is guilty until proven so in a court of law and, even then, I have seen people convicted on evidence that was so minor that it wouldn't even be suitable to use as probable cause in another case.

However, behaviors and interesting evidence does raise suspicion and intensifies focus; all investigations follow this pattern. There are cases where no one would even consider the parents as suspects because not one of their behaviors raises doubt. Then, there are other cases where it is hard to look away from the parents because their peculiar behaviors keep raising one's eyebrows.

Much as many people decry this kind of focus, but if I find my pet cat has been strangled, I am more likely to think it was the weird boy next door who I saw shooting birds and squashing frogs with a rock than the woman living on the other side of me who is an animal rights activist (scenario fictitious). Behavior is representative how people think and act. It cannot be ignored.

Paralegal Sandy said...

If anyone ever came into my home and murdered my child or children, I'd been scared to death to call the authorities because I could know for sure that not only would I be grieving my child's death and murder, I'd probaby be charged with the murder. I think I'd just blow my brains out and get it all over with, even though I was innocent. There have been several cases now where the parent was convicted and later it was discovered they didn't do it. I can't think of a greater hell for someone.

Anonymous said...


Interesting post. However, I don't see how it is particuarly relevant that they haven't found (or at least haven't announced) Patsy Ramsey's Touch DNA or JonBenet's Touch DNA. The presence of their DNA could easily be innocently explained (and probably expected). What is far harder to explain is the presence of a 3rd party's DNA in three seperate locations, on two different articles of clothing, and in places that we know the killer must have been in contact with.

Also, apparently they were able to find enough skins cells on the long johns to process it in the routine way for analysis. They didn't have to use lcn testing. The fact that they found enough cells on both sides of the leggings seems to indicate that it was not the result of secondary transfer. From what I have read, secondary transfer of Touch DNA typically results in a very small amount of cells.

Kimberly said...

Thank you Pat for responding to my question. Although I have somewhat followed this case a LONG time ago. It's not until recently I've looked into it again (Hopefully with new eyes). I just wanted to know your thoughts on the new "Touch DNA".

Much appreciated for your time.

BrotherMoon said...

I am serious Pat. I sent my larger work to the your turn site. A preponderance of coincidence rules out coincidence.

The theme of literature was investigated early in the case. I just took it a little farther than they did.

Pat Brown said...

I can understand your fear, Sandy, but I think if one actually looks at how many cases the parents had no problem with law enforcement while dealing with the murder of a child, these cases are rare indeed.

Unfortunately, since it is true that most people are murderered by those they are in relationships with, a detective cannot and should not ignore relatives as suspects.

People who behave in an odd manner unfortunately have more focus placed upon them. Perhaps the Ramseys are just weird people who think in peculiar ways and this did not help their case. From the beginning red flags went up in the investigators' minds that made them wonder about the crime.

Right up front, if I were the investigator, I would wonder why the Ramseys did not check the house for JonBenet. After seeing the note and finding my daughter missing from her bed, the next thought I would have is that the kidnapper might still have her someplace in the house or that she might be injured and unconscious in one of the rooms and need medical attention immediately. I would have torn through every room and then run around the house to make sure she wasn't in the bushes. Maybe this is just me, but I would want to find my child and I cannot imagine not making an effort to be sure she isn't still right on the property where I can actually save her.

This is just one example and maybe I am unusual and most people wouldn't look for their child, but I think this would be the norm and the Ramseys behavior was odd. This does not make them guilty of any crime, but it makes me take a second look at them as possible suspects in the death of JonBenet.

Pat Brown said...

You make good points, Anon, but I still urge caution in the eliminating of persons as suspects based on one piece of evidence that could have innocent explanations. I do not think it is wrong for investigators to pursue more strongly the possibility of a stranger as an offender, but using this bit of evidence to clear anyone is a mistake. I have seen the Innocent Project "clear" people based on some DNA evidence when the crime unquestionably was committed by the person they got set free. Just because DNA ended up in a particular location is not proof alone that someone is guilty or innocent of a crime but ALL the evidence must be examined in its entirety to see how it fits.
Should that DNA have been semen evidence within the body of JonBenet plus there was matching DNA under her fingernails plus there was that same DNA on the note along with a fingerprint, I would say, no question, the Ramseys can be cleared. But, this is not at that level (which may simply mean that the offender got lucky and evidence linking him just didn't end up there - life isn't like CSI). But, until we get enough evidence to convict the Ramseys or to convict someone else, this evidence is simply not enough to prove who did or did not commit the crime.

Pat Brown said...

Oh, and, Anon, it is relevant that other DNA that should have been there wasn't noted. True, maybe they just are not mentioning it, but it is important to know whether other DNA was detected as well. It would seem odd to me that a stranger DNA would be found but no one else's or that there were no mixes of DNA. Maybe it is not impossible, but it is a bit strange. Having been around this business a while, I have seen all kinds of squirrelly things in the forwarding and closing of cases. I have heard of DNA linking suspects when I know absolutely, from the detectives themselves or the history of the case, that the DNA does not exist. Yet, the DA claims it does (the Dennis Rader/BTK is an example of a questionable DNA match). I have seen other cases where the DNA testing is quite subjective and the "reading" of the bands and such is rather artistic. One great book written about this is Tainting Evidence by John F. Kelly and Phillip K. Wearne. Check it out....sadly eyeopening study of crime lab malfeasance and incompetancy. I can't say this is what we have in the Ramsey case but it is worthwhile to recognize that scientific evidence is not always as it seems.

Anonymous said...

I am familiar with some of the FBI lab problems but have ordered Tainting Evidence (95 cents from Amazon!) to read it all in one place. Doesn't the FBI behavior in the labs give you some understanding why the Ramseys were not willing to put themselves in FBI hands for a polygraph?

Regarding Patsy's DNA on the waistband. A knowledgeable poster who was not prepared to think the Ramseys were innocent said she heard on CNN that Patsy Ramsey's DNA *was* found on the waistband, as would be expected. Unfortunately when the people from Bode have been interviewed, no one has seen fit to ask about this. Perhaps in time we will find out.

UTlaw said...

Hi again Pat,

This is Anon from the earlier posting. Thanks for your reply. I would agree that the new DNA evidence does not absolutely prove that the Ramsey's are innocent. However, to me, its pretty strong evidence. The more I have read about the secondary transfer of DNA, the more I am convinced of the unlikelihood that the DNA found on JonBenet's leggings or undergarments were from secondary transfer. Here is an interesting, scholarly article written on the subject.

The conclusion is thus..."Our data indicate that the primary transfer of DNA by handling
is possible, but detecting an interpretable genotype is not assured.
Secondary transfer was not observed under our experimental conditions.
Therefore, our data do not support the inference that the interpretation
of DNA profiles from case samples could be compromised
by secondary transfer."

I don't see any other rational, reasonable explanation of the DNA found on JonBenet's clothing (given that it wasn't a result of secondary transfer) other than it was deposited by someone involved in her death.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...i think some of you are assuming that we have all of the information on the DNA evidence, etc. and therefore have the right/ability to interpret it! I believe otherwise...I don't think the DNA evidence belonging to the Ramseys was stressed in this new release of information. I would think that we SHOULD be able to trust the Boulder PD to make a better analysis and judgement of the evidence than those of us in the general public!

I also disagree with the poster above who said, " If we are supposed to believe this PR incident, maybe the DA should release the other information so the public can put everything in context and make up their mind."
Ummmm...I think this might be all well and good when I suspect is finally arrested, tried, and convicted. I really don't think that the public has the right or need to know all of the evidence when this hasn't happened yet. That is probably one reason why the other poster said she wouldn't even want to report to the police if something like this happened to her! There are too many "armchair" detectives these days!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure the Ramseys can be faulted for not doing much searching. She found the note and screams for John Ramsey. He comes downstairs and is reading the note while Patsy call 911. He runs upstairs to put on some clothes. He comes back downstairs and checks the garage, the walk-in refrigerator and also checks various doors. Then the police arrive. It was only 6 minutes between Patsy's call and the arrival of the police. Not much time to do any more searching than he did.

cheryl said...

anonymous, you are leaving out a lot of info. John and Patsy also told police that they "checked" their son Burke's room for JonBenet, but didn't want to disturb him or wake him, so they quietly checked his room, then exited, shutting the door behind them.

Extremely strange. If I had just read a ransom letter,and my young daughter was not in her room,I wouldn't tiptoe into my other children's rooms. I'd be turning on every light in the house, waking everyone up to find out if she was in any of the rooms. I think most parents would.

Also Burke's voice could be heard on the enhanced 911 call, along with John Ramsey's. And Burke was supposed to be asleep at the time of the call according to the Ramseys.

Anonymous said...

That's true they did check Burke's room. So that's an additional place they looked.

As I'm sure you are well aware it is not a confirmed fact that Burke's voice was on the tape. Even some who heard it at the meeting where all the evidence was presented were not convinced. One characterized it by saying "If you could be sure it was a voice."

A well known anti-Ramsey website hired their own expert (Paul Ginsberg) to analyze the tape when it was released to the public. He did not find Burke's voice nor did he find evidence of tampering. He found Patsy saying "Help me, Jesus." I think one should wait until the enhanced 911 tape is released to claim anything regarding it is a fact.

Ludmila said...

Pat what a great post like allways!!
When I read about this a couple of days I was thinking on the case again.
And people think with this letter that the Ramsey's are not guilty, I read a lot of comment on that.
This is one of this cases that maybe never is going to have an end (and is really sad to think on that).
Too much happen in that house that when they found the body of JoBenet a lot of evidence was totally altered.

cheryl said...

What about the fact that they claimed to have tiptoed into Burke's bedroom after finding the ransom note, not waking him, and tiptoeing back out. Months later, after the "supposed" enhanced call, they backtracked and basically said, oh yeah, we forgot, we did wake him up?

Pat Brown said...

From the actual account in the Ramsey's own book:

Patsy finds the note
Patsy checks JonBenet's room
John reads the note
Patsy and John look in on Burke who is "apparently still asleep." (note they did not shake him to make sure he wasn't dead or near death because the kidnapper had done something to him).
Patsy calls 911
Patsy calls a friend called Fernie
Patsy calls the Whites
Police arrive
John checks the walk-in refrigerator
John deals with setting up money for payment
John and Patsy deal with the police
FINALLY, John decides to do a check of the house with friend Fleet

Maybe during all this time wasted not checking to see if their daughter was still in the house, the killer was busy strangling JonBenet or bashing her head in. Oddly, neither John or Patsy ever talk about their long delay in searching for JonBenet. Like the McCanns, they seem to feel no guilt over what most of us would be kicking ourselves over. Most parents, had they failed to search the house because they were in a brain fog, would be saying over and over, "I should have searched the house, why didn't I search the house, what if she was still alive?"

It seems to me Patsy and John were working overtime to forward the kidnapper theory.

Again, maybe just really weird people but these behaviors are something an investigator must take into account, no matter how bad we might feel if it turns out they are innocent.

TxMichelle said...

This case was so botched from the begining it won't matter what kind of wonder science they use. All of it is questionable due to contamination.
I doubt we will ever see an arrest and conviction in this case.

Pat Brown said...

Well, I would say the ONLY hope is IF it is a stranger and that DNA just happens to match some child rapist/serial killer out there. If the crime scene was not staged by the Ramseys, then the killer is indeed a pedophile/serial killer. What we must be really concerned about is having this case erroneously closed with "someone" in prison for life just so the controversy can be put to rest. This technique (and it is used more often than one would like to believe) leaves a killer on the streets and justice denied.

TxMichelle said...

That would be the only way it would get closed.

A while back I watched a show about this case. I can't remember the guy's name, but he went through the house and talked about how it couldn't have been the Ramseys. It was well presented, but I still didn't buy it for a minute.

The only reason I can give is exactly what you pointed out. They acted so strangely. Their actions gave me a whole different story.

I might be as wrong as everyone else on this thinking. Who knows.

Leah said...

I think their behavior tells a lot as well. If it were me and my child was murdered I would never have been able to just pack up and leave without getting justice for my child. I would be pounding the pavement and offering reward $$$ until I found out who did it. That part of this story baffles me the most.

Anonymous said...

Not only did the Ramseys act weird...but they immediately lawyered up and would not be interviewed for 4 months- they set all sorts of conditions on the interviews. Innocent people do not do this. The Ramseys' attorney is a master manipulator of the media and he threatened everyone (tried to sue Fox News too) who sided with the Ramseys did it...and he offered materials to those who would do intruder friendly stories. It's pathetic that poor little JonBenet, who was exploited in the pageants and paraded on stage in inappropriate costumes, was exploited in those who should have been protecting her.

jillydoll said...

I too have questions on the touch DNA. Did Patsy do their laundry or did they send the laundry out to be washed. If they sent it out, the touch DNA could belong to the man who folded the clothes. Was a family friend helping out one day and helped pack a bag? I have been busy and had some one go get PJs or socks out of a drawer for me. this case has bothered me from the begining,from the way the police investigated to how the family acted.

Anonymous said...

I always felt this was an accidental death..caused by her playing n dad..put her in basement to make it look like a boogie man did this.