Perfect Murder Perfect Town

Jon Benét Ramsey's grave at Saint James Episcopal (by Taurusrus)

(2000) (Dir. Lawrence Schiller)

Directed by Schiller as a tele-movie, originally a series, from his own book about the murder of 6 year old glamour-puss Jon Benét Ramsey on Christmas Day (or Boxing Day) 1996 in Boulder, Colorado, it violently divided critics and viewers alike as either partisan, too procedural or just plain icky.  Young Jon Benét was found strangled in the family’s cellar after what was called “the ‘War and Peace’ of ransom notes” turned up.  The parents became prime suspects; police and prosecutors clashed over the making of a prima facie case, and no one was ever charged.

The case fascinated the globe; the Ramseys were criticized for allowing their very young daughter to participate in beauty pageants for tots that had sexual overtones; they were accused of ‘hiding behind lawyers’ and drawing out police attempts to interview them; then they released a book (‘The Death of Innocence’) – plugging the book on TV they told Barbara Walters they would sit for a polygraph test (always an offer likely to increase suspicion).  Everyone seemed to be writing books – a detective on the case who noisily resigned, Steve Thomas, wrote his own book – so it is to the credit of this production that it manages a kind of believability and balance.

There is some good, some odd, casting (Kris Kristofferson as cold case specialist Lou Smit is a little off the wall), with performances ranging from good to Daffy Duck.  Actors from Club Sensible include Ronny Cox as John Ramsey, Ken Howard as D.A. Alex Hunter, Dennis Boutsikaris, Deirdre Lovejoy and John Heard as high-level cops, and Peter Friedman as a prosecutor who annoyingly keeps insisting on adhering to the Bill of Rights.

TVC does not quite know what Marg Helgenberger (Patsy Ramsey) and Ann-Margret, as her Mum, were up to, but overall, this film is worth a go, especially for anyone with an interest in the Ramsey case (its myriad clues leading up into cold thin air) or in the pressure on investigators arising from hysteria and what C. P. Snow called “the brilliance of suspicion.”

Ten years after the murder, a disturbed young man with a Jon Benét obsession, confessed to the crime, but it seems clear enough he made it up, possibly to escape a pornography rap in Thailand.  Only the shadow knows what darkness lurks…

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