Who Is JonBenét Ramsey’s Older Brother — And Why Do Some Believe He Killed Her?

Published April 24, 2024

Though many have suspected JonBenét Ramsey's parents of murdering her in 1996, others believe her brother Burke is responsible.

Burke Ramsey

Dr. Phil/Peteski ProductionsBurke Ramsey speaking to Dr. Phil in 2016.

When Burke Ramsey was nine years old, his little sister JonBenét was found murdered in their Boulder, Colorado home. The murder of the six-year-old child pageant star shocked the nation, but the identity of the killer remains a mystery; no one was ever charged with her death. That said, a number of suspects have been considered, including Burke himself.

Though he was just a child when JonBenét was murdered in 1996, some have theorized that Burke killed his sister by accident and that their parents covered it up. Proponents of this theory point to mysterious details about the JonBenét Ramsey case, like undigested pineapple found in JonBenét’s stomach. Some believe that the pineapple was supposed to be Burke’s snack, and that he reacted violently when she took a piece of the fruit.

But Burke — and his parents — have always denied his involvement.

Here’s why some believe that Burke Ramsey is the most likely suspect, and why others think that JonBenét was killed by someone else.

Burke Ramsey’s Allegedly Troubled Relationship With His Sister

Born on January 27, 1987, to Patsy and John Bennett Ramsey, Burke Ramsey had a privileged childhood. His father John, a businessman, had already sold a company for millions of dollars, and Burke and his sister JonBenét — born in 1990 — grew up comfortably in a nice home in Boulder, Colorado.

Burke Ramsey And Jonbenet Ramsey

John RamseyBurke Ramsey and JonBenét Ramsey in a family photo.

In their family’s 1996 Christmas card, Patsy presents the family as perfectly normal. She writes about her husband’s business, Burke’s achievements in school, and JonBenét’s success in child beauty pageants. But some have suggested that things weren’t quite as peaceful behind the scenes.

In the docuseries The Case of: JonBenét Ramsey (2016), CBS assembled a team of investigators who took a look at JonBenét’s murder. The investigators noted that Burke had committed “scatological” infractions before the murder, smearing feces in the family’s bathroom, as well as in JonBenét’s bedroom, according to Rolling Stone. The family’s housekeeper Linda Hoffman-Pugh — who has also been suspected of killing JonBenét — recalled finding feces in JonBenét’s bed.

The CBS docuseries additionally featured an interview with a family friend, Judith Miller, who remembered Patsy telling her that Burke had struck JonBenét with a golf club a year and a half before her murder.

Such events were disturbing, but they were nothing compared to the horror to come on December 26, 1996, when JonBenét was found murdered.

The Brutal Murder Of JonBenét Ramsey

JonBenét’s case didn’t start out as a murder investigation. Authorities initially believed that they were investigating a kidnapping case.

On the day after Christmas 1996, Patsy Ramsey purportedly came downstairs around 5:30 a.m. and found a two-and-a-half-page ransom note on the staircase. The note’s author claimed to have kidnapped JonBenét and demanded $118,000 for her safe return (which was the exact amount of money that John had received as a bonus at work that year).

Jonbenet Ramsey Ransom Note

Wikimedia CommonsThe ransom note at the Ramsey home on December 26, 1996.

Patsy Ramsey later said she woke her husband, called 911, and searched the home for her daughter. Meanwhile, Burke Ramsey was in his bedroom.

“The first thing I remember is my mom bursting into my room… really frantic saying, ‘Oh my gosh, oh my gosh’… running around my room looking for JonBenét,” Burke told Dr. Phil in 2016, the first time that he’d ever publicly spoken about his sister’s murder, according to CBS News. “Next thing I remember was a police officer coming into my room.”

But Burke stayed in his room during the frantic search for his sister.

“I just laid there, didn’t really know what else to do,” he told Dr. Phil. He said he felt “scared” and added, “I didn’t know if there was some bad guy downstairs and my dad was chasing off with a gun. I had no idea.”

Shortly after 10 a.m., John Ramsey went to the family’s basement and found JonBenét’s dead body. The six-year-old had been bludgeoned over the head, strangled with a garrote, and possibly sexually assaulted.

Soon afterward, John Ramsey told his son that JonBenét was “in heaven.”

“I started crying,” Burke told Dr. Phil. “I didn’t believe it at first.”

Indeed, the murder of JonBenét seemed unbelievable. Who could have killed the six-year-old — and then dumped her body in her own home? As the years passed, a number of suspects emerged, including Burke Ramsey.

Did Burke Ramsey Kill JonBenét?

Though no one has ever been charged with JonBenét’s murder, many believe that the Ramsey family was involved in her death. That’s because the investigation seemed to keep returning to the Ramsey house. The garrote used to strangle JonBenét was made with one of Patsy’s paintbrushes, the paper used for the lengthy ransom note was torn from a notepad in the house, and the pen used to write the note was also found in the home.

Though John and Patsy soon became the prime suspects in the case, another theory slowly emerged that Burke Ramsey had killed his sister by accident, and that his parents had covered it up to protect him.

That theory goes something like this: On the night of JonBenét’s death, Burke Ramsey got up to fix himself a late-night snack. In fact, Burke admits to being up after everyone else had already gone to bed, telling Dr. Phil that he’d snuck downstairs to play after the family had went to sleep.

“Yeah, I had some toy that I wanted to put together,” Burke recalled to Dr. Phil. “I remember being downstairs after everyone was in bed.”

Burke seemingly also had a bowl of pineapple while he was downstairs. Though Patsy denied giving pineapple to her children, the fruit was found in a bowl in the kitchen the next morning, and Burke’s fingerprints were on the bowl (Patsy’s prints were also found). And undigested pineapple was later found in JonBenét’s stomach. The theory goes that Burke had prepared the snack for himself, but when JonBenét snuck downstairs and stole a piece, he hit her in the head with an object — possibly a flashlight — killing her.

Pineapple In The Kitchen

Court TVBurke Ramsey’s fingerprints were on the bowl of pineapple. The fruit was also found in JonBenét’s stomach.

Furthermore, some believe that marks on JonBenét’s back, thought to have come from a stun gun, might have actually come from a toy train track.

Those who believe in the “Burke did it” theory suggest that at some point after the fatal incident, Burke’s parents realized what he’d done — and decided to stage a kidnapping so that he wouldn’t get in trouble.

But Burke has pushed back against such claims. He sued CBS for $750 million after the docuseries aired (they ultimately settled for an undisclosed sum). And though Burke admitted to Dr. Phil that he had hit JonBenét with a golf club before her murder, he claimed it had been an accident. He also denied striking JonBenét with a flashlight or another object on the night she died, telling Dr. Phil that he “absolutely” did not hit her.

That said, some viewed Burke’s interview with Dr. Phil as “creepy” because of how Burke smiled while discussing his sister’s death. Dr. Phil, however, defended his demeanor: “This is anxiety. He’s socially uncomfortable, I’ve seen it a lot. He’s not autistic. He’s not weird. He’s not creepy.”

John Ramsey has also defended his son, telling A&E in 2016: “The accusation that Burke is some violent 90-pound, nine-year-old child… is laughable.”

But if Burke Ramsey didn’t kill his sister, then who did?

Other Suspects In The JonBenét Murder

To date, no one has been charged in JonBenét’s murder.

In the years since, some continue to suspect the Ramseys. In addition to Burke, Patsy (who died of cancer in 2006) has also been considered a suspect. Some believe she killed JonBenét in a fit of rage after JonBenét wet the bed, but Burke told Dr. Phil that his mother never struck them.

“Not to say she never got upset, but nothing near laying a finger on us, let alone killing her child,” Burke Ramsey insisted.

Meanwhile, others have pointed fingers at John, questioning his alleged “discovery” of his daughter’s dead body in the basement.

Patsy Ramsey

John RamseyPatsy Ramsey with baby JonBenét.

A grand jury sought to indict the Ramseys for child abuse in 1999, finding that they had “unlawfully, knowingly, recklessly and feloniously permitted a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation which posed a threat of injury to the child’s life or health.” However, they were never indicted because a Boulder prosecutor disagreed with the grand jury.

Other theories involve the family’s housekeeper, Linda Hoffman-Pugh, who’d asked the family for a large loan and seemed to be knowledgeable about their finances. And yet others point fingers at sex offenders like Gary Oliva, who allegedly told a friend he’d “hurt a little girl” on the day JonBenét’s body was found, and John Mark Karr, who claimed to have killed JonBenét in a “love game” gone awry. Both, however, were cleared by DNA testing.

Gary Oliva

Colorado Department of CorrectionsGary Oliva, one of the former suspects in JonBenét’s murder.

As for Burke Ramsey, he believes that his sister was probably killed by “some pedophile in the pageant audience.” And he says he hopes that his sister’s murderer will be identified one day and brought to justice.

“I don’t want anyone to stop working on the case,” Burke told Dr. Phil. “I want them to focus on finding the real killer.”

After reading about Burke Ramsey, discover the disturbing story of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, who became murderers at the age of 10. Then, see how the “Boy in the Box” murder was finally solved after 65 years.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "Who Is JonBenét Ramsey’s Older Brother — And Why Do Some Believe He Killed Her?." AllThatsInteresting.com, April 24, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/burke-ramsey. Accessed May 23, 2024.