A JonBenét Ramsey TV Primer: What’s the Difference Between the (Many) Shows Devoted to the Famous Cold Case?

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(Credit: Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images)
(Credit: Axel Koester/Sygma via Getty Images)

The actual 20th anniversary of her death doesn’t happen until Dec. 25, but TV land has decided to get a jump on JonBenét Ramsey coverage. Networks from A&E to NBC have specials re-examining the infamous — and most shockingly, still unsolved — 1996 murder of the six-year-old Colorado beauty pageant queen in the works, with most of the coverage airing in September, with a Lifetime movie retelling of the tragic killing premiering in November. Here’s a detailed guide on the coverage, including the different details each is promising to offer up for viewers still obsessed with the decades-long cold case.

The Killing of JonBenét Ramsey: The Truth Uncovered (Watch at AETV.com)

The Ramsey Family (Credit: A&E)
The Ramsey Family (Credit: A&E)

A&E was first up with this documentary, which premiered on the network on Sept. 5. Among its standout moments: an interview with John Ramsey, who talked about how “laughable” it was that his then-nine-year-old son Burke was ever considered a suspect in his sister’s murder, and previously unaired footage of nine-year-old Burke being interviewed by an investigator about JonBenét’s death. When the young boy is asked why he remained in his room in the aftermath of his sister’s murder, he says, “I was just so scared.” John Ramsey, by the way, maintains he and his late wife, Patsy, had nothing to do with their child’s murder. They were officially taken off the suspect list in 2008, two years after Patsy died of ovarian cancer.

Related: Fall TV Preview: The Scoop on 35 New Shows

Dateline: Who Killed JonBenét? (NBC, Sept. 9, 9 p.m.)

Jane Harmer (Credit: NBC)
Jane Harmer (Credit: NBC)

Correspondent Josh Mankiewicz investigates in this two-hour special edition of Dateline, which features an interview with former Boulder, Colorado police detective Jane Harmer, who says she initially agreed with a grand jury’s decision to indict John and Patsy Ramsey in their daughter’s murder case in 1999. (You can watch the episode here.) “I think that the grand jurors heard the evidence and came up with that conclusion, and I would agree with their conclusion,” Harmer tells Mankiewicz. She later also agreed with the district attorney’s decision not to pursue a case against the Ramsey ‘rents, however, and she’ll share her reasons why on Dateline.

Dr. Phil (Sept. 12, 13, and 19, Check local listings for time and channel)


Dr. Phil McGraw kicks off his 15th season with the first-ever interview with a now 29-year-old Burke Ramsey, who talks about his sister’s murder and how the last two decades of media coverage and speculation about the rest of the family’s involvement in her murder has impacted him, including seeing his face on tabloid magazine covers while grocery shopping. He also talks about why he has never talked about anything to do with the murder or the case publicly before. “For a long time, the media basically made our lives crazy,” he tells McGraw. “It just made me a very private person.” The three-part interview will also include Burke Ramsey, now a software developer in Indianapolis, sharing what he knows about his sister’s death.

JonBenét: An American Murder Mystery (ID, Sept. 12, 13 and 14, 10 p.m.)

The three-night docuseries unfolds events of the case in chronological order, including exclusive video footage from inside the swanky Ramsey home taken within hours of when JonBenét’s body was discovered, the news that Boulder PD’s prime suspects were the Ramseys, and late homicide detective Lou Smit’s discovery of evidence that suggested an intruder had broken into the Ramsey home. And, covering one of the most bizarre twists in the 20-year history of the case, ID has an exclusive interview with John Mark Karr, the teacher who is the only person ever arrested for JonBenét’s murder. Karr confessed to the crime in 2006, after being arrested on child pornography charges, but was later cleared in the Ramsey murder by DNA evidence.

The Case Of: JonBenét Ramsey (CBS, Sept. 18 at 8:30 p.m., Sept. 19 at 9 p.m., and Sept. 25 at 8:30 p.m.)


CBS is premiering this two-night, four-hour docuseries (or “docu-thriller,” as it has been billed) versus the Emmys, so you know the network is confident about its content. (UPDATE: On Sept. 12, CBS announced that The Case Of will run four hours instead of six.) In short, series executive producer Tom Forman said months of reworking the case — which included meticulously reconstructing portions of the Ramsey house, right down to using the same wallpaper and carpeting, and placing wrapped gifts beneath the Christmas tree — led investigators to come to a unanimous theory about JonBenét’s death. “When they got to the end, they had tried on every theory. They had looked at this a million different ways,” Forman telss Yahoo TV about the team, which included many of the case’s original investigators. “There is really only one conclusion that fits the evidence. A team of world-renowned investigators all reached that conclusion independently.” What is that conclusion, and does it mean there could finally be some justice for JonBenét? The possibility promises to make The Case Of obsessive viewing.


Who Killed JonBenét? (Lifetime, November)

Julia Campbell and Michel Gill (Credit: Ron Tom/Freeform via Getty Images, Getty Images/Splash News)
Julia Campbell and Michel Gill (Credit: Ron Tom/Freeform via Getty Images, Getty Images/Splash News)

The only new scripted drama in the bunch, the Lifetime movie will star Mr. Robot and The Get Down star Michel Gill as John (who remarried in 2011 and wrote a book about his family nightmare, The Other Side of Suffering, in 2012), Awkward’s Julia Campbell as Patsy, Payton Lepinski (in her first role) as JonBenét, and Once Upon a Time’s Eion Bailey as Steve Thomas, the detective who was certain Patsy Ramsey was responsible for the death of her daughter.