Patsy Ramsey, 49; Mother of JonBenet, Slain Beauty Queen

Times Staff Writer

Patsy Ramsey, who with her husband became a suspect in the sensational 1996 killing of their daughter, JonBenet, has died. She was 49.

Ramsey, who had been battling a recurrence of ovarian cancer, died Saturday at her father’s home in Roswell, Ga., according to her attorney, L. Lin Wood. Her husband, John, was at her side.

JonBenet, a 6-year-old beauty pageant contestant, was found strangled and bludgeoned in the basement of the family’s home in an upscale neighborhood of Boulder, Colo., the day after Christmas 1996.

The slaying remains unsolved, and no arrests were ever made in the case that captivated the nation.

“Anyone who knows this family hoped that they would solve the murder case while [Patsy Ramsey] was still alive,” Wood told the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper Saturday.


But the Ramseys remained under what Boulder police called “an umbrella of suspicion” and at the center of a media storm of speculation. They vigorously defended themselves against accusations that they were involved in their daughter’s death and steadfastly maintained that an intruder committed the crime.

Patsy Ramsey called 911 a little before 6 a.m. on Dec. 26, 1996, to report a kidnapping, after she said she found on a staircase a three-page ransom note seeking $118,000 for JonBenet’s safe return.

Several hours later, John Ramsey reported finding the child’s body wrapped in a blanket in a windowless wine cellar in the basement.

With no clear signs of forced entry, suspicion settled on John and Patsy Ramsey, who quickly hired a battery of attorneys and publicists. Because they said they did not trust the Boulder police to be impartial, the Ramseys did not consent to formal police interviews until four months after the crime.

Police and prosecutors alike were criticized for their handling of the investigation, which has never been closed. A 13-month grand jury probe ended in 1999 without any indictments.

Starting with a story that broke during a slack holiday news cycle and continued for years, the media seized on every bit of information linked to the case. Both tabloid and mainstream media fed familiar images of the child, dolled up in lipstick, eye makeup and beauty pageant costumes, to a ravenous public.

The Ramseys wrote about the intense scrutiny they endured in their 2000 book “The Death of Innocence.”

A freelance journalist who had contended that Patsy killed JonBenet sued the Ramseys for calling him a murder suspect in the book. In 2003, U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes dismissed the libel and slander suit, saying evidence submitted in the civil case led her to conclude that an intruder was responsible for the murder.

Patricia Ann Paugh was born Dec. 29, 1956, and raised in Parkersburg, W.Va. She attended West Virginia University and majored in journalism. In her sophomore year, she was crowned Miss West Virginia, winning a trip to Atlantic City, N.J., for the 1977 Miss America contest.

After graduating from college, she moved to Atlanta, where she met John Bennett Ramsey, a former Navy pilot from Michigan who had divorced his first wife in 1978. John and Patsy were married in 1980, and she worked as a secretary at his fledgling computer company.

The business flourished, merged with two others and, in 1988, became Access Graphics. After a time of commuting from Georgia to the company’s new base in Colorado, the Ramseys moved to Boulder in 1991 with their two young children, son Burke and JonBenet. Two years later, Patsy was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

The Ramseys vacationed in Charlevoix, Mich., a resort town on Lake Michigan, where JonBenet was crowned Little Miss Charlevoix in her first beauty contest, in 1994.

With her cancer in remission, Patsy found joy in JonBenet’s new playground.

“I decided if this was what she liked to do, then I would see if I could make it possible,” Patsy wrote in “The Death of Innocence.”

“I always worried that my cancer would return some day, so I was glad to have found an activity that we could have fun with together.”

After the slaying, the Ramseys left Boulder, dividing their time between Atlanta and Charlevoix. John Ramsey ran for the Michigan House of Representatives in 2004 but lost in the Republican primary.

In addition to her husband, Patsy Ramsey’s survivors include their son, Burke -- now 19, who was cleared long ago in JonBenet’s death -- and her father, Donald Paugh.

She will be buried next to JonBenet in St. James Cemetery in Marietta, Ga., where mourners leave mementos for the child whose killing remains a puzzle.