Some of you may have watched the recent CBS special where top investigators, forensic experts and agents tried to figure out who killed 6 year old JonBenet Ramsey, a pageant "star" from a wealthy family. Conclusion? They believed quite strongly that 9 year old Burke Ramsey killed his little sister with a flashlight at the time, possibly over some pineapple (the contents of JonBenet's stomach at the time of autopsy). The investigators proved that the skull fracture was just the right size for the flashlight end and the investigators proved it could be done by a ten year old (Burke was almost ten).
Here is the Rolling Stone overview of the CBS special.
Here is the CBS channel.
NBC also did coverage that was inconclusive as to who the killer was.
In the series, some people who knew the family were interviewed. It was revealed that Burke had a bad temper, and was known to have left his feces in JonBenet's bed (also found during the investigation) and smeared on a jar in her room (also found during the investigation). He also shows no trauma when interviewed by a psychiatrist and investigator (or fear that someone will come back for him, considering the parents are insisting on the "intruder theory"). Also, recently in a Dr. Phil interview, he was admonished by viewers and commentators for smiling through parts where he talked about how his sister died.
So, let us hypothesize and say that Burke murdered his little sister unintentionally with a blow to her skull with a flashlight. Why would the parents cover it up if Burke could not be tried in a court of law? What would the parents have to lose by calling the police and telling them that Burke struck his little sister with a flashlight and the child appears unresponsive. After all, most parents would have done that, and it would certainly have made their lives easier to just tell the truth (as their lives began to become a media circus and continued for twenty years, with a grand jury wanting to indict the parents over a cover-up and possible accessory to a crime, plus losing their fortune, plus extreme efforts on their part to impede investigations into their lives, and all kinds of other repercussions that people running from the law typically have to live with).
If they had staged the ransom note, a note that took at least 20 minutes to write inside the Ramsey's home (and took practice runs on another sheet of paper), and made the body look like the work of someone being held captive (duct tape across the mouth, hands loosely tied, rope around the neck), why would parents go to those lengths?
Telling the truth would only have meant probable loss of custody of Burke and some reputation in their community (being "non-exemplary parents").
If you have read any parts of this blog, parents who go to great lengths to shield violent and bullying children from repercussion tend to be narcissistic parents (they can also be sociopaths, but sociopaths do not care too much about the praise of others). They care much more about their reputations as being infallible parents than what is happening to their kids, or how their kids are interacting with each other. Most narcissistic parents take either a hands-off approach, letting the kids battle it out with each other without interference, or they actively promote the bullying (empathy is derided, and seen as a weakness in most narcissistic families). See
* Sibling Abuse and Sibling Bullying
* Parents Who Pit Siblings Against Each Other, a Folly That Fosters Abuse
* Favoritism: Fostering Abuse for Everyone in the Family, and Why a Narcissistic Parent Favors and Loves the Golden Child Most, and What It Does to the Whole Family
* Abusive Families who Triangulate (Love Triangles) -- Narcissists, Children, Lovers, et al
JonBenet was in many beauty pageants, a brainstorm of her mother. But JonBenet also considered her trophies to be her mother's rather than hers. The mother was trying to mold her child, and applauding acting skills, rather than authentic child reactions to what JonBenet was experiencing. Being a good "actor" is paramount to being a narcissist: you act out that you are better, more beautiful, more desirable, and especially "more perfect" than others, so that you can "get ahead" in the social sphere. It is a way of manipulating a vision that others have of you. Beauty Pageant mothers would say that it is "good discipline" for a child to be poised, and standing up straight, and being open to being judged, and to think carefully about her own reputation in terms of words and actions. It brings about manners. However, this sets up a certain kind of rigidity and formalism within a family: real feelings aren't talked about, and what is going on isn't talked about much either. So fatal violence can and does occur more easily in a narcissistic household than it does in a normal household.
In this context, the family unit is "everything", and its "infallibility" is everything, so yes, this kind of family could make up an intruder theory just to remain "socially acceptable" to their wealthy peers.
Narcissists are also known to fall off their pedestals because their lives are so engrossed in "keeping up with the Joneses", lying, posturing, keeping their reputations intact, thwarting honesty and honest investigations, and acting, that somewhere along the line, they can and do end up with nightmare lives like the Ramseys. Something gets found out because most people are hard-wired to find the truth, not to cover it up (this is one thing narcissists do not understand about others). It is hard to be upstanding in your community if acting and lying is the only way you get there, so in the end, some of these parents are shunned anyway. A shunned narcissist is not a pretty sight. They will deflect and deny accountability until they have no other choice, but then the "I have sinned" crocodile tear-soaked revelations that leave the public in disgust often do come out.
But why would parents defile the body of their daughter? How could they put duct tape over her mouth, and tie her hands, especially when she was already dead (a dead child from a blow to the head is horrific enough), and particularly as they made great pains to make her pretty most of her life? Wouldn't that be a contradiction? And what about that garrote?
The thing one has to remember is that this child was constantly handled, and touched much, much more than other little girls. She was also paraded around with the realization that many eyes would be looking at the child. The idea of dressing her up to such an extent was to give her an appearance. Clothes are unique to our species: it is how we present ourselves to our fellow human beings. The more made-up we are, and the more clothes we have, and the more the culture buys into being made up and having hundreds of outfits as a standard of beauty, desirability, wealth and acceptability, may be a sign that we are all trying to hide from something. Perhaps the more we are made up, the more we become divorced from our authentic selves. It was the public's opinion that being a little girl in constant beauty pageants was inappropriate, and sexualized her, and precipitated being the target of a murder. This may be true, even if the murderer was Burke, which I will get to later.
What I want to say first is that she was dressed up, so dressing her down isn't so hard to fathom, particularly when your children are primarily being used as accessories for your own reputation. Dressing her down, as much as dressing her up, was perhaps used for the same end. Dressing her up was about presenting the daughter as beautiful, cute, sweet, desirable, wealthy, pampered, loved, revered and especially about being from a respectable family who appeared to put their children first, even to the extent of putting them on a pedestal. Dressing her down to look like she was the victim of a "small foreign faction" of kidnappers, i.e. outsiders (never from the adoring family!), who took pains to restrain her, prod her and break her skin with pin points, who put a cord around her neck, was to show that parents would never do this to their own child, especially on Christmas (just too cruel and grisly), so it just HAD TO BE from an outsider. "HOW COULD YOU EVEN BEAR TO THINK WE COULD DO THIS TO OUR OWN CHILD?!?"
But, I believe, it is possible for a parent to do this to her own child for show, particularly a narcissistic mother who is already in the business of dressing her daughter to reflect upon herself.
Narcissistic parents either put a child on a pedestal, or they neglect and reject them. In other words, narcissistic parents' children look as though they've either been dressed with clothes that come from the finest tailors, designers and stores, with labels to match, like little dolls, or they are dressed down, to make their children, especially children they have deemed to be "problem children" with hopelessly out of date hand-me-downs, unisex clothes, clothes that need mending, clothes that are ill-fitting, sweat clothes, or clothes that literally look like they came out of a dump or the Salvation Army (and not kidding). Narcissists are imbued with a great deal of jealousy and possessiveness, even towards their own children, and it depends on how strong that jealousy and possessiveness is in terms of which extreme they take in dressing their children up or down.
As for the sibling angle, in the animal world, some siblings find a way to gang up on another sibling and kick them out of the nest, ostracize them, leaving them to fend for themselves, or out to die. It is a way to get more resources and attention from a parent. In some instances, losing siblings can also be a threat to survival, especially if the parent does not find its way back to the nest. So, the sibling relationship is complicated: it is both competitive and co-operative. Most adult siblings who have grown up in a normal atmosphere (i.e. non-narcissistic parenting), do end up with sibling relationships that are more co-operative and loving than even the relationship that they have with their own parents. Having a close, loving sibling relationship has more impact on quality of life than just about any other relationship, as studies have shown.
However, that doesn't mean we will end up with siblings who want a close relationship, or with parents who want their offspring to be close. In fact, if you grew up in a narcissistic household, you will probably not be all that close to your sibling. Narcissistic parents want children to live up to parental demands. They want children to compete for resources, attention and love. They want children to be either infantalized or parentified (and there is often no other choice but these two extremes).
So children in narcissistic households are usually not close. The exception is with a family scapegoat who has had enough of family dynamics, left the family, and set up an independent alternative for the other siblings to either follow or reject. If the parents are highly manipulative with money, rewards and words, rejection of the scapegoat by the siblings is more typical, but not always (I will explain why in another post).
If one parent is spending a great deal of time with dressing up her daughter like a doll, and making sure she is pedicured, manicured, that every hair is in place, and every piece of clothing is spotless, and every piece of jewelry priceless, the boy (Burke) in the situation, is not going to get the same kind of attention, even if he gets the same amount of attention in terms of time. It is my contention that children can still feel very competitive with their other sibling, even though rationally they understand that the kind of attention they crave is not possible because of their sex.
The issue is: the parent is emphasizing a one-on-one relationship with their child, and at the same time, excluding the other child from these activities. This kind of intense concentration on an exclusive relationship with a child is more palatable the older siblings get, but at a young age, it is not so easily understood aside from intense feelings a child is having about what he is experiencing or not experiencing with his parent, or with his sibling.
In other words: the parent isn't emphasizing the sibling relationship, putting the two of them together in the sandbox, monitoring them playing fair, being a team, and other kinds of activities which foster closeness in the sibling relationship. She is spending a great deal of time in activities which the boy, Burke, cannot be part of.
For a brother to be depositing his feces into his sister's bed on a consistent basis tells a lot as to how the sibling relationship is going. So Burke may have resented JonBenet's beauty and her constantly pampered state. It is different to how a pedophile might view JonBenet, but it still sets up a situation where abuse can (and does) easily happen. This is especially true if a child sees his parents constantly comparing themselves with the Joneses or keeping up with the Joneses. Comparing others will always be on the mind of children too, and exceeding at being on top can also consume children's minds as much as it does the parents who are raising them. Burke may have built up resentment knowing he couldn't be an angel dressed in white, with blonde curls flowing down his back, floating around at a Christmas party, often in the laps of all the guests. Resentment, anger and jealousy can make a child hit a little too hard, especially if the rage is already stewing in his heart, from feeling second fiddle, even over a bowl of pineapple. It may have been his way of saying "I have had enough!!"
I'm still suggesting that the sibling relationship is in the normal realm of parenting, with each child given equal time. But the realities of narcissistic homes is that there is often not fairness, or equal time. Again, it is usually an all-or-nothing situation where the favored golden children often gets a great deal, the dis-favored ones get the bare minimum, and the scapegoats get isolated from all of them and treated as though they are pariah who needs constant ongoing punishments and incarceration. The deprivation of scapegoats is often across the board: social, mental and material, with the child often derided with labels. I have no idea whether this set of dynamics played in the Ramsey household, but they may have.
A lot has been made of Burke's appearance when interviewed as a young child and by Dr. Phil when he was 29 years old, about how inappropriate his facial expressions are, how his words don't fit his body language, how his eyes dart around, how he smiles when talking about his sister's murder, how he never appears heartbroken, concerned or traumatized, how he uses words like "sorta" and "ya know" and "kind of" and other unsure phrasing. Most of the time I suggest not convicting based on facial expressions and tics, because victims of abuse often get further abused and punished for erroneous looks across their face. It is never a good idea to judge, especially via looks and body language (as we know, language comes in many forms and your language may not be the same as their language).
Assuming that he did NOT kill his sister, the body language could be a matter of Aspherger's, nervousness, panic, PTSD, feeling flipped out by the nation-wide exposure, feeling the need to provide a polite front while not knowing how to do it (thus the constant smile), feeling awkward in the midst of his first interview, autism, anything. We just do not know.
Assuming that he DID kill his sister, his facial expressions could be sociopathic (i.e. "I am getting away with lies and altered stories and snowing everyone"), "I am keeping up a good front despite the fact that it is my first interview", "Nothing can happen to me because my parents have always protected me and will continue to protect me," and any other number of feelings and responses. But just like the NO KILL explanations, we just do not know.
The one thing we probably can all surmise is that he grew up in unusual circumstances, hounded by the media, seeing his sister on newspapers at the store, having to hide out with protective parents, probably lacking relationships and play-dates with his peers, and all of the other things that make for a "different kind of childhood than the norm" with alienation at its core.
If he is living with the fact that he killed his sister, and learned how to lie about it, or his parents insisted on his lying, then he is probably a tortured soul in many ways. Surely if he did it, his parents would have had some inner resentment towards him for making that tragic mistake. He had to learn to be inauthentic, to put on a face, to appear like an upstanding member of the family and community while living with the internal dread of having killed his sister. Holding onto that kind of secret has repercussions for the next generation, as they too will probably be expected to stuff their feelings and experiences. We tend to pass on what we know, unless we are committed to enlightenment and living in the truth. It is like holding onto a diseased organ within ones body. It is like holding onto a diseased mind too, not unlike Rodion Raskolnikov's mind in "Crime and Punishment".
Burke smiles, but he does not appear happy to me -- whether he did or did not commit the crime.
In any case, narcissistic households are usually rife with sibling discord, ostracized members, suicides and attempted suicides, members with PTSD, alienation of children from their parents, alienation between siblings, members who are deemed "crazy" or "stupid" by parental authorities, parents who do not know where their children are or what they are doing, addicts, fake smiles, fake family togetherness, fake family loyalty, and yes, even grave injuries and murders between one family member against another family member, with cover-ups, and other assorted toxic family signs. In narcissistic households, bullying is often rewarded, and victimization often punished.
Being in a narcissistic family is a little too hard on its members. Most wish, even if the family is wealthy, that they had been born into another family.