America’s Disturbing Obsession with JonBenet Ramsey Goes Hollywood

Three productions rekindle one of the most obsessive true crimes of the 1990s.

True Crime as a genre has been on the rise for years. Even television channels that cater to women – whose fare, historically, has been romantic movies and reality shows – have created women-focused true crime programming. The acclaimed podcast Serial and the Netflix original series Making a Murderer have captivated audiences on such a grand scale that these programs have even changed the course of sentences, convictions, and prosecutions.

True Crime feels meaningful if there is justice or at least the possibility of it. Justice is cathartic and makes us feel empowered and righteous as bystanders. Without justice, True Crime feels a lot like watching the news; it leaves us feeling angry and powerless. It is for this reason that I was puzzled by the announcement of not one, but three different made-for-TV productions about the infamous JonBenet Ramsey murder case all to premiere this fall.

The murder of six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey back in 1996 enthralled this country for years. As a fellow blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl at the time of the murder, some of my earliest and most frightening memories are of being huddled around the TV watching the coverage. JonBenet was murdered brutally and the mystery of her death has never been solved, despite over fifty thousand pages of investigative documents and over one hundred forty suspects. The case of JonBenet Ramsey has no resolution. The case has had many false starts and almost prosecutions that it feels like a real life version of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

The first of the three productions about JonBenet’s murder, JonBenet: An American Murder Mystery, will air on Investigation Discovery on September 12th. A production of the Weinstein Television studio, the docuseries will air in three parts. This production alleges new evidence, but I find that both highly unlikely and an unfair promise.

The second series about Ramsey’s murder will air on CBS. This docuseries, titled The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey, will air in three two-hour episodes on September 18th, 19th, and 25th. The first trailer was released a few days ago.

The final rehashing of the JonBenet tragedy comes in the form of a Lifetime movie. The film, Who Killed JonBenet? Is set to premiere sometime in November. The film’s cast includes Eion Bailey as Detective Steve, Michel Gill and Julia Campbell as John and Patsy Ramsey, and Payton Lepinski as JonBenet. This is obviously a dramatized retelling of the case, but it is about JonBenet nonetheless.

I’m not sure what these studios are trying to achieve by bringing up JonBenet Ramsey’s murder. Surely there are several crimes more easily solved or debunked that would make for perfect fodder for the True Crime genre. Certainly there are several crimes without the traumatizing and lingering effect on our society. TV specials twenty years after the fact will not solve JonBenet’s murder. They will not bring her back to life. They will not be easy on her family that have already been through so much suspicion and vitriol over the past two decades. Who are these productions for? Why now? There are many out there that will watch these programs. The rest of us will be retraumatized by the heinous actions of an unknown man we have no ability to identify.

JonBenet: An American Murder Mystery premieres on Investigation Discovery on September 12th, 2016 at 10 p.m.

The Case of: JonBenet Ramsey airs on CBS on September 18, 19, and 25, 2016.

Who Killed JonBenet? Airs on Lifetime in November 2016.

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