Sunday, July 27, 2014

Perfect Murder, Perfect Town by Lawrence Schiller--Book Review

Photo: Paperback cover of the book (I read the First Edition hardcover) from

Incredibly dense and thorough chronicle of the JonBenet Ramsey investigation, from the POV of almost everyone involved, from reporters to DAs to police detectives--and everybody in between.  If you're interested in what happened to that little girl on December 26th, 1996 (Could it have been that long ago?!?) then this is mandatory reading for you.

Like the case itself, it is a complicated maze to read, and you may, like me, forget momentarily who somebody is.  There's a character page in the back to help you with this problem.

Schiller doesn't pull any punches and immerses you in everything for the sole purpose, as he says, to chronicle what happened for anyone interested in the case.  It reads like a 579-page report.  There are no writers' tricks here, and no embellishments.  Schiller does an amazing job of organizing all of this stuff into one (mostly) seamless flow.

What does it show?  Oh my goodness, it shows how very thoroughly and completely the D.A.'s office, the Boulder Police Department, the witnesses, the suspects, and the media all worked together to screw up this case beyond repair.  Like the research into AIDS in the early-80s, when American and French scientists fought each other over copyrights and egos and countless people died, so too did the Boulder PD and the D.A. office fight each other over supremacy, evidence and theories.

And we know what happened.


Nothing at all.  A grand jury failed to indict anybody in 1997, and here afterwards have we sat. (Though to be more concise, the grand jury found that there was enough evidence to proceed to trial, but the D.A. did not proceed.  He refuses to this day to give his reasons.)

As detailed in this book, this case never had a chance.  Evidence was immediately trampled upon.  Both Ramseys, and their son, Burke, took leave of the police for a very long time upon the arrival of the first cops.  The crime scene was not controlled and it became very, very compromised.  And the Ramseys somehow were allowed to not be thoroughly interviewed until four months after the killing.

And the police bungled evidence and interviews that anyone who's ever seen an episode of Law & Order could have done better.  The D.A. turned down help from the FBI, whose officers had investigated and tried tons of murder cases against children.  How many had the current D.A.'s office tried?  Zero.

You may imagine yourself, as I did, screaming at, and shaking, some of the well-intentioned but hopelessly inept people involved in this case.

And that's just the beginning.

But, sadly, there's nothing much to add since.

Patsy Ramsey has died.  Nobody's ever been brought to trial.  It may seem there's nothing more to say.

But there is.  Schiller takes pains to try to remain unbiased with his book, and largely he succeeds.  But his one-page epilogue gives him away a little bit, as does the preponderance of the evidence he allows the real people to supply here.

Ultimately the reader has to make his own decision about who did it.  Was it the Ramseys?  Any of them, in the murder and / or in a cover-up?  Was it an intruder?

You'll have to decide.  I have, I think, for the most part.  Maybe I'll write about it in my blog one day--keeping in mind, of course, that many of the people are still alive.  And able to file lawsuits for slander.

But still a riveting read.  If this case interests you, read it.


  1. the brother accidentally killed her and the parents
    decided to cover it up! (the undigested pineapple in
    JB autopsy says it all!)

    1. Unknown, I've heard that before, and I agree that the brother needs to be looked at again. But the way the murder was done--with a garotte tightened with a nail or whatever--speaks against an accident. Tightening a garotte around someone's neck is a purposeful act.

      BTW, Unknown, please post with a name or something from now on, as I have a policy against publishing Unknown or Anonymous. But this comment was worth responding to. Thanks.