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Local professor profiles JonBenet's ransom note
  • Feb 18, 2003


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Rachelle Treiber
He was not allowed to take photographs while touring the palatial Boulder, Colo. home where a 6-year-old girl had been killed just months earlier.
But Thomas McAninch did what any good criminologist would: he carefully committed as many details as possible to his memory.


The unique layout of the family's home, the odd placement of light switches and the maze that made up the basement where the child's body had been discovered the day after Christmas in 1996.
Although he is not directly involved in the case, as a professor of criminal justice at Scott Community College, McAninch took a special interest in the 1996 homicide of JonBenet Ramsey, and in an investigation that has resulted in no arrest and little closure.
He believes that is due in part to a botched investigation by Boulder Police.
"I have been there and been through the house, I have spoken with people who investigated the murder — but I am not connected to the case," said McAninch, a 53-year-old Bettendorf researcher and educator. "I teach profiling, but I do not consider myself an expert."
McAninch, a member of the Quad-City Council of Police Chiefs, has written numerous publications and lectured at national conferences on various criminology subjects including profiling.
Along with his wife, Helen, a local lawyer, he has developed supplemental materials for criminology textbooks for Wadsworth and McGraw-Hill publishers.
In addition, he has toured Chinese prisons at the invitation of that country's government, serves as an associate editor of the Journal of Gang Research, and was recently honored with the Frederic Milton Thrasher Award — named for a University of Chicago sociologist who studied gangs in the 1920s.
This semester, in one of his courses at Scott Community College, he explores profiling methods used in several murder cases including the unsolved killing of JonBenet, the little beauty queen who for years after her death still was being featured on the cover of national tabloids wearing pageant gowns.
"I have been asked this at conferences, by academicians, by the press — but I don't know who killed JonBenet. I do know that someone in that house is connected with her death," he said. "And that this was never a kidnapping, it was a murder whether accidental or purposeful."
Standing before his class during a recent lecture on the subject of profiling, he explained his analysis of the ransom note found in John and Patsy Ramsey's home just hours before their daughter's body was discovered in the basement.
"It is a right-handed person who wrote this block-style with their left hand," McAninch said of the letter.
"I have had many kids sit down and re-write this — it takes an average of 15 to 30 minutes. Someone just killed a 6-year-old then sits down to write a three-page letter in the house where the body is — that is someone who is not afraid of being discovered in the home," he added.
He said the note itself attempts to point the reader to a type of individual, specifically a Middle Eastern terrorist —a person who would act quickly and without empathy for JonBenet or her family.
But McAninch said he was taught something very important from famed FBI profiler and criminologist Robert Ressler.
"One of the things Bob Ressler taught me is if someone is trying really hard to get you to look one way, the first thing you should do is look the other way," McAninch said.
And that is why his interpretation of the ransom note has led him to believe the author is someone exactly the opposite of what the note states. A person who is staging a crime scene.
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He said it was apparent from the beginning of the letter that a crime was being staged to look like something it was not.
"The author says they represent a ‘small foreign faction,' but no self-respecting terrorist would consider themselves less that representative of the masses," he said. "It also says ‘we respect your business,' but would a foreign faction respect your business? You just don't find this kind of thing in kidnapping notes," he said.
Furthermore, he believes a sentence that states, "speaking to anyone about your situation will result in your daughter being beheaded," also is an example of the author trying to speak as they believe a terrorist would.
And terms written in the letter like "fat cat" are idioms that would not be taught to a foreign person learning the language. For those reasons, he said it was easy to eliminate a person from the Middle East as the author of the ransom note.
"A profile does not predict the individual, it predicts the type of person, and more specifically, it eliminates people," he explained.
Regarding the lengthy period the person took to write one version of the letter, he said the note itself is edited, which would have taken even more time. "There is an inserted ‘not,'" which is very important. It reinforces that this person had time and they are comfortable — not a stranger to the house."
Several parts of the letter, he said, also show the author is a person who knows John Ramsey well.

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According to FBI agents, the $118,000 requested in ransom note turned out to be the exact amount of John Ramsey's Christmas bonus.
And the end of the letter, which states "Victory, S.B.T.C.," is something McAninch said stands for Subic Bay Training Center, where John Ramsey was stationed while serving in the military in the Philippines.
"Also, throughout the letter, the writer stops calling John ‘Mr. Ramsey,' and begins to call him by his first name, showing he or she knows the family on a personal level," McAninch said.
There are also several aspects of the note that lead McAninch to believe a well-educated female likely wrote it. "The use of the word "attaché. With the exception of people in government, men usually call it a briefcase. And phrases like ‘and hence,' and ‘law enforcement countermeasures,' are fairly sophisticated," he explained.
He said the letter also refers to southern phrases like "use that good southern common sense of yours."
He said John Ramsey and his wife, Patsy, have given handwriting samples and neither has been charged with any crime related to the case.
However, McAninch stressed that his profile is not necessarily for who killed JonBenet, but rather for who wrote the note. He believes the girl's mother fits the profile of the ransom note's author.
"Patsy ends up fitting the profile really well. That is not a fingerprint, not a DNA match — those are absolutes. This is very subjective and that is why we cannot convict on this type of thing," he said.
In the end, he knows only what type of person could or could not have written the letter.
"So what do I know — I know that the ransom note was not written by a transient, terrorists from the Middle East, or a sexual offender. I believe it was written by someone close to the family or a family member," he said.
"They say this is still an open case, but unless something huge happens, it is closed," he said.
Rachelle Treiber can be contacted at (563) 383-2363 or rtreiber@qctimes.com.
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