Tag Archives: Analysis

FATAL FLAW – WHAT REALLY CAUSED THE TITANIC TRAGEDY

t29The R.M.S. Titanic was the world’s largest man-made, mobile object when the ship was commissioned in 1912. Everyone knows the Titanic hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank within 2 hours and 40 minutes. It was the highest-profile marine disaster of all time and most people still blame the accident on the iceberg. What few people know is the real root cause — the fatal flaw that sunk the Titanic and killed over 1,500 people.

There were two official inquiries into the Titanic’s sinking. Both concluded the iceberg was the root cause, although the investigation processes considered many contributing factors — natural, mechanical, and human. There were errors found in the Titanic’s design, production, navigation, communication, and especially in the motivation of its builder, the White Star Line. While fingers were pointed, no blame was attached and the only real outcome of the Titanic inquiries was adopting the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) that still governs marine safety today.

t11The Titanic accident investigations used the best resources of the time however, the inquiries were conducted long before the wreckage was found, a forensic analysis was applied, and computer-generated recreation was available. Today, we have a clear picture of exactly how the Titanic disaster took place from a mechanical perspective but finding the root cause has remained buried as deep as its bow in the muddy bottom. It shouldn’t be, because the true cause of what really sunk the Titanic is clearly obvious when analyzed objectively.

Both official inquiries into the Titanic sinking called sworn testimony of the surviving crew members, passengers, rescuers, builders, and marine regulators. They used an adversarial approach that was common for investigations at the time. That involved formulating a conclusion — the iceberg — then calling selective evidence and presenting in a way that supported the iceberg findings.

t28One investigation by the U.S. Senate concluded the accident was an Act of God — the iceberg was a natural feature and shouldn’t have been there under normal conditions. The second investigation by the British Wreck Commissioner agreed with the natural cause conclusion but qualified it with a statement, “What was a mistake in the case of the Titanic would, without a doubt, be negligence in any similar case in the future“. In other words, “In hindsight, it shouldn’t have happened and we’re not going to tolerate it again.”

Both twentieth-century investigations concluded that when the Titanic collided with the iceberg, a gigantic gash was ripped in its hull allowing massive water ingress and compromising the ship’s buoyancy. At the root of the accident, they found the cause to be simply the iceberg.

They were wrong and failed to identify the real cause of the Titanic tragedy.

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Today’s professional accident investigators take a different approach to fact finding. They take a “Root Cause Approach” to accident investigation and the industry leaders in Root Cause Analysis or Cause Mapping are the front line company Think Reliability.

t9Think Reliability has done a root cause analysis of the Titanic sinking that’s outlined in an instructional video and a detailed event flow chart that identifies over 100 points of contributing factors. They’re excellent presentations but even Think Reliability missed a few contributors and did not categorically identify the one fatal flaw that caused the deaths of so many innocent people.

In getting to the root cause and finding the fatal flaw, it’s necessary to look at the stages of how the Titanic came to be and then determine exactly what caused it to go down.

History of the Titanic

The Royal Mail Ship Titanic was one of three sister vessels planned by the British ocean liner company, White Star Line. The Olympic was commissioned in 1910 and already in operation when the Titanic was under construction. A third ship, the Britannic, was in planning.

t23The Titanic’s construction was under an extremely tight timeline. Politics were at work, as was economics. Transcontinental ocean travel was rapidly expanding and the once-dominated British control on this lucrative industry was being threatened by German built and operated liners. In protective reaction, the British Government decided to subsidize White Star’s competitor, the Cunard Line. This left White Star resorting to private funding in order to compete and it came from American financier, J.P. Morgan, who put tremendous pressure on White Star to perform.

Harland & Wolff shipbuilders in Belfast, Ireland, built the Titanic. She was 883 feet long, stood 175 feet to the top of the funnels from the waterline and weighed 46,329 tons in water displacement. Her keel was laid in March, 1909, and was set to sea trials on April 2, 1912. Eight days later, on April 10, 1912, the Titanic disembarked Southampton, England on her maiden voyage destined for New York City. Officially, 2165 passengers and crew were on board but this figure is not accurate due to no-shows, an inaccurate crew count, and additional passengers who were taken on in Ireland as well as inevitable stowaways.

t37Some of the world’s most influential and wealthy people were on the Titanic which included the ship’s designer, Thomas Andrews, as well as the head of White Star Line, Bruce Ismay. It was beyond a voyage — it was a cultural event and a chance for White Star to regain its place in international shipping by proving the fastest and most luxurious way to sail between Europe and America. A lot was riding on the Titanic’s success.

The Iceberg Collision

The route Titanic took to New York had been traveled for several hundred years. It was the standard passageway for international liners and the main shipping lane between Europe and North America. The Titanic’s master, Captain Edward Smith, was a thirty-two-year White Star Line veteran and was chosen to command the Titanic due to his experience in international navigation, specifically this plot.

On the evening of April 14, 1912, the weather was perfect. It was clear, cold, and the sea was flat calm however, visibility was limited to ¼ mile due to there being a new moon and the only illumination was from starlight.

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At 11:35 p.m., the Titanic approached a point 375 nautical miles south-southeast of Newfoundland where the cold Labrador current from the north met the warmer Gulf current from the south. This location was well known for being the edge of pack ice and was notorious for icebergs which calf or break-off from their parent shelf.

Captain Smith had inspected the bridge at approximately 9:30 p.m. According to testimony from the surviving helmsman, Captain Smith discussed the potential of icebergs although none were yet seen. Smith directed the helmsman to maintain course and to raise him if conditions changed. The Captain left the bridge, retiring to his quarters. He was no longer involved in mastering the ship until after the collision.

t38Testimony from the Titanic’s helmsman, Robert Hitchens who was at the wheel during the iceberg collision, records that the Titanic was at 75 propeller revolutions per minute which calculated to 22.5 nautical miles per hour, just short of its maximum design speed of 80 revolutions or 24 knots. The helmsman also testified the Titanic was actually speeding up when it struck the iceberg as it was White Star chairman and managing director, Bruce Ismay’s, intention to run the rest of the route to New York at full speed, arrive early, and prove the Titanic’s superior performance. Ismay survived the disaster and testified at the inquiries that this speed increase was approved by Captain Smith and the helmsman was operating under his Captain’s direction.

The Titanic was built long before radar became the main nighttime navigational aid. The watch depended on a crew member in the forward crow’s-nest who stared through the dark for obstacles. Other ships were not a concern as they were brightly lit and the only threat to the Titanic was an iceberg.

t2From the dim, Titanic’s watchman saw the shape of an iceberg materialize. It was estimated at ten times the Titanic’s size above water, which equates to a total mass of one hundred Titanics. The watchman alerted the bridge that an iceberg was at the front right, or starboard side, and to alter course.

Testimony shows that confusion may have caused a mistake being made in relaying a course change from the bridge to the steerage located at the ship’s stern. It appears the rudder might have been swung in the wrong direction and they accidently turned into the iceberg. It’s reported that when the helmsman realized the error, he ordered all engines in full reverse. Screw and rudder ships cannot steer in reverse. They can only back up in a straight line but it was too late.

Stopping the Titanic was impossible. It was speeding ahead far too fast to brake within a 1/4 mile, which is 440 yards. Without a speed reduction, covering 440 yards at 22.5 nautical miles per hour would take 36 seconds. Testimony from the inquiries recorded that during the eight-day sea trials, the Titanic was tested from full-ahead at 22 knots to full-stop. This took 3 minutes and 15 seconds and the deceleration covered 850 yards.

t39The Titanic sideswiped the iceberg on its starboard front, exchanging a phenomenal amount of energy. It immediately began taking on water that filled the ship’s six forward hull compartments. Water cascaded over the tops of the bulkheads in a domino effect and, as the weight of the water pulled the bow down, more water ingressed. This caused the stern to rise above the waterline. With the rear third of the ship losing buoyancy and the weight from her propellers being in the air, the stress on the ship’s midpoint caused a fracture. The ship split in two and quickly sank to the bottom. It was 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912 — two hours and twenty minutes after the iceberg collision.

Warning and Life Saving Attempts

Captain Smith came to the bridge shortly after the collision. Again, survivor testimony is conflicting and Smith did not live to give his version of what took place in mustering the crew and passengers for safe abandonment.

t36Without any doubt, there was complete confusion — some said utter chaos — in abandoning ship. The voyage had been so hastily pushed that the crew had no specific training or conducted any drills in lifesaving on the Titanic , being unfamiliar with the lifeboats and their davit lowering mechanisms.

Compounding this was a decision by White Star management to equip the Titanic with only half the necessary lifeboats to handle the number of people onboard. The reasons are long established. White Star felt a full complement of lifeboats would give the ship an unattractive, cluttered look. They also clearly had a false confidence the lifeboats would never be needed.

It’s well documented that many lifeboats discharged from the Titanic weren’t filled to capacity. Partly at fault was a “women and children first” mentality, but the primary reason is that no one person took charge of the operation. Testimony is clear that Captain Smith was involved during the lifeboat discharges but there’s no record of what charge he actually took. Some accounts tell of the Captain remaining on the bridge and going down with the ship, as the old mariner’s line goes.

t34Another well-documented issue was the failure of the ocean liner Californian to come to Titanic’s rescue. The Californian was within visual view of the Titanic. In fact, the crew of the Californian had sent the Titanic repeated messages warning of icebergs and the Californian had stopped for the night because of limited visibility and high risk of iceberg collision. These messages were improperly addressed and were never relayed to the bridge of the Titanic.

Further, the crew of the Californian had seen Titanic’s distress flares but the Californian’s Captain refused to respond. This was a major issue brought up at both official inquiries and a reasonable explanation from Californian’s Captain was never resolved.

Eventually, the ocean liner Carpathia responded. It, too, sent the Titanic iceberg warnings before the collision. The inquiries drilled down into the message relay flaws. They discovered the wireless operators on board the Titanic weren’t crewmembers nor directed by White Star. They were employees of the Marconi Telegraph Company privately contracted in a for-profit role to deliver all messages to and from the Titanic. In the few hours before the iceberg collision, the Titanic was within range of an on-shore relay station and this gave them a short window to pass high-priority messages for wealthy passengers. Navigation warning messages to the Titanic were given low or no priority.

t40Hearing testimony recorded that shortly after dark, as early as 7:00 p.m., the Titanic was sent at least five iceberg warnings. There’s no record these were passed on to the ship’s bridge nor the Captain. The Marconi operator aboard the Titanic survived to testify there’d been a severe backlog of paying customer messages and he was being “interrupted” by incoming navigational alerts. The warnings were set aside as they were not addressed “MSG” which means “Master Service Gram”. By policy, MSG messages required the Captain’s personal action whereas non-marked messages were delivered when time permitted.

Finding the Titanic — Design and Damage

Although the Titanic was the largest ship of its time, there was nothing technologically new about its design, materials, or method of construction. The hull was built of large steel plates, some as large as 6 feet by 30 feet and between 1 and 1 ½ inches thick. The technology at the time was to rivet the sections together where today, modern ships are welded at their seams.

t17Riveting a ship’s seams was an entire trade on its own — almost an art. There were two types of rivets used on the Titanic. Rivets in the mid-section of the hull, where stresses from lateral wave forces were greatest, were made of steel and triple-riveted while those in the bow and stern were composed of cheaper iron. The bow and the stern endured less force when under normal operation and only required double riveting by design. Further, with the mid-section of the Titanic being straight and flat, these rivets were installed with hydraulic presses where the curved plates at the ship’s ends had to be hand riveted. That involved setting rivets in place while white hot and hand-hammering them closed.

Anyone who’s watched the movie “Titanic” knows the ship was designed with sixteen “watertight” compartments, separated by fifteen bulkheads that had doors which could be shut off in the event the hull was compromised anywhere along these sections. The “watertight” design only applied below or at the waterline, leaving the entire hull open above the top of these bulkheads.

The bulkheads were the fatal design cause of the Titanic’s sinking but they weren’t the root cause of the disaster.

The ship’s architect, Thomas Andrews, was aware that flooding of more than four compartments would create a “mathematical certainty” that the bulkheads would overflow and cause the ship to sink. Testimony records that Andrews informed Captain Smith of this right after he realized the extent of flooding. This triggered the abandon ship order.

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Over the years following the sinking and before the Titanic’s wreckage was discovered, most historians and naval experts assumed the ship suffered a continuous gash in the hull below the waterline and across all six compartments. There was one dissenter, though, who surmised it only took a small amount of opening in each compartment to let in 34,000 tons of water and that was enough to compromise the ship.

Edward Wilding was a naval architect and co-designer of the Titanic who testified at the American inquiry. He calculated that as little as 12 square feet of opening in the hull would have been enough to let in that much water in the amount of time the Titanic remained afloat. Wilding stated his opinion that there was not a long gash, rather it was a “series of steps of comparatively short length, an aggregate of small holes” that were punctured in the hull. Wilding went as far to speculate that the force of the collision probably caused a number of rivets to “pop or let go” and it was “leaks at the ruptured seams” that let in seawater.

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In September, 1985, the Titanic’s wreckage was found by a deep sea expedition led by Dr. Bob Ballard. It was in 12,500 feet of water and its debris field covered 2,000 yards. Her hull was in two separate main pieces with her bow nosed into 35 feet of muddy bottom. Since then, a number of dives have been made on the Titanic including one which used a ground penetrating sonar that mapped the section of the bow that was under the mud.

The sonar readings clearly showed six separate openings in the forward six hull compartments. They were narrow, horizontal slits in various spots, not at all in one continuous line like the gash theory held. The sonar map was analyzed by naval architects at Bedford & Hackett who calculated the total area exposed by the slits was 12.6 square feet—almost the exact figure proposed by Edward Wilding in 1912.

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The architects also stated the rivets were clearly at fault and they’d failed from the impact. The rivets either sheared off on the outer heads or simply fractured and were released by the impact’s force. Immediately, many experts questioned why only a few rivets in a few seemingly random places failed and not most all along the area of impact.

In one of the dives, a large piece of the Titanic’s forward hull was recovered. This led to a forensic study on the plate steel and rivet composition by metallurgists Jennifer McCarty and Tim Foecke which they documented in their book “What Really Sank The Titanic”. Drs. McCarty and Foecke established a number of the Titanic’s iron rivets had an unacceptable amount of slag in their chemical makeup, contrary to what the ship’s design specified. The metallurgists concluded when the inferior, weak rivets were exposed in below-zero Fahrenheit water temperature on the night of the sinking, they were brittle and shattered from the collision force.

t14The metallurgists went further in their investigation. They found during the rush to complete the Titanic on time, the builders purposely resorted to inferior metal than specified by the designers. The builders were also faced with a critical shortage of skilled riveting labor. This led to a compounded error of inferior rivets being installed by inferior tradesmen that likely explains the randomness of failed areas.

Today, the failed rivet theory stands as the most logical explanation for the mechanical cause of the Titanic disaster but this still doesn’t get at the root cause of the tragedy.

At the core of Root Cause Analysis is the question “Why?”. This form of accident investigation forces the question “Why did this happen?” to be asked over and over until you cannot ask anymore “Whys?”. In Titanic’s case, this path leads to answering the root cause — the fatal flaw in why over 1,500 innocent people lost their lives.

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The two official investigations back in 1912 started with a conclusion — the Titanic hit an iceberg and sank. They made somewhat of an attempt to answer why that happened without attaching too much blame. The result was not so much as getting to the root cause but to try and make some good come from the disaster and ensure there was less chance of it happening again.

That is a good thing and, to repeat, it led to improving world marine safety through SOLAS. But that still doesn’t get to identifying the fatal flaw in what really sank the Titanic.

Think Reliability identified five root causes of the Titanic disaster:

1. Iceberg warnings were ignored.

2. The iceberg wasn’t seen until too late.

3. The Titanic was traveling too fast for visual conditions and couldn’t avoid colliding with the iceberg.

4. The rivets failed, compromising the hull’s integrity and letting in enough water to exceed the design buoyancy.

5. Insufficient lifesaving procedures and equipment were in place.

While these five reasons are the prime contributors to why the accident and tremendous loss of life happened, they still don’t arrive at the true, single root cause — the fatal flaw in what caused the Titanic tragedy.

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Finding the fatal flaw requires answering ‘Why” to each of these five points.

1. Why were the iceberg warnings ignored?

The answer is a systematic failure of communication operating on the Titanic. There was ample reason to suspect icebergs might be in the Titanic’s path. Any competent captain would be aware of hazards like this and would liaise with other ships along the route for warning information. Navigational communication was not a priority under Captain Smith’s command.

2. Why was the iceberg not seen until too late?

There’s another simple answer here. Night visibility was poor as there was limited light. Testimony from the surviving crewmembers consistently estimated the visibility range to be no more than ¼ mile. Eyesight, combined with compass readings, were the only forms of navigation in 1912. The Titanic was going too fast for the crew to react because Captain Smith allowed his ship to exceed a safe speed for navigation conditions.

3. Why was the Titanic traveling too fast for navigation conditions?

Without question, Captain Smith was under pressure from Bruce Ismay to bring the Titanic into New York earlier than scheduled. While this would never have set a speed record for the route, it certainly would reflect positively on the White Star Line and its business futures. Captain Smith succumbed to unreasonable pressure and allowed his ship to be operated unsafely.

4. Why did the rivets fail?

While Captain Smith had no input into the construction of the Titanic, he certainly knew its design limits. The Titanic was built as an ocean liner, not a battleship or an icebreaker. Captain Smith knew how dangerous an iceberg collision could be yet he still risked his ship being operated in unsafe conditions.

5. Why were there insufficient lifesaving equipment and procedures in place?

The fault began with White Star’s failure to provide the proper amount of lifeboats as well as rushing the Titanic into service before the crew was properly trained in drills and equipment operation. Captain Smith was aware of this. Despite, he allowed the Titanic to sail unprepared.

t18At the root of each of question lies irresponsibility of the Titanic’s captain. It’s long held in marine law that a ship’s captain is ultimately responsible for the safety of the vessel, the crew, and the passengers.

Captain Smith had full authority over every stage in the Titanic’s disaster and he failed on each point. Clearly, Captain Smith is the fatal flaw that caused the Titanic tragedy.

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Note: Garry Rodgers holds a Transport Canada Marine Captain Certification which includes training in Ship Stability, Navigation, SOLAS and Marine Emergency Duties. Garry’s also trained in Think Reliability Root Cause Mapping.

WHO REALLY KILLED JONBENET RAMSEY?

A41On December 26, 1996, the beaten and strangled body of six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found hidden in the basement of her Boulder, Colorado, home. Immediately, police and media suspicion focused on her wealthy parents, John Bennet Ramsey and Patricia (Patsy) Ramsey, as being responsible. Nowtwenty years laterthe child beauty queen’s cold case has little new to offer except for the recent suggestion that JonBenet never really died and that she’s actually the current pop-star, Katy Perry.

A31Setting stupid conspiracy theories aside, the fact remains that someone viciously slaughtered JonBenet. The little girl became a cultural obsession and the person or persons guilty of JonBenet’s death were never prosecuted. Was it a lack of viable suspects? Lack of admissible evidence? A homicide investigation mishandled right from the start? Or was it failure to properly decipher the murder mystery’s most important clue?

Here’s a look at what the case facts tell us about who really killed JonBenet Ramsey.

Patsy Ramsey claimed to have come downstairs to the kitchen at five o’clock on Boxing Day morning and found a two-and-a-half page, hand-written ransom note on the landing of their secondary staircase. The author directed the letter at John Ramsey and claimed to represent a group of individuals from a foreign faction who were “in possession” of JonBenet. The note demanded a ransom of $118,000 be paid in certain bills or JonBenet would die.

A2Boulder Police recorded Patsy Ramsey’s report being phoned in at 5:51 am. Two patrol officers attended and took basic information but did not treat the Ramsey house as a crime scene. It was not secured, nor searched, and an unrecorded number of people had access to the residence until early afternoon when a detective took over and asked a family friend to assist John Ramsey to search the house for “anything unusual”.

The recorded events are confusing but it’s said John Ramsey located JonBenet’s dead body in a far corner of a basement wine cellar, covered with her bedroom blanket. She had a ligature cord around her neck, her hands were bound above her head, and her mouth was sealed with duct tape. John Ramsey apparently removed the tape and carried the body up to the living room where it was laid in front of the Christmas tree. The police were called back and the case began being treated as a homicide.

A32A forensic crime scene examination identified several points of unsecured ingress to the house but no sign of forced entry nor anything to clearly suggest an unauthorized intruder had been present.

Prominent was the ligature or cord around JonBenet’s neck that was tied to a wooden handle, described as a “garrote”. It was physically matched to a broken paint brush handle in Patsy’s art room which was in the basement, near the wine cellar. Similar pieces of cord were also found in the home. As well, the pad which the note-paper originated from was located on the main floor, as was the pen used to write it.

The Ramsey parents were not formally interviewed, no statements were taken, and continuity of the note—being a prime piece of evidence—as well as its forensic treatment was questionably handled.

A10The pathologist attended the residence at 6 pm and did a cursory examination of JonBenet’s body before removing her to the morgue. She was dressed in a white nightie and white panties with white tights overtop. The panties and tights were soaked in urine. Postmortem changes were advanced with rigor mortis already passing and early decomposition presenting.

Though the stages of mortis are not precise science for conclusively identifying the time of death, the body’s physical condition suggested that JonBenet had been dead for a considerable time, estimated between 10 pm the previous evening and no later than 5:51 am when the police report was received.

In pathologist John E. Meyer’s words — “Far closer to 10 pm than to 5 am.”

JonBenet’s autopsy determined her cause of death as “asphyxia by strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma” and the medical diagnosis was:

I. Ligature strangulation

  1. Circumferential ligature with associated ligature furrow of neck
  2. Abrasions and petechial hemorrhages, neck
  3. Petechial hemorrhages, conjunctival surfaces of eyes and skin of face

II. Craniocerebral injuries

  1. Scalp contusion
  2. Linear comminuted fracture of right skull
  3. Linear pattern of contusions of right cerebral hemisphere
  4. Subarachnoid and subdural hemorrhage
  5. Small contusions, tips of temporal lobes

III. Abrasion of right cheek

IV. Abrasion/contusion, posterior right shoulder

V. Abrasions of lower left back and posterior left lower leg

VI. Abrasion and vascular congestion of vaginal mucosa

VII. Ligature of right wrist

VIII. Toxicology

  1. Blood ethanol – none detected
  2. Blood drug screen – no drugs detected

A23From reading this, it’s clear JonBenet received a massive blow to the upper right of her head from contact with a blunt object, approximately an hour or more before death. This is supported by the contusion (bruise, not a laceration or cut) to her scalp, the linear fractures to her skull, and the subdural (underlying) hemorrhaging (bleeding) in her brain. This cannot occur after death and the known pathology established a considerable time period elapsed between when the blow was administered and when the cardiovascular system stopped functioning. The pathologist opinioned that JonBenet was alive but unconscious for an hour, possibly an hour-and-a-half, before she was strangled.

It’s also clear that ligature asphyxia (strangling with the cord) was her death’s triggering mechanism and this is corroborated by the presence of petechial hemorrhages (tiny bloodspots) in her eyes and on her face. This is a classic symptom of mechanical strangulation and is peculiar to the airway being violently interrupted.

A16The presence of various abrasions and contusions are evident of physical violence being inflicted on JonBenet prior to death, as is the violation of her vaginal area. Her cheek abrasion is consistent with a slap to the face, her shoulder and legs marks are consistent with her still-alive body being roughly handled as if dragged, but caution must be taken in interpreting her vaginal injury as being consistent with sexual assault.

There was no presence of semen, however some blood spotting was noted in her underwear. Later forensic examination would identify a foreign pubic hair on her blanket and an unknown DNA sample on her underwear that was consistent with a male contributor.

The police and district attorney’s investigation focused on the improbability that a total stranger would break into the home, severely wound JonBenet, then kill her at least an hour later after packing her body from an upper bedroom and down two floors to the basement of a house in which three others were present—all the while hanging around to write a lengthy note.

A27From the start, Patsy Ramsey’s behavior was suspect—as was her husband’s. Though there was no suggestion of previous child abuse in the home, it was well known Patsy Ramsey selfishly promoted her daughter like a trophy doll who she desperately wanted to shine in fame and fortune.

As police and media attention centered on the Ramseys, they limited their contact with investigators and quickly “lawyered-up” until a controlled, counter-offensive in the media could be established.

A3The evidence against the Ramseys was examined by a grand jury empaneled during a ten-month period in 1998. The jury returned an indictment against John and Patsy Ramsey on charges of child abuse resulting in JonBenet’s death but was quashed by the district attorney who felt there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction. The grand jury’s findings were sealed and only released to the public in 2013, seven years after Patsy Ramsay’s death from cancer.

To this day, the smoking gun in JonBenet’s homicide is the alleged ransom note.

If the note is legitimate, then it’s a kidnapping that went sideways. If it’s fraudulent, it’s a murder staged to look like a kidnapping. Regardless, there’s no doubt the note’s author is responsible for killing JonBenet and it’s within the note where the killer reveals their true identity.

Let’s look at it:

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The note needs to be examined in three ways.

First—was there any forensic evidence present to physically identify the author? I can’t imagine it not being fingerprinted nor examined for DNA, however I can’t find any internet reference one way or the other and existing photos don’t show the normal discoloration associated with chemically checking for fingerprints on paper.

A33Second—what do forensic handwriting analysists say about the writer? A number of document examiners have analyzed the note and have eliminated John Ramsey as well as fifty-three other subjects as the author. But, they cannot rule Patsy Ramsay out as penning it. To be fair, no one conclusively states she was the writer but all agree the author intentionally attempted to disguise themselves.

Third—what does the science of statement analysis tell us? It’s here where the killer’s identity is revealed.

Let’s look at the note again:

*   *   *

Mr. Ramsey,

Listen carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction. We don respect your bussiness but not the country that it serves. At this time we have your daughter in our posession. She is safe and unharmed and if you want her to see 1997, you must follow our instructions to the letter.

You will withdraw $118,000.00 from your account. $100,000 will be in $100 bills and the remaining $18,000 in $20 bills. Make sure that you bring an adequate size attache to the bank. When you get home you will put the money in a brown paper bag. I will call you between 8 and 10 am tomorrow to instruct you on delivery. The delivery will be exhausting so I advise you to be rested. If we monitor you getting the money early, we might call you early to arrange an earlier delivery of the money and hence a earlierdelivery pick-up of your daughter.

Any deviation of my instructions will result in the immediate execution of your daughter. You will also be denied her remains for proper burial. The two gentlemen watching over your daughter do not particularly like you so I advise you not to provoke them. Speaking to anyone about your situation, such as Police, F.B.I., etc., will result in your daughter being beheaded. If we catch you talking to a stray dog, she dies. If you alert bank authorities, she dies. If the money is in any way marked or tampered with, she dies. You will be scanned for electronic devices and if any are found, she dies. You can try to deceive us but be warned that we are familiar with Law enforcement countermeasures and tactics. You stand a 99% chance of killing your daughter if you try to out smart us. Follow our instructions and you stand a 100% chance of getting her back.

You and your family are under constant scrutiny as well as the authorities. Don’t try to grow a brain John. You are not the only fat cat around so don’t think that killing will be difficult. Don’t underestimate us John. Use that good southern common sense of yours. It is up to you now John!

Victory!

S.B.T.C

*   *   *

A34

 

The first thing that comes to my mind when reading the note is that it’s nonsense.

A37It’s complete and utter bullshit and here’s why:

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  • It’s very long with a lot of unnecessary, redundant information. It’s written on three pieces of paper which took a considerable amount of time to compose. True ransom notes are exceptionally rare and all are short and to the point: “We have your daughter! We will kill her if you don’t give us X-amount of money by __!. Wait for instructions!! DO NOT call the police or she dies!!!
  • The writer introduces themself as representing a “group of individuals from a small foreign faction“. Foreign? Faction? Who calls themselves a foreign faction?
  • Patsy had been up an hour before calling police

    Patsy had been up an hour before calling police

    The writer states to not respect Ramsey’s business, but not his country then changes the message by striking out “don’t” to reflect a friendlier tone.

  • The asking sum of $118,000.00 is a bizarre number. Some examiners equate it to a similar salary bonus amount John Ramsey recently collected but how would a foreigner know if it’s even in his bank account never mind how much?
  • Calling “tomorrow between 8 and 10 am” indicates the note was written before midnight on December 25th.
  • “The delivery will be exhausting so I advise you to be well rested” indicates someone thinking about a lack of sleep before the event is exposed.
  • And hence” is a unique phrase that’s rarely used except in very formal correspondence or in biblical phrases.
  • A18There are obvious misspellings in common words like “possession” and “business” while more easily erred words such as “adequate”, “attache (with the accent)”, “deceive”, “deviation”, and “scrutiny”. Otherwise, the writer uses proper punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure which indicates an attempt at disguise by a person with a fair degree of education.
  • The use of exclamation points in only the opening and closing is not realistic of a desperate person’s threat. You’d expect emphasis being put on the instructions to get money and threats to retaliate.
  • Beheaded” and “stray dog” indicate a feint towards some sort of middle-eastern ethnic decoy.
  • Proper burial” is indicative of someone who knew what JonBenet’s final disposal would be. Burial was the accepted practice in the Ramsays’ religious faith, rather than cremation.
  • The phrase “two gentlemen watching over” stands right out. “Gentlemen” being a term used in a ransom note? Totally unrealistic. And “watching over” is another term like “and hence” where it doesn’t remotely resemble normal speech, rather it reflects a biblical overtone where “God watches over”.
  • A44I advise you not to provoke them” and “I advise you to be rested” are passive statements and reflect a feminine touch.
  • Four times the writer uses the phrase “she dies.” If JonBenet was still alive when the note was written, the author would likely use the term “she will die”. This indicates the writer knew JonBenet was already dead.
  • The note’s address changes from “Mr. Ramsey” being used once to “John” being repeated three times. This is far too familiar for an unknown kidnapper and strongly indicates the writer knew John Ramsey personally.
  • The closing terms “Victory!” and “S.B.T.Cappear cryptic and of some personal, religious significance to the writer.

*   *   *

A45A principle behind the science of statement analysis is that truthful people rarely use synonyms. They remain consistent in language whereas deceitful people change language and weave in synonyms to distract. Another principle is that people expose their psychological profile in their writing.

So what does the JonBenet Ramsay note say about the author?

It’s clearly a deceitful attempt to distort the facts, using unrealistic, bizarre, and unbelievable demands to shift attention from the reality of the situation. It’s apparently written by a woman of higher education, with a religious background, familiar with John Ramsey, who can’t bear to bring JonBenet’s name into the equation, yet cryptically reveals a personal message.

A47It’s written in characters that can’t be eliminated from Patsy Ramsey’s known handwriting and it was written with a Sharpie pen and foolscap paper found in her home—the home in which JonBenet was murdered and who’s body was stashed on the cold basement floor.

Patsy Ramsey denied culpability until her death but denials are cheaper than a thrift store suit. A look at her psychological profile is telling.

A48Patsy Ramsay was a beauty queen, herself—crowned Miss West Virginia in 1977. She graduated from university with a B.A. in journalism and was a devout member of the Episcopalian church and a wealthy socialite in her community. Perversely, she flaunted an air of modest integrity while flogging every chance to sexually exploit her six-year-old daughter in front of every pageant and camera she could find.

Patsy Ramsey was an educated, articulate, and calculating woman. She was also very religious.

It’s in the Bible where the key to the ransom note’s lock is hidden.

The terms “watching over” and “and hence” are consistent with a religious mindset and they are known to be used in the Ramsey family Christmas message which Patsy wrote the year after JonBenet’s death.

The numeric figure “118” is highly revealing and it fits with a notable Bible passage recognized by the Episcopalian faith. It’s found in Corinthians 1:18.

For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

A46Significant are the note’s closings—“Victory!” and “S.B.T.C”. Victory is well established as a Christian slogan which refers to Christ’s triumph by rising from the dead and symbolizing the triumph of good over evil and the forgiveness and everlasting salvation of a soul from sin. “S.B.T.C” is the well-known acronym for “Saved By The Cross.”

The “Victory” reference is also revealed in Corinthians 15:51-57.

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable must be put on the imperishable, and this mortal must be put on immortality… then will come about the saying that is written “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY. O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In my opinion, a convincing case is made that Patsy Ramsay was the author of the ransom note and, therefore, the person who really killed JonBenet.

A25It’s also likely that John Ramsey had some knowledge and was covering up for his wife. He’s already had a previous daughter die—now a second—and he couldn’t bear to lose the rest of the family. Only he will know.

But this still leaves the question of why Patsy Ramsey killed her daughter? What were the horrific circumstances that led to such a senseless, barbaric crime?

I think the best theory is offered by Steve Thomas who is the original Boulder detective who investigated the case and wrote the book “JonBenet—Inside The Ramsey Murder Investigation“.

Detective Thomas postulates that Patsy and John Ramsey returned to their home around 10 pm Christmas Day after a social event. Patsy checked on JonBenet and found she’d been bed-wetting again. At the time, Patsy was already on emotional overload—about to pop a breaker. She was under severe psychological stress with heavy socialite commitments, seasonal depression, struggling to face her fortieth birthday, keeping the perfect faceand… who knows what all else.

A50With temper stretched, Patsy severely admonished JonBenet for the urinary mess and likely did an aggressive wiping simulation on her daughter’s crotch, accounting for the “abrasion and vascular congestion of vaginal mucosa”. This escalated to a violent event where JonBenet’s head was smashed into a hard, blunt surface such as a doorframe or piece of furniture which rendered her unconscious with a potentially lethal brain injury.

Possibly thinking JonBenet was dead and probably panicking, Patsy went into damage control which may have involved John Ramsey at this point. It’s inconceivable to think he didn’t know or at least suspect something.

Somewhere during the next hour to an hour-and-a-half, JonBenet was finished off with a garrote fashioned from available materials, her body was moved, and the stage was set to simulate a ritualistic killing. A plan was then devised to deceive the authorities by way of a concocted ransom note which contained a cryptic justification with some hope of divine reconciliation.

A4But what’s really evident to me—why I truly believe both Patricia and John Ramsey were culpable in JonBenet’s murder—is the date on the inscription they jointly approved for the headstone on their daughter’s grave. 

They knew she was dead before midnight.

GENOMICS — THE FUTURE OF FORENSIC DNA PROFILING

A3Genomics is the scientific study of the molecular instructions encoded in your cells.  It maps your entire genetic structure. Till now, forensic science has focused on only identifying your cell’s nuclei signature — your inner DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) and, to a degree, your outer miDNA (mitochondrial DNA) — not your genes. The old method of forensically profiling your biological fingerprint by DNA analysis is being replaced by a computerized 3D genome recreation of your entire being.

A17Genomics is a concept first developed in the 1970’s. It led to the Human Genome Project (HGP) being completed in 2003. The HGP was a massive international research venture that sequenced and mapped all of the human cell genes — together known as the genome. The HGP gave us the ability to read nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being. Like you.

So what’s a genome?

A14A genome is the whole ensemble of your genetic material. It’s the molecular guide of your DNA, your chromosomes, and your genes that tells how to make your cells. It’s the instruction manual for your body. That book is your genome and the study of that book is termed genomics. It’s pretty much a math exercise. And it’s deadly stuff for identifying criminals with.

Let’s take a quick look at your biology.

A35Deoxyribonucleic acid is the chemical compound that contains the instructions to develop and direct your life as an organism. DNA molecules are made of two twisting, paired strands, often referred to as a double helix.

Each DNA strand is made of four chemical units, called nucleotide bases, which comprise the genetic “alphabet.” The bases are adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). Bases on opposite strands pair specifically — an A always pairs with a T — a C always pairs with a G. The order of the As, Ts, Cs, and Gs determines the meaning of the information encoded in that part of a DNA molecule. It’s just like the order of letters determine the meaning of a word, only DNA is written out in a barcode locus.

Every single cell in your body contains a complete copy of the 3.2 billion DNA base pairs, or letters, that code your human genome.

DNA’s four-letter language contains information needed to build your physical body. A gene refers to the unit of DNA that carries the instructions for making a specific protein, or set of proteins, and there’s 23,000 genes in your genome code. Each gene directs an average of three proteins.

A11

If you could peer inside your cells, you’d see your genome contained in 46 tightly packed bundles of DNA — 23 came from your mother and 23 from your father. These DNA bundles, called chromosomes, provide instructions that enable a one-cell embryo to develop into a 100 trillion-cell adult. So, every time the human body produces a sperm or an egg, 3 billion DNA letters must be copied and packaged so they can be passed along to future offspring.

A31Humans come in many shapes and sizes, but we’re all very similar at the DNA level. In fact, the genomes of any two people are more than 99% the same. Still, the tiny fraction of the genome that varies among humans is critical when it comes to forensically identifying a particular individual. DNA variations are part of what makes each of us unique, but it’s in the genes that the real difference lies. They direct what you look like.

Okay. Enough of the biology lecture. How is genomics gonna catch some crooks?

It’s not just genomics. Science now has a great handle on how your DNA is formed and how your genes fine-tune your uniqueness. The problem has been in how to process a staggering forensic workload that has bottlenecked the crime labs and the courts — and how to put a face and a name to an unidentified DNA profile..

A26The answer lies in genomic computerization. The good news is that technological progress is being made faster than anyone ever dreamed possible. Now the labs are looking at your entire genome package for identification, not just at that little bit of nucleic or mitochondrial DNA which is dirty, volatile, and time-consuming stuff to process.

Advancements in computerized processing are allowing crime labs to build an entire picture of you as a suspect — not just an impersonal, academic graph of the matching points in either your biological evidence sample that you left behind at the scene, or your known reference sample that investigators obtained from you.

A2Think about how many cold cases there are where the investigators have a clear DNA profile of you as the perpetrator, but they have absolutely no clue what you look like. They have no idea whether you’re young or old, black or white, have green eyes or brown. They don’t know your hair color or texture. They don’t know if you’re tall or short. And, in some cases, they don’t know if you’re male or female.

Genomic profiling is going to change the game. Computers will speed it up. 

A25Illumina Corporation of San Diego is a world leader in Forensic Genomic technology. They’ve developed a process called Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) that can simultaneously analyze every locus-point in a traditional DNA barcode using less than 1 nanogram of a sample in a fraction of traditional turn-around time that it’s currently taking.

Illumina is also at the forefront of developing the new cornerstone of contemporary forensic science — being able to generate a physical description of the DNA’s donor based on their genome profile.

A22Think about the ramifications. It’s not only going to assist in solving current cases. It’s going to give a physical look at the perpetrators of cold cases. Identify found remains with no names. Help in sorting disaster victims. And make accurate aging estimations for missing children.

The speed and accuracy of forensic genomic profiling will have far reaching effect on the costs in the criminal justice system. Faster and higher rates of identification will remove more dangerous offenders from society and the reliability of their forensic identifications will result in less trial time. It will reduce investigator workload in chasing blind leads. And it will, undoubtedly, save lives.

A29I think we’re in a fascinating time, watching technological advancements in forensic sciences. Genomic profiling is a fantastic breakthrough. We’re close to the day when your tiny biological dropping at the scene of your crime will go into a machine, the button pressed, and not just will your virtual mugshot come out — it’ll build a full-color, 3D image of your entire person right from your molecules to your moles.

Yes, science has come a long, long way in understanding how your human genome instruction book is written.

God knows who wrote it.