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Patsy Ramsey, 49; Mother of Slain Child Beauty Queen

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 25, 2006

Patsy Ramsey, the mother of JonBenet Ramsey, whose unsolved 1996 murder has fed years of tabloid rumors and legal inquiries, died June 24 of ovarian cancer at her father's home in Roswell, Ga. She was 49.

A former beauty queen from West Virginia, Mrs. Ramsey was in the spotlight for years after the slaying, as she and her husband courted attention from and carried on a running feud with newspapers, magazines and television shows. Mrs. Ramsey herself fell under what police called an "umbrella of suspicion," but neither she nor anyone else has been charged in her 6-year-old daughter's death.

She and her husband, John Ramsey, offered a $100,000 reward for the capture of their daughter's killer and in 2000 wrote a memoir, "The Death of Innocence." They appeared on ABC's "20/20" with Barbara Walters, and many other programs, discussing their lives since JonBenet was killed. They filed libel suits against news outlets and were sued themselves after accusing a journalist of involvement in their daughter's death.

The mystery began Dec. 26, 1996, when Mrs. Ramsey told police she found a three-page handwritten ransom note on a back staircase inside the family home in Boulder, Colo. The note demanded a payment of $118,000 -- the exact amount, it was later learned, John Ramsey had received as a corporate bonus. Eight hours after Mrs. Ramsey found the note, her husband discovered the strangled and bludgeoned body of JonBenet in the basement.

From the beginning, the investigation of the murder was marred by shoddy detective work, inconsistencies and turf battles between the police and prosecutor. John Ramsey was allowed to carry his daughter's body to an upper-level bedroom, compromising the scene of the crime.

The Ramseys claimed an intruder had broken into their house, but no footsteps were found in the snow outside. Blood found on JonBenet's clothing was not submitted for DNA analysis for eight years.

The sensational nature of the crime was amplified by JonBenet's budding career, encouraged by her mother, as a child beauty queen. The 6-year-old had a wardrobe of glamorous costumes and was photographed as a cowgirl and a Las Vegas showgirl, wearing lipstick, makeup and elaborately coiffed hair. She won several beauty pageants, including Little Miss Colorado and Little Miss Charlevoix (Mich.), where the Ramseys had a second home.

When confronted by Walters on "20/20" about pushing her daughter into beauty contests at such an early age, Mrs. Ramsey replied: "There is something wrong here if someone thinks that looks perverted. JonBenet was an entertainer. Little girls play dress-up."

Patricia Paugh was born Dec. 29, 1956, in Parkersburg, W.Va., where she was a state champion debater in high school and a member of the drill team. In 1977, she won Miss West Virginia and competed in the Miss America contest.

She graduated magna cum laude from West Virginia University in 1979 with a degree in journalism and moved to Atlanta, where she met John Ramsey, a divorced father of three. Married in 1980, they had a son, Burke, in 1987, followed three years later by JonBenet.

Mrs. Ramsey was a frequent volunteer and was known for her near-compulsive housekeeping. In a single week, she had her Atlanta living room repainted five times, each time in a different color. In 1991, the Ramseys moved to a 15-room house in Boulder.

Two years later, Mrs. Ramsey was found to have Stage 4 ovarian cancer. After treatment at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, she appeared to be in remission. She later became a public speaker for the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.

For years, speculation about the murder persisted, particularly when handwriting experts noted similarities between the ransom note and Mrs. Ramsey's penmanship. Nonetheless, after a 13-month investigation, a Boulder grand jury declined to bring charges against the Ramseys in 1999.

In 2003, while dismissing a slander suit against the Ramseys by a freelance journalist, a U.S. district judge in Atlanta reviewed the case and determined that an intruder killed JonBenet. The district attorney in Boulder concurred with that ruling.

The Ramseys left Colorado for Atlanta and later Michigan, yet never left the public eye. In 1999, they won an out-of-court settlement and a retraction from the Star tabloid, and in 2004, John Ramsey lost a primary bid to be the Republican candidate for a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives.

Survivors include her husband and son.

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