How did Patricia ‘Patsy’ Ramsey die? Tragic story of JonBenét Ramsey's mother who was a suspect in her murder

As ‘JonBenet Ramsey: What Really Happened?’ brings the case back into the spotlight on January 4, here's a glimpse of the life and death of Patricia ‘Patsy’ Ramsey


                            How did Patricia ‘Patsy’ Ramsey die? Tragic story of JonBenét Ramsey's mother who was a suspect in her murder
John and Patsy Ramsey (Getty Images)

A bloody murder. A mysterious note. An unsolved case. Is any case as complicated and puzzling as the infamous JonBenét Ramsey murder? A six-year-old beauty pageant princess and her beauty pageant-winning mother were shrouded in mystery as shocking details of the case became public. The little girl — discovered eight hours after she was reported missing — was found with a homemade garotte around her neck, a blow to her head and unidentified DNA in her underwear. 

Two decades later, the killer still hasn't been found. ‘JonBenet Ramsey: What Really Happened?’ will bring the case back into the spotlight on January 4 on Discovery+ and lean into the myriad of false leads, a mountain of mishandled evidence and a barrage of accusations. As unreleased audio diaries of Colorado Springs homicide detective Lou Smit are unleashed, here's a glimpse of the life and death of Patricia “Patsy” Ramsey. 

Patsy Ramsey holds up a reward sign for any information leading to the arrest of their daughter JonBenet Ramsey in Boulder, Colorado (Getty Images)

Who was Patricia “Patsy” Ramsey?

Patricia “Patsy” Ramsey, the mother of JonBenét Ramsey, had a sparkle in her eyes. Born in Gilbert, West Virginia, she was raised by her mother Nedra Ellen Ann (née Rymer) and father Donald Ray Paugh — who was an engineer and manager at Union Carbide — in a modest two-story brick house. She grew up with her sisters, Pamela and Paulette. 

At Parkersburg High School, Patsy won “three banquet tables full” awards and was “just a joy to have in class”. Andre Brown, her social studies teacher, told People, “She always seemed to know where she was going in life.” After graduation in 1975, she attended West Virginia University where she belonged to the Alpha Xi Delta sorority and won the state crown.

The pageant fever had captivated her heart by then. Interestingly, she even went to Atlantic City in 1976 and took notes at the Miss America competition. In 1977, a year before she graduated with a BA in Journalism, she won the Miss West Virginia beauty title. “She was just charming as all get-out,” Albert Cox, who headed the Miss West Virginia pageant, said.

“She commanded a lot of attention when she walked into a room.” Patsy was 20 at the time. Three years later, her sister, Pamela Ellen Paugh, won the Miss South Charleston title at age 24. 

Patricia ‘Patsy’ Ramsey (Wikimedia Commons)

How did she marry John Ramsey?

At 23, Patricia tied the knot with businessman John Ramsey on November 5, 1980. This was his second marriage after the first one with Lucinda Pasch (from 1966 to 1978) ended in divorce. He had three children — Elizabeth, Melinda and John Andrew — from his previous marriage. Dubbed as a modest man, he was said to quietly tend to his business.

John's longtime friend and colleague Jim Marino told People, “I never saw him get mad. I never heard him cuss. I never saw him raise a hand to anybody.” Marino worked for him and the two single men “played around” in the evenings. “We would go to bars and meet women,” he confessed, adding that after his engagement to Patsy, “I never saw him mess around.”

The couple gave birth to a son named Burke Ramsey on January 27, 1987, and their daughter JonBenét was born on August 6, 1990, in Atlanta. Next year, the family moved to Boulder, Colorado, and Patsy encouraged her little girl to enter several children's beauty contests, many of which she won before the age of six.

John and Patsy Ramsey (Getty Images)

What happened after JonBenét went missing?

On the morning after Christmas Day 1996, the couple's daughter went missing. Patsy reportedly discovered a lengthy ransom note demanding $118,000 for her return at the foot of the stairs. Seven hours after Patsy contacted authorities, JonBenét's body was found in an isolated area of the Ramseys' basement.

Written on a pad found inside the Ramseys' home, the amount in the note was quite similar to his Christmas bonus of the prior year and that led to much speculation of the involvement of someone close to the family. 

During the investigation, enforcement officials declared that Patsy and her husband were “under an umbrella of suspicion” and the two constantly defended their innocence for the next 10 years. A Colorado Bureau of Investigation report indicated that the unusually long note with several exclamation marks was penned down by Patricia Ramsey. 

In a preview of an ABC 20/20 special, handwriting expert Cina Wong said it was “highly probable” that Patsy had written the ransom note after examining and comparing it to 100 examples of her handwriting. In her explanation, the letter “A” written in four different variations was exactly how Patsy wrote them. However, no crucial evidence could be found against her and the suspicion was set aside.

The grave of JonBenet Ramsey (Getty Images)

How did she die?

In popular culture, Patsy was portrayed in a number of TV shows. While Alex Borstein played her in MADtv Episodes 417 and 502, Marg Helgenberger essayed the character in the 2000 miniseries 'Perfect Murder, Perfect Town' and Judi Evans played her in the 2000 TV movie 'Getting Away with Murder: The JonBenét Ramsey Mystery'. 

By the age of 36, Patricia had been diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. She underwent treatment and the disease subsided for nine years until a recurrence in 2002. Four years later, she died from cancer at age 49 on June 24, 2006. During her final moments, her husband was by her side at her father's house. She was buried at St James Episcopal Cemetery in Marietta, Georgia, next to JonBenét.

John and Patsy Ramsey (Getty Images)

Is she still a suspect in the murder?

It took 12 years after the death of JonBenét and two years after Patsy's passing for the Boulder District Attorney to clear John Ramsey and his late wife of any wrongdoing in their daughter's death. On July 9, 2008, the decision was announced based on new DNA evidence collected from JonBenét's clothing.

Boulder County District Attorney Mary Lacy said new DNA tests point to an “unexplained third party” for the killing. Modern Touch DNA suggests that a male of Hispanic origin was involved. The traces were found on her undergarment panties and leggings. In 2016, new forensic analysis reportedly revealed that the original DNA deposits contain genetic markers from two other people who have not been identified in any government database.

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