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More Messages: The Long Goodbye

Categories: Media

The page-one headline atop the Denver Post story announcing the death of onetime Boulderite Patsy Ramsey was generic in the extreme: "Slain Girl's Mom Dies." But despite the best efforts of Post editors, Ramsey will not slip anonymously into the grave. Her death at age 49 (she was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer a dozen years ago) has given local and national media types another opportunity (and probably not the last one) to probe into the 1996 murder of her daughter, JonBenet, and the attendant hoopla that surrounded the unsuccessful search for her killer or killers.

JonBenet was a mere tot when she died, but somehow she gave birth to Laci Peterson and Natalee Holloway and every other female victim whose tragic demise has become melodramatic fodder for 24-hour cable-news channels. In addition, the case was one of the first to spawn an online community obsessed with every detail of the investigation -- a phenomenon explored in this Westword article from 1998. The tragedy also provided a surefire topic for radio talk-show hosts such as KHOW's Peter Boyles, who, during his June 26 program, sounded almost wistful when speaking about the unsolved crime with former KOA reporter turned Fox News staffer Carol McKinley. "What a time," he said at one point. "What a time."

The passing of Patsy, who was the target of a great many conspiracy theorists, will certainly generate a new spurt of tabloid coverage. But the mainstream press, which made JonBenet infinitely more famous in death than she had been in life, has moved on. The media has no shortage of dead girls upon whom to dwell, while more important tales are left untold. That, sad to say, is the real legacy of Patsy and JonBenet Ramsey. -- Michael Roberts


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