Magazine article The Spectator

Beauty and the Beasts

Magazine article The Spectator

Beauty and the Beasts

Article excerpt

Some 13 years ago, a six-year-old girl called JonBenet Ramsey was murdered in Boulder, Colorado. It was the only murder in the city that year, and a particularly brutal one; she had been dragged from her bed and apparently attacked with an electric cattle prod before being strangled. Which made it all the more astounding that the police quickly came to the conclusion that it was the parents who had killed her. There were, they said, no signs of forced entry to the house, or any indication of how the murderer might have got out.

Even more astonishingly, most people in Boulder agreed with the police. The case became famous internationally. The Ramseys fled Boulder, and Peggy, the mother, later died of cancer.

Luckily Mike Tracey, a British lecturer in journalism at the local university, appalled by the media frenzy, took up the case. He employed private detectives who quickly found - amid much other evidence the police had missed - the way the intruder had got in and out, including a suitcase which he had stood on to crawl out of the basement window.

The details, like those in any unsolved case, are innumerable and complicated.

But the intriguing fact is that JonBenet had been a child beauty queen, taking part in those grisly competitions in which young girls are encouraged to turn themselves into little sex goddesses. In Boulder, which I visit most years for a conference, a town that's home to a university and some of the most bien-pensant people in America, a world of organic health food, Taoism and worthy charities, the kind of people who enter their children into beauty contests stand out, in Chandler's phrase, like tarantulas on angel food cake. It was, nobody quite said but clearly meant, quite possible that the people who sexualised their child must be responsible for her sexually motivated murder. Now, too late, both police and community seem to have grudgingly accepted the parents' innocence.

Of course everything from America, good or bad, finally arrives on these shores, which is why the BBC made Baby Beauty Queens .

Three years ago there were only two child beauty pageants in Britain; this year there are 17. The programme concentrated on two seven-year-olds, Amber and Eden, who were entering a contest in Milton Keynes, which does not resemble Boulder in any way.

Two moments summed up the ethos of the thing. …

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