Magazine article The Spectator

Murder Most Foul

Magazine article The Spectator

Murder Most Foul

Article excerpt

Television

Murder most foul

Dead Ringers (BBC2) was on sparkling form this week, champagne laced with strychnine: 'On Channel 4 on Tuesday, it's Big Brother, followed by Sex with Strangers and then Eurotrash. You'll need a shower afterwards, but you still won't feel clean.'

I have to declare an interest in True Crime: Who Killed the Pageant Queen? (ITV) since it was made by a friend of mine, Mike Tracey, who runs the department of journalism at the University of Colorado. This is based in Boulder, the town where the murder took place. To recap: JonBenet Ramsey was a little girl whose wealthy parents entered her in child beauty competitions. She was horribly murdered at home on Christmas night 1996. The police didn't find any evidence of a break-in, so concluded, on the basis of no positive evidence, that someone in the family had killed the girl. The Ramseys, who do seem slightly cold fish, hid behind lawyers rather than doing the anguished breast-baring expected on American television, and the public quickly agreed with the police. (There may also be an element of snobbery here: Boulder is a wealthy, sophisticated place; they think child beauty contests are vulgar and hick, which of course they are.)

Anyhow, Tracey was so appalled by the American media treatment of the case, which consisted largely of hounding the already desperate Ramseys, that he decided to hire detectives and investigate the killing himself. The story has been told in a short series of documentaries of which this is the latest. It turns out that there is ample evidence of a break-in, and a number of very obvious suspects, all of whom were ignored by police. A new team of detectives is on the case, and this week Tracey asserted, rather convincingly I thought, that there had been two men involved in the murder. One has been shot dead by the other, who is now on the run.

But the film isn't merely a Police Gazette, penny-dreadful shocker. It is an implied reproach to the American media, particularly to shock television, which finds its victims and squeezes them like a particularly malign boa constrictor. The Ramseys, having lost their cherished daughter, are now suffering a second assassination by TV: they have moved to the frozen wastes of Michigan, where they are almost destitute.

Who's this? 'He would come up and say, "Well done, boys, you did really well," after every gig. You got the impression he sort of meant it. He was slightly sleazy. At the same time he seemed very genuine as well, you know . …

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