Priscilla and her husband, Fleet White Jr., had been with John and Patsy Ramsey just ten hours earlier. The Ramseys and their two children had come to the Whites’ house for Christmas dinner. Nine-year-old Burke Ramsey had played Nintendo games with seven-year-old Fleet III, while best friends JonBenét and Daphne White, both six, had played in Daphne’s room. There had been nothing remarkable about the evening, but now the Ramseys were making desperate calls for help.
Fleet and Priscilla hurried to their friends’ house. The police were already there, and more friends, summoned by Patsy, were on their way. But Patsy was inconsolable. She sat on the floor, clutching a crucifix and praying to Jesus. “They have my baby,” she moaned.
She’d woken up that morning, she told detectives, to find a three-page handwritten note on the spiral staircase leading from the children’s bedrooms to the first floor. The garrulous note, claiming to be from a “small foreign faction” and signed “S.B.T.C.,” demanded $118,000 for the return of JonBenét, who was missing from her room. Patsy had screamed for her husband, then dialed 911.
Fleet and Priscilla had never seen Patsy so hysterical, flailing and collapsing in sobs. John Ramsey wasn’t known for displaying emotion — Fleet, who’d done a lot of sailing with him in rough weather, had admired his calm in even the worst storms — but he looked distraught, too.
While arrangements were under way to assemble the cash demanded, the Whites did what they could to be useful. Recalling how his own daughter had once gone missing only to be found hiding under her bed, Fleet took a quick tour of the basement, looking for hiding places. He and John collected Burke Ramsey from his room, and Fleet drove him to the Whites’ house, to keep him away from the awful situation.
As the day dragged on with no word from the kidnappers, several of the visitors got a glimpse of a police photocopy of the ransom note. It was a melodramatic epic, full of odd lines from movies (“Don’t try to grow a brain”) and squiggly, palsied lettering, as if the writer was trying to disguise his handwriting.
Priscilla was struck by the taunting tone of the note, which was addressed to “Mr. Ramsey.” She wondered who could hate John Ramsey that much, to put him through this. She believed it had to be someone familiar with the layout of the Ramsey house, a three-story, much-modified Tudor with a labyrinthine basement; Priscilla herself had lost her way more than once the first few times she’d visited.
Around one in the afternoon, Boulder police detective Linda Arndt suggested that Fleet take John Ramsey around the house to see if they’d missed anything — probably just to give the anxious father something to do. After inspecting several rooms in the basement, Ramsey headed toward a storage room known as the wine cellar. It was a door Fleet had opened on his earlier tour, but he hadn’t found a light switch and hadn’t gone inside. Moving a few feet and seconds ahead of Fleet, Ramsey opened the door and snapped on the light.
“Oh, my God,” he said. “Oh, my God.”