Burke Ramsey: A Lesson in Behavior Interpretation
If you have turned on your TV in the last couple of weeks or logged in to any form of social media, you would have seen that there are several “experts” suggesting different theories of what happened twenty years ago in the case of JonBenét Ramsey.
There are a variety of opportunities for analysts to discuss their expertise including statement analysis of the ransom note, forensic evidence, psychological profiles and interpretation of interviews of the key players. Over the last week, it seems that some of the docuseries have pointed at Burke Ramsey, JonBenét’s older brother, as the main suspect of the crime. There are some pieces of evidence that lead to Burke as a possible suspect, but it seems that the most talked about topic is Burke’s interview with Dr. Phil that aired recently.
The theory that Burke Ramsey, 9 years old at the time of the homicide, was involved in the killing of his sister is plausible. However, it is important that we are able to review the case facts from an impartial perspective. Most people and even some “experts” fall victim to a confirmation bias when watching a true crime series. Often, the filmmakers will steer the viewers down a dramatic path of theories while suggesting a specific suspect. As the notion of Burke being the primary suspect seems to become more popular, so does the bias of an observer that hopes to fill that narrative.
In the recent interview of Burke Ramsey conducted by Dr. Phil, there are a lot of behavioral indicators that viewers are suggesting indicate Burke has something to hide or is lying about his involvement. Most common seems to be the fact that Burke displays an awkward smirk throughout most of the interview discussing the unsolved homicide of his sister. Burke also appears uncomfortable and nervous, while fidgeting and maintaining an off-putting smile. Many observers have commented on this behavior, utilizing it to further their narrative that Burke must be responsible for JonBenet’s death.
When reading many of these comments it became clear that there are some misconceptions about behavior interpretation. One of the most important things to be aware of is that a change in behavior does not always equate to deception. Often times a person may perform a manipulator, or a nervous tick, by scratching or re-adjusting their posture. This change in behavior could be due to deception, nervousness, anxiety or in its simplest form – they have an itch.
The analyzing of Burke Ramsey is eerily similar to the misconception of Brendan Dassey’s behavior seen in the “Making a Murderer” Netflix Documentary. Dassey was described by investigators as being withdrawn and appeared to be hiding something; however it was determined that this was actually Dassey’s normal behavior or his baseline. In comparison to Burke Ramsey, both individuals are introverts with a socially awkward disposition. Ramsey is a computer consultant, who works primarily out of his house – not somebody who necessarily shines in the outspoken spotlight. It is more than possible that Ramsey’s awkward and misleading behavior could be due to his anxiety in front of a camera or his discomfort being interviewed on national television. It’s also possible that Burke was involved in the death of his sister, but his behavior during an interview should not be the leading cause of that theory.
Behavior interpretation is an extremely useful tool, yet a dangerous one if utilized incorrectly or as the sole part of an investigation. After all, we all display anxiety or nervousness – standing at the altar when giving your vows, being asked to speak at a meeting, or even during the last few minutes of a football game. No single behavior is indicative of truth or deception, it’s important to look at the behavioral norm of a subject, the context of the situation and many other precautions before jumping to conclusions.
As we continue to revisit this case and ultimately hope for closure to honor JonBenét, short of a confession or the addition of new evidence, it appears we are at a standstill. Ultimately, the truth will emerge and confirm or deny the many theories that exist. However, next time you’re watching an interview of a subject and attempting to analyze their behavior – caution yourself from coming to an absolute conclusion.