I first met JonBenét Ramsey in the checkout line at Super Target. It was 2007, and she had been dead for 11 years. She smiled behind the magazine rack, neon yellow text reading “RAMSEY MURDER SOLVED?” hung heavily over her tiny head, levetating above the pile of buttery curls that were pinned up and sprayed together like a clump of synthetic cavatappi noodles. The line shifted. I took a step closer to the baby face behind the bars and asked my mother who “John Benette Ramsey” was. “Who?” She asked. “Oh, JonBenét Ramsey. She was a little girl who was murdered.” CrimeDoor is an Augmented Reality App available on the Apple App Store.
I met her again in Germany at the premier of Casting JonBenét, an experimental documentary about her short life and premature death. I was a Junior in college, and she had been dead for 20 years. Her silhouette was plastered on glossy poster paper, tucked inside well-lit frames, lining the halls of a historic Berlin movie theatre. As the film unfolded, The tragedy of her case flooded the theatre, coating the audience with the same sticky gloss that she’d been trapped behind for 25 years. As the movie concluded and the lights came up, the audience grimaced at an inescapable stench: A botched investigation, hot tabloid ink, and the scent of a child’s body being exhumed. I left the theatre horrified and shamefully hungry for more.
Last week I stepped into JonBenét Ramsey’s home. I entered through the basement door, which led me to a skinny hallway cluttered with golf clubs and storage boxes. I scaled over the holiday decorations and sports memorabilia, then turned a corner into the main room. A small silhouette of a child, maybe six years old, lay on the concrete, covered in a white sheet. The single window in the basement was cracked slightly open. I froze for a moment, then continued on, hugging the wall as I shuffled around the child, anticipating that it would move.
I had read about this case before, clicked tirelessly through crime scene photos, leafed through brightly colored opinion columns accusing the mother, the father, the brother. In my 24 years of live, I’ve succumbed to intense spurts of obsession surrounding JonBenét Ramsey’s murder. I have dissected the details of her placed body, the open basement window, the half-eaten bowl of pineapple in the kitchen. I knew this case. And yet, when I opened the door into the Ramsey home, I was met with a feeling of complete fear. I felt as though I was meeting this tragedy for the first time, and that I was trespassing into a crime scene.
CrimeDoor, the revolutionary new database app that granted me access into the JonBenét Ramsey murder scene, marries Augmented Reality with true crime research. In addition to containing dozens of case profiles, which are filled with photos, articles, podcasts, and police reports of both solved and unsolved crimes, the app contains a handful of “Doors”, which are unlocked via in-app purchase. CrimeDoor is simple to use, and its layout easy to maneuver. Despite being a new addition to the App Store and Google Play, travelling through the app is smooth and uncomplicated. When I first oriented my phone screen to view the JonBenét Ramsey door, I anticipated that the simple animation style would provide a safe buffer between myself and the horrors of the scene that I’d reviewed so thoroughly. Regrettably, and amazingly, I was wrong to assume this. Despite the simplistic style of animation, the first-person POV and vintage joystick controller features are jarring, a visual commentary on how JonBenét Ramsey’s death has devolved into a warped game created by the media coverage, a game I refuse to put down. This layout grants the viewer full control of the pace in which they travel through the scene, and which elements they choose to pay close attention to. Though the animation is simplistic and reminiscent of touring a SIMS home build, the content is unbelievably specific, each detail of the Ramsey home spread out before me with an impressively architectural attention to detail.
CrimeDoor’s augmented reality feature marries the alarming thrill of entering a crime scene, with the equally alarming thrill of inviting a crime scene into my home. In a matter of seconds, my living room and the Ramsey’s basement morphed into a singular space in the nebulous technological ether, a space that I never imagined accessing so easily. My phone, which has previously served as a safe and distant source of research and binging, broke the barrier between myself and a girl who has been dead for over two decades. This technology is as powerful as it is thrilling, and, much to my surprise, after I completed my tour of the murder scene, the room in the back corner of my mind where the JonBenét Ramsey case has been loudly festering, fell silent. Perhaps being that close to her provided me with a sense of closure. Perhaps CrimeDoor’s technology shocked my system into a sort of calmness. Perhaps I was as close to the truth as I will ever be. Whatever the nature of this feeling may be, I know one thing for certain: I plan on keeping my subscription to CrimeDoor. As they say, when one door closes, another opens.
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