Are we doomed to repeat the Lindbergh tragedy?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 30, 2006

As the Spanish philosopher and poet George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Never have those words rang more true than in the past few weeks in light of the latest events in the murder case of JonBenet Ramsey.

Boulder County (Colorado) District Attorney Mary Lacy said Tuesday that — despite a convincing confession — John Mark Karr did not have anything to do with the death of Ramsey, although Karr himself seems to believe he actually did it.

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“The way he told the story (of how JonBenet died), the DNA would have been his and it was not,” Lacy said. “He is not the killer.”

So, after 10 years of looking for a killer; and finally getting a suspect who admitted to the deed, the American public and friends and family of JonBenet will have to live again — perhaps another 10 years — without knowing exactly what happened to the little beauty pageant queen on that chilly Christmas night in 1996.

The buzz surrounding this case is reminiscent of another high-profile murder investigation that took place more than 70 years ago.

On Tuesday, March 1, 1932, a blonde-haired 20-month-old baby named Charles Lindbergh Jr. was snatched through the window of his bedroom only to be found less than two weeks later by a passing trucker a few miles from the Lindbergh home in Hopewell, N.J.

The similarities are numerous, to say the least: There was, and still is, a media circus that followed these events; one or both of the parents were considered suspects in the cases; the parent(s) of the victims were wealthy and were living part of the American dream — Lindbergh Sr. was a hero pilot and Patsy Ramsey was Miss West Virginia — and many claim there was a rush to judgment in both cases.

And although we have been doomed to repeat many of the mistakes from the previous high-profile cases such as the Lindbergh kidnapping, perhaps something has been learned of this.

Since the Linderbergh case, many have questioned the rush to judgment in convicting — and eventually executing — Bruno Hauptmann, a German immigrant with a criminal record in his home country. Although we may never know if Hauptmann was actually guilty of the crime, this is very similar to the recent arrest and circus surrounding Karr.

The one difference, however, is that Karr is now a free man. And whether this is because

we’ve learned our lesson from the past or because technology has forced us to be more reasonable in our judgment, it’s a step forward.

Many times we seek a katharsis, or relief, to the unsolved; and too many times, we jump to conclusions about the answers to these unsolved questions. Unfortunately, there can be real consequences to rushing to judgment, including the loss of human lives.

Despite the fact we may never learn who the real killer is in the JonBenet Ramsey case, we have learned one thing: How to be patient.

Now, maybe we can learn from the JonBenet case and avoid a media circus when the next high-profile case happens … but somehow I doubt that will happen.

Don Willis is managing editor of the Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1445, ext. 12 or don.willis@ironton