DENVER | They were two pretty girls, both named after their fathers, both residing in Colorado, both 6 years old the last time anyone saw them alive.
But the cases of JonBenet Ramsey and Aarone Thompson are as striking in their differences as they are in their similarities. The two girls existed in very different realms: JonBenet lived a dream childhood in an exclusive Boulder neighborhood, while Aarone shared a cramped house in a lower-income part of Aurora with seven other children.
Thousands of pictures were taken of JonBenet during her brief life as a child beauty queen. The only photo of Aarone that ever appears in newspapers shows her in the background of a group shot taken in 2002, slightly fuzzy, squinting in the sun.
JonBenet's absence was noticed immediately, and the police were called moments after her mother realized she was missing. Aarone may have been gone for two years before the authorities were notified. JonBenet's body was scrutinized for evidence that might lead to her killer; Aarone's body has yet to be found.
Yet it is Aarone who may receive justice first.
No suspect has ever been named in the JonBenet Ramsey case, one of the 20th-century's highest-profile unsolved crimes. But the trial of Aarone Thompson begins this week.
Aaron Thompson, Aarone's father, faces 60 felony counts in connection with her presumed death, including child abuse resulting in death and abuse of a corpse. He's also charged with child-abuse counts in the suspected beatings of Aarone's siblings and other children living in the home.
Since Aarone's body has not been found, Arapahoe County prosecutors are expected to rely largely on statements from the other children in the house. At the time of her disappearance, Aarone was living with her father; her brother, Aaron Jr.; her father's girlfriend, Shely Lowe; Ms. Lowe's teenage brother, Rajon Russell; and her five children by other men.
Mr. Thompson, 41, reported Aarone missing Nov. 14, 2005, saying she had run away after a fight over whether she could have a cookie. The call came hours after a social worker had visited the home and found no evidence to support that Aarone was living in the home, such as a toothbrush or bed.
At first, the children corroborated Mr. Thompson's account, but after being placed in foster care they told authorities that they hadn't seen Aarone in nearly two years. Aarone would have been 6 at the time of her father's November 2005 call.
According to court documents, in January 2004, Ms. Lowe told an ex-boyfriendthat Aarone had recently drowned accidentally in the bathtub, but that she and Mr. Thompson feared they would lose the other children because Aarone had a scar on her back from a previous beating. Instead of calling police, the documents say, the couple buried Aarone's body in a field and told the other children that she had gone to Detroit to live with her mother, Lynette Thompson.
Mrs. Thompson later said Aarone never came to live with her, and accused Mr. Thompson of foul play.
The picture became even more complicated in May 2006 when Ms. Lowe died suddenly of heart disease at age 33.
Court documents say one of the boys, whom authorities have not specified, told investigators that he heard Mr. Thompson beating Aarone in the basement, then silence. A short time later, Mr. Thompson told the children that Aarone had gone to live with her mother.
Ms. Lowe's statements to her ex-boyfriend could have been pivotal in the case, but her death makes them inadmissible. What's more, the defense may decide to argue that she, not Mr. Thompson, was responsible for Aarone's death.
"Defense can cast blame, if that's how they choose to go. They can say that Lowe committed the bad acts and Thompson didn't know what was happening," said Denver lawyer Scott Robinson, who has followed the case.
Prosecutors may be forced to build their case around testimony from the other children. "We won't really know until the prosecution makes its opening statements, which will probably be Thursday," Mr. Robinson said.
Jury selection began Monday in the trial, which is expected to last about a month.