Whatever your reasons for celebrating it, whether it’s religious belief or just the chance to spend carefree quality time with family and loved ones, Christmas is generally a time of joy, happiness, and festive fun. However, on occasion, what should be a time of love for all around us can quickly turn into a festive nightmare. Those who learn of such events from afar are shocked, while those who survive such incidents see the holiday seasons forever marked with terrifying and horrific memories.
As we will see as we go down our lit of the darker side of Christmas, as much as the holidays bring out the best in most of us, for some, they can bring out dark and twisted feelings that finally bubble over to breaking point. Here are ten such examples.
10 Kristy Bamu Accused Of Witchcraft
As soon as paramedics saw the lifeless body of 15-year-old Kristy Bamu in the bathtub on Christmas Day 2010, they could tell he was subject to a horrific ordeal before he had drowned. His body was battered and bruised, and if that wasn’t enough, the bathroom and the room next to it were awash in what would be confirmed to be the young boy’s blood. In all, later reports would show he had 130 separate injuries upon his body.
They had been called by the sister of the dead boy, Magalie, who asked them to hurry to the flat in in Newham, East London, stating, “My brother has drowned himself in the bath.” Investigation would show that Magalie, along with her boyfriend Eric Bikubi, had turned the rooms into makeshift torture and interrogation chambers, apparently under the impression that Kristy Bamu was a witch.
According to family members, Kristy had only arrived several days earlier in order to spend Christmas with his sister. However, according to the eventual trial, Kristy had “wet himself,” and upon attempting to hide his underwear (likely out of embarrassment), he was discovered by his sister and Bikubi, who bizarrely made the assertion he must be a witch.
Bikubi would arrange rituals and bizarre ceremonies aimed at “forcing the Devil” out of Kristy (and his siblings, who Bikubi had also accused of witchcraft). Part of these ceremonies included severe beatings, which took the teenager to the brink of death. He was then taken to the bath to clean up. Being barely conscious, his body simply collapsed in the water, and he was unable to lift himself out. By the time his sister returned, he was dead. The jurors heard that Bikubi was a controlling person and that he was the main instigator behind the needless death.
9 Where Did The Sodder Children Go?
Perhaps what makes the case of the five missing (and presumed dead) children of the Sodder family even more tragic is that the case is still officially unsolved over six decades after the events.
On Christmas Eve 1945, near the small town of Fayetteville, West Virginia, the Sodder family, George and Jennie and their nine children (a tenth child was away in the military), would settle in their beds, awaiting for sleep to guide them through to Christmas morning. For five of the children—Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie, and Betty (ranging from five to 14 years old)—the morning would not come.
A fire ripped through the property an hour or so after midnight. Both parents made it out of the building alongside their four remaining children—Sylvia, Marion, John, and George. The fate of their other offspring, though, is unknown. No remains were ever found, either inside the burned-out house or in the surrounding area. Despite this, death certificates were issued less than a week later.
The Sodders, though, began to think things through a little further. For example, a worker at a local crematorium told Jennie that bones remain even after two hours of burning at 2,000 degrees. The fire at the Sodders’ home at no point reached such high levels of heat and was put out within 45 minutes. Faulty wiring was stated to be the cause of the fire, but the Sodders’ power had remained on as the fire raged. Further still, witnesses reported seeing a strange man near one of the older children’s trucks just before the fire. (His truck refused to start following their escape from the property.) Perhaps most chilling of all, the family would find what they believed to have been the remains of a “napalm pineapple bomb” in their yard, an interesting discovery, as Sylvia would recall hearing a thud and rolling sounds on the roof shortly before the fire began.
Then came the sightings of four of the five children in a car with Florida plates. They were accompanied by two women and two men of “Italian extraction.” Theories began to suggest that the Sodders had been mixed up with local Mafia or that the children were kidnapped on the order of unknown parties. The last surviving member of the Sodder family, Sylvia, firmly believes her siblings not only survived the fire that evening but were taken somewhere against their will by persons unknown.
8 Tricia McCauley
On Christmas Day 2016, the body of Tricia McCauley was riding around Washington, DC, as her killer drove her car—the reason he had strangled her to death in the first place.
Her body would be discovered a little over 24 hours later when her vehicle, still being driven by her killer, Adrian Duane Johnson, was pulled over by police following a report from a member of the public, Jonathan Padget, who had seen an appeal for the missing actress on television. As well as strangulation marks around her throat, there was evidence that she had been badly beaten in the attack.
Padget had seen Johnson sitting in McCauley’s parked car with loud music and cigarette smoke pouring out of the windows. As the car drove away, Padget made note of the license plate, later matching it to the police appeal, at which point he notified them of his sighting.
What made Tricia McCauley’s death even more enraging was that only days earlier, Johnson, who had a string of assaults and convictions behind him, had been ordered by a judge to have GPS monitoring device fitted to his person. When he was arrested, this device was missing. Needless to say, many were critical of the justice system that allowed Johnson to be in a position to end an innocent person’s life.
7 Rebecca Johnson—The Lapland Murder
When Rebecca Johnson ventured off to Finland to work in Lapland as part of the Christmas holiday period in December 2016, neither she nor her family could have dreamed her trip would end so tragically.
Rebecca was working as a tour guide on Christmas-themed adventures into the unforgiving terrain of the Arctic. Her body would be discovered in the flat she shared with her boyfriend, a Czech national named Karel Frybl (also named by some sources as Radek Kovac), seemingly having been the victim of a brutal and vicious attack. Frybl would be arrested as the main suspect following his bizarre manhunt by police through the snowy wilderness. He had attempted to flee on one of the nearby husky sledges in conditions that had seen the temperature drop to almost –30 degrees Celsius (–22 °F). The authorities would use snowmobiles, helicopters, as well teams of husky dogs to eventually find the suspect in a considerably bad way, almost dead from hypothermia.
What made the devastation cut even deeper for the family is that Rebecca’s body would not be released to her native Scotland until the investigation was complete, which would take considerable time.
In August 2017, Frybl admitted to killing Rebecca, though he claimed he had no memory of the attack and had suffered a “temporary mental breakdown.”
6 Bruce Pardo—The Santa Claus Killer
In an account that reads like the grimmest of horror stories, Bruce Pardo, labeled the Santa Claus Killer, would terrorize an entire household before ending his own life. His 2008 Christmas Eve killing spree in Covina, an otherwise quiet suburb of Los Angeles, California, would leave nine people dead (a number of whom were murdered execution-style). At least one was killed by Pardo’s subsequent arson.
It was shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve, when Pardo, dressed in full Santa Claus costume, got out of his car and walked to the front door of his ex-wife’s parents’ home. As soon as the door opened, Pardo opened fire with the semiautomatic weapon he had in his hand.
After his initial wave of bullets, which led to family members inside the house dropping to floor like deflated balloons, Pardo would put the weapon down and turn his attention to the brightly wrapped package he was carrying. He unwrapped it and produced a homemade flamethrower. Within seconds, the house was aglow with flames.
He would retreat shortly after, himself injured and burned from his crudely made flamethrower. He would be found later that evening at his brother’s home, dead from an apparently self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head. However, perhaps indicative of his mental state at the time, he had seemingly given little concern to his own well-being during the attack, as his body had severe burns, with the Santa Claus costume “melted to his skin” in places.
It would appear, from investigations afterward, that the murder spree was the result of life going wrong (his failed marriage), increasing pressures (child support and increasing debt), and finally an attempt to defraud the courts in order to lighten his child support payments. When he was caught, he was fired, and shortly after, he seemingly snapped.
5 Los Feliz Murder—The House Where Every Day Is Christmas?
It’s not so much the murder-suicide that took place in a mansion in the extremely affluent Los Feliz district of Los Angeles but the rumors that persisted in the following decades, particularly when the Internet invaded people’s homes, that made the events of December 1959 live on in the grim folklore of otherwise sunny and happy California.
According to the story, at 4:30 AM on December 6, respected and successful cardiologist Harold Perelson took a hammer to his wife’s head while she slept, leaving her to choke on her own blood as he proceeded into the bedroom of his teenage daughter, Judye. He attacked her in the same way, but surprisingly, she managed to flee the property screaming before ringing the police.
Bizarrely, he didn’t attack his two younger children, instead telling them, “Go back to bed. This is a nightmare.” They did as told. By the time the police and emergency services had arrived at the Spanish-style mansion, Perelson was dead from an overdose of painkillers (31 pills were discovered in his system) and two doses of Nembutal (a barbiturate). It is believed Perelson and his family were in a mountain of debt, and like the Bruce Pardo incident that we looked at earlier, he simply snapped.
The spooky parts of the tale—if indeed they are true and not just urban legend—is that the house remained decorated for Christmas, looking just as it did on the night of the murders, complete with wrapped presents under the tree. The property apparently became a target of thrill-seekers and adventurers. The house was sold after the murders, but by most accounts, it has remained empty, aside from a family who rented the property very briefly in 1960. Some people attribute the Christmas decorations to this unknown family, with the legend stating that “something” made them flee the property without taking any of their possessions with them on the anniversary of the murder-suicide.
4 Gabriel Cadis
On January 6, 2012, in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, lawyer, accountant, and Arab Christian leader Gabriel Cadis was stabbed to death by a man wearing a Santa Claus costume, following a parade. The area’s Greek Orthodox community were to celebrate Christmas the next day.
According to authorities, the murder was in relation to a local family rivalry, and three Arab Israelis, all from the same family, were soon arrested. Two other suspects were placed under house arrest.
In 2016, Tufik Dalou and Faud Abu Maneh, both in their twenties, were found guilty of the murder. It is believed that (then) 56-six-year old Tala Abu Maneh had ordered the killing, although this was never proven or confirmed.
According to reports, it was Cadis’s recent third election victory as leader of the Greek Orthodox Christians that had created increased tensions in the community, particularly with the Abu Maneh family. Israel has a huge Christian population, and the timing of the murders to coincide with Greek Orthodox Christmas Eve was purposeful, according to investigators.
3 Carnation Murders
Christmas Eve 2007 in Carnation, Washington, would see Michele Anderson take the lives of three generations of her own family. Later investigations, and indeed Michele’s own confession, would show the killings were influenced mainly by a perceived debt of $40,000 that her brother Scott Anderson (one of the deceased) owed to her. When her parents took his side and suddenly requested that she and her boyfriend (and accomplice) Joseph McEnroe begin paying rent for the family-owned trailer they lived in, the pair hatched their deadly plan.
Just after 4:00 PM on that fateful Christmas Eve, Michele and Joseph arrived at the family home and quickly shot her parents to death, before dragging their bodies to a shed in the garden and cleaning their blood from the floors in the house.
They then sat waiting for her brother, his wife Erica, and their two young children, who were coming for a family meal. Upon their arrival, the pair opened fire, killing them all. They fled the property, leaving the bodies to be discovered on December 26 by a coworker of the mother’s, who had grown concerned by her friend’s absence from work.
Police soon suspected Michele and her boyfriend due to their seemingly unconcerned behavior as well as their equally suspicious alibi that they were out of town on the day of the murders, as they had planned to marry in Las Vegas. They told police they’d changed their minds and headed back to Carnation.
McEnroe would be sentenced to life in prison in 2015, while Michele would be found guilty of all six murders and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in April 2016.
2 Ron Gene Simmons’s Christmas Killing Spree
Over a seven-day period from December 22 to 28, 1987, former US Air Force master sergeant Ronald Gene Simmons went on a killing spree through Arkansas that would leave a total of 16 people dead, 14 of them family members.
Simmons would begin his horrendous murder spree by shooting his wife and eldest son dead before strangling his three-year old granddaughter, who was staying at the house. He waited for four more of his children to return home, before taking each child separately out to the back of the property and holding their heads under the water in a large rain barrel.
He would remain at the family home until other members of his family arrived for a preplanned Christmas visit, which they did on December 26. He would shoot his son and daughter as well as their spouses. He strangled or drowned their children. In a dark, sick twist, his daughter Sheila had been the subject of sexual abuse at the hands of her father for years, and her daughter had actually been fathered by Simmons himself.
Two days later, Simmons would travel to nearby Russellville, where he would gun down a young woman who he was (by all accounts) infatuated with but who had turned down his advances. He would take shots at several people throughout the town over the following hours, killing one more person (who was no more than a stranger to him) before he gave himself up to police and handed over his weapon. He was ultimately found guilty of all 16 murders and sentenced to death.
In a bizarre twist to an already extremely dark tale, Simmons would need to be kept separate during his time spent on death row due to threats on his life from other prisoners. This wasn’t due to the horrific nature of his crimes, nor that he had sexually abused his own daughter (before murdering her), but because his refusal to appeal his death sentence, they believed, would weaken their own chances of appeal. Simmons was executed by lethal injection in June 1990.
1 Aziz Yazdanpanah
Shortly after 11:00 AM on Christmas Day 2011, 56-year-old Aziz Yazdanpanah donned a Santa Claus costume and declared he wanted to be “all fatherly” to his family when he showed up at their apartment in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Then he shot his estranged wife, their two teenage children, his sister, his brother-in-law, and their 22-year-old daughter dead before shooting himself.
Although it was well-known to those who knew him that Yazdanpanah was having problems with his marriage, his increasing financial difficulties weren’t as commonly known. As we have looked at in several other such cases on this list, the murders by Yazdanpanah appear to have been the result of a mind that had simply broken.
According to the police reports, it was Yazdanpanah himself who had called police at 11:34 AM, stating to them, “Help. I am shooting people.” A text, later found on the phone of his murdered niece, was sent at 11:15 AM, stating, “Now he wants to be all fatherly and win father of the year.” It is believed that shortly after that text was sent, the murders began.
When police arrived at the scene, they found evidence of what appeared to be an attempt to “frame” his dead brother-in-law, as one of the guns used in the killings had been placed in his hand (presumably by Yazdanpanah). Police would state that at some point after making the phone call to authorities, he suddenly became “overwhelmed,” possibly having come to the awful realization of what he had done, so he simply turned the gun on himself.