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Christmas is a time for joy and being with those you care about most. However, there’s also a darkness threaded through this time of year which we tend to brush from our minds amid the fun of parties and shopping trips.
Crime rates tend to rise around the festive period, with increased tensions, copious alcohol and various opportunities to commit burglaries all contributing towards a dangerous underside of what should be a celebratory time.
It’s therefore unsurprising that a number of chilling incidents have unfolded on or around the big day, leaving a lasting shadow among the glow of fairy lights.
The Covina Massacre
It was Christmas Eve night 2008, and Joseph and Alice Ortega were hosting a family party at their suburban home in Covina, a Californian city some 22 miles from LA.
The Ortegas had invited around 25 people to celebrate the holidays with them, including their five grown-up children, and numerous grandchildren. Among them was Joseph and Alice’s 43-year-old daughter Sylvia, who’d recently moved back in with her parents following a difficult divorce.
The party was already in full swing when there was a knock at the door. The figure on the doorstep would be recognisable to most people in the US, clad in a classic red and white suit and bushy beard. He even had a large box with him, wrapped in festive paper.
The children were only too excited by this early visit from Santa Claus, exclaiming with delight as you might expect. But when eight-year-old Katrina Yuzefpolsky rushed to give him a hug, ‘Santa’ pulled out two handguns and fired them into her face.
The man in the Santa suit was in fact Sylvia’s ex-husband, Bruce Pardo, and it’s believed their marital issues were the motivation behind the brutal attack carried out at the home of his former in-laws.
After injuring Katrina, as per USA Today, Pardo walked around the house, firing at the other partygoers as they attempted to flee.
Pardo managed to kill nine people in total, including Sylvia, who had finalised her divorce papers just the week before, and her elderly parents. The 45-year-old then torched the home using a flamethrower he’d concealed inside his wrapped gift box, sparking an explosion.
In the early hours of Christmas Day, Pardo was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Some reports suggest the Santa suit he’d been wearing had melted to his flesh during the blast.
The Murderous Mall Santa
It was the height of the Christmas shopping season of 2004 when customers at an Atlanta mall were met with the horrifying sight of a man in a Santa Claus outfit beating an elderly woman with a 2-by-4 board.
Elkin Clarke, 49, had been working as a mall Santa at the time, as per ABC News, and became enraged at Annie Nelson, 74, who he claimed had stolen 29 29 boxes of Hershey’s chocolates from him. He later claimed that he’d ‘asked [her] ten to fifteen times not to touch my stuff’.
Police never found any evidence to support such an allegation and, even if they had, it would have no way excused the violence that ensued. Witnesses reported seeing Clarke striking Nelson over the head, continuing to hit her a further two times as she lay unconscious on the floor. Those who tried desperately to intervene were also threatened with the board.
Tragically, Nelson died of her injuries six weeks after the attack. At his trial, Clarke was found guilty and convicted of malice murder.
The Santa Claus Bank Robbery of Texas
It was December 23rd, 1927, when career criminal Marshall Ratliff walked into the First National Bank in the Central Texas town of Cisco, his sole intention being to empty the safe by force.
When Ratliff first arrived, he was met with cheer rather than fear. His Santa Claus suit elicited a jolly ‘Hello Santa!’ from the cashier who greeted him, while excitable children followed him about. Then Ratliff’s three accomplices – Henry Helms, Robert Hill and Louis Davis – walked in.
Eyewitness Boyce House, who described the robbery in Startling Detective Magazine some months later, revealed that customers and bank staff initially believed a joke was afoot when one of the bandits yelled, ‘Stick ‘em up, everybody!’ However, the gang were being deadly serious.
While his accomplices pointed their guns at employees and customers, Ratliff headed into the back of the bank, forcing the teller to empty the contents of the safe into a potato sack he’d stuffed under his costume. He managed to steal $12,000 in total, a sum worth $173,000 dollars in today’s money.
One witness who managed to escape unnoticed managed to alert the police, and a deadly shoot-out ensued. Police officers Chief G. E. Bedford and Deputy George Carmichael were left with fatal injuries, while a number of bystanders were also injured as some 200 bullets flew through the air.
The criminals made away in a getaway car with two little girls, Emma May Robinson and Laverne Comer, as hostage. Although they were able to evade detection for several days out in the bushland around the region, justice eventually caught up to them.
Ratliff was sentenced to death, but never made it as far as the electric chair. An angry mob of around 1,000 people, according to The Texan, dragged the condemned man into the streets despite jailers’ pleas, stringing him up from a lamp post.
The Ceramic Squirrel Stabbing of North Charleston, South Carolina
It was Christmas Eve 2013 and a 44-year-old South Carolina woman named Helen Ann Williams was waiting for her husband to come back from the store with beer. When he returned empty-handed, explaining that all the stores were shut, Williams flew into a terrible rage.
As reported by NBC News, Williams approached her husband while he was making a sandwich, and struck him with a ceramic squirrel.
In a fit of rage, Williams then stabbed her spouse in the chest with the squirrel, leaving a bloody gash which thankfully wasn’t life-threatening.
The husband was fortunately able to run to a neighbour’s house where he rang 911, and Williams’ story about him falling and cutting himself on the squirrel was quickly dismissed by officers.
If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please know that you are not alone. You can talk in confidence 24 hours a day to the national domestic violence helpline Refuge on 0808 2000 247
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