Hello and welcome to The Secret Sits, I’m your host, John Dodson and today I am bringing you a special episode, just in time for the holiday season.  This time of the year is typically filled with joy and cheer, celebrations based on old pagan traditions and religious ideology, and anticipation of dreams yet to come to fruition.  However; true crime does not take a break during this time of year, actually some of the most shocking crimes have happened right around the Christmas season.  So, relax next to a warm fire, cuddle up with some hot coco or grab a good glass of bourbon as I tell you my top 12 Christmas Crimes.

1.      The Ashland Tragedy

Our first story begins on December 23rd, 1881 in a small town bordering the Ohio River in Ashland, Kentucky.  In a small cabin style house where three teenagers were having a sleep over.  Two of the children were 17-year-old Robert Gibbons and his 14-year-old sister Frannie.  Their friend who lived just next door was staying with them, her name was Emma Thomas and she was 15-years-old.  Robert had lost one of his legs in a freak accident when he was younger.  The Gibbons parents were both away on this evening, their father was away working in another town and their mother was away visiting her oldest daughter, she was slated to return home the following day.  The three youngsters were fast asleep when three assailants entered the home.  Emma’s mother had peered out of her window earlier in the night and had seen that the lights in the cabin had been extinguished for the night and she believed that the kids had headed off to bed.  But then, later in the night the sight of flames erupting from the cabin startled Emma’s mother back into consciousness and alarm about the fire was raised, neighbors rushed to help, but it was to no avail.  The bodies off all three adolescents were found inside of the cabin.  It appeared that all three teens had been murdered by blunt force trauma and the murder weapons were quickly located in the cabin, an axe and a crowbar, still covered with the victim’s blood and hair.  It was also concluded that both of the girls had been savagely raped.  Arson had been used as an instrument to cover up the hideous crimes.

As dawn broke and Christmas Eve began, word of the gruesome murders spread through the small town.  After a few days of investigation, George Ellis, confessed to the crimes.  He also implicated William Neal and Ellis Craft as his accomplices.  In one of George’s confessions, he claimed the following, “A few evenings prior to the 24th I met Craft who stated that he was going to see Fanny Gibbons and take her some black candy and that he was going to have intercourse with her and he wanted me to come along. About midnight, the fatal night, we all started Craft, Neal and myself and when we got to the house Craft raised the window with an old axe and stepped in first. Neal followed and I stayed behind on the porch and afterwards I went in. Robbie was the first aroused and started to get up when Craft said ‘you had better lie still.’ Craft then went to the bed where the two girls were sleeping and began to take improper liberties with them. Robbie said, ‘you had better stay away from there’, when Craft hit him with the axe. He fell back on the lounge then plunged forward and fell fully six feet from the bed under the stairs where he was found. The girls screamed when Craft jumped on the bed and they both said ‘George Craft, what are you here for?’ Emma also started to jump from the bed when Neal choked her and pulled her onto the floor. She fought him and I held her while he outraged her. Neal then struck her on the head with the big end of the crowbar and she instantly died after throwing up her hands. Craft also had some trouble with Fanny Gibbons and called on me to come and help him. He then outraged her and killed her. Neal proposed killing the girls and after they were dead, I took some coal oil, poured it over the bodies, and set fire to them with a match. We then left the house.”

Though we may never know the real story after numerous versions of confessions, William Neal was executed in 1883 and Ellis Craft was executed in 1885, both by hanging. George Ellis was given a life sentence, but was later killed by a lynch mob.

2.      Santa Clause is Coming to Town

Our next story takes place on Christmas Eve, 2008 in a suburb of Los Angeles called Covina.  A Christmas party was in full swing and everyone was having a great time.  In attendance were 25 members of the Yuzefpolsky family.  Around 11:30 PM there was a knock at the door.  The door was opened and there stood the big man himself, Santa Clause, he was even holding a gift-wrapped package.  8-year-old Katrina Yuzefpolsky saw Santa and her face lite up and she ran toward the fabled gift giver.  But as Katrina ran toward Santa, all of the sudden, he pulled out two 9mm semi-automatic handguns and shot Katrina in the face.  Santa then started firing indiscriminately at all of the party-goers who were now attempting to flee.  After shooting several of the merry revelers Santa unwrapped his package which contained an air compressor which he had modified to spray gasoline all over the inside of the house.  He then proceeded to set the entire house a blaze.

This imposter Santa Clause turned out to be Bruce Pardo and this was his ex-wife’s family home. The rampage went on and in the end nine people would be left dead, suffering either gun shot wounds, or fatal injuries from the fire.  One of the survivors called 911 from a neighbor’s house and it took 80 firefighters an hour and a half to extinguish the blaze.  Pardo ended up killing his ex-wife’s parents, two brothers and their wives, her sister and her nephew.  Katrina ended up surviving the gunshot wound to her face.  Pardo then drove to his brother’s house and committed suicide.  I hope Katrina has processed the trauma of Santa trying to kill her.

3.      What’s under the Tree?

Christmas is a time when human compassion is on the rise, good will toward man and all that stuff, so when Patty Michelle White was having a bit of a rough time around the holidays and needed a place to stay, Michelle O’Dowd kindly offered to let her stay at her house and off of the streets.  But shortly after December broke, things between the two ladies shifted and began to sour.  Michelle’s twin brother had always been suspicious of White and when Michelle failed to show up to work or to answer her phone, he knew something was wrong.  Plus, they probably had some of those twin super powers and he could just feel it.  He went to his sister’s house to check on her and while walking through the house, he saw a foot sticking out from under the Christmas Tree.  It was his sister Michelle, her body laid there, beneath piles of beautifully wrapped Christmas presents, purchased with love for her children and grandchildren.  Michelle had been beaten and strangled by White and she had attempted to hide the body under Michelle’s meticulously decorated tree.  Members of the family could not believe that White could perpetrate such an act, she was like part of the family.  But she was caught and arrested in South Carolina after having used Michelle’s ATM cards for several purchases.   White was sentenced to 45 years on prison for her crimes.

4.      Snapped

The holidays are always a stressful time of year.  There is so much to get done and sometimes people just snap.  On Christmas Eve 2013, in Gulf Breeze, Florida, William Brandon Aydelott, snapped.  He was home with his mother, a popular teacher at the Guld Breeze Hight School, where William also attended school and was a star baseball player.  William used his baseball bat to batter his mother and then proceeded to use a kitchen knife to repeatedly stab her and cut her throat.  A 911 tape released reveals it was Sharon Aydelott’s estranged husband who found the brutal murder scene inside her home.  William was located a few houses away and he easily confessed to the murder.  William described the murder of his mother, very matter of factly and with a smile on his face explained every detail.  He said that he had been angry because his parents had placed him into a rehab program because they mistakenly thought he was on drugs.

Detectives asked William how he felt about killing his mother and he simply replied, “Like I did the right thing.” Despite his demeanor and the savagery of the crime, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity after psychiatrist Dr. Robert Scott Benson testified that he suffered from schizophrenia, He claimed that in the moment of the crime the teen believed he was doing the right thing as he had “auditory hallucinations” commanding him to kill his mother. The psychiatrist also told the judge that he would be a danger to society if let free.  William was ordered to be involuntarily committed at a state mental hospital. His case is to be reviewed periodically. Although the State Attorney’s office is said to oppose any effort that will take place for him to be released, he could technically be a free man in the future.

5.      A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

In 1929 a family portrait was something typically reserved only for the wealthy, so shortly before Christmas, when Charlie Lawson decided to take his family into town to sit for a photo, it was quite a surprise.  Lawson got the entire family together, his wife Fannie, who was 37 along with their seven children; Marie, Arthur, Carrie, Maybell, James, Raymond and Mary Lou just four months old.  The gaggle headed to town where Charlie surprised his family even more by purchasing each member of the family a brand-new outfit to be worn while they sat for their portrait. The family, I am sure, was delighted.  And then Christmas morning rolled around and the day turned into afternoon.  Carrie and Maybell began preparations to head out to their aunt and uncle’s house.  They walked out of the house and across their land, but just behind the tabaco barn a shot rang out, Charlie had shot each of his daughters with a 12-gauge shotgun, he then bludgeoned the girls to ensure they were deceased. He then hid their lifeless bodies inside of the tabaco barn.  Charlie then returned to the house and shot his loving wife Fannie, who was out on the porch.  Marie heard the shot from inside of the house and began screaming, the two youngest boys, James and Raymond, began attempting to hide.  Charlie entered the house and shot Marie, then found and murdered the two boys who had hidden.  Lastly, Charlie went to the baby crib and beat the four-month-old baby to death.  Charlie then walked out of the house and into the near by woods.  He remained in the woods for several hours until he finally ended his own life.  The only survivor of this familicide was the couple’s oldest boy Arthur, whom Charlie had sent on an errand just a short time before beginning his rampage.  When the family was found, they had all been positioned with their arms crossed over their chests and a rock had been placed under each of their heads.

6.      Keep Your Friends Close

Everyone celebrates the holidays differently, but in Dayton, Ohio a group of young adults decided to participate in a Christmas killing spree to mark their holidays.  These four individuals were all members of a group calling themselves the Downtown Posse, the name could use some work.  In the early hours of Christmas Eve, Marvallous Keene, Heather Mathews, Laura Taylor and Demarcus Smith started their murderous spree by killing Joseph Wilkerson, who believed the group was joining him for an orgy, everybody celebrates differently.  The group tied Joseph to his own bed with electrical tape and then he was shot twice, once in the chest and once in the temple.  The group then leaves this location and at 10:00PM as they are passing a phone booth containing one Danita Gullette, who was 18 years old and wearing a pair of Fila tennis shoes.  Demarcus decided he wanted those shoes and so they shot the young woman seven times and took her shoes, she died later at the hospital.  Next at around 12:30, just 30 minutes into Christmas and Jeffrey Wright is shot four times outside of 157 Yuma Place.  After taking some time to cool off, the group’s next victim was Richmond Maddox, 19-years-old and the ex-boyfriend of Laura Taylor.  They shoot this young man while he is sitting in his car around 8:50 pm.  This will be the last victim killed on Christmas day, but the following day, the group is back at it again as they walk into the Short Stop Mini Market and shoot the 37-year-old store clerk, Sarah Abraham directly in the face.  A customer who was also in the store, 67-year-old Jones Pettus was shot in the stomach but later recovered.  After this murderous spree, the group began to discuss who should be killed to prevent snitches, and they decided on Taylor’s friend, Wendy Cottrill and her boyfriend Marvin Washington.  The group went to pick up the couple and they bought some beer and wine, they pulled over the car in a field when Keene said he needed to urinate, but instead of evacuating his bowls, Keene shot and killed the couple.

Keene was convicted for five of the six murders. Taylor and Matthews are serving life sentences at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. Smith is serving a life sentence at the Mansfield Correctional Institute. On July 21, 2009, at the age of 36, Keene was executed by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville. When he was asked if he wished to make a final statement, the condemned killer said, "No, I have no words."

7.      Every Neighborhood has that one Christmas House

Every neighborhood has at least one house that is Christmas obsessed, you just know they are going to have the best Christmas yard display and that it will probably be left up a little longer than any other display in the area.  Well, the Los Feliz Hills neighborhood has it’s Christmas house as well, but it is not known for its dazzling Christmas display.  It is known for something much darker.  Situated on a quiet, leafy cul-de-sac, the sprawling residence might seem an unexpected place for a grizzly near-familicide to occur. But that is exactly what happened in the early morning hours of December 6th, 1959, when Dr. Harold Perelson, a successful cardiologist and USC School of Medicine professor, picked up a ball-peen hammer and set about on a murderous spree. The doctor first took the tool to his wife’s head, killing her with one blow at approximately 4:30 a.m. while she slept in the master suite. He then ventured into the room of his eldest daughter, Judye, and struck her in the head with the same hammer. The blow wasn’t fatal, though, and instead awakened the 18-year-old, who began screaming. The noise in turn woke the Perelsons’ youngest child, Debbie (11), causing her to run to Judye’s room to investigate the wails.  Dr. Perelson told his children to return to bed and his last words to them were “This is only a nightmare” Judye managed to escape from her father and the house and raced to the home of a neighbor, Marshall Ross, who called the police.  Perelson overdosed on pills after the children had fled from the house.

After Harold’s rampage, the Perelson children went to go live with out-of-state relatives. The mansion, Christmas presents and all, was shuttered like a creepy time capsule.

The property was sold in a probate action a year later to Emily and Julian Enriquez, but the couple never moved in. Instead, they used the expansive estate as a glorified storage facility, periodically dropping off their stuff over the decades. The Enriquezes also never moved any of the Perelson furnishings out. They even kept the Perelson’s Christmas tree and under it, the unopened presents from a Christmas almost 50 years ago. The property became a twisted time capsule that attracted urban legends investigators and lookie-loos.  When Emily Enriquez passed in 1994, her son, Rudy, inherited the home. Like his parents, he never moved in and did not maintain the mansion. In 2009, he told the Los Angeles Times, “I don’t know that I want to live there or even stay there.” 

8.      Ernest Wholaver Jr

Ernest Wholaver Jr was not a good man.  In 2002 he was charged with multiple sexual offenses against his two daughters Victoria and Elizabeth, when they were minors. The girl’s mother, Jean Wholaver, received an order of protection from her husband so that he would be removed from the family house. The order also barred him from owning or coming into contact with firearms.  Having nowhere else to go, Ernest went back to his parent’s home, where his younger brother Scott was also residing.

On Christmas Eve 2002, Scott drove his brother Ernest to his family’s home where he was not allowed to be.  Ernest told Scott to wait in the car about a block away while he crept up to the house.  First, Ernest cut the telephone lines and all other wires leading into the home. Then he forced his way inside through the garage.  Without hesitating, he shot his wife Jean, then his daughters Victoria and Elizabeth, with a pistol. Only Victoria’s baby, Madison, escaped a bullet.  The brothers then drove to nearby Clearfield County. Ernest threw out the pistol he used to kill his family with, and a shotgun he had also been carrying with him.  The bodies of the slaughtered Wholaver family are discovered 28 hours later. Luckily nine-month Madison had survived being alone all that time. It didn’t take the police long to start looking at Ernest for the murders. They executed search warrants for his person, his vehicle, and his parent’s home where he had been living. Ernest was found guilty of first-degree murder for all three victims. He was also convicted of crimes involving killing a prosecution witness, conspiracy, reckless endangerment (leaving his grandchild alone), burglary, and criminal solicitation of murder for hire.

9.      I saw Mommy kissing Santa Clause

The Christmas season can be so monotonous, and sometimes it seems as if people don’t have any original ideas anymore.  Santa Claus tainted Christmas for another family in 2011 in Texas. In the same manner of Bruce Pardo, Aziz Yazdanpanah, knocked on his estranged-wife’s door on Christmas, dressed in a Santa Claus suit as the family was in the middle of opening presents.

Opening fire on his family, he killed his wife Fatemeh Rahmati, their 14-year-old-son, Ali, and their 19-year-old daughter, Nona. Also, victims to his rage were his wife’s sister Zohreh Rahmaty, her husband Mohamad Hossein Zarei, and their 22-year-old daughter Sahra. At some point before all the slayings finished taking place, someone had called 911 from inside the apartment. After spreading bloodshed and committing the murders Yazdanpanah committed suicide.

When the family was found dead by police that Christmas morning, wrapping paper lay scattered throughout with opened and unopened presents splattered in blood.

To add a chill to the tragedy, the last text Sahra Zarei would send would be to her boyfriend, just as her uncle had shown up, expressing annoyance at him doing so and his Santa ensemble saying, “Now he wants to be all fatherly and win father of the year because he fucked up before.”

10.  A Christmas Rampage

December 28th, 1987. Ronald Gene Simmons walked into a law firm in Russellville, Arkansas and shot dead a receptionist who he was infatuated with but who had spurned his advances. Then he went into the office of an oil company and shot two executives, killing one and injuring the other. He then drove to a convenience store and former place of work and shot two more people, who would both survive. Finally, he would do the same in at the Woodline Motor Freight Company, shooting and wounding a woman. He then sat down and waited for police to arrest him.

The spree killing rocked the state. But the murders were merely a bookend to Simmons’ evil festive period. Six days previously he had shot and strangled his wife, two sons and four daughters. It doesn’t end there, either. Simmons then sat in the house, among the bodies, for FOUR DAYS - leaving only to visit a local bar. On Boxing Day, NINE more relatives turned up to visit the Simmons family, including Ronald Simmons’ grandchildren. All were killed. In total, he took 16 people’s lives that Christmas.

On the 25th of June 1990, then-Arkansas governor Bill Clinton signed Simmons' execution warrant and he was killed by lethal injection.

11.  The gift of giving

Now I did not want this True Crime Christmas countdown to be a total bummer, so for this story I want to talk about the lighter side of Christmas crimes, perpetrated by the big man himself.  On January 5, 2015, Randy Lange entered a Monterey County, California, branch of Buffalo Wild Wings, determined to distribute some last remnants of holiday cheer. He claimed to be Santa Claus, and he was dressed the part and Santa brought with him a duffel bag that allegedly contained “five football-sized amounts of pot, weighing in at over two pounds.  ”The faux Santa accosted customers and told them he’d brought presents, placing samples of pot into their confused, chicken-greased hands. Employees also received an unwelcome Christmas bonus when Lange filled their tip jar up with a hefty brick of weed. Unfortunately for Lange, the recipients of his gifts did not react joyously. Police were almost immediately called.  When they arrived, Lange was calm and congenial. Police Sgt. Nick Borges recalls, “he said he expected to be arrested for doing this at some point. Sounded like this was not his first time. It was just surreal. ”Lange was charged for furnishing marijuana—further bolstered when police searched his home and found another 2 lb of cannabis.

12.  An American Beauty Queen

For our number one Christmas Season True Crime case, I doubt anyone will be surprised at who landed on top, although many forget that JonBenét was killed on Christmas.  But if you think back to the police investigation videos you will remember the house decked out in full Christmas regalia.

JonBenet was 6 years old in 1996 and I was in my freshman year at college. She was known to almost everyone as an American child beauty queen.  Her family's home was in Boulder, Colorado. The morning after Christmas JonBenet was missing and a long-handwritten ransom note was found in the home. Her father, John, found the girl's body in the basement of their house about seven hours after she had been reported missing. She had sustained a broken skull from a blow to the head and had been strangled; a garrote was found tied around her neck. The autopsy report stated that JonBenét's official cause of death was "asphyxia by strangulation associated with craniocerebral trauma". Her death was ruled a homicide. The case generated nationwide public and media interest, in part because her mother Patsy Ramsey, who was herself a former beauty queen had entered JonBenét into a series of child beauty pageants. The crime is still unsolved and remains an open investigation with the Boulder Police Department.

The Boulder police initially suspected that the ransom note had been written by Patsy, and that the note and appearance of JonBenét's body had been staged by her parents in order to cover up the murder. In 1998, the police and district attorney both said that JonBenét's brother Burke, who was nine years old at the time of her death, was not a suspect. JonBenét's parents gave several televised interviews but resisted police questioning except on their own terms. In October 2013, unsealed court documents revealed that a 1999 grand jury had recommended filing charges against the Ramseys for permitting the child to be in a threatening situation. John and Patsy were also accused of hindering the prosecution of an unidentified person who had "committed ... the crime of murder in the first degree and child abuse resulting in death". However, the DA determined that there was insufficient evidence to pursue a successful indictment.

In 2002, the DA's successor took over investigation of the case from the police and primarily pursued the theory that an intruder had committed the killing. In 2003, trace DNA that was taken from the victim's clothes was found to belong to an unknown male; each of the family's DNA had been excluded from this match. The DA sent the Ramseys a letter of apology in 2008, declaring the family was "completely cleared" by the DNA results. Others, including former Boulder police chief Mark Beckner, disagreed with exonerating the Ramseys, characterizing the DNA as a small piece of evidence that was not proven to have any connection to the crime.  In February 2009, the Boulder police took the case back from the DA and reopened the investigation.

National and international media coverage of the case focused on JonBenét's brief beauty pageant career, as well as her parents' wealth and the unusual evidence found in the case. Media reports questioned how the police handled the investigation.

 

And this concludes The Secret Sit’s list of Christmas True Crime Cases.  We hope that you enjoy your holiday season, no matter how you celebrate, what you celebrate, hell even if you don’t celebrate anything, we support that too.  Just remember to be kind to one another and be safe, we are all in this together.  The Secret Sits is researched and written by me, John Dodson.  Audio Eng. by Gabriel Dodson.  Podcast Logo Artwork provided by Tony Ley.

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