Welcome to True Crime Tuesday where we review, recommend and generally obsess over everything crime-related.
Christmas is supposed to be about spending time with family, eating too much turkey and getting some much needed time off work. Unfortunately, crime is a 365 days a year kind of thing with no exceptions for major holidays. Murder is tragic no matter when it happens, but when it’s on Christmas, it makes it just that much harder for the loved ones of the victims to cope, like in the case of these notorious crimes that are basically the opposite of the holiday spirit.
Probably one of the most infamous cold cases in modern history, let alone one that happened on Christmas, the murder of 6-year-old pageant princess JonBenet Ramsey remains unsolved 21 years later. JonBenet was reported missing by her mother Patsy just before 6am on Boxing Day in 1996. Eight hours later, her body was found in the basement of the Ramsey’s Boulder, Colorado home. An autopsy revealed that she had been killed by strangulation and a skill fracture.
There are hundreds of theories on who killed JonBenet but errors in the initial investigation such as the loss and contamination of evidence, lack of experienced technical staff and delayed interviews of the immediate family have made the case almost impossible to solve. One possible theory—which was supported by noted FBI profiler John E. Douglas who was hired by the Ramsey family—is that an intruder broke into the house and killed JonBenet.
Another theory accuses her older brother Burke of accidentally killed her and her parents of covering it up. In 1999, a grand jury even voted to indict the Ramseys on charges of child abuse resulting in death but the District Attorney refused to pursue the charges. Unfortunately, at this point, short of a deathbed confession of some kind, there’s not much hope the murder of JonBenet will ever be solved.
Murder of the Lawson Family
In 1929, just before Christmas, Charlie Lawson took his wife and seven children (aged 17 to 4 months) into town to buy them some new clothes and have a family portrait taken. On the afternoon of Christmas Day, Lawson shot and then bludgeoned two of his daughters to death before hiding their bodies in the tobacco barn. Next, he went back to the house an shot his wife. The rest of his children tried to hide, but he found them and killed them one by one. His eldest son, 16-year-old Arthur was spared as he was out running an errand. After killing the majority of his family, Charlie Lawson committed suicide.
Months before the crime, Charlie suffered a head injury that family and friends theorized may have affected his mental state, but an autopsy and brain analysis turned up no abnormalities. A book on the crime entitled White Christmas, Bloody Christmas put forth the theory that Charlie had an incestuous relationship with his eldest daughter Marie. Another book by the same author elaborated on the theory claiming a friend of Marie’s disclosed that and Marie was pregnant with her father’s child. Whether that theory has any basis in reality, we’ll probably never know.
Murder of Sharon Aydelott
On Christmas Eve 2013, 17-year-old William Aydelott beat and stabbed his mother Sharon to death. He was arrested after her body was found with a knife sticking out of her eye socket and he immediately confessed to the murder. Two and half years later, Aydelott was found not guilty by reason of insanity. According to his psychiatrist, William suffers from schizophrenia and he believed he was doing the right thing by obeying “auditory hallucinations” that were commanding him to kill his mother. Since it was determined that he would be a danger to the public if released, he was involuntarily committed to a secure state hospital.
With the not guilty verdict, if Aydelott was rehabilitated and his mental illness stabilized with medication and therapy, he could be released one day. It happened in the case of Vincent Li, the schizophrenic man who beheaded a fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus during a delusional episode in 2008, so it could happen for Aydelott too, but the judge on the case promised that his release “would not happen anytime in the near future”.
The Covina Massacre
On Christmas Ever 2008, 45-year-old Bruce Pardo knocked on the door at his former in-laws’ (his divorce had been finalized one week earlier) house wearing a Santa suit. They were hosting a Christmas Eve party at the time attended by about 25 people. He had a gift-wrapped package containing a homemade flamethrower as well as at least five different handguns. He started shooting indiscriminately and then used the flamethrower to set the house on fire killing nine people and injuring three more.
After the attack, Pardo left the burning house and drove to his brother’s house where he shot and killed himself. Police speculate that Pardo’s marital problems and the fact that he was ordered to pay his ex-wife $10,000 in their divorce settlement were what sparked the attack. He killed his ex-wife, both her parents and three of her siblings in the attack and 14 children lost at least one parent that night because of what he did.
The Santa Claus Bank Robbery
On December 23rd 1927, ex-cons Marshall Ratliff—who was dressed as Santa—Henry Helms, Robert Hill and Louis Davis held up a First National Bank in Cisco, Texas. The robbery resulted in the largest manhunt the state had ever seen and the police actually released a generic photo of Santa Claus to the public to ask if anyone had seen the culprit.
In Texas during this time, three or four banks were being robbed every single day and the Texas Bankers Association were offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who shot a bank robber. That inspired a number of residents in the area to start shooting at the robbers and they returned the gunfire. Multiple people were injured in the process, with two police officers dying from their injuries.
Ratliff and his accomplices were eventually caught and Ratliff was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He was later sentenced to execution for the deaths of the cops but filed for a lunacy hearing to avoid the electric chair. When the community heard that Ratliff hadn’t been executed yet, nearly 2000 people gathered outside the prison, forced their way inside and dragged Ratliff out, hanging him in a vacant lot themselves. The robbery and manhunt are now an enduring part of Cisco, Texas folklore.