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The 12 murders of Christmas

A Christmas tree with police tape

Sorry, but there’s no partridge in a pear tree to be found here. In fact, this Christmas countdown might not leave you with too much festive spirit at all.

This time of year should be all about fun and laughter, shouldn’t it? About friends and family... Roaring fires, roast potatoes and red-nosed reindeer. And for most of us it is. But, as regular visitors to this site and viewers of Crime+Investigation will know only too well, true doesn’t take a holiday.

Christmastime isn’t immune to crime. Murder doesn’t take a fortnight off at the end of December. In fact, some of the most shocking killings have happened over the Yuletide period down the years.

As we bring you our 12 Murders of Christmas, listen carefully. That noise you can hear in the background? It’s Slay bells…

1. A grim ‘gift’ left under the Christmas tree

When 37 year-old Patty White offered down-on-her-luck Michele O’Dowd a place to stay over the festive period, Michele was delighted at the Christmas spirit being shown to her. But White had an ulterior motive. One involving stealing all of her new housemate’s credit cards, killing her and leaving her among a trashed Christmas tree to look like a bungled burglary.

The scene was discovered by Michele’s twin brother Phil who went to check in on her after she failed to show for work. There, amongst a pile of wrapped Christmas presents, he saw his sister’s foot. Patty White had beaten and strangled the 67 year-old and left her among the gifts. She would receive a 45 year sentence from a South Carolina judge for her vile crime.

2. Couple stab man in face, bash in his skull and set light to him on Christmas Day in ‘Kill Bill’ plot

Victoria, Australia. It’s Christmas Day 2013. But instead of spending the day with his loved ones, William ‘Bill’ Stevenson pays the ultimate price for keeping poor company as his ‘friends’ - meth addicts Danielle Kerr and Darren Lewis - kill him in one of the most violent ways conceivable.

Their motives not entirely clear, the pair drove Stevenson out to bushland and began beating him about the head with a large rock. Kerr then stabbed the man to death while cackling about their ‘Kill Bill’ plans. The couple then set the car alight and casually walked home. Thankfully they would both be arrested, charged and convicted soon afterwards.

3. ‘Marvallous’ Teen gang indulge in sickening festive killing spree

There were four of them and they called themselves ‘The Downtown Posse’. To the police and courts, though? They were simply Laura Taylor (16 years old), DeMarcus Smith (17), Heather Matthews (20) and Marvallous Keene (19). Between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day 1992, the gang went on a murder spree in Dayton, Ohio that would see five innocent people die and four seriously injured.

Murdered for not liking a gift enough…

Led by Keene, the gang’s primary motive was robbery, but things soon got out of hand as Marvallous Keene grew paranoid about ‘snitches’ and effectively turned the holiday season into hunting season. For his central role in ‘The Christmas Killings’, Keene would go on to become the 10,000th American convict to be executed since the death penalty was reinstated back in 1976, while his cohorts would receive life sentences.

4. Search for missing Bristol woman turns to hunt for her killer

Joanna Yeates’ disappearance a week before Christmas in 2010 made local news in Bristol almost immediately. Soon, the search and appeal broadened and her whereabouts were of national interest. On Christmas Day her body was found in the snow, three miles from her home.

The case achieved notoriety for the media’s handling of the first suspect, Joanna’s eccentric landlord, Christopher Jefferies. Hounded and effectively labelled the murderer without proof, UK tabloids The Mirror and The Sun were later found guilty of contempt of court for their poor coverage. Jefferies was later vindicated when Ms. Yeates’ Dutch neighbour Vincent Tabak was arrested and charged with her murder.

5. The infamous ‘child beauty queen’ murder that still haunts America more than two decades on

JonBenét Ramsey’s Christmas Day/Boxing Day 1996 murder (police could never officially ascertain the precise date) caused an enormous storm across America and the wider world. 22 years on and the six year-old’s callous killer or killers have still not been identified. True crime buffs the world over have studied and obsessed over the case of the young girl killed apparently during a botched kidnapping. Countless documentaries, movies, books and articles point fingers, but the mystery’s never been solved.

Many people accuse JonBenét’s parents. Some look to her older brother. Accusations of a stalker are rife and local child molestors have - somewhat understandably - been treated with suspicion. In fact, few people in Boulder, Colorado have evaded suspicion. Perhaps the eeriest suspect though is Bill McReynolds, a local man hired by the Ramseys to play Santa Claus at a large party held at the rich family’s house that year. McReynolds died in 2002, swearing innocence. It’s a case that will, perhaps, never be solved.

6. Edinburgh woman stabs neighbour 29 times over ‘Christmas present’ dispute

Murdered for not liking a gift enough…? Well, that was the excuse that 37-year-old Melissa Young gave police when she was arrested for the brutal killing of her next-door neighbour Alan Williamson on Christmas Day 2013. Young later claimed diminished responsibility and that mental health issues were behind the sustained attack. At the time, though? Her motive was given as rage due to Williamson dismissively rejecting her Christmas present of a pair of unisex trainers and a copy of The Sun newspaper’s slightly raunchy 2014 calendar.

Young pleaded guilty to culpable homicide in 2014 and was sentenced to a minimum twenty-year sentence. Since being jailed at the women's prison HMP Cornton Vale in Stirling, she has seriously assaulted two female prison officers.

7. 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.

8. ‘Twas the night before Christmas and fire tore through the house

The Sodders dedicated their lives to trying to find out what happened that Christmas, but died in later life without finding out.

9. The first and last family photograph the Lawsons would ever have taken...

North Carolina tobacco farmer Charles Davis Lawson made his wife Fannie and their seven children put on their Sunday best for Christmas Day morning, 1929. For they were to go into town and have a professional family photograph taken, a rare treat for such a poor family. Later that day, after settling back home, Charles would set about methodically beating and shooting his wife - along with six of the seven children - until they were dead. The child spared? The Lawsons’ eldest, 16-year-old Arthur, who Charles had sent on a needless errand before his vicious massacre. Charles Lawson’s motive was never determined.

10. A murder so sick and twisted it would disgust even Halloween

Kristy Bamu was just 15 when he was tortured and drowned in a bath by his own sister Magalie and her twisted boyfriend Eric Bikubi. It was Christmas Day 2010 when the couple finally killed poor Kristy, after a sustained and brutal four-day torture session at their flat in Newham, London. When his body was found, more than 130 separate injuries were counted. The twentysomething Congolese couple's excuse? They believed Magalie's younger brother was 'a witch'. Eric was ordered to serve at least 30 years in prison, while Magalie received a minimum of 25 years for the unimaginably horrific killing.

11. ‘Stagger Lee’ and the seasonal showdown

Lee Shelton was a known criminal and pimp who went by the nickname ‘Stagger Lee’. Famous now because of the folk song he would inspire, Shelton wasn’t a man to be trifled with. As William "Billy" Lyons would discover to his cost. This murder took place on Christmas night 1895, in St. Louis, Missouri. Stagger and Billy were drinking and playing cards together in the Bill Curtis Saloon when, wouldn't you know it, they got into ‘a dispute’. Lyons snatched Stagger's Stetson hat and, well, you've seen westerns... Stagger Lee drew his gun, shot Lyons dead and the rest is history. History and song.

12. The Santa suit slaughter

It was Christmas Eve of 2004 in the small city of Covina, just outside of LA. Parties dominated the neighbourhood. 1129 East Knollcrest Drive had around 25 close friends and family enjoying each other’s company. At around 11.30pm, a knock at the door came. Standing on the other side of the door? Santa Claus. At least that’s what the eight-year-old girl who answered the door thought. But it wasn’t Saint Nick, it was a man called Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, the unstable and violent ex-husband of one of the women at the party. He was holding a 9mm pistol in one hand and a flamethrower in the other. He had a further three handguns in his possession. Cruelly and methodically he went about shooting everyone in his sight, before setting alight to the house. Nine people would die and three would be badly injured. Pardo left, driving to his brother’s house some thirty miles away. He had planned to detonate a series of handmade explosives and then make his escape to Canada, but the fire had caused his Santa suit to melt onto him, causing severe third degree burns. Instead, Pardo decided to put a bullet in his head. We hope we didn’t put you off your mince pies too much… Merry Christmas everyone.