Waiting in line to sit on Santa Claus’ knee at the mall has been a Christmas tradition since the late 19th century, and it’s still something that plenty of young children look forward to every year. With all that festive magic and cheer it’s hard to imagine that anything sinister could take place in the presence of one of the many ‘Santa helpers’ that have become a temporary fixture in malls and department stores at this time of year.
However, although it may be the season to be jolly, if this list is anything to go by it’s also the season for some of the most horrific and unbelievable crimes to be committed. From murder and drugging to abduction and pedophilia, it’s safe to say that there was a serious lack of goodwill in the people involved in these 15 shocking holiday-themed stories. Yet, believe it or not, they are all real and they all have one thing in common; a guy dressed in a furry red and white suit.
15. Stash Of Inappropriate Photos Of Children
Bad Santa has nothing on 65-year-old Leander Dewey Jones, who in June of 2016 was found to be in possession of child pornography at his home in Raleigh, North Carolina. A number of photos showing children under the age of ten were discovered on his computer by a technician he had hired to fix it, leading to his arrest on three counts of second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor.
What made his arrest all the more disturbing for families in the local community was the fact that Jones had worked as a shopping mall Santa for many years. He was a member of the Triangle Santa Buddies, where he went by the festive alias Santa Lee Jones. The organization does not perform background checks on members. Jones also worked as a magician and a pirate, often performing at children’s parties. He plead guilty in May 2016, and was subsequently sentenced to 30 years in prison.
14. Santa Line Slaying
In an event that has become known as the ‘Santa Line Slaying’, Tyrone Howard (father of actor Terrence Howard) fatally wounded another man while queuing with their families (including 2-year-old Terrence), to see Santa Claus at a Cleveland mall on December 21, 1971. 21-year-old Tyrone Howard and his family were accused of cutting in line by 36-year-old Jack Fitzpatrick, and after an argument broke out between the pair Howard stabbed Fitzpatrick then fled the scene, turning himself into police later that day.
The event caused further controversy in 2005 when Terrence Howard gave an interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show stating that the attack had been racially motivated, though his version of events was later contradicted by Tyrone, who accused his son of using the story to gain publicity. He said: “It wasn’t nothing racial that went down. It was two men standing there, both of us acting like damn fools… instead of one of us taking the man’s role and walking away”. Tyrone Howard was convicted of manslaughter and served 11 months in prison.
13. Elf Groper
In November 2013, Herbert Jones proved himself to be the ultimate creepy Santa when he was arrested for groping the butt of his 18-year-old colleague. Jones, who was working as a mall Santa in Hanover, Massachusetts, allegedly pinched the buttocks of the female teen, who was working as a photographer and dressed as an elf, then told her “I wish you were a few years older and I was younger.”
The 18-year-old then reported the incident to the manager of the mall, who according to a police report simply told her to speak to Jones herself. When the police later arrived Jones was adamant that it was actually the teen who had brushed her buttocks against his hand, and as for his comment about being younger, he claimed she had taken it out of context. Jones was arrested on indecent assault and battery charges before being freed on $1,000 bail. He was also banned from dressing up as Santa during the holiday season.
12. Killed Over Candy
49-year-old Elkin Clarke was working as a mall Santa in Atlanta in December 2004, when he severely beat 74-year-old Annie Nelson with a 2-by-4 board. The pair were selling chocolates when according to Clarke, he became enraged when the elderly Christian evangelist stole 29 boxes of Hershey’s chocolates from him, though police said no witnesses could support this claim. “She was stealing my stuff,” Clarke said of the incident. “I asked [her] ten to fifteen times not to touch my stuff.”
According to witnesses Clarke struck Nelson over the head, and then hit her twice more while she was lying unconscious on the floor. Witness Aisha Albritton then tried to help the old woman, to which Clarke threatened her with the wooden board. Nelson died of her injuries six weeks later. Clarke was convicted of malice murder as well as simple assault of Albritton. His conviction was upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2013.
11. Child Killing
On December 2, 1989, Debra Jean Milke’s 4-year-old son Christopher was taken to see Santa at the Metrocenter mall in Phoenix, by her roommate James Styers. Later that afternoon Styers called Milke and told her that the little boy had gone missing. A search got underway, and Styers was questioned by the police, along with his friend Roger Scott. After nearly 15 hours of police questioning, Scott cracked. He confessed he knew where the boy was, and gave them directions to his dead body. He had been shot three times in the back of the head.
Things got even more shocking when Scott told police that Milke had ordered the killing of her son, whom she found an ‘inconvenience’. In October 1990 all three were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. However, after 22 years on death row Milke was acquitted of all charges, and was released in 2013.
10. Attempted Abduction
Proving that creeps operate in every season, the Burnaby RCMP issued a warning to parents in December 2000 after a little boy was nearly abducted while at a Santa Claus display. The three-year-old was enjoying the festivities at the Loughheed Mall in Burnaby Canada, when a man tried to convince him to lure him away using the promise of seeing Santa.
According to police constable Phil Reid, the man targeted the youngster after he got off of the Christmas train. He explained: “A male suspect approached the victim, asking if he wanted to see Santa. Now the victim who was obviously excited to see Santa, said yes. The suspect immediately placed his arm around him to lead him away, and this was all within earshot of the mother, who immediately saw the incident and began to make a commotion.” The man then ran away from the scene, and was unfortunately never identified.
9. Sexual Predator
Given that 56-year-old Stephen Caruthers had worked as a mall Santa for 13 years in Central Pennsylvania, it came as a huge shock to the local community when it was revealed he had been sexually abusing a young girl over a period of eight years. The victim told a family member that Caruthers had molested her between the ages of 4 and 12, when she visited his home.
As if the initial abuse wasn’t enough, the girl, then aged 13, also revealed at Caruthers’ trial in 2014 that he had continued to send her letters from prison after his arrest, despite the fact he had been ordered by the court not to have any contact with her. She also explained that she had been too scared to tell anyone about the abuse, as Caruthers had made death threats against her family. He was sentenced to 15 to 30 years in state prison, as well as a 20 year term of probation.
8. Murder at Santa’s Grotto
Though the next story doesn’t technically involve a mall Santa, it is one of the most shocking cases of murder during the Christmas season. 26-year-old Rebecca Johnson and her boyfriend, 35-year-old Radek Kovac, both from Scotland, were working as temporary tour guides at Santa’s grotto in Kuttanen, Finland in December 2016. However, the adventure turned out to be short lived, when Rebecca was found stabbed at the Santa Safari park where they were working. She later died from her injuries.
After a police manhunt in difficult sub-zero conditions, Radek Kovac was found, and was suffering from hypothermia at that point. It is alleged that he stabbed Rebecca during an argument, and then fled the grotto with his dogs. He later appeared in court in Finland charged with murder, with authorities stating that although he was being co-operative, he had not specified a motive for the killing.
7. “I Was Satan, Not Santa”
72-year-old Ronald Carroll McDonald may have worked as a mall Santa for many years and volunteered as a child-care worker at his local hospital, but he was also leading a disturbing double life. In 1998 he was sentenced to the maximum prison sentence of 26 1/2 years for child r*pe and molestation. His own son asked the judge to give him the maximum sentence. It was revealed that McDonald had abused children, all under the age of 11, over a period of 60 years, and amassed at least 45 young victims during that time.
“I was Satan” he sobbed at his trial, “I know everyone wishes me hell”. He pleaded guilty to four counts of first-degree child r*pe and three charges of child molestation, after being found out by family members who discovered he had been abusing a young relative. “I can’t ask for forgiveness. What I have done is unforgivable” McDonald later said.
6. Christmas Mall Shooting
In 2012, 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts went on a shooting rampage at an Oregon mall during the holiday season. Using a stolen gun, Roberts randomly opened fire, killing a 54-year-old woman and a 45-year-old man and wounding several others. His body was later discovered by police down a corridor, having turned the gun on himself. Roberts entered the store wearing a hockey mask and according to witnesses, shouted “I am the shooter” before opening fire.
One such witness was the mall Santa, Brance Wilson, who was waiting to see the next child in line when gunfire rang out in the store. The Father Christmas impersonator dived onto the floor in a panic. The 68-year-old said of the terrifying event: “I heard two shots and got out of the chair. I thought a red suit was a pretty good target.” He then crept away to safety while Roberts continued his senseless shooting spree.
5. Deadly Infection Carrier
Parents who had taken their children to see Santa Claus at the Southwyck Shopping Centre in December 2006 were given a scary warning by health commissioner of the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, Dr. David Grossman. It was discovered that the local mall Santa Claus was carrying the bacteria that causes meningitis, after he went to hospital suffering with respiratory issues.
Though he didn’t have meningitis himself, he was found to be an asymptomatic carrier of the sometimes fatal infection. As a result, parents were advised to take their children who had been to visit Santa to their family physician, where they would likely be prescribed antibiotics as a precaution. Dr. Grossman said at the time: “That’s a closer contact than just if you saw him in the mall or if you shook his hand,” he said. “The kids could be there, could be small, could be squirming – he could have gotten closer to them.”
4. Bad Pastor
Children waiting to see Santa Claus Park Place Mall in Arlington were left in a state of shock earlier this month after an evangelist preacher begun shouting that ‘Santa isn’t real’. Pastor David Grisham of Last Frontier Evangelism in Alaska filmed himself making the declaration, and later uploaded the video to his Facebook page. “I want to tell you today that there is no such thing as Santa Claus. Santa Claus does not exist.” He said. “The Christmas season is about Jesus. Jesus was born 2016 years ago. He was born in a manger in a small town called Bethlehem. That is the truth about Christmas.”
In the video angry parents can be heard telling him to stop, whilst comforting their young children. As if a grown man travelling to a shopping mall purely to upset little kids wasn’t creepy enough, Grisham also played a clip of Santa ‘being shot by firing squad’ on his radio show. He is also a supporter of the Westboro Baptist Church and protests at Gay Pride events.
3. Date-R*pe Santa
One seriously disturbing case of a very creepy Santa took place in December of 2011 in Berlin. A Santa Claus at the Alexanderplatz Christmas market drugged a 15-year-old girl after offering her and her friend a cup of what he claimed was a shot of alcohol. When her friend turned down the drink, the other girl drank both, and was left violently vomiting and feeling strange as a result.
Shockingly, this was far from the first time it had happened, with a further eight other victims having fallen victim to the man, who was usually in normal clothing and requested that his targets take a shot with him to celebrate the birth of his new child. The victims had all been left either unconscious or sick, thanks to the drink which police said contained some kind of date-rape drug after blood tests were carried out on several of the victims.
2. Indecent Exposure
A group of children eager to meet Santa Claus at the Walnut Grove Shopping Mall near Flagstaff, Arizona, were left horrified in 2014 when the mall’s Santa began masturbating in front of them. 42-year-old Darnell Kendrickson was allegedly left infuriated when he was denied a break so that he could go and masturbate. In retaliation he stormed back to Santa’s chair and exposed himself in front of the waiting children.
Kendrickson was arrested shortly after, and the mall itself was given a $50,000 fine. His employer, Horner’s Santas For Hire, also came under fire from authorities in relation to Kendrickson’s actions, despite the fact that nothing like this had ever happened in their 50 years of operation and they mainly have good reviews. Clearly he wasn’t too missed on the outside though, as it was reported that nobody came to post his $125,000 bail, leaving him in prison over the holidays.
1. Brutal Santa Killing
A 23-year-old mall Santa was brutally killed in 1985 after he had volunteered as a police informant, sharing information on a local drugs ring. Much-loved Santa impersonator Ricky Holland had been shot in the head, stabbed several times and severely beaten. A cement block had been used to crush his skull. The Valdosta Mall employee was said to be a well-liked young man who apparently offered to serve as an informant as a way of helping the local community.
His murderers, 21-year-old Paul Lewis Huffman and 28-year-old Michael Eugene Wetherington had been arrested two hours before Holland’s body was discovered. The mall Santa had been setting up the pair by arranging a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent to buy drugs from them. ‘He was just a citizen who was trying to help out,’ said Lt. J.R. Winningham, of the Sheriff’s Department. ‘A lot of times these drug people will think these people are ratting to the police.’