Valentine’s Day is a holiday of contrasts. Although it’s most often associated with love and romance, it also evokes impassioned distaste among V-day haters. Indeed, it has on occasion even been coupled with the word ‘massacre’. Not much romance in that word.
February 14th has been the date of several high profile and disturbing murders over the years and centuries. Is it possible that Valentine’s Day and its emphasis on romance is provoking the wrath of the lonely, neglected, disgruntled or crazed? Or were these incidents of violence on the most romantic day of the year simply ironic coincidences? Maybe a little of both.
Viewed as a group, each murderous moment on this list has a sense of mystery attached to it. Just how did things incidents escalate to such a level that they led to the ultimate crime of taking a person's life? We may never know the exact circumstances surrounding these Valentine's Day murders. After all, the people who know best tend to be dead or steadfastly refusing to talk.
15 Charles Walton – The Pitchfork Murder (1945)
This one remains a mystery shrouded in secrecy and rumours. Walton was said to be a much-loved member of the community in Lower Quinton village in South Warwickshire, England.
Apparently, though, he wasn't loved by everyone. On Valentine’s Day in 1945, Walton was found with his throat slashed and his body secured to the ground with a pitchfork. A cross had been carved into his chest.
These horrific, violent events are quite out of the ordinary for a small, English village. What emerged from a Scotland Yard investigation were persistent stories of witchcraft. Had someone suspected the country gentleman of being involved in the occult, and cut the cross into his chest as some sort of Christian wrath?
Nobody talked, though rumors continue to this day. The persistent visits by curious tourists over the years mean Walton now resides in an unmarked grave.
14 The Shooting of Reeva Steenkamp (2013)
Famed double amputee Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius was the toast of his country of South Africa. But on Valentine’s Day in 2013, Pistorius shot his model girlfriend Steenkamp four times through a bathroom door. He claimed he thought she was an intruder.
The prosecution accused Pistorius of murder, pointing to the couple’s rocky relationship and the holes in Pistorius' intruder story. After a long trial in which the so-called Blade Runner appeared grief stricken at times, he was convicted of ‘culpable homicide’, a lesser charge that came with a maximum of five years. He is appealing the conviction.
13 The Murder of Susan Hamilton (2001)
By all accounts, the marriage of Susan and Dr. John Hamilton was a good one. But then she was beaten to death in the couple’s bathroom on Valentine’s Day. Covered in blood, John claimed to have found her body and attempted to save her.
The family had enemies. The doctor had received death threats associated with his abortion clinic. However, a valentine note from Susan suggested the couple were having marital troubles.
So a murder trial with Dr. Hamilton at its centre ensued. Despite the lack of a murder weapon, a forensic expert - brought in by Hamilton’s defense team - presented evidence consistent with Hamilton’s guilt.
The jury convicted Hamilton in less than two hours. From behind bars, the doctor continues to maintain his innocence.
12 The Murder of Captain James Cook (1779)
A classic example of overstaying your welcome, legendary explorer Cook had visited the Hawaiian Islands twice, and been treated like a god as the crew exchanged iron nails for sex with the natives.
But relations eventually soured when one of the supposed ‘gods’ died, exposing them as humans.
Forced to return for a third visit due to bad weather, Cook and his crew were met with hurled rocks, as the natives stole one of their boats. Negotiations for the boat's return led to a fight and the shooting of a native chief. That was the last straw. On Valentine’s Day, Cook and his men were quickly overwhelmed by an angry native mob and the Captain along with most of his men were killed.
11 The Mystery of Hanging Rock (1900)
The story goes like this: A group of young school girls on an outing disappear on Valentine’s Day, while picnicking at a famous Victoria, Australia landmark. Author Joan Lindsay implied to reporters that her book describing these events, 'Picnic At Hanging Rock', was based on real events. She added to the mystery by declining to release a final mystery-solving chapter until after her death.
A successful 1975 movie by Peter Weir just added to the legend. Visitors to Hanging Rock are greeted by a small museum dedicated entirely to the book and movie's story. So it must have happened, right?
No. There is no evidence the events reported at Hanging Rock ever occurred. Which is a bit of a drag - but good news for the would-be missing school girls.
10 Arson in Cicero (2010)
It’s hard to say what's most shocking in this case. Is it the callous indifference to human life? Or the pure ineptitude of the crime?
Landlord Lawrence Myers was having money troubles and wanted to get rid of his Cicero, Illinois rental homes. To collect on a $250,000 insurance policy, he paid his maintenance man to set fire to the homes on Valentine’s Day, killing seven residents - including four children.
Police quickly figured out what happened. It didn't help that Meyers talked about his crime openly – complaining to his hired arsonist that he should have waited until nobody was home. Or maybe a better plan would have been not to set the fire at all? Meyers got a life sentence for orchestrating the multiple murders.
9 The Murder in Belton Bridge Park (2010)
This crime used the prospect of a Valentine’s Day tryst to lure the victim to his death.
Georgia resident Stacey Schoeck wanted her fifth husband Richard dead, but didn't want to get her hands dirty. So she used a partner in crime to hire a personal trainer – known in the business as ‘Mr. Results’ - to carry out the hit. Lured to an isolated park to exchange Valentine’s Day cards, Richard was shot dead, freeing up a $500,000 life insurance policy.
Police immediately made the link to Stacey – and phone records showed interactions between Schoeck and her two partners in crime. She was charged three months after the murder, and avoided a death sentence by ratting out her co-conspirators.
8 The Murder of Tiana Notice (2009)
A 25-year-old Connecticut student, Tiana Notice, was being harassed by her ex-boyfriend James Carter despite a restraining order. There were threatening emails, slashed tires, and phone calls. Still, no charges were pressed and little was done by the small town Plainville police department despite Notice’s pleas.
On Valentine’s Day, 2009 she was stabbed to death outside her apartment by Carter. The murderer received a 60 year sentence for his crime. The Plainville police were also found to have been negligent and had to pay a considerable fine.
The Tiana Angelique Notice Foundation was founded in the victim’s name for the prevention of domestic violence
7 The Killing of Richard II (1400)
King Richard had a lot of enemies and he was famously enthusiastic about having them executed or exiled. His tyrannical antics eventually angered one too many people. After a brief uprising, Henry Bolingbroke took over. Richard was deposed and lodged in the Tower of London.
But having the ex-King around proved difficult. After an attempt was made to return him to his rightful throne, he apparently became too much of a liability for those in power. On February 14th, 1400 (a date that many historians question), Richard suddenly died. The circumstances of his death aren’t known, though starvation has been cited.
Much of what the general populace knows about Richard II these days is based on William Shakespeare’s play. It's a classic, no doubt, but historically questionable.
6 Murder In The Suburbs (2007)
On Valentine’s Day, 2007 Stephen Grant told the local Michigan police that his wife Tara Lynn was missing. The trouble was, she had been missing for five days. Not unusual, Grant claimed. The police weren’t entirely convinced. A very public manhunt began with Stephen doing local and national interviews as the sympathetic grieving husband. But that quickly gave way to Grant claiming the police were harassing him.
They were, but with good reason. Two weeks after the missing person report was filed, the police found Tara Lynn's torso in the family garage. Grant fled, but was found several days later. He confessed to strangling his wife, dismembering her body, and dumping it in a park. But after learning police intended to search that park, he moved the body parts to his garage. Real smart.
The salacious, shocking aspects of this story have resulted in multiple TV programs and best-selling books.
5 The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1929)
A battle for control of Chicago resulted in this notorious moment in mob history. In an attempt to kill Irish mob head Bugs Moran, rival Al Capone concocted a murder scheme – possibly with the help of another Detroit gang.
Lured to a Chicago car garage with the promise of an illegal whisky deal, Moran’s gang members were confronted by police and forced to stand against a wall. The phony police then pulled out machine guns and gunned down seven of them. Unfortunately for Capone, Bugs Moran was not among the victims. He had seen the police car arrive and taken off.
The cold, calculating nature of this crime sent a shockwave through Chicago that led to a much tougher campaign against the mafia.
4 The Valentine’s Day Dance Murders (1971)
North Carolina college couple Jesse McBane and Patricia Mann were considered good, responsible kids. So when they disappeared after a 1971 Valentine’s Day dance at a local hospital, their families got worried. More than a week later, their bodies were found in a local park, tied to a tree and covered in leaves. They had been tortured and killed.
It was a gruesome, sensationalistic double murder that involved the police forces of two different counties. Unfortunately, that may have hindered the investigation as the two police forces tended not to share information.
No one was ever charged with the murder, though suspects have included a hospital worker who refused both a polygraph test and a DNA test. The families of the victims continue to hope for a resolution.
3 The North Illinois University Shooting (2008)
It’s a sad truth that this murder of six students barely ranks in the five biggest campus killings in American history. It was mid-afternoon on Valentine’s Day 2008 when former student Steven Kazmierczak burst into a classroom and proceeded to fire an assault rifle, a shotgun and then a pistol on 120 students.
In all, six were killed and 19 were injured before the shooter turned the gun on himself.
It was later revealed that Kazmierczak was a well-liked person with a spotless academic record. It was reported, however, that he had displayed some erratic activity in the weeks leading up to the crime. He had been prescribed several medications for psychological problems, but had stopped taking them.
2 The Missionary Murder (2013)
This murder garnered nationwide attention when it was revealed the accused murderer, Nathan Leuthold, was a former missionary with a spotless criminal record. A court found the Illinois man guilty of murdering his wife Denise in the home of her parents.
The execution-style shooting – possibly motivated by an alleged mistress - was staged as if it was a break-in. But police didn't buy it. They especially became suspicious when a look at Leuthold’s computer revealed internet searches for the proper means of silencing a .40 caliber Glock.
Leuthold was sentenced to 80 years in prison for the murder.
1 The Execution of Saint Valentine (273)
Did you know that Valentine’s Day was inspired by a murder? Like everything associated with Saint Valentine, the historical facts around this claim are hotly debated. What historians do know is that Valentine was either a priest or a bishop. Or the myth of the man may have been inspired by two separate people whose personas have been amalgamated over time.
Valentine was known to marry and help Christians – a real no-no in Roman times. He was also said to have performed miracles. It's widely believed that both those activities led to his capture, torture and beheading by the Romans under Emperor Claudius on February 14th, 273 AD.