'Tis the season for hot cocoa, colorfully tinged lights, off-tune caroling, chestnuts roasting by an open fire, and a bit of murder and mayhem. The holidays are supposed to bring families together, but these 15 stories show that not even the Christmas spirit is enough to deter crime.
We'd like to think that the end of the year gives people a reason to be kinder to one another, but the holidays can bring out the worst for some. The stress of the season can make many hypersensitive, causing outbursts of rage or physical violence. Others become desperate for attention and lonely during a time where people are celebrating togetherness, offering up an opportunity to act deviously in the shadows.
As we prepare to ask Santa once again to fulfill our lists of greed and pleasure, let's not forget about these true tales of people who were shopping for presents and donning ugly sweaters when they were either murdered in cold blood or mysteriously vanished without leaving a clue.
From cases that are familiar to us such as the young beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey who was found strangled in her basement to Mike Reimer and Diana Robertson whose lives were cut short while searching for the perfect Christmas tree in the woods, one never knows if the Christmas season that approaches will be the last they ever experience. The details of these cases will send a shiver down your spine and some of them haven't offered up any new leads in decades, so while you cuddle close to the one you love, families of these missing and murdered are still waiting for an explanation as to what happened to their loved ones. 'Tis the season indeed.
14 Kidnapped Woman Lit On Fire On Church Steps
Before dating someone, make sure that their indiscretions don't end up biting you in the butt. Tracy Mertens, 31, and her boyfriend Joey Kavanagh had just moved to Rochdale, England. It was two days before Christmas in 1994 when Tracy returned to their former residence to pick up more of their belongings. As she was packing up two black men rang her doorbell and when she answered they rushed inside and asked her, "Where's Joey?"
They drove her to Eton where there dropped her off on the steps of a church and poured gasoline all over her body before lighting her on fire. She was taken to the hospital and on her deathbed told police what happened.
Joey had a heroin addiction and owed people money, so investigators thought that he could somehow be connected, a claim that he denied. The men responsible have never been found.
14. Parents Burned To Death And Teenagers Missing
Four days after Christmas, Danny and Kathy Freeman were celebrating the sixteenth birthday of their daughter, Ashley. The family invited Ashley's best friend, Lauria Bible, over to their mobile home along with Ashley's boyfriend, Jeremy.
Jeremy left the home around 9:30 p.m. and sometime in the night when everyone was sleeping, a fire was started. A neighbor awoke and called police and after the fire was put out police inspected the home and came across the remains of Kathy Freeman. At first police thought that Danny had killed everyone and went on the run, but the next day they found his burned body. Both Danny and Kathy had been shot in the head before the fire began.
Ashley and Lauria were nowhere to be found. Police ruled out a robbery because they found $200 in Lauria's purse and detectives feared that they had been abducted. Neither Ashley nor Lauria have been seen or heard from since.
13 Shot In The Heart While Driving On The Highway
On December 22, 19-year-old Rhonda Hinson was enjoying the holiday season at an office Christmas party, but later both Rhonda and her car were found in a ditch. The young woman was shot and found just feet from her vehicle. Investigators say that the shot was made from a shotgun and pierced through the trunk and driver's seat before penetrating her lungs and heart. She was just a mile from home.
Rhonda's mother suggested that her daughter hinted that she may have been in a relationship with a married man, and police believed that someone was stalking her the night she was killed.
Witnesses who had been on the road where Rhonda's body was found told investigators that they saw a man standing beside her car. However, police were never able to produce a legitimate suspect and although there is a $20,000 reward for information, Rhonda's death has never been solved.
12 Holiday Spontaneous Combustion
Be careful about drinking on Christmas Eve, as some believed that Matilda Rooney met her demise for daring to get drunk during the holidays.
Patrick and Matilda Rooney invited their farmhand, John Larson, to have a few drinks the night before Christmas. Larson went to bed before the couple, but sometime during the night as he slept, he suddenly had trouble breathing and suffered from a coughing fit. The next morning Larson woke up to find soot on his pillow. He found Patrick lying dead in his bed.
Larson went looking for Matilda and found what was left of her in the kitchen: black hole with ash in the floor with burnt remains of a human foot. Investigators believed that Matilda was a victim of spontaneous combustion which caused her body to light itself on fire. Patrick died of smoke inhalation and the coughing fit Larson endured was due to Matilda's unfortunate accident.
11 Girlfriend Murdered, Boyfriend And Son Vanished
Nine-year-old Chance was supposed to spend Christmas Day with his mother, but at the last minute he decided to prolong his holiday stay with his father, Lee "Dub" Wackerhagen, and his father's girlfriend, Latricia White.
On December 27, 1993 Latricia's father became worried after not hearing from her so he went to her home. There he found Latricia shot dead in her bed, but Dub and Chance were missing.
Police thought that Dub's temper had gotten the best of him so he killed Latricia and went on the run with Chance, but days later they found Dub's abandoned truck. Inside was his wallet, checkbook, and unopened presents covered in blood. The blood wasn't Latricia's and possibly belonged to the missing father and son.
Chance's grandmother said months later she received a phone call from a young boy saying "Help me" before the line went dead. The father and son are still missing.
10 Man's Body Later Found In A Septic Tank
Between the years 1978 and 1985, Camilla Lyman transitioned herself to Cam, going from female to male. He was a popular breeder of clumber spaniels and in 1981 Cam met George O'Neil. Cam later hired him to feed and show his dogs.
In 1987 Cam's family became suspicious when they didn't receive their annual Christmas card. O'Neil told them back in July the two got into an argument about the dogs and he never saw Cam again.
Soon O'Neil took over Cam's dog breeding company, cashed Cam's checks, and wouldn't let police search Cam's property. By 1997, Greg Siner was living in the house and he found Cam's remains in a septic tank near the home. Cam was murdered around 1987, and while O'Neil was a prime suspect, he was never charged. He was, however, found guilty for stealing $15,000 from Cam's estate but continued to say that he knew nothing about Cam's death.
9 Five-Year-Old Disappears From A Crowded Party
The apartment complex where Tammy Brannen and her daughter Melissa lived hosted a Christmas party on December 3, 1989. As the mother and daughter were leaving the five-year-old wanted to run back inside to get some potato chips to take home. Melissa went in but never came back out.
Soon 300 volunteers dedicated their time to locating the missing girl. Caleb Hughes, groundskeeper for the apartment's property, became a suspect after women at the party told police that he made sexual comments to them and paid too much attention to the children. Police questioned Hughes' wife who told them Hughes arrived home from work hours later than usual and the odometer showed extra mileage. Fibers inside Hughes' vehicle matched those of the dress Melissa was wearing.
Hughes was charged and later convicted kidnapping Melissa and sentenced to 50 years in prison; however, Melissa has never been found.
8 20-Year Mystery Involves Murder-Suicide
Susan Klingel lost her life when she was killed in a car accident but her boyfriend, Jarrett Betterson, and their daughter, two-year-old Nikole, survived. Jarrett began dating a woman named Barbara and around Christmastime the couple told Susan's family that they were taking Nikole and moving, but didn't give any specifics about where they were going.
Twenty years would go by before anyone would find out what happened to the couple. Susan's family hired a private investigator who tracked them down in Las Vegas; however, Nikole was nowhere to be found but they had been collecting her Social Security benefits given to children of deceased parents.
After being questioned by police, on the 20th anniversary of Nikole's disappearance, Jarrett shot and killed his wife Barbara and himself. The Klingels received an apology letter from Barbara before she died, but they still don't know what happened to Nikole.
7 The Murderer's Murder
Erica Richardson and John Feiga started their relationship in 1997. He quickly moved in with her, but it didn't take long for the love affair to grow sour. Soon, she kicked him out of the house and filed a restraining order.
Around Christmas in 1997 when Erica met up with her mother to do some shopping, Feiga showed up and asked to talk to Erica. She agreed and left with him, and that was the last time Erica's mother ever saw her alive. Police later discovered Erica's stabbed body in her kitchen.
Her car was found in a parking lot in Lafayette, Louisiana near Feiga's hometown. Eleven years later they learned that six months after Erica's murder his body was found floating in a Louisiana river and labeled a John Doe. Dental records proved it was Feiga, and while detectives are sure that he killed Erica, his murderer remains a mystery.
6 Suicide Of Elderly Jane Doe
A woman believed to be around 60-years-old who was found dead in Annandale, Virginia at the Pleasant Valley Memorial Park Cemetery.
All things point to the woman having committed suicide, but her death is shrouded in mystery. She was found on December 18, 1996 laying on a plastic sheet with a plastic bag taped over her head. She died of asphyxiation, but both liquor and Valium was found in her system. She wrote a note that read, "Deceased by own hand… prefer no autopsy." She requested to be cremated, signed the note "Jane Doe" and left $100 to cover the expenses.
The tragic scene was completed with a decorated miniature Christmas tree she placed next to her. She's never been identified, but authorities found it curious that she took her life in an area of the cemetery that was designated for deceased infants.
5 The Sodder Children
In Fayetteville, West Virginia on Christmas Eve in 1945 a fire broke out at the Sodder family home, trapping five of the ten children upstairs. Firefighters tried to rescue them but according to the fire chief they didn't survive.
Strangely, the remains of the five children were recovered from the charred rubble. Parents George and Jennie held onto the belief that their children somehow escaped and were alive and well. Not long before the fire, two men posing as insurance salesman visited the Sodder home and oddly suggested that it would be terrible if the house would burn down and something tragic would happen to the children.
Twenty years later Jennie received a picture in the mail that was supposed to be one of her sons all grown up, but it could never be substantiated. Conspiracies as to what happened to the Sodder children grew, but no one knows their fate.
4 The Disappearance Of Patty Vaughan
Patty Vaughan left her home in Texas on Christmas Day, 1996 only to disappear. Her van was later found 15 miles away the next day with a flat tire and blood traces inside.
Days before she vanished Patty got into an argument with her estranged husband. The former couple shared three children but had been separated for two months and the day after she disappeared he filed for divorce, taking custody of the children before moving out of state.
Circumstantial evidence pointed to Patty's husband but there was nothing solid to tie him to the crime. Police tested the DNA on items found in Patty's van and while it did belong to a woman, it wasn't Patty's. The theory was that while working construction on a school in a town nearby, her husband killed Patty and them disposed of her body by encasing it in concrete at the site. Twenty years later and still no one knows.
3 Wandering Child Opens Serial Killer Investigation
In 1985, Mike Riemer and girlfriend Diana Robertson took their daughter Crystal to the woods of Tacoma, Washington to look for a Christmas tree. That afternoon Crystal was found wandering alone in a K-Mart and was later identified by her grandmother, but Mike and Diana were still missing.
Crystal told police that "Mommy is in the trees," and months later, Diana's body was found in the forest. She'd been stabbed 17 times and had a tube sock around her neck. Mike's truck was found nearby with blood stains and a note that read, "I love you Diana."
Four months earlier there were two similar murders. Stephen Harkins was shot to death while his friend Ruth Cooper was found murdered just like Diana.
In 2011, hunters stumbled upon a human skull with a bullet hole in it. It belonged to Mike and his name was cleared as a person of interest, but police still don't know who killed the couples.
2 An Hour To Vanish Without a Trace
Jonelle Matthews was dropped off at home on December 20 after attending a Christmas choral concert that she and her classmates had performed at a nursing home. The 12-year-old was seen walking into her home before her ride drove off. Jonelle's mother was visiting relatives and Jonelle's father, Jim, was at a basketball game for Jonelle's sister. At 8:30 p.m. a friend called and spoke with Jonelle. He was the last to hear her voice.
Jim, returned home an hour after the phone call. He saw that Jonelle's things were in the house, but he couldn't find his daughter. Police believed Jonelle was kidnapped but there was no sign of a struggle. Volunteers helped in the search and hundreds of people were questioned.
Just in case unidentified remains were found somewhere, her DNA was included in the National Database, but Jonelle seems to have vanished into thin air.
1 Young Beauty Queen's Murder Remains Unsolved
In one of the most baffling cases in modern history, JonBenét Ramsey's murder has embedded itself in pop culture. It was just the day after Christmas in 1996 when John and Patsy Ramsey reported that their six-year-old daughter had been kidnapped. They found a ransom note demanding $118,000; however, just hours later they discovered the little girl's body in the basement of their house. She was bludgeoned over the head and strangled. There was also DNA taken from the scene that didn't match anyone in the home.
JonBenét's murder has never been solved, but there have been theories that either her parents or her brother killed her. In 2006 a pedophile by the name of John Mark Karr confessed to killing JonBenét but the DNA at the crime scene didn't match his, either. No charges were ever filed against him and JonBenét Ramsey's death remains an unsolved mystery.