Holidays can be magical occasions, bringing families together and uniting communities in a common spirit of celebration. However, that much merriment can breed an equal amount of resentment from anyone on the outside. That much importance placed on any one day is bound to cause unfulfilled expectations. Beyond that, any time groups of people get together there is a potential for confrontation. Regardless of the reason why, some truly awful things happen on the holidays. Here are ten tragedies that happened on holidays, some so disturbing they’ll shock you.
10 The Covina Massacre
On Christmas Eve 2008, at a Christmas party in Covina, California, nine people were murdered by a man in a Santa costume. The man, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, was motivated by his recent divorce settlement and spousal support payments. The divorce proceedings, which lasted months and ended only a week earlier, had cost Pardo a lot of money, and he wasn’t having it. He was having serious mental issues, though.
He constructed a plan to attack a Christmas party that his in-laws would be hosting and his ex-wife would be attending. He showed up in a Santa outfit, with a flamethrower that he wheeled in on a trolley and a total of four automatic handguns. Pardo killed nine people, either by gun or flamethrower, including his own 8-year-old niece, and set the home ablaze as partygoers fled. He committed suicide life later that night. But that was small restitution for his ex-wife and her family, who died suffering.
9 The Dresden Bombing
If you’ve read Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five,” you’ve already heard of the horror that was the bombing of Dresden, Germany. On Valentine’s Day 1945, a fleet of over 1,00 planes from the British Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Forces attacked the German city, dropping almost 4,000 pounds of explosives. Casualty estimates vary due mainly to the indeterminable number of war refugees staying in the city. The conservative estimate is 25,000, and others rise steeply from there.
Critics of the bombing cite the city’s lack of military significance and its abundance of cultural significance to German society. Vonnegut, himself a German prisoner in Dresden during the bombing, tells of his experience gathering bodies for burial. Eventually, there were simply too many to bury and German troops began stacking them and incinerating them with flamethrowers.
8 The Shanghai Stampede
On New Year’s Eve in 2014, around 300,00 people gathered in Chen Yi Square in Shanghai, China. Along the banks of the Huangpu River, the crowd came to see a light show meant to celebrate the coming New Year. No one anticipated such a massive crowd, and there was little in the way of official crowd control to help organize everyone.
Just a few minutes before midnight, a stampede broke out among the crowd. Thousands surged into and trampled each other, leaving 36 people dead and 49 injured. Reports from the Chinese media were vague and conflicting as to what actually started the stampede, and as of now, no official cause is listed, just vague reports of crowd confusion and panic.
7 The Lawson Family Murders
On Christmas Day, 1929, farmer Charles Lawson killed his wife and six of his seven children. He started with two of his daughters, ambushing them by the family’s tobacco farm with a shotgun. He walked back to the porch and shot his wife Fannie. This alerted the rest of the children, who tried to hide in the house. He found them and killed them all. His last victim was their 4-month-old baby.
Lawson then neatly laid the bodies out, crossed their arms, and propped their heads up on rocks. He then vanished into the woods. Within hours, a crowd of neighbors had discovered or heard of the scene and gathered on the property. Witnesses heard a single gunshot come from the woods. They later found Lawson’s body, dead by suicide. No clear motive for Lawson’s gruesome spree has ever been determined, but there were rumors among family and friends that he had recently impregnated his daughter, one of the victims.
6 The Tool Box Killers
Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris were serial killers known as the Tool Box Killers. Considering their predilection for using an assortment of household tools to torture and kill their victims, it’s easy to see why they got that name. They claimed their fifth and final victim on Halloween night in 1979.
That night, they abducted young Shirley Lynette Ledford as she stood outside a gas station. They then proceeded to tie her up, rape her repeatedly, and torture her with their signature toolset before killing her. They dumped her body on a randomly chosen lawn, simply to see what the press would say about the location.
5 The Tangiwai disaster
A passenger train carrying 285 people was speeding across a bridge in New Zealand on Christmas Eve, 1953. Unbeknownst to the passengers and crew, a nearby dam had recently burst, causing a heavy surge of mud to pass under the bridge and damage its support structures. When the train passed over the bridge, its weight caused the whole structure to collapse. 151 of the 285 souls on board perished in the crash. Rescuers searched for days among the wreckage, hoping for survivors or at least identifiable bodies, but 20 passengers were never found, thought to have been carried downriver.
4 Ronald Sisman And Elizabeth Platzman
On Halloween night in 1981, New York City couple Ronald Sisman And Elizabeth Platzman were murdered in their home. The pair were savagely beaten and forced to their knees, then shot in the head execution-style. Because their house was ransacked and items of theirs had been stolen, police initially believed the whole event a robbery gone wrong.
Except that authorities were warned of the murders in advance. While in prison, infamous serial killer David Berkowitz, known better as “Son of Sam,” warned prison officials that the satanic cult he had belonged to was going to commit a ritual murder that Halloween night. He gave the correct murder location and described the home that the cult had been surveilling. It matched the description of the victims’ residence to a tee.
3 The Carnation Murders
The Carnation murders are named for the town in which they took place- Carnation, Washington, a tiny, rural town with no claim to fame except, sadly, this murder spree. Christmas Eve, 2007, saw Joseph McEnroe and Michele Anderson murder Anderson’s entire family. The two arrived at the home of Anderson’s parents, where the family was set the gather, and waited, guns in hand.
Anderson’s parents arrived first and were gunned down. Their bodies were hidden, the entranceway cleaned, and the murder trap reset. Then Anderson’s brother and sister-in-law arrived with their two children. They too were shot dead, children included. When asked why she did it, Anderson said that she had felt unfairly treated by her parents and that her brother owed her money, and McEnroe said… a string of incoherent nonsense.
2 Omaima Nelson
It was Thanksgiving Day, 1991, that Egyptian model Omaima Nelson murdered her husband. She claimed that it was in retaliation for him sexually assaulting her earlier that night. Perhaps that was true, but what happened after the murder was more ‘demonic cannibal’ than ‘avenger.’
After the alleged sexual assault, Nelson bound her husband and stabbed him in the chest with scissors. He survived that attack, so she bludgeoned him to death with a clothes iron, hitting him hard enough to break it. She then cut his body into small pieces, including castrating him and putting his severed head in her freezer. She put his severed hands in a pot to boil to remove fingerprints. She admitted to eating pieces of him, but later retracted these statements, saying that instead, she had merely put the missing pieces in the garbage disposal. All told, when investigators found her husband’s body, around 80 pounds of him were unaccounted for.
1 The Cocoanut Grove Fire
The Cocoanut Grove Fire is the single deadliest nightclub fire in history, killing 492 people. The Cocoanut Grove, which was unusually busy the night of the fire, was a popular club in Boston, Massachusetts. It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and many were in the city visiting family. Also, it was the first Thanksgiving after America joined World War Two and distraction destinations like clubs were thriving. The Cocoanut Grove was packed.
Investigators never determined the cause of the nightclub fire. They did say, however, that the fire started on the frond of an artificial palm tree. The fire spread through the ceiling and rapidly made its way into every area of the club, taking only five minutes to engulf the entire establishment. Side doors and several other exits had been bolted shut to prevent patrons from skipping out on their tabs. That left only one exit open—the front door. The door was a revolving door that was rendered inoperable by the throng of people trying to rush through it to safety. 492 people died in the fire. The small silver lining is that the incident triggered a wave of fire safety laws and regulations in hopes of preventing another tragedy of this magnitude.