Article photograph credit: Getty/RichLegg
Christmas is a time for family gatherings and stuffing our faces with food. It’s easily the favourite day of the year for many people worldwide. However, Christmas is just another day for some, and if somebody is planning something violent and sinister, the festivities won’t change their mind. Here, we will take a look at five murder cases that took place around the most festive period of the year.
The Anderson Family Massacre
Christmas of 2007 for the Anderson family would be like nothing they could have ever imagined in their very worst nightmares. For it was this year that Joseph Thomas McEnroe and Michele Kristen Anderson had planned something very cruel. On Christmas Eve, Joseph and Michele armed themselves with guns and drove to the Carnation, Washington, home of Wayne and Judy Anderson, Michele’s parents.
Upon entering the family home, they found Judy wrapping Christmas gifts for their grandchildren who would be arriving later that day. Michele distracted her mother while Joseph confronted Wayne in the living room. Wayne was shot dead first before the couple turned the gun on Judy. Afterwards, Joseph and Michele dragged their bodies to a backyard shed before spending an hour cleaning up the blood so as to not alert other family members that would soon be arriving.1 When Michele’s brother, Scott Anderson; his wife, Erica; and their two children, 5-year-old Olivia and 3-year-old Nathan, arrived at the home, they were all gunned down in the living room by both Michele and Joseph. While dying, Erica managed to call 911 but the line quickly went dead.2 After murdering the entire family, Michele and Joseph left the home, locking the gate behind them, which effectively turned away the two deputies that would arrive to respond to the 911 call. It wouldn’t be until two days later that the bodies were all found after Judy’s co-worker became concerned when Judy didn’t show up for work or respond to her phone calls.
Shortly after police arrived at the scene, Michele and Joseph returned to the property, claiming they had been going to Las Vegas but decided to come back when they got lost. Police became suspicious immediately; neither had enquired why police were at the home or asked about welfare of the family. Michele eventually confessed to the murders in an attempt to avoid the death penalty. She stated that she was “tired of everybody stepping on” her.3 Moreover, she became infuriated when her parents had asked her to start paying rent; Michele and Joseph had been living rent free for a year in a mobile home on her parents’ rural land.
Both Michelle Anderson and Joseph Thomas McEnroe were sentenced to life in prison.
Grapevine Christmas Shooting
On Christmas Eve of 2011, Aziz Yazdanpanah dressed up in a Santa Claus suit before making his way to his estranged wife’s Grapevine, Texas, apartment under the pretence of delivering gifts for his family. Once inside, Yazdanpanah fatally shot his estranged wife, Fatemeh Rahmati, 55, their 14-year-old son, Ali, and their 19-year-old daughter, Nona. He also shot and killed his wife’s sister, Zohreh Rahmaty, 58, her husband, Mohammad Hossein Zarei, 59, and their daughter, Sahra, 22. Following the murders, Yazdanpanah shot himself dead. Police were alerted to the scene when they received a 911 call from inside the home. All they heard was heavy breathing followed by a raspy “help.” By the time they arrived, everybody was deceased, surrounded by the newly opened Christmas presents around the tree. The mass murder was the worst in the town’s history.
An investigation into the murders revealed that Yazdanpanah and Zarei pretended to their wives that they were going on business trips. In reality, however, they were booking hotel rooms and taking prostitutes back. Zarei apparently told his wife about these exploits but left out the fact that he was involved – he told her that only Yazdanpanah was renting hotel rooms to take prostitutes to. It’s theorised that this led to the breakdown of his marriage. Following the break up, Rahmati and their two children moved to an apartment in the 2500 block of Hall-Johnson Road. Rahmati told colleagues that Yazdanpanah did not take the impending divorce well and she was fearful of what he may do.4
In addition to the marital problems, Yazdanpanah had been having financial difficulties as well. Federal court records showed that Yazdanpanah was placed on three years’ probation in 1996 after he pleaded guilty to one count of subscribing to a false income tax return. He was fined $1,000 and was required to pay back $30,119. The financial difficulties intensified several years before the murders when Yazdanpanah stopped working in the mortgage business.5 At the time of the murders, Yazdanpanah was living in a home with no electricity or running water while Rahmati was living in an apartment and working two jobs at a local spa.
The Murder of Tristan Allegra
Eryn Allegra of Port St. Lucie, Florida, started having financial troubles in August of 2007. After losing several jobs and a relationship, Allegra seemingly felt hopeless. Allegra had an 8-year-old son, Tristan, who was a student at Mariposa Elementary School. He was known by his classmates as being “very kind and helpful, cool and funny.” He liked to read and was a very talkative young boy. 6 Allegra and Tristan’s father, Michael, had split up several years prior but they had joint custody of their son. 7
On Christmas Day of 2008, Allegra took Tristan to Denny’s for dinner before checking into a Holiday Inn near their home. They sat up until midnight watching cartoons in bed. Tristan had been excited about celebrating Christmas the next morning. Unfortunately, however, Allegra had something else in mind for that night; something that was unfathomable to everybody who came to know of their story.
After midnight, Allegra gave Tristan eight Advil. He quickly fell asleep and at around 3AM, Allegra smothered her son with a pillow until he stopped kicking. She had assumed he would overdose on the pills but then became afraid that they would just “turn him into a vegetable.”8 When her son stopped breathing, Allegra went into the bathroom, climbed into the bathtub and slit her wrists. She left several notes; one read: “Out of selfishness and love, I could not leave you and I was not strong enough to stay… Remember, please remember I love you best and always. Thanks for being my sweet boy all these years.” However, Allegra didn’t die; the blade was much too dull. When it became clear her suicide attempt had failed, Allegra called police.
As families worldwide were celebrating Christmas amongst their loved ones, Port St. Lucie police were removing the body of a murdered child from a hotel room. After her arrest, Allegra said she was depressed and thinking about suicide but didn’t want to leave her son with his father, Michael. “I am alone,” Allegra wrote in her journal. “Nowhere else to go… People move on. I just can’t.” Allegra told police that she wasn’t “crazy” or “insane” And that “I knew what I was doing and I did it.”
Eryn Allegra pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.
Ronald Gene Simmons
During the Christmas holidays of 1987, Ronald Gene Simmons, a retired Air Force Sergeant, systematically murdered 14 members of his own family before killing two citizens in Russellville, Arkansas. The first victims were his son, Gene, and his wife, Rebecca, who he killed on 22 December. Both were shot dead with a .22 caliber pistol. His next victim was his 3-year-old granddaughter Barbara, who he strangled to death before waiting for the rest of his family to return home. Under the pretence of giving them Christmas gifts, Simmons lured four of his children – Loretta, 17, Eddy, 14, Marianne, 11, and Rebecca, 8 – away from the rest of the family and strangled them to death as he held their heads underwater.
On Boxing Day, the rest of the family arrived to celebrate Christmas. When they arrived, Simmons shot and killed his son, Billy and his wife, Renata, before strangling their 1-year-old son, Trae, to death. The next to fall victim to this sadistic character was his daughter, Sheila and her husband, Dennis, who were both shot dead. Disturbingly, Simmons had a daughter out of incest; 7-year-old Sylvia was the daughter of Sheila and Simmons. After killing Sheila and Dennis, Simmons strangled Sylvia.9 The final victim of his own family was his grandson, 20-month-old Michael. Following the massacre, Simmons laid the slain bodies out in the lounge before going to a local bar for a drink.
On 28 December, Simmons drove to a nearby law office where he had previously worked and shot dead the receptionist, Kathy Kendrick, who had turned down his advances when the two worked together more than a year earlier.10 His murderous lust not yet satisfied, he shot and killed J.D. Chaffin, an oil company office worker, before attempting to kill the owner of the oil company office,. He then went to a convenience store and attempted to kill a few workers before sitting down and waiting for authorities to arrive.
He was charged with sixteen murders and sentenced to death – this sentence was carried out on 25 June, 1990.
It was Christmas Eve of 2008 and a party was underway at the Ortega residence in Covina, Los Angeles, California. Around 25 guests were attending the festive gathering including their 43-year-old daughter, Sylvia Ortego Pardo. The family get-together was just what Sylvia needed; she had been going through marital problems with her husband of one year, Bruce Jeffrey Pardo, and just the week prior, she had settled for divorce.
At around 11:30PM, there was a knock on the door. The 8-year-old daughter of Sylvia’s sister rushed to the door and flung it open. Standing in front of her was Bruce Pardo dressed in a Santa Claus suit and carrying a wrapped up package. An expression of glee came over her face but this soon turned to fear when Pardo lifted out a 9mm semi-automatic handgun and shot the young girl in the face. Pardo then entered the home and started to shoot indiscriminately at the guests.
Following the shooting, Pardo unwrapped the package he had brought along with him. It contained a homemade flamethrower which he used to set the home on fire. During the chaos, another daughter of Alicia and Joseph Ortego managed to call 911. During the phone call, they yelled: “He’s still shooting out there. He’s shooting my whole family! My mom’s house is on fire!”11
A total of nine people died either due to gunshot wounds or the fire. Among the deceased was Sylvia and both of her parents. The 8-year-old girl who was shot in the face miraculously survived. Following the massacre, Pardo drove to his brother’s home and shot himself in the head.
- CBS, 19 January, 2015 – “After 7 Years, Trial Starting for Man in Carnation Murders”
- St. Paul Pioneer Press, 29 December, 2007 – “Charges in 6 Killings Defy Mom’s Memories of Son”
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 25 March, 2015 – “Jury Delivers Verdict in Carnation Family Annihilation Killings”
- The Dallas Morning News, 25 December, 2012 – “Troubled Life Emerges for Mass Killer”
- The People, 8 December, 2013 – “This Evil Man Dressed As Father Christmas, Shot Dead Six People as they Opened their Presents”
- The Palm Beach Post, 28 December, 2008 – “Slain 8-Year-Old Well Loved at Port. Lucie School”
- The Palm Beach Post, 1 January, 2009 – “Father Says he Never Feared for Slain Son’s Welfare”
- Fort Pierce Tribune, 25 January, 2009 – “Child’s Last Hours Recounted”
- Charlotte Observer, 31 December, 1987 – “Suspected Killer’s Life Reveals Abuse, Incest”
- The Dallas Morning News, 3 January, 1988 – “Arkansas Tale of Terror”
- The Palm Beach Post, 28 December, 2008 – “Santa Gunman’s Mother Says She’s ‘Faling Apart'”