The holiday season continues with some Christmas horror stories. Yes, there is blood and, oh boy, is there going to be murder.
Join the Lady Dicks for the next instalment in Holiday Horror Stories where the #DickSquad shares the tales of the Covina Massacre, the Grapevine Christmas Tragedy, Michelle O’Dowd under the Christmas tree, the Lawson Family Murders and the Los Feliz Murder Mansion.
The Lady Dicks also apologize profusely to our clown-based audience as Tae will be sharing some very un-friendly words to them and the story of why how she was chased by a zombie clown (we know, #fakenews, right?).
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The Covina Massacre
It was December 24, 2008, and the Ortega family was altogether celebrating the holidays. Joseph and Alice Ortega loved Christmas and they had invited their five adult children—James, Charles, Leticia, Alicia and Sylvia—and their families to their home in Covina, 22 miles east of Los Angeles.
The party was in full swing when the doorbell rang. Shortly after, 911 received a call from a neighbour of the Ortega’s saying: “Come immediately! They’re burning down someone’s house.”
Sylvia Ortega Pardo, the Ortega’s 43-year-old daughter had just finalized her divorce a week before, on December 18. Her ex-husband, Bruce Pardo, had hidden a son from a previous relationship (that suffered from brain damage in a swimming accident while in his care) from her and along with money and other marital issues she had filed for divorce.
Bruce was said to be upset about paying $1,785 a month in spousal support, he had told a friend that Slyvia was “taking him to the cleaners.” He also had to pay Sylvia $10,000 as part of the settlement. And she got to keep her ring and the dog.
Further, in a court declaration, Bruce complained that Sylvia was living at home with her parents “not paying rent, and had spent lavishly on a luxury car, gambling trips to Las Vegas, meals at fine restaurants, massages and golf lessons.”
With the ink drying on his divorce and the cheery family-filled holiday fuelling his anger, he decided to take action. At approximately 11:30 pm, Bruce, dressed as Santa Claus, knocked on the door of the Ortega’s party where around 25 guests were having a nice time. In his arm he had a gift-wrapped package—spoiler alert, it’s a homemade flamethrower—and in the other hand a semi-automatic.
Sylvia’s eight-year-old niece was the first to be shot when she opened the door and ran to greet him (spoiler alert: she survives), then Bruce opened fire in the house. After making an impact with his gun, Bruce unwrapped his handy-dandy flamethrower and spread racing fuel gasoline around the house before setting it ablaze.
After the attack, Bruce sped off in his Dodge Calibre rental car to his brother’s house in nearby Sylmar where he was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His brother was not home at the time but called the police when he found the body.
It was originally thought that Bruce was planning to flee to Canada (#HellNah, we don’t want him) as he had purchased a ticket on Air Canada (insert Air Canada advertisement here). But it turns out the flight was from LA to Moline, Illinois. Apparently, he was planning on visiting a family friend.
The blaze took 80 firefighters nearly two hours to extinguish and resulted in the death of nine family members by either gunfire or flames. Three others were wounded—the eight-year-old niece who was shot in the face with a severe but not life-threatening wound, a 16-year-old girl shot in the back and a 20-year-old woman who suffered a broken ankle from jumping out a window.
Bruce killed Sylvia Ortega, her mother and father Alice and Joseph, her brother Charles and his wife Cheri, her other brother James and his wife Teresa, her sister Alicia Ortiz, and Alicia’s 17-year-old son Michael Ortiz.
Grapevine Christmas tragedy
Three years after the Covina Massacre, a tragedy of a similar nature took place in Dallas-Fort Worth suburb, Grapevine.
It was December 25, 2011, and Nasrin Rahmaty, 55, was having a Christmas celebration with her two children, her sister, her husband and their daughter. They had just finished opening presents when Nasrin’s estranged husband, Aziz Yazdanpanah, joined the party (uninvited) dressed in a Santa suit.
His 22-year-old niece sent a text message shortly before 11 am saying, “Soo we’re here. We just got here and my uncle is here too. Dressed as Santa. Awesome.”
Then shortly after at 11:15 am she texted, “Now he wants to be all fatherly and win father of the year.” Aziz called 911 after he killed the party-goers at 11:34 am, saying: “Help … Help” and then “I am shooting people.” He then shot himself.
Aziz had recently filed for bankruptcy due to his failing real estate business and divorce had come shortly after that. Nasrin and her estranged husband Aziz separated in March. It is speculated that both his financial issues and the alienation from family were his breaking point.
Though others speculate that his 19-year-old daughter Nona having a relationship with a non-muslim might have been a factor. Her friends said that she would often come to school crying telling them that her father was crazy, being overprotective and regulating her home life. It is said that he took her phone away, went through her conversations and call history, and even installed cameras around the house to monitor his family.
Police arrived to the scene to find the dead bodies and unwrapped presents scattered around the living room. Aziz killed his daughter Nona, 19, her cousin Sahra Zarei, 22, his son Ali, 15, and his sister and brother-in-law Hossein and Zohreh.
Michelle O’Dowd under the Christmas tree
Patty White, 40, was down on her luck in 2011. So the aunt of her ex-boyfriend offered to let her stay at her Jacksonville, Florida home. Patty would do chores around the house to “earn her keep” all-the-meanwhile she stole Michelle’s credit cards and attempted to take money out of her account.
Michelle’s twin brother knew something was up when she failed to show up for work, so he headed to her house to check on her and happened upon her car and pets still at her house. The Christmas tree was set up and decorated with the presents untouched. Everything that is, except the foot sticking out from under the Christmas tree.
Patty was arrested shortly after and confessed to beating and strangling Michelle before hiding her under the Christmas tree and fleeing to South Carolina. Neighbours in Michelle’s gated community went on record to say that they did hear screaming the night of Michelle’s death, but none thought to call the police.
Lawson Family Murders
The year was 1929, and it was Christmas Day on a small farm outside of Germantown, North Carolina. The Lawsons, Charlie and his wife of 20 years Fannie, lived on the farm with their 7 children (an 8th child died years earlier of pneumonia).
As you do on Christmas day, Charlie sent his 16-year-old son Authur (nicknamed Buck) along to Germantown with his cousin to buy shotgun shells. While he was out, Charlie Lawson killed his entire family.
Earlier in 1929, Charlie a working-class tobacco farmer took his entire family to Germantown to have a photo taken, which was rare for the working class. He also bought the family new clothes for the occasion.
When Arthur arrived home with the shotgun shells, he arrived to find the dead bodies of his family members—Fannie (37), Marie (17), Carrie (12), Maybell (7), baby Mary Lou and brothers, James (4) and Raymond (2), with his father nowhere in sight.
On that Christmas morning, 17-year-old Marie woke up early to make a two-layer Christmas cake. The two middle girls—Carrie and Maybell—went to go visit their aunt and uncle and Charlie sent Arthur into town.
Charlie hid out behind the tobacco barn on the property, waiting for Carrie and Maybell to arrive home. When they did, he shot them outside the house and bludgeoned them afterwards before storing their bodies in the bar.
He then went into the house to find Fannie sitting on the porch. He shot her, then moved inside to kill Marie. While Marie was being killed, James and Raymond ran and hid. Charlie tracked the boys down and killed them. Last he killed baby Mary Lou by bludgeoning her to death. He then went out to the woods and was said to have pace around a tree.
Arthur arrived home and quickly alerted the authorities. People began to gather at the house and within a few hours of people gathering they heard a single shot from the nearby woods.
Arthur and the police found his father, dead, along with letters he had written and a circle of footprints around the tree where he paced. The letters did not explain why he killed his family (or why he spared Arthur).
While the reason behind the murders is pure speculation, 60 years after the murders, Stella Lawson Boles, a cousin of the Lawson children, confessed in a book that she had overheard Fannie Lawson confide in her mother and another female family member just before Christmas that Charlie was having an incestuous affair with his 17-year-old daughter, Marie.
Marie had also supposedly told her friend, Ella May Johnson, during a sleepover that she was pregnant with her father’s baby, and both of her parents knew. This story is somewhat corroborated by the Lawson’s neighbour, Sam Hill. He said that Charlie had “forced himself upon his daughter” and when her pregnancy was revealed, he warned her if “she told her mother or anyone else “there would be some killing done.”
Los Feliz Murder Mansion
Cardiologist Dr. Harold Perelson, his wife Lillian, and their three children Judye, Debbie and Joel moved into 2475 Glendower Place, a 3-story Spanish Revival in the Los Feliz community of Los Angeles, sometime in the 1950s. It was a dream house for a seemingly perfect family.
At around 4:30 am on December 6, 1959, Harold struck his sleeping wife with a ball-peen hammer, leaving her to asphyxiate in her own blood as he went to his teenage daughter Judye’s room. There he tried to strike her in the head with the same hammer but missed.
She started screaming don’t kill me, waking the neighbours, as her father told her to “lay still” and “keep quiet.” Judye escaped, found her mother dead and ran out of the house to find a neighbour to call the police.
While Judye was finding help, her two younger siblings woke up. Harold told them to “go back to bed, this is a nightmare.” They compiled and he took “two doses of Nembutal and 31 small white pills believed to be codeine or a powerful tranquillizer.”
He was dead when the police arrived. Judye was treated for her injuries and Joel and Debbie were left unharmed. No one knows why Dr. Perelson killed his wife, himself and attempted to kill his daughter. But some speculate financial woes, while others have dug up records of a secret hospital stay.
The children were taken by Lillian’s family and a year later the house was sold at a probate auction. The house was bought from the probate auction by Emily and Julian Enriques, but they never lived in it—it then passed to her son Rudy when Emily died in 1994, and he didn’t live in it either.
Instead, Rudy used the 5,050 square foot house as “storage.” Neighbours saw the family throughout the years bring boxes in and out but no one stayed or made any changes to the house. Explorers and brave souls who ventured up to the house reported seeing “a 1950s-style television set, a Christmas tree, and supposedly, neatly-wrapped gifts.”
The furniture was described as being “covered in a thick layer of dust and the living room remains the exact same as it was that one December night.”
The property deteriorated and neighbours pitched-in in an attempt to help maintain the property. One trespasser alleged that she was “bitten by a black widow spider upon trying to break in” and that the house is haunted.
The house was sold again in 2016, and the Perelson’s possessions were finally removed.
Did you love this episode? Check these other holiday-themed gems out:
- Naughty Santa: Listen to our previous holiday special for some Christmas-themed horror stories about dirty ol’ Saint Nick… or at least those that pretend to be him.
- A Ghostly Flight: Haunted Flight 401: Not exactly holiday-themed, but in December 1972, Eastern Airlines 401 crashed in the Everglades while trying to land in Miami and some ghostly passengers never did stop flying.
- Krampus: Does Santa Claus have an evil brother? Let’s find out!
- Christmas Mysteries: Christeries, if you will: Ready to get your mystery on? Here are seven mind-bending mysteries!
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