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Holiday Horror: 8 Real-Life Christmas Murders


It’s the most wonderful time of the year … but not for everyone. Read on for eight grim tales of lovers, parents, and friends who committed heinous crimes against their nearest and dearest during the holiday season.

1. The Ashland Massacre
Ashland, Kentucky, 1881

On the night before Christmas Eve, Fannie Gibbons, her brother Robert, and their next-door neighbor Emma Thomas were brutally murdered in the Gibbons home. The house was then set aflame. A bricklayer named George Ellis confessed to the crime, naming his coworkers William Neal and Ellis Craft as accomplices. Neal and Craft were convicted, and sentenced to death by hanging. Ellis was convicted and given a life term, but a vigilante mob abducted him from his jail cell on the day of his conviction, and lynched him.

Related: Inside the Demented Mind of John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

2. The Johnston Holiday Party Murder
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1894

John and Amy Johnston hosted a Christmas dinner party. They invited neighbor Daniel Herron and his wife. Spirits were high and the liquor flowed freely. Soon, however, Daniel and John began bickering about an old grievance. Things escalated so quickly that Daniel pulled his gun, and tried to shoot his host. Amy jumped in the line of fire, and was shot on the right side of her body. She died soon after. Daniel Herron was arrested for manslaughter after Amy Johnston’s death.

3. The Murder of the Lawson Family
Germanton, North Carolina, 1929

lawson family

Just before Christmas, Charlie Lawson took his family into town for new clothes and a holiday family portrait. This was the last time the Lawsons would be photographed together. On Christmas Day, Lawson murdered his wife of 18 years and six of their seven children before taking his own life in the nearby woods. To this day, no one knows the motive for Lawson’s murder spree. Some, though, speculate he may have been having an incestuous relationship with his eldest daughter Marie, and that she might have been pregnant with his child.

Related: The Murder of the Lawson Family

4. The “Stagger Lee” Murder
St. Louis, Missouri, 1895

The 1895 murder of Bill Lyons by Lee Shelton was the inspiration behind the popular song “Stagger Lee.” On Christmas night, Shelton and Lyons were both drinking heavily inside a saloon, where they got into a heated argument. Words escalated into violence, with Lyons eventually grabbing Shelton’s hat off of his head. Shelton shot Lyons dead, retrieved his hat, and left. He was tried and convicted of Lyons’ murder in 1897.

5. The Wholaver Murders
Middletown, Pennsylvania, 2002

christmas murders

On Christmas Eve, Ernest Wholaver Jr. murdered his daughters, Victoria and Elizabeth, as well as his wife, Jean, in their family home. Wholaver had broken into the house with help from his brother, after being prohibited entry because of a sexual offense charge involving his daughters. The only survivor of the gruesome attack was Victoria’s infant daughter, nine-month-old Madison. Wholaver has been on death row since 2004, and his brother is currently serving a 12-25 year sentence.

6. Bloodshed on Christmas Eve
Magnum, Texas, 1885

Jack Doyle, Don Sullivan, and Buck Hannon traded stories of their sexual prowess on Christmas Eve. Their bragging got personal when Sullivan made insulting remarks about Doyle’s wife. A fight ensued, and the two drew their revolvers. Doyle shot Sullivan dead. Hannon then followed Doyle back to his hotel, where he shot and killed him to avenge Sullivan. Realizing his predicament, Hannon escaped the Texas town on horseback.

Related: Best of The Lineup: Creepiest True Crime Books

7. The Murder of JonBenét Ramsey
Boulder, Colorado, 1996

The Case of JonBenet Ramsey

It’s been nearly 20 years since JonBenét Ramsey was found murdered in her family home. The six-year-old beauty queen’s death remains an unsolved mystery, though a new documentary has renewed public interest in the case. Many speculate that elements of the crime, such as the ransom note supposedly left by JonBenét’s killer, may have been fabricated. Could new details–DNA evidence, the 911 call, interviews with JonBenét’s brother–make for a stronger case that a family member was involved in the Christmas Day tragedy?

Related: 7 Books About Unsolved Crimes That Still Haunt Us

8. The Murder of Margaret Bell
Brooklyn, New York, 1901

John Bell and his wife Margaret were married 15 years when Margaret found out she was pregnant. John didn’t believe the baby was his, though there wasn’t any evidence that Margaret was cheating on him. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, John grew cold and brooding. On Christmas Day, he confronted Margaret with a gun, intending to kill her, then himself. In the ensuing struggle, John fired a shot that struck Margaret in the left eye, and she died from the injury. Paralyzed with guilt, John left his home to confess his crime to the police.

Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons