Explore a chilling list of ten infamous murders that occurred during the Christmas season. Discover the disturbing details and learn about the dates, locations, and methods behind these haunting crimes from the past.
During the holiday season, we often associate Christmas with peace, goodwill, and positive human nature. However, the reality is that the combination of various factors can lead to tragic incidents and acts of violence. Here are ten notable cases from the nineteenth century or so that highlight the dark side of the holiday spirit:
Hopkinsville, Kentucky (December 24, 1900)
In a remote “room house,” an unlicensed bar known for selling illegal alcohol, located approximately 26 kilometers from the city, a group of four young men gathered to celebrate the holiday season. The owner of the bar was among them. Their festivities revolved around consuming homemade whiskey and beer, leading them to become heavily intoxicated.
At around five o’clock in the afternoon, another young man named Marion Henderson arrived at the party, seeking to join in on the merriment. Unfortunately, a dispute arose when Bob Morris accused Henderson of obstructing his light source. In a fit of anger, Morris drew his revolver and fired a close-range shot directly into Henderson’s chest.
Tragically, the bullet became lodged near Henderson’s heart, resulting in his death before any assistance could be rendered. Subsequently, Henderson’s wife was called upon to identify his lifeless body, adding to the grim nature of the incident.
Chamberburg, Ohio (December 24, 1880)
During a dance held at the Hall of the Foresters, a tragic incident unfolded in Chamberburg, Ohio. Theodore Hanley arrived at the event and confronted the goalkeeper, demanding entry. The goalkeeper, following the rules, informed Hanley that he could not be admitted without a partner. A discussion ensued, quickly escalating with heated exchanges.
Witnesses later testified that Hanley, despite the tension, was not intoxicated. However, in his attempt to force his way through, Hanley drew his revolver and shot the floor manager, Michael “Doll” Shively, in the top of his head. The bullet penetrated vertically through Shively’s skull, coming to rest in the roof of his mouth. Despite medical efforts, Shively succumbed to his injuries at 5 a.m. on Christmas morning.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Hanley fled the scene, stealing his brother’s horse. The incident left the community shocked and mourning the loss of Michael Shively, while Theodore Hanley remained at large.
St. Louis, Missouri (December 25, 1895)
In the Deep Morgan district of St. Louis, Missouri, a fateful encounter took place on December 25, 1895. Lee “Stack Lee” Shelton, a prominent figure among pimps and gamblers, entered a room on 13th Street where he met his friend, William Lyons. However, a combination of potent liquor and political differences led to a heated altercation. Shelton was a Democrat, while Lyons identified as a Republican.
As the argument escalated, insults were exchanged and tempers flared. The confrontation turned physical, resulting in Shelton delivering a powerful slap to Lyons. In the midst of the chaos, Lyons’ bowler hat was crushed, and he demanded compensation for the damaged headwear. Taking matters further, Lyons seized Shelton’s Stetson hat as collateral.
Provoked by the loss of his prized hat, Shelton drew a revolver with intent and intentionally shot Lyons, ultimately claiming his life. Interestingly, this incident would later serve as inspiration for the popular folk song “Stagger Lee,” which immortalized the events of that fateful Christmas Day.
The story of Stack Lee Shelton and William Lyons, marked by political differences, alcohol-fueled disputes, and a tragic outcome, has endured through the decades, becoming a part of American folklore and music history.
Mangum, Texas (December 24, 1885)
In Mangum, Texas, on December 24, 1885, three men, namely Jack Doyle, Don Sullivan, and Buck Hannon, gathered together to engage in a boastful conversation about their romantic conquests. As the night progressed and their egos swelled, Sullivan crossed a line by not only insulting Doyle’s wife but also claiming to have engaged in a sexual relationship with her.
Infuriated by the insult to his wife’s honor, Doyle retaliated, and a physical altercation ensued between the two men. In the heat of the moment, Sullivan drew a revolver, prompting Doyle to do the same. However, Doyle proved quicker on the trigger and fatally shot Sullivan in the heart.
Satisfied that he had defended his wife’s honor, Doyle calmly walked down the street to a hotel. Little did he know that Hannon, a friend of Sullivan, sought vengeance for his fallen comrade. Hannon tracked down Doyle and shot him, delivering retribution for Sullivan’s death. To avoid the repercussions of his act, Hannon fled the city.
Both Doyle and Sullivan were laid to rest on Christmas Day, but due to the absence of a preacher, the citizens of Mangum gathered around their graves and offered silent prayers, honoring the deceased in their own way.
New York, (December 25, 1878)
In a tragic incident, 16-year-old Sarah Hayden, who had been married for three months, had a playful acquaintance in her neighborhood named Felix Lavelle, aged 21. Sarah and Lavelle had a history of engaging in flirtatious and playful games, such as searching each other’s pockets while on the street. On one occasion, Lavelle discovered a six-shot magazine in his pocket and decided to give one of the cartridges to Sarah as a souvenir.
However, as Lavelle cocked the hammer of the revolver and pointed it at Sarah, an accidental discharge occurred. In a moment of fear and confusion, Lavelle pulled the trigger, resulting in a point-blank shot that struck Sarah in the left chest. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Lavelle assisted the gravely injured Sarah to the door before entering a state of shock.
The authorities were notified, and Lavelle awaited their arrival in a daze. Subsequently, he was arrested, tried, and found guilty of second-degree murder. As a result, Lavelle was sentenced to life imprisonment for his involvement in Sarah Hayden’s tragic and accidental death.
Ashland, Kentucky (December 24, 1881)
In a horrifying incident, Robert Gibbons, a 17-year-old amputee, his sister Fannie, aged 14, and their friend Emma Carico, aged 15, were tragically murdered in their sleep. The assailant entered the Gibbons family home during the early morning hours, wielding both an ax and a lever, and mercilessly attacked the three victims. To compound the horror, the perpetrator also set the house on fire before fleeing the scene.
As the flames caught the attention of neighbors, they rushed to offer assistance, only to discover the lifeless bodies of Robert, Fannie, and Emma. Their skulls had been brutally crushed by the attacker. To further compound the tragedy, the city doctor determined that the girls had also been subjected to sexual assault.
In the subsequent investigation, three men were charged with the heinous crime: George Ellis, William Neal, and George Craft. While George Ellis initially confessed, he later retracted his statement. Unfortunately, before facing trial, Ellis fell victim to a lynch mob, denying him the opportunity to face justice through the legal system. As for Craft and Neal, they endured multiple trials, changes of venue, and a considerable amount of dramatic proceedings. Eventually, they were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging, bringing a measure of closure to the devastating loss suffered by the Gibbons family and the community at large.
New York City, (December 25, 1901)
In Brooklyn, a tragic incident unfolded involving John Bell and his fifteen-year-old wife, Margaret. Upon her return from a trip to Scotland, Margaret informed John that she was pregnant. Despite lacking evidence of infidelity, John harbored suspicions that the child was not his own. Over the course of several weeks, he subjected Margaret to intimidation, threats, and verbal abuse, creating a hostile environment.
Instead of embracing the Christmas spirit, John’s mind was consumed by these thoughts. Margaret grew weary of his unwarranted accusations and expressed her belief that he was being irrational. Fueled by overwhelming jealousy, John confronted Margaret in the basement of their house, brandishing a revolver with the intention of killing her and then taking his own life.
In a desperate act of self-defense, Margaret leaped at John and engaged in a struggle to wrestle the weapon away from him. Tragically, during the altercation, John dislocated and accidentally fired the revolver, shooting Margaret through her left eye. The fatal wound claimed her life.
After realizing the irreversible consequences of his actions, John had a change of heart regarding his proposed suicide. He decided against it, exited the house, and approached a police officer to confess to the horrendous crime he had committed.
The incident stands as a devastating example of jealousy-driven violence, resulting in the loss of Margaret’s life and the shattered lives of those involved.
Pittsburg, Pennsylvania (December 25, 1894)
In a tragic turn of events during a festive dinner, John Johnston, his wife Amy, their friend Daniel Herron, Daniel’s wife, and another mutual friend named George Cassell gathered at the Johnston residence to celebrate Christmas with food, drinks, and a growing atmosphere of grievances fueled by alcohol. As the evening progressed, a discussion revolving around an old grudge escalated into bitterness.
At approximately 7 PM, tensions reached a breaking point when Herron unexpectedly produced a gun and attempted to shoot Johnston. However, in a courageous act of defense, Amy jumped in front of her husband and was shot in the right side of her body. The sudden realization of the consequences of his actions appeared to calm Herron, and he hastily fled back to his own home.
Tragically, Amy’s wound proved to be fatal, leading to her untimely death. Herron, realizing the gravity of his actions, was subsequently arrested for murder by the authorities.
The incident serves as a grim reminder of how conflicts fueled by alcohol and unresolved grudges can escalate into tragedy, forever altering the lives of those involved and leaving a lasting impact on the festive season.
Savannah, Georgia (December 24, 1898)
During a bustling night in Savannah, Georgia, the local police found themselves dealing with a significant number of incidents, including two homicides. The first murder involved a dispute between Charles Low and Charles Green, both discussing two women. The altercation escalated, resulting in Low stabbing Green in the belly. Sadly, Green succumbed to his injuries and bled to death shortly afterward.
The second murder occurred when Queen Martin engaged in a heated confrontation with her lover. In the midst of the argument, she stabbed him in the heart, causing a fatal wound.
Among the night’s noteworthy incidents was an unusual crime involving Mayor R.W. Olive from Pembroke, Georgia. He was attacked by a man named Paul Canady. Despite being mistreated, Mayor Olive managed to defend himself by striking Canady with a gun and nearly biting his thumb during the altercation.
Newspaper accounts speculated that Mayor Olive, being a person of influence, might demand further satisfaction from Canady through a public duel, indicating the potential for a dramatic resolution to the conflict.
The events of that eventful night in Savannah serve as a reminder of the volatile nature of disputes and conflicts, highlighting the tragic consequences that can arise when emotions run high and violence ensues.
Livermore, Kentucky (December 24, 1900)
Christmas dances during the turn of the century were not immune to dangerous confrontations. In one such incident, two rivals named John Froge and M. Garman found themselves vying for the affection of Lillie Lambert. During a dance held in a ballroom, Froge intentionally tripped Garman, provoking a strong objection from his rival. Seizing the opportunity, Froge drew two revolvers and began firing indiscriminately.
Amidst the chaos of the bullets flying around him, Garman managed to escape to the side, where he quickly grabbed a shotgun. Returning to confront Froge, Garman delivered a fatal blow, blowing off Froge’s head. While the act clearly appeared to be an act of self-defense, Garman’s guilt-ridden conscience drove him to flee the city, going into hiding until the following March.
Eventually, burdened by his guilt, Garman decided to come forward and confess his actions to the sheriff in Carlinville, Illinois. The incident serves as a stark reminder of the volatile nature of romantic rivalries and the potential for deadly consequences when tempers flare in such heated situations.