12 Crimes of Christmas: Part 1

We have Santa thanks to Murder & Attempted Cannibalism

St. Nicholas, if he was a real person, was walking around doing saint stuff between 200-300 CE. The cool thing about being a saint back in the old days is that you went on crazy adventures doing badassery in the name of the Lord Father Our God.

Saint Nicholas is no exception to this. He calmed a storm at sea, he saved innocents from execution, slapped a heretic so hard he was thrown in prison for it, and he chopped down a tree possessed by a demon. St. Nick was such a badass, he used to be known as ‘the brawling saint.’

So why is St. Nick the patron saint of children and not of lumberjacks? Well this is where things get EVEN MORE hardcore.

The story goes that while St. Nicholas aiding the hungry during a terrible famine, he stumbled onto a Grimm’s Fairy Tale-esque crime scene. A malicious butcher had lured three local children into his shop. There, he killed them, put them in a barrel with brine to cure them, and planned to sell off the meat as pork.

Somehow being both a great lumberjack and detective, St. Nicholas figured out what the butcher had done. By making the sign of the cross over the barrel, the children were resurrected—although likely salty, both literally and emotionally, from their plight.

As a result, many Medieval-era depictions of St. Nicholas include 3 naked children and a barrel. Which probably didn’t go down well on that Christmas episode of ‘To Catch a Predator.’

…yeah that doesn’t raise any red flags at all…

Now, what does the heretic-slapping, demon-chopping, brawling St. Nick do to this monster?

Well, much like our current president, St. Nick gives this monster a job.

By 1150, the butcher had a name: La Pere Fouttard. Pere either repents and requests to be St. Nick’s assistant, or is forced into the job as penance.

In this role, sometimes known as ‘Black Peter’, Pere carries a whip and a wicker basket. While St. Nick gives out the gifts to the good kids, Pere punishes the wicked children by beating them. For the ‘shockingly evil, extremely wicked, and vile’ kids, Pere throws them into his basket and takes them away forever.*

In other words, part of established Christmas lore, St. Nick takes a vicious child murderer and turns him into his supervillain sidekick. Enjoy adding that to the stories you tell the kiddos around the tree this year.

*Also that means over time ‘Black Peter’ became, like, ‘black’ Peter and now a LOT of European folks even today throw on, yes, blackface to play ‘Black Peter’.

Ted Bundy escapes jail—AGAIN

As some already know, Colorado is not great at keeping up with law enforcement during the holidays.

If there’s any place where holidays should be embraced and as many staff as possible given time off, it’s prisons filled with violent criminals.

Enter Ted ‘Shockingly Cute’ Bundy in the jail at Glenwood Springs, CO on December 30, 1977.

Naughty List for all eternity.

At this point, Bundy had murdered 18 women. Authorities did not know this.

But here’s what they did know:
○ He was on trial for kidnapping an 18 year old girl and the brutal bludgeoning murder of a young woman.
○ 30 detectives and prosecutors from 5 different states had met in Colorado to assess just how many women Ted Bundy had probably assaulted or killed.
○ He’d staged an escape just 6 months earlier from a courthouse, leaping from a 2nd story window, shattering his ankle, and still managing to stay a fugitive for 6 days.

These are key signs that maybe, just maybe, when this guy is in your jail, you get stingy with staff vacation time.

Here’s what the Glenwood Springs, CO jail staff somehow missed:
○ Bundy had a detailed floor plan of the jail.
○ He had a hacksaw blade.
○ His future wife (that is a whole ‘nother insane chronicle) had smuggled him $500 in cash.
○ He’d lost 35lbs.
○ There was already a hole in the ceiling of his cell from a light fixture that was just never put in. (seriously out of all the prisoners to assign to a cell with a HOLE IN IT…maybe NOT this guy in particular?!)
○ Prisoners had been complaining about hearing noises in the ceiling at night.

Dear reader, I trust you can do the math here. Lord knows the Glenwood Springs jail didn’t.

Bundy had even been skipping shower time to work on his escape tunnel, so the jailers couldn’t even literally catch on that something stank about all this.

On December 30th, Ted Bundy had all the pieces in place for his escape.

The jail had a skeleton crew going, the hole was reasonably big enough, he’d lost enough weight, he’d made multiple trial runs, and the people holding him were morons. That night, Bundy completed his prison escape. He followed his ceiling tunnel to the apartment of the chief jailer, who was out for the night. Bundy changed into some of the jailer’s clothes and literally walked out the front door.

He wasn’t discovered missing until 17 hours later.

During this fugitive run, Bundy would commit his final horrific assaults and murders in Florida, which would eventually lead to his capture and execution.

The Christmas Fitness Meltdown

In December of 1992 in somewhere-England (okay Hertfordshire, but no one reading this knows where that is), 25 year old fitness instructor Joanna Grenside hadn’t shown up for her evening class.

Her co-workers called the police after discovering Grenside’s car abandoned in the centre’s parking lot. After discovering Grenside’s rape alarm also abandoned, the local police believed that Joanna had been abducted.

They deployed all resources at their disposal. They set up an incident room and accrued 1800 man hours in just 36 hours of searching. They used dogs, a helicopter, even divers for an underwater recovery search. Because damn it, the people of Hertfordshire were going to find their jazzercise instructor at all cost.

Two days later, Joanna Grenside reappeared at her workplace. She was disheveled and claimed she had indeed been kidnapped. When police first questioned her, Grenside was so distraught that the interview ended quickly.

A horrific tragedy had befallen this young woman, the community of Hertfordshire, and jazzercise enthusiasts everywhere. But at least Joanna Grenside was home.

…but there was a problem, and it wasn’t that some aerobics-obsessed maniac was on the loose.

A former coworker of Grenside’s had faked her disappearance just a year earlier. And that was either the coincidence of the century or…ya know, not.

Under questioning, Grenside admitted that she hadn’t been abducted, she’d staged it. But not, as she claimed, for attention. The abduction story was to cover the true reason she’d taken off: to avoid Christmas treats. And being British, the onslaught of Christmas goodies was even greater than us Americans realize. Sure there were candy, cookies, and cakes. But there were yule logs, trifles, mince pies, and Christmas puddings (nothing says indulgence like beef fat and brandy sitting in a cake for 16 hours).

Grenside suffered an eating disorder, and that wasn’t getting better while wearing spandex every day. She claimed she was so overwhelmed by the festive sugar and carbs that she took off.

Surrounded by unrealistic, non-achievable body shapes…

Instead, Grenside had spent 2 days in London’s Heathrow Airport. And clearly this story took place in the 90s, when someone could just chill in a major airport for two days and noooooobody noticed or cared.

Well, while Grenside was lounging on absurdly uncomfortable airport seats, the police had racked up £20,387.87p in that intensive 36 hour search. I don’t speak from personal experience, but I suspect finding out you spent £20,000+ on a lie would make one a tad miffed.

But the justice system was in a tough spot. Grenside had wasted police time and money. She’d lied about being kidnapped and assaulted—which are horrific actions and do immense damage to real victims. She’d discarded her rape alarm, which indicates her lie was premeditated. But Grenside was genuinely mentally ill. And punishing her too harshly could dissuade real victims from coming forward in the future.

In the end, Joanna Grenside was given a year’s conditional discharge (probation in US terms) and had to pay a fine of £100. She’d already lost her job at the fitness center (perhaps ironically to an even thinner instructor) and started treatment for her eating disorder

A Kidnappers’ Christmas

50 years ago, real-estate heiress Barbara Jane Mackle had the worst Christmas break ever.

It was the winter of 1968 and everyone was catching Hong Kong fever—aka the Hong Kong flu. Emory University senior Barbara Mackle had gotten sick. Her mom had come up to drive her home, to Florida, for the Christmas holidays.

On the night of December 17, Barbara and her mom were staying in a Rodeway Inn in Decatur, Georgia. And believe it or not, the roadside motel and flu are just the start of Barbara’s bad night.

A policeman knocked on the motel room door and said that Barbara’s boyfriend had been in a car accident. And no, that message also wasn’t the worst part of the night.

Barbara and her mother let the ‘police officer’ into the room. As you can tell by the context clues: he wasn’t a police officer. And he wasn’t alone. The man and his female accomplice burst into the motel room, both armed. Barbara’s mother was bound and chloroformed. Barbara was forced into the back of a car and told she was being kidnapped for ransom.

And oh yeah, it gets even worse after this.

Barbara was driven to a prepared spot in a pine grove. There, she was brought to a fiber-reinforced box that was already half-buried in the earth. The box had two exterior air pipes, an air pump, a battery-powered lamp, a ventilation fan, a blanket, food, and water. All of that, in a 3 ft x 3 1/2 ft x 7 ft box.

Barbara was forced inside and had to hold a sign that said ‘KIDNAPPED’. The man snapped a polaroid of her.

And with that, the kidnappers buried her inside.

All this, and Barbara still had the fucking flu.

There better be Kleenex in there or this is about to get GROSS.

Soon, Barbara’s mother was found and the FBI was called.

The FBI agents anticipated a ransom call to come in at the Mackle’s estate in Miami. A call did come in, and it was a total mindfuck: the call told the Mackles to dig up a particular spot in their backyard. There, a glass beaker was found with a ransom note inside. Cue the orchestral ‘DUN DUN DUUUUN.’

Clearly, the kidnapping had been planned thoroughly. The note explained that Barbara was being held in a box in the ground somewhere, emphasizing that the air filter system would only last for a few days. Barbara would only be saved if the Mackles paid $500,000 ransom ($3.5 million in today’s money).

I have to say, researching this case, even I’m pretty impressed by these kidnappers. They could’ve run a hell of a ‘Criminal Schemes DIY’ blog.

A ransom drop was quickly arranged. But it was interrupted local, not in the loop, police who spotted a strange couple, including a man carrying a suitcase and a gun. Weirdly, they thought this suspicious. The police made chase and the kidnappers took off, abandoning the suitcase.

As it turned out, the suitcase wasn’t the only thing the kidnappers abandoned. Remember folks: always bring the getaway car with you. Otherwise you might leave a literal Volvo’s worth of evidence behind.

Inside the car there was: rope; ski masks; a key to the Rodeway Inn motel; the ‘KIDNAPPED’ polaroid of Barbara; and a giant neon sign that said ‘INCRIMINATING EVIDENCE AHOY.’

While the Volvo evidence was being processed, a second, successful ransom drop was pulled off.

On December 20, the male kidnapper gave vague directions to where Barbara was buried. More than 100 FBI agents searched patches of woods in rural Lawrenceville, Georgia. It was the worst Easter egg hunt ever—and totally out of season too. Fortunately, the air pipes for the makeshift coffin were spotted. The search team used their bare hands to dig Barbara Mackle out of 2 feet of earth.

Barbara was dehydrated, probably still had the flu, and had lost 10 lbs. But for 83 hours kidnapped in a coffin, she was doing fantastically. Heck, 1/3 of the days out of the year, I’m not doing that well.

Barbara kept things light—as an agent carried her to a car, she said, “You are the handsomest man I’ve ever seen.” And then I can only assume she started belting Lizzo or something equally badass.

Barbara had been found. Now for her kidnappers…

The FBI learned that the Volvo belonged to George Deacon, 23. But they couldn’t find many records about Deacon, except that he was a Sea World employee (always knew that place was evil) and that he worked on marine research expeditions at the University of Miami. Plus, Deacon was friends with Ruth Eisemann-Schier, a woman who matched the description of the female kidnapper.

Then the FBI learned the first twist: Deacon specialized in building aquariums, aka ventilated boxes. Apparently, he’d graduated from fish boxes to human boxes.

And then the FBI discovered the second twist: George Deacon was actually Gary Stephen Krist, who had escaped a California prison 2 years earlier.

By the age of 23 and during 2 years as a fugitive, Krist had become a University research assistant, gotten a job at SeaWorld, romanced an older woman into becoming his accomplice, and planned / executed the perfect crime. For most of us, the only thing we accomplished by 23 was getting tricked into tens of thousands of debt in exchange for a liberal arts degree.

The day after Barbara was found, Krist was caught on a speedboat in Florida. If you’re gonna go out, go out like Burt Reynolds I guess.

Eisemann-Schier managed to evade the police long enough to become the first woman ever on the 10 Most Wanted List (woooo feminism!). She was caught after 79 days on the run, spent 4 years in prison, and then was deported to Honduras.

Krist, being a fugitive and diabolical kidnapper, but also white, served 10 years. Then he got paroled so that he could go to medical school. Yep. You read that right. The guy who kidnaps a woman at gunpoint and forces her into a underground tank for 3+ days? Definitely has the makings of a great doctor.

But there is a good ending to this tale.

Barbara Mackle was subjected to a terror that usually literally only appears in horror movies. After 83 hours being treated like a mole rat, it’s a miracle she didn’t come out believing she was a mole rat.

Mackle has said that she did have moments of despair in that box, convinced she would die. Who hasn’t felt that way when they have the flu?

But Barbara said she held on to good Christmastime thoughts to get her through it. She sang Christmas carols out loud and off-key. She imagined decorating the family tree when she came home. She held on to the hope—the faith—that she was going to be rescued, that that Christmas would come.

And that Christmas did indeed come, as have many more. She is 71 years old. She married her college boyfriend, and went on to have 4 children. And I can only assume that when she passes on, she vehemently requests to be cremated.

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