A Crypt-mas Carol, as told by Poe
Edgar Allan Poe isn’t someone normally associated with Christmas.
But no worries, horror fans! There are completely legitimate excuses you can use to drag Edgar Allan Poe down to Christmas dinner with glee and much to the irritation of relatives.
Poe wrote a Christmas poem that was considered a ‘tour de force’ in its day, The Bells. The poem starts out with the same sorts of fawning over sleigh bells and silver bells, but then builds to some seriously METAL prose for the jingly little instruments:
“What tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!
In the startled ear of night
How they scream out their affright!
Too much horrified to speak,
They can only shriek, shriek,
Out of tune,
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the fire
They are neither man nor woman—
They are neither brute nor human—
They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls”
Now you may be saying, “Yeah, okay, Intrepid Host, thanks for the new grim poem I have an excuse to read by the fire. Trochaic tetrameter is exactly what I wanted for Christmas this year, Awesome. But I was promised Christmas Crimes, not Christmas Rhymes.”
Not a problem, intrepid reader! Because there is another, murder-related reason you can associate ol’ Edgar with mistletoe and reindeer.
In 1846, Poe’s classic, ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ was published. A classic tale of revenge where guy meets guy, guy hates guy, guy tricks guy into playing sommelier in the catacombs, guy bricks-and-mortars guy in a homemade tomb.
A tale too horrific to be anything but fiction! Right? Right guys?
Well let’s freeze frame and go back to Christmas Day, 1817 at Fort Independence in Massachusetts. Lieutenant Robert Massie and Lieutenant Gustavus Drane had an argument over a card game. Like reasonable chaps, they decided to settle this with a sword dual to the death on Jesus’s Birthday. Gustavus Drane, wielding better swordsmanship and the more impressive name, killed Robert Massie.
Drane was court-martialed, but acquitted of the murder because ‘boys will be boys’ or some such.
But the other soldiers at the fort weren’t so forgiving. Instead, they got Drane drunk (haha, that sounds funny) and brought him into one of the fort dungeons. There, they chained him in alcove and walled him up inside.
…but in truth, half of that story never happened. Drane did get acquitted, just kept on his merry way, and somehow that’s a bit worse than the fake story of him being entombed alive.
Poe would’ve heard this legend when he was stationed at Fort Independence as a young soldier just ten years later. It likely served as a major inspiration for ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ twenty years after that. And eerily, Gustavus Drane died in 1846—the same year the short story was published.
A Merry Mobster Massacre
In 1925, organized crime had blossomed under Prohibition. The Brooklyn waterfront was hotly contested between the Italian-American and the Irish-American gangs. Thus far, the Irish had held the valuable territory.
The leader of the Irish gangs was Richard Lonergan, better known as ‘Peg Leg’. Yes, you read that right. I don’t know about you guys, but when I hear about an Irish gangster with a pirate name, I am All. In.
Lonergan got his nickname when he lost a leg in a childhood trolley car accident, yet another victim of the wild experiments of Ethics 101 classes. Lonergan was raised in a household of 15 children (insert obvious cliché Irish stereotype joke here) by a formidable set of parents. His father was a boxing prize fighter who abused his household. His mother was Anna Lonergan, known as the “Queen of the Irishtown docks.” And Anna was enough of a badass to have murdered her prizefighting bastard of a husband and gotten away with it.
By 25, Lonergan was believed to have racked up between 12-20 murders. Meanwhile, battles with the Italians had thinned the Irish ‘White Head Gang’s herd to the point that Lonergan became leader.
Peg Leg took the name ‘White Hand Gang’ very seriously—and by that I mean he was an absurd racist, even by 1920s standards.
Peg Leg would prowl dive bars and saloons going, as he called it, ‘ginzo hunting’ to attack Italians.
On December 25, 1925 there was a Christmas celebration at the Adonis Social Club. The club had been created after WWI as a place of comradery for Italian-American and Irish-American veterans. It was an establishment created in the spirit of generosity and optimism that tends to get people killed.
Lonergan and five of his crew showed up to the party, full of drink and bigotry (not all that dissimilar to Christmas gatherings some of us are subjected to). Lonergan, spouting off slurs usually reserved for only the drunkest and oldest of asshole uncles, was particularly irate that night. When some local Irishtown girls showed up with Italian dates, Lonergan lost it like a reddit troll. He yelled “Come back with white men!”
Ah the weird old days when white folks were so racist, they were racist against other white people.
This was when the Italian gang members at the Adonis lost their patience with Peg Leg’s shenanigans. The lights went out and guns went off.
Police later found shattered glass and spattered blood throughout the hall, with banners reading ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy New Year’ still jauntily hanging overhead. There they found a collection of bodies with Dick Tracy-esque nicknames. “Needles” Ferry, “Ragtime Joe” Howard, “Happy” Maloney, and, of course, “Peg Leg” Lonergan had all been murdered in the hall.
No Italian-American deaths were reported—indicating that this wasn’t just a heated explosion of gunfire, but a planned ambush that Lonergan’s asshattery had merely encouraged.
In the aftermath, Peg Leg’s mother Anna, still a badass but also definitely the source of her son’s thesaurus of slurs, publicly derided ‘foreigners’ for the Adonis shooting.
Seven Italian-American gang members were arrested but never charged for the murders. Among them was Al Mother-fucking Capone. Capone had been visiting the area to see family for the holidays and look after his son, who had a surgical operation (aka the worst Christmas present ever). Capone was also a trusted member of the Fankie Yale crime family, who really liked that Brooklyn waterfront and really didn’t like people who went ‘ginzo hunting.’
In his memoir, Capone said this of the night:
“We all run out behind the club where our heap is waiting, and Yale’s boys is whooping like wolves as we pull away. We don’t pass a single gong-mobile, and I tell them to lose my gat and drop me at the hospital.”
…And I will give a cookie to anyone who knows what any of that means.
The death of Lonergan practically eliminated all presence of the Irish mob in New York and cleared the way for the Italian families to seize control of the waterfront.
So let that be a lesson kids: don’t be racist. Especially not to Al Capone.
The Fatal Fowl
On Christmas Day 2012, a special turkey lunch was served at the Railway Hotel and pub in Hornchurch (yes, this is in the UK how could you tell?). 128 folks showed up, ate their fill, and went home…
…and found out that along with turkey and peas, they’d been fed Clostridium perfringens. That’s a bacteria that causes horrid food poisoning, and can even cause necrosis of the intestines. YUMMY.
33 people from the lunch got sick and one, mother Della Callagher, died just two days after getting sick.
The turkey was suspected to be the source of food poisoning. It had been cooked the day before, refrigerated, and then reheated. Either it hadn’t been cooked right the first time, or it hadn’t been reheated right the next day. Either way, guests were charged £39.95 for a reheated turkey lunch—truly, a criminal act on its own.
The investigators wanted to examine the turkey but—whoopsie!—the manager (Ann-Marie McSweeney) and head chef (Mehmet Kaya) threw it all out before samples could be taken!
Then the investigators, Nosey Nellies that they were, wanted to see the pub’s food inspection logs. Where were McSweeney and Kaya going to come up with weeks of food safety records? It wasn’t like they ever checked or wrote down that stuff.
Clearly, the solution was just to fake tons and tons of food safety logs. Brilliant. Problem solved.
Except, would you believe it, the investigators attempted to verify what the logs said.
There were some notable discrepancies.
For example, the chef, Kaya, said that he had checked the Christmas turkey’s temp and placed it in a fridge at 8pm the night before. But CCTV footage showed he’d left the restaurant 4 hours earlier.
And the manager, McSweeney, said she’d thoroughly examined and logged the meat’s temperature during her shift. But CCTV showed that she didn’t leave her position at front of house at any point during her shift.
Maybe Kaya and McSweeney had nefarious doppelgangers?
So after all these shenanigans, McSweeney and Kaya were criminally charged.
McSweeney’s lawyer described her as ‘at all times very sorry’ for what happened. Of course if McSweeney had been sorry at ‘all times’, that would have to include all the times she masterminded a grand coverup of forged papers.
The attorney continued to stick his foot all the way down into his digestive tract by also describing McSweeney’s loss of her job, career, and home (she lived at the Inn) as “It’s sad that someone of her capabilities should be laid so low.”
Truly, as long as she wasn’t being laid low in a grave, Ms. McSweeney was doing much better than her victim.
Using such strong language (in British terms) as ‘grossly mismanaged’ and ‘manifestly inadequate’, the court found McSweeney and Kaya guilty of ‘perverting justice’ (SO British, SO kinky) and sentenced them to 18 months and 12 months respectively in prison.
The chain that owned the restaurant, Mitchells & Butlers, was also criminally charged. And here is why they can suck Krampus’s spiny cock:
○ 7 of the chain’s other restaurants were found to not be following food safety laws. Apparently Mitchells & Butlers mistook food safety codes for pirate codes and were therefore “more whatchya call guidelines.”
○ And a month before Della Callagher was killed by their food, the company sent out an email saying they knew staff weren’t following safe meat cooking procedures. Gotta wonder if that email ended with a ‘Keep up the good work!’ sign-off.
Mitchells & Butlers were fined £1.5m for placing unsafe food on the market.
And after researching all this, I’m becoming a Christmas Vegetarian.
The Worst Santa
It was Christmas Eve, 2008 in Covina, CA.
Bruce Pardo had had a rough year. He’d lost his job, his wife, even his dog. And it was 100% his fault.
In 2006, Pardo had been a newlywed with his wife, Sylvia. By 2008, the marriage had dissolved.
Pardo had ‘issues’ with money (and women). He wouldn’t open a joint account with his wife. While Sylvia had 3 children from prior relationships and made just ¼ of what Pardo made annually ($31,000 / yr vs. $122,000 / yr), Pardo refused to financially help with raising the children.
In addition, Sylvia may have discovered that Pardo was even worse with finances and children. In 1999, Pardo had had a son with another woman. In 2001, Pardo was watching the boy, Matthew, alone. Matthew fell into the home swimming pool and suffered severe brain damage. From then on, Pardo was out of his son’s life. The child’s mother had to sue him to get any money for her son’s medical care. The most she got out of him was a one-time $36,000 payment in a trust. And in the meantime, Pardo had been claiming Matthew as a ‘dependent’ on his taxes. What a dickbag.
In July 2008, in the midst of divorce proceedings, Pardo lost his electrical engineer job with ITT Electronic Systems. It had been discovered that he’d been billing for hours he’d never worked—a bit of a ‘no no’, especially with military defense contracts. Pardo was fired and, because he’d committed fraud, he didn’t qualify for unemployment.
At this development, Pardo tried to cry poverty in divorce court. He even demanded that it be his wife, with her $31,000 job that pay him alimony. Much to the chagrin of MRA assholes everywhere, life and court don’t work like that. The alimony payments were suspended while Pardo sought work.
In the end, by December 2008 the divorce ended under simple terms: Pardo got to keep the house (which had a mortgage he couldn’t afford without a job), but he would have to pay $10,000 to Sylvia, and let her keep their dog, Saki.
Even Pardo’s mother thought he was being a jackass. She accepted an invite to Pardo’s former in-laws’ Christmas party on the 24th.
And Bruce Pardo thought things over. And he decided he was going to attend that Christmas party too.
Really, Bruce Pardo decided to act out a special holiday-themed Grand Theft Auto revenge fantasy.
At 11:30pm, Pardo showed up at the home of the Ortegas, Sylvia’s parents. Inside there were 25 family members, including Sylvia and her children, enjoying the annual holiday shindig.
An annual tradition was for a neighbor to come over dressed as Santa.
Thus, Pardo had arrived in a Santa suit. … with four semi-automatic handguns and a different special treat to be revealed later.
He knocked on the door and, not recognized by the family member that opened the door, was let inside.
Katrina Yuzefpolsky was 8 years old and had been Pardo’s niece. She jumped up and ran toward the Santa who had entered the party.
Pardo decided to begin assuring his seat in Hell by shooting Katrina in the face. (SHE SURVIVED)
Then, Pardo started firing at partygoers. After shooting for a few moments, Pardo brought out his special package. Somehow, this crazy bastard had decided to make a homemade flamethrower for the occasion. He started to spray down the house and ignite it.
Family members fled the house, but not everyone managed to escape. Pardo claimed 9 victims in the shooting and arson. He murdered his ex-wife, her parents, her two brothers and their wives, her sister, and her nephew. As a result of the massacre, 13 children became orphans in a single Christmas Eve.
Pardo’s mother was never at the Christmas party, but hadn’t felt well and stayed home.
It is little comfort, but Bruce Pardo did not live much longer than his victims. After committing the murders and setting the house ablaze, Pardo got into a rental car he’d driven to the scene and drove to his brother’s house.
Pardo had a plan. He had bought a plane ticket for an Air Canada flight scheduled the next day, but not for a flight that would actually go to Canada. The ticket may have been a ruse to throw off police. He had strapped $17,000 to his body throughout the attack. He’d boobytrapped his rental car with a goddamn pipebomb, possibly another distraction for police. His likely actual getaway car was a different rental car filled with maps, fuel, and computers. That car, he’d parked in front of the home of his ex-wife’s divorce attorney. Likely, Pardo’s plan was to murder the attorney, get in the car, and drive off while everyone else was still scrambling to figure out what had happened and where he was.
But Pardo had a problem (aside from being a monster).
Pardo had injured himself while wielding his homemade flamethrower, severely burning his arm and hand. Part of the Santa suit had even melted into his skin. Part of that sounds like ol’ Kris Kringle Karma to me.
Either that pain, the problems it would cause for a successful escape, or maybe even the guilt caused Pardo to give up. Alone in his brother’s home, Pardo shot himself. His brother returned home at 3am from a party, found the body, and called the police.
That was when police put together the dead man with the burning home and murder victims 30 miles away.
Bruce Pardo had committed such violent hate while disguised as a figure full of love.
There is a little hope to the story, at least.
Katrina Yuzefpolsky survived being shot in the face by Bruce Pardo. Her side of the Ortega family escaped the massacre. A cousin of Katrina’s was not so lucky, but has now been adopted as a sibling.
Katrina is 17, and has become an advocate for changing firearm laws. Pardo lawfully obtained over 500 rounds of ammunition and literal boxes of semiautomatic weapons before massacring her family. She joined protests last year in the wake of the Parkland school shooting.
This is supposed to be a snarky blog, and with stories like this, that can be hard. Because this story is very real—it did not take place decades ago, it isn’t very wacky, it involves the very real threat of domestic violence, the very real terror of how easy it can be for someone to commit mass murder in the US.
Horror doesn’t mean anything if you don’t let yourself feel its opposite—hope. And I can’t find a better portrait of hope than a little girl who literally stared death in the face, survived, and went on to become an advocate for better things.
So with this last entry in our Christmas crimes series, hold on to that hope out there. Have a safe holiday, and a cheerful New Year.