12.28.11 9:45 AM ET
Criminal Santas: Grapevine Murders, Bank Robberies, More (Photos)
On Christmas morning in Grapevine, Texas, Aziz Yazdanpanah, dressed as Santa, showed up at his estranged wife’s apartment and opened fire, killing five family members and himself. The tragedy isn’t the first time a man dressed as Santa killed his family, and far from the first time someone dressed as Santa committed a crime. Whether it’s the availability of a ready-made disguise or the stress of the holidays, it seems every year someone puts on the beard and hat to commit crimes either awful, like the Grapevine shooting, or bizarre, like handing out ecstasy-spiked drinks in Berlin.
This year’s Texas shooting is reminiscent of another family massacre three years ago, in Covina, Calif. On Christmas Eve 2008, Bruce Pardo strapped $17,000 in cash and five pistols underneath his Santa suit, picked up a gift-wrapped fuel tank, and drove to his ex-wife’s house, where he shot and killed nine people. He had a getaway vehicle stocked with food and maps of Mexico, but he accidentally set off an explosion while dousing the house in fuel and, badly burned, he drove to his brother’s house and shot himself.
The beard, hat, and sack make Santa costumes and obvious choice for bank robbers. This year a man in a Santa hat robbed a bank in Encinitas, Calif. giving the teller a note that read, “My kid is dying and I can’t afford to pay I’m scared and have a gun please no GPS or red dye.” In 2009 a man in a Santa suit robbed the SunTrust bank in Hermitage, Tenn. That Santa told tellers he needed the money to “pay his elves.” He was killed on St. Patrick’s Day the next year, while robbing another bank, dressed as a leprechaun. In 2003 a bearded man in a fur-lined red suit robbed a bank outside Pittsburgh, fleeing in a tan car with a sack full of cash.
Cisco, Texas, 1927
One of the most famous bank robberies in Texas was conducted by a man in a Santa suit. On Dec. 23, 1927, Marshall Ratliff, wearing a Santa suit, held up the First National Bank in Cisco, along with three other armed men. As police and armed citizens gathered outside the bank, the robbers ended up taking two small girls hostage and shooting their way out, fleeing in their stolen getaway car. But the car ran out of gas, and they abandoned it, along with a wounded comrade and—accidentally—their loot. They fled on foot and by hijacked cars, with a large posse in pursuit, assisted by an airplane. After another car chase, and another shootout, Ratliff was shot and arrested, and the two surviving robbers ran into the woods, where they hid for several days before surrendering to police. One was executed and the other was imprisoned until the 1940s, though he escaped three times. Ratliff was sentenced to 99 years, but angry citizens broke into the jail and lynched him on a power pole.
The Berlin Poisoner
Berlin police are searching for a middle-aged man who’s been stalking the city’s Christmas markets, dressed as Santa and handing out drinks laced with liquid ecstasy. Police say 13 people have reported nausea, vomiting, and memory loss after accepting drinks from the suspect. A 21-year-old man told the newspaper Bild that the suspect offered him a vodka energy drink. The victim joked that he hoped he wasn’t going to get poisoned, took a couple sips, became nauseated, and vomited.
Assault and robbery
Santa robberies are common enough that a Vancouver bartender was immediately suspicious when two Santas came into his bar. “These were not the finest Santa suits,” said the bartender at the Rusty Gull. “Running shoes, one leg torn, tied at the back. It’s the perfect robbery disguise this time of year.” After standing around for five minutes, the men left, punching a patron unconscious on their way out. In Birmingham, England, this year, a man dressed as Santa punched his way into a woman’s house and demanded gold. When her father came home, the Santa punched him in the face and fled.
Armed and dangerous
Somewhere in Washington State today, there’s a well-armed Santa: two men, one wearing a Santa hat, broke into a sporting good store in Fife, Wash., and made off with 44 handguns. On Christmas Eve in Stockholm, two men dressed as Santa overpowered a guard at the royal castle and ran off with his loaded assault rifle.
Santa Con, the annual costumed pub crawl, has a history of devolving into drunken disorder. Last year in Dayton, Fla., police were called in to deal with nearly a hundred drunken Santas who had descended on the mall. “Cops were everywhere. Santas were running everywhere with their hats. It was, yeah, one of the most craziest things I’ve ever seen in my life,” said a witness. This year a drunk Santa hopped into a taxi in Hoboken already occupied by two other women. When one of the women reprimanded him, the man called her a “whore,” to which she responded by grabbing his hat and throwing it out the window. The man then grabbed the woman’s purse, opened the cab door, and tried to walk away, dragging the woman along the ground. She lost her grip and her friend grabbed the purse and was dragged along the ground. Eventually she, too, lost her grip, and the Santa flung the purse over a fence.