The Best Science Photos of 2017

Post 8632

The Best Science Photos of 2017

Science is stunning

The year was full of exciting, jaw-dropping photos related to science. From adorable animals — like a 4-month-old gorilla and a pair of nuzzling orange-beaked puffins — to stunning pictures of our amazing planet, long-extinct creatures like the world’s largest shark, here are the science photos that stood out in 2017.

Plankton Light Up

Otherworldly blue light dances in Three Cliffs Bay near Swansea, Wales in a gorgeous image taken June 18. Landscape photographer Alyn Wallace captured this view under a star-spangled sky. The blue is created by bioluminescent plankton, which sparkle when disturbed by currents or splashes. [Shimmering Sea: Why a Beautiful Blue Glow Lit Up the Coast of Wales]

Cyclone Licks the Coast

Like a tentative cat, a July cyclone reaches out to taste the coast of Portugal in this satellite image released by NASA. A low-pressure system pulled coastal moisture from over the ocean toward the warm, dry atmosphere of the Iberian Peninsula. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured the swirling clouds. [Cyclone ‘Licks’ Portugal Coast in Gorgeous Space Image]

Deadly Beauty

“Blue Lasso,” by Matty Smith, won the 2017 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition’s “Best in Show” prize for its stark depiction of a Pacific man-of-war photographed against a night sky in New South Wales, Australia. Man-of-Wars are colonial animals made up of four separate types of polyps, which are all unique organisms of their own that function together as a single creature. [Dramatic Man-of-War Takes Top Ocean Art Photography Prize]

Teeth in the Deep

The ocean’s horrors come to life in this artist’s impression of a megalodon on the hunt. The largest shark that ever lived went extinct about 2.5 million years ago, and a study published in the journal Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecologysuggested that the reason had to do with a lack of prey for these gigantic beasts. []

Puffin Love

A pair of orange-beaked puffins nuzzle in this moody black-and-white image. A study released in April found that orange-beaked puffins, which form long-term monogamous relationships, stick close together during their annual winter migrations, a strategy that probably allows them to coordinate their return to the breeding colony in Wales each spring. [Puffin Couples Stay Close During ‘Winter Break’]
A pyrocumulus cloud created by the Thomas Fire looms over Santa Barbara.

Credit: Greg Vitalich

On Sunday (Dec.10), a massive gray cloud formed over Southern California’s Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, filling the sky with dark towers of smoke and shocking onlookers for miles around. The ominous cloud looked like an ash column from a volcanic eruption, but the culprit was a wildfire.

The cloud, created by the ongoing Thomas Fire that has scorched more than 230,500 acres (93,280 hectares) of Southern California, is an example of a pyrocumulus cloud — literally, a puffy cumulus cloud formed by the hot air and smoke released into the sky during wildfires and volcanic eruptions. [Wildfires Blaze in Northern California (Photos)]

“Pyrocumulus clouds form when wildfires burn hot enough to generate very strong upward motion, which we call updrafts,” said Nick Nauslar, a research scientist for the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies/Storm Prediction Center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

These clouds tend to be gray, brown or black because of the smoke in the air, and can tower up to 5 miles (8 kilometers) high, according to NASA. But besides being terrifying, pyrocumulus clouds can develop dangerous weather systems of their own, and potentially lead to more and harder-to-tame wildfires, Nauslar told Live Science.

Walking Polymer

A ‘walking’ polymer inches like a caterpillar in a time-lapse image released in June. This polymer is made of light-activated materials and inches along when exposed to a light source. It can even carry small objects (small grains of sand) or push items larger than itself uphill. [Light Makes New Material Creep Like a Caterpillar]
Jaw-Dropping Vision Helps Tiny Flies Snag Prey in Under a Second

Robber Fly

What big eyes you have! This robber fly is a mere 6 millimeters in length, but its huge, faceted eyes give it some of the best vision among insects, researchers reported in March. Using their keen eyesight, the flies can capture prey as far as 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) away. [Jaw-Dropping Vision Helps Tiny Flies Snag Prey in Under a Second]
Incredible Image of Bubble-Blowing Wasp Has a Scientific Explanation

Water Droplet Wasp

A wasp seems to play ball with a water droplet in this macro image released in October. What the insect is actually doing is sucking up excess water from its nest and flicking it away. [Incredible Image of Bubble-Blowing Wasp Has a Scientific Explanation]
Satellite images showed significant damage to Palmyra’s Tetrapylon and Roman theater in January 2017.

Credit: ASOR and DigitalGlobe

A month after retaking control of Palmyra, the Islamic State group (also called ISIS or Daesh) has allegedly committed new destruction and executions in the ancient Syrian city.

Two of Palmyra’s iconic monuments, the Tetrapylon and the Roman theater, have experienced  “significant damage,” according to the Cultural Heritage Initiatives (CHI) of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), which obtained new satellite images of the site from DigitalGlobe.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights alleges that ISIS is again using the archaeological site for mass executions, killing a group of 12 prisoners on Jan. 19. [See Photos of the Destruction to the Tetrapylon and Theater in Palmyra]

“One might interpret these destructions and the recent executions of prisoners, including civilians, at Palmyra as designed by Daesh to develop propaganda,” said Michael Danti, a Boston University archaeologist and academic director of ASOR CHI. “We are braced for a possible release of video footage by Daesh.”

The new reports are reminiscent of the Islamic State group’s previous occupation of the site, from May 2015 to March 2016. During that period, ISIS militants executed prisoners in the Roman theater and hung the body of archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, Palmyra’s longtime head of antiquities, from a column at the site. The group also blew up Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph and destroyed several other monuments, statues and funerary towers at the UNESCO World Heritage site.

“This destruction is a new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity,” UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said in a statement. “This new blow against cultural heritage, just a few hours after UNESCO received reports about mass executions in the theater, shows that cultural cleansing led by violent extremists is seeking to destroy both human lives and historical monuments in order to deprive the Syrian people of its past and its future.”

Satellite images showed that this Roman monument called a tetrapylon in Palmyra has been badly damaged.

Credit: nikidel /

Danti told Live Science that ISIS has not been very active lately in staged or deliberate destructions of heritage sites as they battle to keep control of territory in Syria and Iraq. The group has, however, vandalized cultural sites and infrastructure as they withdraw or retreat from some areas, Danti said.

“For example, as they pulled out of the campus of Mosul University, they burned campus buildings,” Danti said. (In 2015, ISIS also released a video showing militants ransacking the Mosul Museum in northern Iraq.)

“It all adds up to a massive cultural heritage and educational crisis for Syria and Iraq that will require large-scale, concerted action from the international community as one part of a massive humanitarian relief program,” Danti added.

The latest damage to monuments at Palmyra took place sometime between Dec. 26, 2016, and Jan. 10, 2017, according to ASOR CHI. (TheSyrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums said that locals had informed them about the destruction at Palmyra at least a week ago.)

The Tetrapylon was built to make Palmyra’s main street look more harmonious, as it lies at a point where the route changes direction, according to ASOR CHI. This structure has four large platforms, each supporting four massive columns. The latest satellite images show that now just two columns remain standing, and debris is scattered around the structure. ASOR CHI says this monument seems to have been intentionally destroyed using explosives.

The satellite images also show that the Roman theater, which dates back to the second century A.D., has sustained damage to its stage backdrop and new stone debris appears to be scattered across the center of the stage.

Since war broke out in Syria in 2011, archaeologists have been turning to satellite data to monitor destruction and looting of the region’s heritage sites, which include prehistoric mounds, Roman outposts and the ruins of Assyrian, Persian and Akkadian empires.

Original article on Live Science.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About The First Christmas

Post 8631

10 Things You Didn’t Know About The First Christmas


‘Tis the season that carolers sing, decorations are hung, Nativity scenes are set up, and Christmas cards begin flooding our mailboxes, each with a different scene from “The First Noel.” You might be shocked, however, to discover that many of the details you’ve come to believe about history’s first Christmas are completely inaccurate. The Christmas carols and card companies have it all wrong. To put you in a festive mood (as well as to correct a few historical misunderstandings) here are ten things you probably didn’t know about the first Christmas.

10It Didn’t Happen In December

Israeli Sheep
Jesus probably wasn’t born on December 25. In fact, He probably wasn’t born in December at all. The Bible mentions shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in the fields. December in Israel would have been cold; the fields would have been unproductive, and the sheep were probably corralled. Shepherds usually kept their flocks in the fields during the spring lambing season.

So how did Christmas come to be associated with December 25? The earliest recorded estimates dating the birth of Christ come from Clement of Alexandria (circa AD 200). He mentioned different groups who identified the date of Jesus’s birth as March 21, April 15, April 21, or May 20. The first mention of December 25 as Jesus’s birthday wasn’t until the mid–fourth century, when a Roman almanac listed December 25 as natus Christus in Betleem Judeae, or, “Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”

A popular theory about the origin of Christmas is that early Christians stole the date from a Roman Sun festival, which was held in late December. It’s suggested that this was a deliberate attempt to spread Christmas and Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. This theory has numerous problems, though, as early Christian writers such as Irenaeus and Tertullian make no mention of this, and Origen of Alexandria openly mocks Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries. It has been proposed that December 25, a time of pagan feasts, wasn’t deliberately chosen until the 12th century. While this theory popular on social media, scholars today recognize serious problems with it.

The question remains: Why December 25? Tertullian recorded a calculation that date of Jesus’s birth was March 25. This was later celebrated as a feast commemorating Jesus’s conception, as opposed to His birth. Further, it was suggested that Jesus died on March 25, which led to the belief that He was conceived and crucified on the same day of the year. December 25 is obviously nine months after March 25, so it was taken as Jesus’s birthday.

The truth is that December 25 came from celebrations in the early Church, not from pagan celebrations. Many scholars today believe that Jesus wasn’t even born in December.

9There Wasn’t An Inn

Old Israeli Building
We’ve all heard the story about there being “no room at the inn.” Indeed, this is what our English Bibles say. But in the original Greek (the language in which the New Testament was written), the word kataluma, translated as “inn,” doesn’t necessarily mean a motel. It’s only used a few times in the Bible, and elsewhere, it means “upper room” or “guest room.” The famous Last Supper took place in a kataluma. In fact, there’s a different Greek word for “inn” that does mean a motel or paid lodging, but it isn’t used, though the same gospel writer uses it in the story of the Good Samaritan a few chapters later.

First-century homes often had a main room on the ground floor, where the family lived, and an “upper room” or “guest room,” where people who needed lodging could stay. It was a great shame in the Middle East to refuse hospitality to someone in need. There is a good chance that if there was no room in the “guest room,” it’s because it was already occupied.

This changes the whole story we’ve come to celebrate. Rather than arriving in Bethlehem only to find the local motel with no vacancy, Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem and sought lodging at a family member’s house. This would be a natural thing to do in Middle Eastern culture. Because people were returning to their ancestral homes for the census, other family members had already arrived and were occupying the guest room.

So where did Mary and Joseph stay?

8There Wasn’t A Stable

There’s no mention of a stable in the Bible’s stories of the first Christmas. A stable is assumed because we’re told that they “laid him in a manger.” (A manger is an animal’s feeding trough.) If there was a manger, it must have been in a stable (or perhaps a cave) where the animals stayed, right? Probably not.

As previously mentioned, there’s a good chance that Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown, and sought lodging at a family member’s house. The guest room was full, but it would have been a great shame to turn away someone in need, especially a relative with a pregnant wife. Many families had mangers inside their homes, where young animals would be safe and warm. Some of them were built into the floor of the of peasant homes or occupied a small room on the main floor.

Since the guest room was full, Mary and Joseph were likely offered the manger, and it was there that the mother of Jesus gave birth. Rather than being turned away by a crusty old innkeeper and given lodging in a dirty barn, Mary and Joseph were probably in a relative’s home, surrounded by loved ones, when Jesus was born and laid in a manger.

7Mary Didn’t Give Birth The Night She Arrived

In our Western reading of the Christmas story, we get the impression that Mary and Joseph made it to Bethlehem just in a nick of time and that Mary gave birth that very night. The truth is probably far less dramatic.

The actual account of the first Christmas reads, “And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son.” The phrase “that her days were accomplished” is linked to “when they were there.” This implies that they had been there for a period of time before she gave birth.

Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, a Roman census wasn’t completed in a day. There would have had to have been time for all members of a family to travel the distance required for them to return to their ancestral homes to be counted. There would have been lines and waiting, not unlike our present-day elections. The reality is that Mary and Joseph were likely in Bethlehem for an extended period of time, both before and after she gave birth.

6The Wise Men Didn’t Arrive The Night Jesus Was Born

The three wise men are a staple in almost every Nativity scene, each carrying a gift for the newborn king. Standing beside the shepherds, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, they complete the story of the first Christmas. Or do they?

The Biblical account says, “And entering into the house, they found the childwith Mary his mother.” Notice two things about this statement: First, the wise men found the family in a house, not a stable. Quite possibly, they were still living with their family in Bethlehem at the time or in a house that they had since rented. Second, they found a “child.” The Greek word used ispaidion, which means “toddler,” not brephos, or “baby,” as in Luke 2:16.

It’s also worth noting that after the wise men deceived King Herod by returning a different way, he had all of the children in the vicinity who were two years old and younger slaughtered. These facts point to Jesus being a toddler and the wise men having visited him one or two years after his birth.

5The Shepherds Didn’t Follow The Star

Many think of the shepherds as old men cradling lambs and standing in a stable with the star shining above, having just heard the angels sing. Many believe that the shepherds followed the star to find the baby in a manger. This is but another traditional myth that has come to be associated with the first Christmas.

The misconception developed by the blending of two separate stories (the shepherds and the wise men) which occurred at different times. There probably wasn’t a star hanging over Bethlehem the night Jesus was born, as it didn’t lead the wise men there for two years. The shepherds were said to have been directed by the angel to find the child by following two signs: “You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.” Using these two clues, the shepherds went in search of the newborn king.

How would the shepherds found a newborn baby in a town the size of Bethlehem? The answer is surprisingly simple. Much like today, births in the first century were a big deal. If Mary gave birth in the home of one of Joseph’s relatives, surrounded by family, the house would have been filled with much rejoicing. The shepherds were no doubt guided by the infant’s cries and happy sounds of celebration.

4There Weren’t Three Wise Men

More Than Three Wise Men
We’ve come to know them as Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, the three wise men from the East who supposedly traveled by camel following the star. But were there really only three of them? In truth, these three names weren’t added to the story until the seventh century in the earliest Latin records.

Three gifts are mentioned in the Christmas story: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Nowhere is the number of wise men recorded. It’s assumed that each wise man brought a gift, and thus, there must have been three wise men. In reality, there may have been more who came to worship the baby.

Early Christian art is inconsistent as to the number of wise men. A painting in the cemetery of Saints Peter and Marcellinus displays two wise men, while one in the cemetery of Domitilla shows four. A vase in the Kircher Museum has eight wise men, and Asian tradition says there were twelve. The truth is that the number of wise men who visited the infant king simply isn’t known, and there is no compelling reason, aside from the number of gifts, to believe that there were three.

3The Wise Men Weren’t Kings

Educated Biblical Man
“We three kings of orient” is sung each Christmas to celebrate the journey of the wise men. Were they really kings?

The Greek word used in Matthew 2:1 is magos. The word is primarily used to denote a member of a group of priests or wise men among the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians. They were educated men, whose study included astronomy, astrology, and enchantment. It is sometimes translated as “wise man,” sometimes as “magician.” The Greek translation of the Old Testament uses the same word in the book of Daniel, where it describes that Daniel was made the “chief of the magicians.”

This fits well with the Christmas story, where we’re told that the wise men “saw his star in the east” and came to worship the baby. Magoi studied the stars and saw meaning in the celestial object that dominated the night sky at that time. Rather than being kings, it seems more likely that the wise men were educated astronomers from the East.

2Mary And Joseph Were Married When Jesus Was Born

Mary and Joseph
Part of the scandal surrounding the birth of Jesus was undoubtedly the claim of Mary’s immaculate conception. It was this that even led Joseph to initially decide to quietly divorce her, rather than have her stoned to death for adultery as the law said. Here was an unwed mother, pregnant in a first-century religious community.

However, it’s not quite as cut and dry as that. Joseph and Mary were “betrothed,” or engaged, when they find out that Mary was pregnant. It’s likely that they had signed a Jewish engagement contract called a ketubbah. This was much more legally binding than our modern engagements and could only be broken by a divorce.

Furthermore, after seeing a vision of an angel in a dream, Joseph got up “and took unto him his wife.” So, in view of the average Jewish person in the first century, they were technically married, although they hadn’t consummated their marriage.

1The Christmas Star May Have Been A Planetary Conjunction

Bright Planet
There are a number of fascinating features about the star that guided the wise men. It is said to have risen “in the east,” to have “appeared” at a specific time, to have gone “before them,” and to have “stopped” over Bethlehem.

Taken together, these characteristics cannot possibly describe a star, but they do describe planets, known as “wandering stars” to the ancients. They rise in the eastern sky, travel through the fixed field of stars, and are governed by the planetary laws of motion, which make them appear at certain times and not others. Moreover, they can even appear to stop when they enter their retrograde motion phase.

There is evidence that Herod the Great died in 1 BC, not 4 BC as previously thought. During the fall of 2 BC, an amazing planetary conjunction between Jupiter and the star Regulus would have resulted in one of the brightest objects that people at that time had ever seen. It’s interesting to note that Jupiter is named after the greatest god of Roman mythology, and Regulus means “regal” or “kingly.” This symbolism would not have been lost on the magi (aka astronomers) who decided to follow it.

By running computer simulations, we can discover the exact day that Jupiter went into its retrograde motion and appeared to stop. That day wasDecember 25, 2 BC. To the wise men gazing at Jupiter from Jerusalem, it would have appeared to be over the little town of Bethlehem. So, December 25 may not have been the day Jesus was born, but rather the day that the wise men came to give him gifts.

10 Harrowing Christmas Accounts That Were Far From Festive

Post 8630

10 Harrowing Christmas Accounts That Were Far From Festive


Whatever your reasons for celebrating it, whether it’s religious belief or just the chance to spend carefree quality time with family and loved ones, Christmas is generally a time of joy, happiness, and festive fun. However, on occasion, what should be a time of love for all around us can quickly turn into a festive nightmare. Those who learn of such events from afar are shocked, while those who survive such incidents see the holiday seasons forever marked with terrifying and horrific memories.

As we will see as we go down our lit of the darker side of Christmas, as much as the holidays bring out the best in most of us, for some, they can bring out dark and twisted feelings that finally bubble over to breaking point. Here are ten such examples.

10Kristy Bamu Accused Of Witchcraft

Photo credit: Met Police

As soon as paramedics saw the lifeless body of 15-year-old Kristy Bamu in the bathtub on Christmas Day 2010, they could tell he was subject to a horrific ordeal before he had drowned. His body was battered and bruised, and if that wasn’t enough, the bathroom and the room next to it were awash in what would be confirmed to be the young boy’s blood. In all, later reports would show he had 130 separate injuries upon his body.

They had been called by the sister of the dead boy, Magalie, who asked them to hurry to the flat in in Newham, East London, stating, “My brother has drowned himself in the bath.” Investigation would show that Magalie, along with her boyfriend Eric Bikubi, had turned the rooms into makeshift torture and interrogation chambers, apparently under the impression that Kristy Bamu was a witch.

According to family members, Kristy had only arrived several days earlier in order to spend Christmas with his sister. However, according to the eventual trial, Kristy had “wet himself,” and upon attempting to hide his underwear (likely out of embarrassment), he was discovered by his sister and Bikubi, who bizarrely made the assertion he must be a witch.

Bikubi would arrange rituals and bizarre ceremonies aimed at “forcing the Devil” out of Kristy (and his siblings, who Bikubi had also accused ofwitchcraft). Part of these ceremonies included severe beatings, which took the teenager to the brink of death. He was then taken to the bath to clean up. Being barely conscious, his body simply collapsed in the water, and he was unable to lift himself out. By the time his sister returned, he was dead. The jurors heard that Bikubi was a controlling person and that he was the main instigator behind the needless death.

9Where Did The Sodder Children Go?

Perhaps what makes the case of the five missing (and presumed dead) children of the Sodder family even more tragic is that the case is still officially unsolved over six decades after the events.

On Christmas Eve 1945, near the small town of Fayetteville, West Virginia, the Sodder family, George and Jennie and their nine children (a tenth child was away in the military), would settle in their beds, awaiting for sleep to guide them through to Christmas morning. For five of the children—Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie, and Betty (ranging from five to 14 years old)—the morning would not come.

A fire ripped through the property an hour or so after midnight. Both parents made it out of the building alongside their four remaining children—Sylvia, Marion, John, and George. The fate of their other offspring, though, is unknown. No remains were ever found, either inside the burned-out house or in the surrounding area. Despite this, death certificates were issued less than a week later.

The Sodders, though, began to think things through a little further. For example, a worker at a local crematorium told Jennie that bones remain even after two hours of burning at 2,000 degrees. The fire at the Sodders’ home at no point reached such high levels of heat and was put out within 45 minutes. Faulty wiring was stated to be the cause of the fire, but the Sodders’ power had remained on as the fire raged. Further still, witnesses reported seeing a strange man near one of the older children’s trucks just before the fire. (His truck refused to start following their escape from the property.) Perhaps most chilling of all, the family would find what they believed to have been the remains of a “napalm pineapple bomb” in their yard, an interesting discovery, as Sylvia would recall hearing a thud and rolling sounds on the roof shortly before the fire began.

Then came the sightings of four of the five children in a car with Florida plates. They were accompanied by two women and two men of “Italian extraction.” Theories began to suggest that the Sodders had been mixed up with local Mafia or that the children were kidnapped on the order of unknown parties. The last surviving member of the Sodder family, Sylvia, firmly believes her siblings not only survived the fire that evening but were taken somewhere against their will by persons unknown.

8Tricia McCauley

Photo credit: WJLA-TV

On Christmas Day 2016, the body of Tricia McCauley was riding around Washington, DC, as her killer drove her car—the reason he had strangled her to death in the first place.

Her body would be discovered a little over 24 hours later when her vehicle, still being driven by her killer, Adrian Duane Johnson, was pulled over by police following a report from a member of the public, Jonathan Padget, who had seen an appeal for the missing actress on television. As well as strangulation marks around her throat, there was evidence that she had been badly beaten in the attack.

Padget had seen Johnson sitting in McCauley’s parked car with loud music and cigarette smoke pouring out of the windows. As the car drove away, Padget made note of the license plate, later matching it to the police appeal, at which point he notified them of his sighting.

What made Tricia McCauley’s death even more enraging was that only days earlier, Johnson, who had a string of assaults and convictions behind him, had been ordered by a judge to have GPS monitoring device fitted to his person. When he was arrested, this device was missing. Needless to say, many were critical of the justice system that allowed Johnson to be in a position to end an innocent person’s life.

7Rebecca Johnson—The Lapland Murder

Photo credit: BBC News

When Rebecca Johnson ventured off to Finland to work in Lapland as part of the Christmas holiday period in December 2016, neither she nor her family could have dreamed her trip would end so tragically.

Rebecca was working as a tour guide on Christmas-themed adventures into the unforgiving terrain of the Arctic. Her body would be discovered in the flat she shared with her boyfriend, a Czech national named Karel Frybl (also named by some sources as Radek Kovac), seemingly having been the victim of a brutal and vicious attack. Frybl would be arrested as the main suspect following his bizarre manhunt by police through the snowy wilderness. He had attempted to flee on one of the nearby husky sledges in conditions that had seen the temperature drop to almost –30 degrees Celsius (–22 °F). The authorities would use snowmobiles, helicopters, as well teams of husky dogs to eventually find the suspect in a considerably bad way, almost dead from hypothermia.

What made the devastation cut even deeper for the family is that Rebecca’s body would not be released to her native Scotland until the investigation was complete, which would take considerable time.

In August 2017, Frybl admitted to killing Rebecca, though he claimed he had no memory of the attack and had suffered a “temporary mental breakdown.”

6Bruce Pardo—The Santa Claus Killer

In an account that reads like the grimmest of horror stories, Bruce Pardo, labeled the Santa Claus Killer, would terrorize an entire household before ending his own life.[5] His 2008 Christmas Eve killing spree in Covina, an otherwise quiet suburb of Los Angeles, California, would leave nine people dead (a number of whom were murdered execution-style). At least one was killed by Pardo’s subsequent arson.

It was shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve, when Pardo, dressed in full Santa Claus costume, got out of his car and walked to the front door of his ex-wife’s parents’ home. As soon as the door opened, Pardo opened fire with the semiautomatic weapon he had in his hand.

After his initial wave of bullets, which led to family members inside the house dropping to floor like deflated balloons, Pardo would put the weapon down and turn his attention to the brightly wrapped package he was carrying. He unwrapped it and produced a homemade flamethrower. Within seconds, the house was aglow with flames.

He would retreat shortly after, himself injured and burned from his crudely made flamethrower. He would be found later that evening at his brother’s home, dead from an apparently self-inflicted shotgun wound to the head. However, perhaps indicative of his mental state at the time, he had seemingly given little concern to his own well-being during the attack, as his body had severe burns, with the Santa Claus costume “melted to his skin” in places.

It would appear, from investigations afterward, that the murder spree was the result of life going wrong (his failed marriage), increasing pressures (child support and increasing debt), and finally an attempt to defraud the courts in order to lighten his child support payments. When he was caught, he was fired, and shortly after, he seemingly snapped.

5Los Feliz Murder—The House Where Every Day Is Christmas?

Photo credit: Alexis Vaughn

It’s not so much the murder-suicide that took place in a mansion in the extremely affluent Los Feliz district of Los Angeles but the rumors that persisted in the following decades, particularly when the Internet invaded people’s homes, that made the events of December 1959 live on in the grim folklore of otherwise sunny and happy California.

According to the story, at 4:30 AM on December 6, respected and successful cardiologist Harold Perelson took a hammer to his wife’s head while she slept, leaving her to choke on her own blood as he proceeded into the bedroom of his teenage daughter, Judye. He attacked her in the same way, but surprisingly, she managed to flee the property screaming before ringing the police.

Bizarrely, he didn’t attack his two younger children, instead telling them, “Go back to bed. This is a nightmare.” They did as told. By the time the police and emergency services had arrived at the Spanish-style mansion, Perelson was dead from an overdose of painkillers (31 pills were discovered in his system) and two doses of Nembutal (a barbiturate). It is believed Perelson and his family were in a mountain of debt, and like the Bruce Pardo incident that we looked at earlier, he simply snapped.

The spooky parts of the tale—if indeed they are true and not just urban legend—is that the house remained decorated for Christmas, looking just as it did on the night of the murders, complete with wrapped presents under the tree. The property apparently became a target of thrill-seekers and adventurers. The house was sold after the murders, but by most accounts, it has remained empty, aside from a family who rented the property very briefly in 1960. Some people attribute the Christmas decorations to this unknown family, with the legend stating that “something” made them flee the property without taking any of their possessions with them on the anniversary of the murder-suicide.

4Gabriel Cadis

On January 6, 2012, in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, lawyer, accountant, and Arab Christian leader Gabriel Cadis was stabbed to death by a man wearing a Santa Claus costume, following a parade. The area’s Greek Orthodox community were to celebrate Christmas the next day.

According to authorities, the murder was in relation to a local family rivalry, and three Arab Israelis, all from the same family, were soon arrested. Two other suspects were placed under house arrest.

In 2016, Tufik Dalou and Faud Abu Maneh, both in their twenties, were found guilty of the murder. It is believed that (then) 56-six-year old Tala Abu Maneh had ordered the killing, although this was never proven or confirmed.

According to reports, it was Cadis’s recent third election victory as leader of the Greek Orthodox Christians that had created increased tensions in the community, particularly with the Abu Maneh family. Israel has a huge Christian population, and the timing of the murders to coincide with Greek Orthodox Christmas Eve was purposeful, according to investigators.

3Carnation Murders

Christmas Eve 2007 in Carnation, Washington, would see Michele Anderson take the lives of three generations of her own family. Later investigations, and indeed Michele’s own confession, would show the killings were influenced mainly by a perceived debt of $40,000 that her brother Scott Anderson (one of the deceased) owed to her. When her parents took his side and suddenly requested that she and her boyfriend (and accomplice) Joseph McEnroe begin paying rent for the family-owned trailer they lived in, the pair hatched their deadly plan.

Just after 4:00 PM on that fateful Christmas Eve, Michele and Joseph arrived at the family home and quickly shot her parents to death, before dragging their bodies to a shed in the garden and cleaning their blood from the floors in the house.

They then sat waiting for her brother, his wife Erica, and their two young children, who were coming for a family meal. Upon their arrival, the pair opened fire, killing them all. They fled the property, leaving the bodies to be discovered on December 26 by a coworker of the mother’s, who had grown concerned by her friend’s absence from work.

Police soon suspected Michele and her boyfriend due to their seemingly unconcerned behavior as well as their equally suspicious alibi that they were out of town on the day of the murders, as they had planned to marry in Las Vegas. They told police they’d changed their minds and headed back to Carnation.

McEnroe would be sentenced to life in prison in 2015, while Michele would be found guilty of all six murders and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in April 2016.

2Ron Gene Simmons’s Christmas Killing Spree

Photo credit: Crime Scene Database

Over a seven-day period from December 22 to 28, 1987, former US Air Force master sergeant Ronald Gene Simmons went on a killing spree through Arkansas that would leave a total of 16 people dead, 14 of them family members.

Simmons would begin his horrendous murder spree by shooting his wife and eldest son dead before strangling his three-year old granddaughter, who was staying at the house. He waited for four more of his children to return home, before taking each child separately out to the back of the property and holding their heads under the water in a large rain barrel.

He would remain at the family home until other members of his family arrived for a preplanned Christmas visit, which they did on December 26. He would shoot his son and daughter as well as their spouses. He strangled or drowned their children. In a dark, sick twist, his daughter Sheila had been the subject of sexual abuse at the hands of her father for years, and her daughter had actually been fathered by Simmons himself.

Two days later, Simmons would travel to nearby Russellville, where he would gun down a young woman who he was (by all accounts) infatuated with but who had turned down his advances. He would take shots at several people throughout the town over the following hours, killing one more person (who was no more than a stranger to him) before he gave himself up to police and handed over his weapon. He was ultimately found guilty of all 16 murders and sentenced to death.

In a bizarre twist to an already extremely dark tale, Simmons would need to be kept separate during his time spent on death row due to threats on his life from other prisoners. This wasn’t due to the horrific nature of his crimes, nor that he had sexually abused his own daughter (before murdering her), but because his refusal to appeal his death sentence, they believed, would weaken their own chances of appeal. Simmons was executed by lethal injection in June 1990.

1Aziz Yazdanpanah

Shortly after 11:00 AM on Christmas Day 2011, 56-year-old Aziz Yazdanpanah donned a Santa Claus costume and declared he wanted to be “all fatherly” to his family when he showed up at their apartment in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Then he shot his estranged wife, their two teenage children, his sister, his brother-in-law, and their 22-year-old daughter dead before shooting himself.

Although it was well-known to those who knew him that Yazdanpanah was having problems with his marriage, his increasing financial difficulties weren’t as commonly known. As we have looked at in several other such cases on this list, the murders by Yazdanpanah appear to have been the result of a mind that had simply broken.

According to the police reports, it was Yazdanpanah himself who had called police at 11:34 AM, stating to them, “Help. I am shooting people.” A text, later found on the phone of his murdered niece, was sent at 11:15 AM, stating, “Now he wants to be all fatherly and win father of the year.” It is believed that shortly after that text was sent, the murders began.

When police arrived at the scene, they found evidence of what appeared to be an attempt to “frame” his dead brother-in-law, as one of the guns used in the killings had been placed in his hand (presumably by Yazdanpanah). Police would state that at some point after making the phone call to authorities, he suddenly became “overwhelmed,” possibly having come to the awful realization of what he had done, so he simply turned the gun on himself.