By: Dani Kessel
Throughout the quarantine, many of us have found new hobbies and interests. My new affinity is true crime videos and podcasts. I sway towards creators like Stephanie Harlowe and Let’s Go To Court! who are respectful of the victims, socially conscious, and critical of the justice system. They also don’t glamorize the crimes. My favorites examine the psychology of everyone involved but don’t erroneously blame crime on mental illnesses. If you are likewise interested in true-crime, get ready for a fun, unconventional, holiday-themed article.
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Not everything in December is merry. If you’ve ever seen Die Hard, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or Ronin, you know that the holiday season can bring about some interesting, shocking, and heartbreaking crimes. Unfortunately, not all Christmas crimes are fiction. There are a variety of strange cases that have occurred around the holidays.
Here are 5 Christmas-themed true-crime cases to blow your mind:
Slidell Snake Heist
The scene was Delta Pets in Slidell, Louisiana. 2012. The owner of the store called the police, reporting an unusual robbery. The back door was jimmied open. Inside, the only things missing were the cash register, two Boas, and a $600 Ball python. The snakes were later recovered in an abandoned building nearby; a makeshift bed and an ID card of Donald Laigast Jr. Laigast had recently been released from jail after serving time for other nonviolent burglary charges. He was arrested on one charge of simple burglary. When asked his motive, he reportedly admitted that he stole the snakes as a gift to his son for Christmas. While there are many statistics and reasons linked to recidivism, it’s truly shocking to see someone re-offend in the name of giving his son nearly $1000-worth of snakes.
The Sodder Family Fire of 1945
On Christmas Eve, nine of the ten Sodder children were put to bed by George and Jennie Sodder. (One son was away with the military.) In the middle of the night, Jennie woke up to an unusual, unintelligible phone call. Afterwards, she checked on the kids, locked the door, closed the curtains, turned out the light, and went back to bed. As she fell back asleep, she heard a crack on the roof. Later, she woke up to billowing smoke. It was nearly 3 a.m. on Christmas day. She, George, and four of their children quickly made their way out of the house. When George realized his other five children were likely stuck inside, he attempted to break the window and get inside. It was no use though. The Sodder family home burned for approximately 45 minutes.
The Sodders mentally prepared to find the remains of their five trapped children. A strange thing happened though. There were no bodily remains found in the ashes of the fire. The fire chief insisted the five children lost their lives to the fire. The Sodders couldn’t accept that though. According to a crematorium employee they spoke to, bones would still remain after burning at 2000 degrees for two hours. The home hadn’t even been ablaze for half that time period.
In addition to this, there were oddities leading up to and surrounding the fire. Men had threatened George’s home and children for his negative remarks about Mousalini. Their telephone wire was cut sometime after the strange phone call but before the firemen arrived. The firemen declared the fire a result of faulty wiring, but the lights had been working fine when Jennie woke up the first time. Neighbors also recalled a man outside the fiery house before anyone escaped. One of the older Sodder children also remembered a man stalking the younger kids. Then, there’s the fact that sighting reports flooded in. The children were spotted alive.
Despite the urging of the police and firefighters, George and Jennie never gave up home on trying to find their children. They went to their deathbeds believing their five missing children were alive and out there somewhere. The disappearance of the Sodder children in the Sodder family fire has never been solved.
Monterey County’s Stoner Claus
A Buffalo Wild Wings in Monterey County, California was in for a major surprise shortly after Christmas (January 2015) when a man, claiming to be Santa, came into their restaurant carrying a duffel bag and backpack. He began handing out pot bundled in napkins to all the adults in the joint (hehehe). Santa stated they were gifts! He even stuffed a large amount of it into the liquor bar’s tip jar. In reality, Santa was 57-year-old Randy Lange who thought giving out weed would bring holiday cheer. Unfortunately, the police were called. Lange was ultimately arrested on a misdemeanor charge of “furnishing marijuana” because he didn’t possess a license to grow or distribute cannabis.
The Frosty Inflatable Stabbing of 2016
On a chilly December night in St. Louis. Missouri, a car drove up to the yard of Jeff Diggs. A masked attacker jumped out of the passenger seat, stabbed an inflatable Frosty the Snowman, tried to cut the rope keeping Frosty up, and quickly took off with the getaway driver. Diggs discovered this Grinch-like attack upon returning home from work. The whole story came together thanks to his home security tape. Rather than let the perpetrator steal his Christmas spirit, Diggs took the following actions: He decided to spare the attacker and not call the cops. He released surveillance footage (to make neighbors aware) with a backing track from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. (It has since been removed from YouTube.) Lastly, he set up a humorous GoFundMe page to “pay Frosty’s medical bills.” In reality, Diggs put 9 stitches into Frosty to fix him, and all the GoFundMe proceeds were donated to charity. After all this, Frosty once again graced the yard of Jeff Diggs.
The Infamous Santa Bank Robbery of Cisco
Note: Thanks for telling me about this case, Brandi!
Two day before Christmas, a man named Marshall Ratliff put on a Santa suit and a beard. He paired with ex-convicts Henry Helms and Robert Hill as well as Helms’s family member, Louis Davis. These four men took a pistol into the bank and demanded the tellers give them money from the vault. With the frequency of bank robberies, there was a money reward for shooting a bank robber. As such, there was a huge gunfight when they exited the bank. Ratliff and Davis were both injured, but all of the robbers escaped by taking two girls hostage.
After reaching the outskirts of town, the giveaway car was low on gas with a flat tire; so, the four decided to hijack a nearby car. This didn’t work out. A family was ushered out of their car, and the son locked the ignition switch without the robbers noticing. Everyone loaded into the new car only to realize the problem. In a haste, they shift back into their original car. They left behind Davis, already dead, and ALL of the money. The three men and two hostages drove until the car broke down completely. Ratliff, Helms, and Hill took off on foot, intentionally leaving or possibly forgetting to bring their hostages along. (The girls survived.) After a three day manhunt, Ratliff, Helms and Hill were caught and tried.
Helm was sentenced to death. Hill was sentenced to life in prison, eventually being released on parole. For Ratliff though, the ringleader and Santa impersonator, citizens took justice into their own hands. They gave him a painful and grisly murder. (I don’t feel the need to go into details and sensationalize violence.) To this day, a very strange memorial plaque sits on the outside of the First National Bank in Cisco, Texas. It serves as a daily reminder of the infamous santa bank robbery.
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I hope the stories of these five true-crimes fascinated you and allowed you to delve into cases while staying in a Christmas-y mood. I tried to keep the selections relatively lighthearted. This is the first time I’ve really covered true crime cases in any kind of detail on this website, and I know it isn’t everyone’s forte. Let me know what you thought of the article in the comments section. Did you love it? Did you hate it? Do you want me to cover more true crime cases? I want to know your thoughts. (Though, please remember to be respectful!)
Enjoy your Christmas season, and, REMEMBER, don’t steal any dangerous snakes for Christmas presents!