Christmas is a time that is filled with wonder, joy, and quality time to spend with family and friends. With each holiday season and the feeling of “magic” if you might, a false sense of security can be felt… But the road of life is full of mystery and misfortune. It does not recognize the holidays, nor does it take days off….
In fact the holiday season is absorbed with horrid actions. Every year we see an increase in kidnappings, murders and the taking of ones own life rise drastically. Here are 5 Scary Christmas Mysteries.
- The Annandale Jane Doe
On the morning of December 18, 1996 in Annandale, Va a groundskeeper at the Pleasant Valley Memorial Park Cemetery would make a grisly discovery. In a well known section of the cemetery named “Babyland,” a section of the cemetery which houses deceased infants, the body of a 60 year old woman was found.
Jane Doe was found without identification, laying upon a sheet of plastic, and with a plastic bag taped over her head. Accompanying her body was a green backpack that held various items, but these are the most noteworthy. A new roll of masking tape, two typed letters, one addressing the cemetery and one addressing the Coroner, each letter being placed within an envelope with a $50 bill, a typed poem, and lastly a child's “Minnie Mouse” fanny pack, held together with masking tape and safety pins.
Let's start with the letter. The letter reads “Deceased by own hand.. Prefer no autopsy. Please order cremation with funds provided. Thank you, Jane Doe.” Secondly the poem, it reads
“Now I lay me down to sleep
Soon to drift to the
And though I die and shal
Sleep sweeter will be than
This life I forsake.”
Beside the body was a decorated miniature Christmas tree standing at around 8” in height. Following the removal of the plastic bag that had been placed around Doe’s head, headphones connected to a cassette player were discovered. Inside the player was a cassette tape with a recording of comedians Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner performing the “2000 Year Old Man” routine.
Doe’s autopsy would later show that she had consumed great amounts of Brandy, rendering her a BAC of 0.14 which is commonly associated with blurred vision, loss of balance and coordination and in some cases dysmorphia. Secondly, traces of Valium were found in her system, adding to her list of conditions before she allegedly taped a plastic bag over her own head. Also found during Doe’s autopsy was a scar on her lower abdomen, bearing close resemblance to that of a C-section scar.
Although there are no direct connections between Jane Doe and a lost child buried within “Babyland,” it is believed that she took her life due to unbearable pain as a result of a lost loved one. Is it possible that the “Minnie Mouse '' fanny pack found within the backpack accompanying her belonged to her own longly deceased child? Or is it possible that something more sinister was at hand? In regards to the hand written letters, request for no autopsy to be performed and the plastic bag taped around Doe’s head.
Police were and still are without answers. Posts in local newspapers on December 24, 1996 requested that anyone with information in regards to the identity of the now referred “Annandale Jane Doe” to step forward.
The Annandale Jane Doe is estimated to have been between the ages of 50 and 70 years old with curly copper red hair. She stood at around 5’ tall and weighed around 160lbs.
If you have any information about the identity of the Annandale Jane Doe, please reach out to one of the following agencies.
Northern District Medical Examiner’s Office - 703-530-2600 - case# N1996-41257
Fairfax County Police Department - 800-673-2777 - case# 96353000549
Fairfax County Crime Solvers - 800-411-TIPS or 703-691-8888 - NCIC Case# U989549567 - NamUS Case# UP #6279
- The Murder Of Rhonda Hinson
Just three short days before Christmas, tragedy would strike the small town of Valdese, NC. On the night of December 22, 1981 an eager and excited 19-year-old Ronda Annette Hinson was on her way to her first company Christmas party. Rhonda had recently graduated high school in Valdese before landing her first big job with the “Hickory Steel Company.”
At around midnight Rhonda and two friends decided to call it a night and head home. Rhonda made it to her friend's house at approximately 12:30am, made a quick phone call to her boyfriend before climbing into her own car to drive the remaining 10 miles back to her parents home.
At 1:00 am Judy Hinson, Rhonda’s mother awoke from a dead sleep. She couldn’t help but to be overwhelmed by the feeling that something was wrong. She had a strange premonition and believed that her daughter had been hurt or even worse killed in a car accident. Call it mothers intuition. Her husband and Rhonda’s father Bobby also awoke, and in an attempt to ease their nerves he flipped on his police scanner. Moments later they listened to a homicide being reported. Shortly after they learned the heartbreaking news that Rhonda was the victim.
After leaving her friends house Rhonda Hinson drove her beige Datsun 210 two-door west on Interstate 40 before exiting onto the Mineral Springs Mountain/Highway 350. Following this she turned North and began traveling up a steep hill towards her home. It is at this time that a high powered rifle was fired into the vehicle from behind. The bullet entered through the trunk, continuing through the back seat and driver’s seat before entering Rhonda’s body and piercing her lung. Rhonda’s vehicle was found roadside in a ditch with the driver's side door open and still running. Rhonda’s body was found near the car laying on the ground with her arms deliberately placed by her sides, in a staged position.
Initially it was believed that Rhonda’s murder was a random act of violence, but futher evidence revealed that Rhonda may have known her killer. For weeks leading up to the incident a strange chain of events occurred within the Hinson family. Rhonda asked both her parents questions that may or may not have suggested that she was involved in an affair. Firstly Rhonda who was always comfortable traveling alone, requested that her father Bobby start joining her on trips into town. On one occasion Rhonda explained to her father she had something that she needed to tell him, but “it was bad.” Bobby reassured his daughter that she could tell him anything and when he asked her to explain what she meant. Rhonda simply stated that she would think about it. Rhonda’s explanation would never come. Secondly Rhonda had a conversation with her mother Judy around the same time. Rhonda asked her mother “if it was okay to be in a relationship with a married man.” Judy explained to her daughter that it was “never okay” and it can end with a lot of people getting hurt. Lastly during the weeks prior to Rhonda’s murder both of her parents noticed that she was suffering from insomnia and on numerous occasions Rhonda would take showers in the middle of the night because she felt “dirty.” Could this be a sign of sexual assault?
Although Rhonda’s case is the most investigated case in the history of the Burke County Sheriff’s Office, it still remains unsolved.
To report information concerning the case of Rhonda A. Hinson, contact Lt. Becky Weatherman of the Burke County Sheriff's Office at (828) 438-5506, or Crimestoppers at (828) 437-3333. The e-mail address for the Sheriff's Office's Administration is firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, you may call anonymously and be eligible for the reward money listed above if your information leads to the arrest and conviction of Rhonda's killer.
- The Spontaneous Combustion Of Matilda Rooney
Every so often I stumble across a case of alleged Spontaneous Human Combustion (SHC) and it is always intriguing to say the least.
On the evening of December 24th, 1885 in Seneca, Illinois, Patrick and Matilda Rooney were enjoying the holidays with their son John Rooney and one of their farmhands, John Larson. Around 8pm, after watching Patrick and Matilda indulge themselves in what seemed to be endless amounts of alcohol. John Larson excused himself to the guest bedroom for the night and John Rooney returned to his own home.
John Larson remembers waking briefly at some point in the night after having trouble breathing, but shortly fell back to sleep.. When he awoke on Christmas morning, his nose was filled by a pungent smell. He then noticed a slight haze in the air and that his own pillow and surrounding areas around his bed were covered with what looked like soot.
Following these discoveries and in fear of asphyxiation, Larson bolted downstairs, in search of Patrick and Matilda on his way out of the home. In his search effort he would find the lifeless body of Patrick lying on the floor of the couples bedroom. When the Police conducted their investigation of the home some time later, they would discover Matilda’s body… or what was left of it.
When the police entered the kitchen of the Rooney resident they discovered a 2-½ Ft. by 3 Ft. hole in the floor, exposing the underside of the home. Matilda’s once 160lb body, was now reduced to 12lbs of ash, a human skull, a cervical bone, some vertebrae, 6 inches of her right femur and most disturbing, two recognizable shoes holding her feet were found in the center. Assigned doctor, Dr. Clendenin from Port Huron, Michigan would state that Matilda Rooney died as a result of SHC and that her husband Patrick died due to asphyxiation as a result of fume inhalation while passed out.
Doctor Clendenin and law enforcement believed that Matilda's body had to have burnt at a temperature of at least 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit and were at loss for words as to why the fire didn’t spread throughout the entire house. To this day, the mysterious SHC of Matilda remains a topic of contention for scientists and forensic experts.
- The Disappearance Of Patty Vaughan
Patricia “Patty” Inez Brightwell and Jerry Ray (JR) Vaughan married on May 18, 1985 in San Antonio, Texas. Over the next 5 years they would spend their time together, watching their small family grow as the couple brought 3 children into the world. During these years they saw much of the country, and called many different cities home while they traveled for JR’s work in construction. By the turn of a new decade in December 1990, they had finally found a permanent residence, settling 25 miles from San Antonio, Texas in La Vernia, Texas. Patty found much enjoyment in La Vernia being a stay at home mom to her three children, becoming an active member of her religious community, and being a regular member of the church choir. An activity that she cherished dearly.
Fast forward to October of 1996 and after 13 years of marriage, a once strong relationship had all but fallen to ruins. Patty and JR agreed to begin a 6-month trial separation in hopes to rekindle what once was, or to at least soften the blow of a divorce. The couple decided it would be best for JR to move into an apartment in San Antonio and for Patty to remain with her three children in their home in La Vernia, Texas. At this time Patty would have to return to work, and found employment as a secretary at a local electric company, Quinney Electric.
Just a short two months later, in December of 1996 Patty would find a close friendship in a long lost friend. This new friend happened to be a former boyfriend named Gary, who had recently divorced. Later in the same month at a family gathering on Christmas Eve, Patty would introduce Gary to her family for the first time, stating that he was her new boyfriend.
On Christmas morning 1996, JR visited Patty and their children to celebrate Christmas. It would be during this time that Patty and JR would get into a heated dispute over Patty’s new found love interest. JR did not agree with Patty being in a relationship with another man while they were still married. Patty would call her sister who lived in Georgia in the early afternoon crying about her recent argument with JR. Following this and according to JR at around 6:30pm, Patty abruptly left the home with keys and purse in hand, and drove off in her minivan never to be seen again.
Patty’s van would be found 5 miles short of her workplace with a deliberately flattened tire on December 26, 1996. On the following day after a thorough investigation by law enforcement, they would discover traces of blood around the backseat of the van and sliding door. Also found at this time was clear indications that the van had been shampooed, and a pile of clothing including a red jumpsuit, similar to coveralls a tradesman might wear with the letters JM on the back. Later on December 29, 1996 traces of blood were found inside Patty’s home on the floor, walls, within her bedroom closet, and on a mop found in the master bedroom.
Police would bring both Gary and JR in for questioning. Gary would submit to a lie detector test, provide an alibi and remain cooperative throughout the process. Police never would see Gary as an actual suspect and he would die sometime later in a car accident. JR on the other hand became more unruly throughout the process. JR continued to stick to his story about Patty leaving on her own accord on Christamas evening 1996. When JR was pressed with polygraph testing, he refused and hired a defense lawyer right away. Although these actions might seem necessary and not out of the ordinary when being viewed as a suspect, it is the events surrounding the case that are highly suspicious. On December 26, 1996 the same day that Patty’s van was discovered, JR would move back into his former home, Patty’s current and officially file for divorce. Also it is important to note that during the time of Patty’s disappearance, JR was a project manager for a concrete dig and pour site at Natalia High School in Devine, Texas 59 miles from their home in La Vernia. A neighbor would later report that night digging took place on both December 25th and 26th of 1996. Could this be a mere coincidence?
Since the events of Christmas Day 1996, JR has moved out of state with his three children and now resides in Colorado and has reportedly changed his name. Although there is much speculation about the whereabouts of Patty’s body, we are no closer to the truth. Today Patricia “Patty” Vaughan’s case is classified as a homicide and remains unsolved.
- The Murder Of Tracy Mertens
In November of 1994, 31 year old Tracey Mertens, her two children (11 and 12), and her boyfriend Joey Kavanagh moved back to Rochdale, England after having lived in Birmingham since 1992.. Tracey and Joey had been dating on and off since they were 16 years old and their relationship was rocky to say the least. Joey was a known drug user, and with his addiction came a slew of hungry hands and empty wallets. Joey Kavanagh always owed someone money.
This alone drove a wedge between Tracey and Joey on countless occasions, so much that in the summer of 1994 before moving back to Rochdale together, Tracey left Joey to stay with her sister. While Tracey stayed with her sister, she went as far as taping up the letterbox, windows and curtains so they did not move. She was afraid of Joey and didn’t want him to know where herself or their children were.
After living in Rochdale together for over a month, Tracey decided to return to their previous home in Birmingham to gather some left behind belongings. On December 22nd she would stay with her sister in law in the town, before visiting her former home on the morning of December 23rd. Tracey had been at her former home for a short 10 minutes before a knock could be heard from the front door. Upon answering the door Tracey was rushed by two large men demanding to know “Where’s Joey?.”
Five hours later Tracey Mertens was found on the steps of Christ Church in Eaton by a passerby. Tracey was streaming out in agony, and initially the witness thought she was wearing a costume because of how gruesome she looked. Tracey reeked of petrol, her clothes were smoldering and she had suffered burns that covered 95% of her body. Tracey was taken to a nearby hospital where she fought for her life over the next 12 hours under the duress of excruciating pain until she succumbed to her injuries. Tracey Mertens passed away on Christmas Eve 1994, but before she did she was able to describe her abductors and provide some insight on what occurred on December 23rd.
Tracey stated that when she answered the door two large, fat men around the age of 30, wearing long black leather coats with brown hats rushed into the home. She explained they spoke with a Birmingham accent, but in a foreign language one that detectives would later explain they believe to be a Jamaican dialect. While these men harassed Tracey within the home they demanded to know where her boyfriend Joey was. After Tracey refused to give up his location she was tied up, forced into the back of their car and drove around for over 4 hours. Eventually they would arrive at Christ Church in Eaton, more than 65 miles away from her prior home in Birmingham. This is when she explained she was forcibly dragged from the back seat of the car, and onto the steps of the church, doused in petrol and set alight. A later investigation of Tracey’s former residence would show the words “death” painted in white on one of the windows.
To this day Tracey’s murder remains unsolved and Joey Kavanaugh denies any connection to or idea why Tracey was targeted and brutally murdered.
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