Halloween is the only day in a year where people around the world dress up, knock on doors in their neighborhood for candy, and decorate their homes like crime scenes. These reasons are why 35% of American parents and children “look forward” to the day all year. Although technically not a religious or federally recognized holiday, many families and adults treat it like an annual holiday. It's even a favorite holiday for 23% of all Americans.
Traditionally, Halloween is the day before the deceased are mourned. Now, most of the Western culture knows the holiday for its symbolism with horror. In fact, the Halloween franchise surpassed a total of $700 million in 2021. How did a tradition for mourning the dead become famous for vampires, witches, ghosts, murder, and more? Are these shows responsible for the increase in crimes on the day?
The celebration in western culture comes from a mix of ancient practices. The earliest practices can be traced back to Christian principles, since the day before All Hallows’ Day (or All Saints’ Day) is technically considered “All Hallow’s Eve”, or October 31st. However, the traditions we know were heavily influenced by the Scottish and Irish.
Somewhat. It’s influenced by Christian traditions that began the day after. November 1st begins All Hallow’s Day (or All Saint’s Day), the historic tradition of honoring saints and praying for recently departed souls that have not made it to Heaven. In the early days, All Saint’s Day meant western Christians would dress in mourning and go door-to-door collecting “soul cakes” which they would offer to their beloved or eat in representation of their souls. Some would even practice “souling” or dressing as the soul they represented to receive gifts on their behalf.
Later on, other cultures began celebrating a day earlier, and thus All Hallow’s Eve emerged. The historic Gaelic festival Samhain probably earns the most credit for influencing modern customs the most.
In a pre-industrial world, Samhain marked shorter days and an end to harvest. To Celtic pagans, this meant Aos Si, or spirits and actual fairies, would be physically present on Earth. Samhain and Aos Si molded the tradition we know today in a few ways:
In 16th century North America, the observance was rare and very divided. There are records of southern Anglicans and a few catholic churches in Maryland observing October 31st as a part of their church calendars. However, Halloween was considered anti-religious to the New England Puritans, who were also responsible for 1692-1693 Salem Witch Trials.
It didn’t become mainstream until much later on. As Irish and Scottish immigration steadily rose during the 18th and 19th century, so did the pranks and festivities of Samhain. Eventually the lines between Gaelic and American culture blurred and in the 20th century Halloween blew up into the $10.6 billion retail holiday we know today.
The holiday does have a connection to criminal activity, especially where alcohol-related crimes are concerned. There is especially a spike for the following crimes during Halloween in America:
It doesn’t put you at the highest risk of a DDI collision–New Year’s Day has it beat there–but being extra aware is still important. Even in generally safer areas, many parents should be extra alert with their families, even if they’re not celebrating. Children are 3 times more likely to be struck by a car than any other day.
Since the mid 20th century the holiday has become known for murder. How did a day to mourn the dead become associated with violence? Much of the symbolism comes from the rise in popularity for books, movies, and TV shows, such as Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Halloween franchise featuring fictional killer Michael Myers.
However, pop culture may not be completely to blame. There are real stories that happen on or around October 31st too. Areas like Boston, MA do see an increase of violent crimes by 50% during trick-or-treat hours. Trick-or-treat hours generally begin at 7pm, peak at 10pm, and taper off at 1am. Spikes in crime do happen annually in other parts of the country, although most cases are nonviolent. At least 13 were murdered and 36 were wounded during Halloween mass shootings across the US in 2021.
Do these tales create copycat murders, or is it the other way around? It could be a mix of both. Halloween’s reputation with murder could have also started with headlining murders in the early 19th century, although that is hard to prove. While homicides make headlines all the time, when it’s on a day intended for young kids to have fun, it remains in mind for much longer.
Unfortunately, the amount of memorable murders associated with or have happened on Halloween during America’s history is high. If you find this list is missing any stories you’d like to see, please feel free to contact us. Please note that the 1978 John Carpenter classic is a fictional story and therefore not being included here.
Below are a few of the most famous ones that continue to haunt (no pun intended) the country today.
World War II veteran Charles Newman had just started getting ready for bed when he was interrupted by his grandson’s friend, Andrew Lackey, breaking and entering into his home. Lackey had been informed of a vault full of money by his friend (and Newman’s grandson) and demanded to know where it was. Failing to yield, Newman grabbed a gun and started to shoot at Lackey, who then stabbed him in the chest over 70 times with a knife. Lackey was later caught and despite some controversy was evenutally executed by the death penalty.
Statistics released by Travelers show that 60% of insurance-submitted crimes involved some sort of property theft on October 31st. This story is a tragic testament to that statistic.
On the night of October 31st, 2004, roommates Leslie Mazzara (27), Adriane Insogna (26), and Lauren Meanza (27) were busy giving out candy to ordinary trick-or-treaters at their home in Napa, CA. It was peaceful, typical to the area renowned as “Wine Country.” Around 11pm, the three roommates went to bed. At 1am, roommate Lauren Meanza was abruptly awoken by screaming coming from upstairs. She ran upstairs to find both of her roommates brutally stabbed and called 911. Unfortunately, the paramedics arrived too late, and Meanza’s roommates did not survive.
The story drew national attention as the police interviewed over a thousand possible suspects yet still had issues detaining a person of interest in the case. Finally, a year after the investigation began, the killer confessed to the murders and was arrested.
Five people were fatally shot at a rented Airbnb home during a Halloween house party. The shooting took place in Orinda, CA, 85 miles from where the Kincade wildfires were burning. There had been 100 people at the house party, which triggered the neighbors to call the police several times. The cops arrived first for a noise complaint at 9pm and then 10:45pm after gunshots were heard. Party goers were running from the home when police arrived.
While some ties have been established, Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton has announced no suspects will be charged.
Also sometimes referred to as the Halloween massacre, the Pasadena, CA gang shootings took the lives of three teenage boys who were trick or treating in the Bungalow Heaven neighborhood. Allegedly, killers mistook the identity of the three boys, Edgar Evans (13), Stephen Coats (14) and Reggie Crawford (14), in a retaliation shooting against the Crips. The trio, Lorenzo Alex Newborn, Karl Holmes, and Herbert Charles McClain Jr. were convicted and sentenced to the death penalty. Their sentence was disputed due to suspected discrimination by the jury, but in 2022, the California Supreme Court upheld the conviction and death sentence.
The shootings made national news and spurred major law enforcement policy changes that gradually decreased Pasadena’s annual homicide average from 20 to 3.
Doreen Erbert, born Doreen Rae Hitchens, was a physical therapist in the San Jose area. She was also mother to a son she had from her first marriage with William “Mike” Dennis. “Mike”, as he preferred to be called, had hearing loss issues which led him to develop a stutter later in life. Family and friends regarded Doreen as a patient, loving, and generous wife, but the pressures of a new baby caused the two to get a divorce.
Doreen remarried and had a daughter with her second husband Charles Ebert. She shared joint custody with her ex-husband but a tragic accident caused her 4-year old son to fall and drown in their pool. Her ex-husband blamed her and his mental health began to deteriorate, especially when Doreen became pregnant with a son.
On October 31st, 1984, Mike arrived at the Ebert’s home wearing a wolf mark and wielding a 18 inch machete. In front of Doreen’s daughter, he proceeded to strike pregnant Doreen in the head and body, also slicing and mutilating her unborn son. Doreen’s husband Charles returned home to find so much blood that he actually slipped on it. Doreen died on the way to the hospital, but her daughter Deanna survived.
Mike was later convicted for the crimes and charged with murder. As of 2022, he sits on death row at San Quentin State Prison.
Ten year old Theresa Hall and twelve year old Sherry Gordon departed from their Longview Place apartments in Decatur, IL to go trick or treating. Little did they know it would be the last time. Somewhere along the way, the two were abducted, brought back to their Longview Place apartment, sexually assaulted, and then murdered.
For 25 years, the case remained unsolved. In 2009, investigators matched Melvin Johnson’s DNA to the evidence. His DNA also matched three other separate Decatur killings. Unfortunately, Johnson was never convicted for these crimes. Due to stomach cancer and AIDs, he died in prison 7 years prior, while serving for unrelated charges. He is still posthumously being investigated for additional killings.
A shooting that was nicknamed “the purge” occured in Chicago on the night of All Hallow’s Eve in 2021. 29 people were injured and one person was fatally shot in a store during a robbery. The killers, who were masked and armed, have still yet to be identified. The federal government and police believe an American extremist group the National Liberation Militia may be tied to the events.
On the morning of October 31, 1999, Mabel Greineder was found brutally killed on a trial near Wellesley, Massachusetts. Wellesley is an affluent town that solemnly deals with crime, especially homicides. To say the community was shocked was an understatement–but nothing compared to when investigators determined that her husband had killed her. Dirk Greineder was not just her husband, but also a former Ivy League graduate and well known practicing doctor to the community.
Chelsea Bruck attended a house party on October 26, 2014, with her friend and designated driver. Bruck and her friend lost track of one another and her friend eventually left the party early, without her. Bruck went outside for fresh air and was asked multiple times if she needed a ride home. It was the last anyone saw her. In April 2015, her body was discovered in the woods nearby the property where the party was. An autopsy revealed she had been murdered and then raped.
One person at the party identified Daniel Clay, a friend of Bruck’s, who had picked her up. The DNA matched Clay’s and he confessed to the killing during his arrest. He is sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.
Unfortunately, NYC is no stranger to terrorist attacks, even on holidays. On October 31, 2017, Sayfullo Habibullaevich Saipov rented a pickup truck to drive on the bike path in Hudson River Park. He drove on the path with the truck for a mile, killing 8 people (of which 6 were immigrants) and injuring 11 others.
On October 27, 2013, Joel Lovelien was celebrating with his fiancee inside a bar and casino outside of Grand Forks, ND when he went outside to take a phone call. He briefly returned inside to tell his fiance someone needed his help outside. Not too long afterwards, a patron returned inside screaming that someone needed to call 911, there was a man bleeding out on the sidewalk. That man was her fiance, Joel Lovelien.
Police interviewed many witnesses that had seen the group surrounding a party bus that had been near Joel outside. Using the evidence and testimonies provided by the witnesses, they determined that a group of four had been outside with Joel. The four that acted especially suspicious during questioning had been dressed up as a cowboy, a clown, a lion, and a hockey fan.
Authorities had once matched the DNA of Travis Stay to the case but the testimonies of each contradict one another and the physical evidence linking the individuals is confusing and weak. Stay was acquitted in 2017 after entering a plea bargain. The case was closed without a single killer being conclusively identified.
16 year old Ryan Brooks had been out late with his friend Erik when he decided to call home and check in on his family. At 1:30am, his older brother Nathan answers the call, and informs Erik that their parents want him home. Erik drives him home and an hour later he enters his home to an unforgettable scene.
His mother had been stabbed and mutilated with an ax and his father had been shot in the head three times with a hunting rifle. His head was severed and placed in a punch bowl. The entire home was covered in satanic emblems and pentagrams. A note from Nathan was left stating he had left to turn himself in. Brooks did indeed confess to the murders and even described the night in disturbing detail while on trial. He is currently serving life in prison.
About a week prior to the holiday, Rebecca Cade’s beaten to death body was found hanging from a fence in Chillicothe, OH. A not so funny situation, the woman who discovered the body had thought it was a zombie decoration. Police later determined that the victim had been killed by blunt force trauma to the head and neck. The killer was found and is currently serving time in prison.
The city of Chillicothe is about an hour from Columbus and two hours from Cincinnati. Despite 6 homicides happening with the discovery of Rebecca, the city has a consistently low homicide rate. Authorities have thought that Rebecca’s killer may be associated to the other cases that year.
Nicole Marie Hutchings vanished from a Halloween Party in 2004 and for almost three years authorities were unable to piece together her whereabouts. Finally, in March 2007, a woman shared that she had been murdered and her boyfriend was involved. The police traced the case to Loren Bowers, her boyfriend who had previously served time for molesting two underage girls. Loren and his friend threatened to kill Nicole if she spoke to authorities about molesting their roommate’s underage daughter.
Loren eventually complied with authorities and admitted that he, along with his friend Craig Whiting, had drugged Nicole and drove her out to a remote area near Sunriver (20 minutes south of where they lived in Bend, OR). Craig beat her to death with a metal club. They buried her in a shallow grave Loren had dug and threatened the people at the party not to speak.
In 2008, Loren and Craig were sentenced to life behind bars with no possibility of parole. They are currently serving at the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Marion County.
The actions of Ronald Clark O’Bryan may have all these stories beat. Many myths about being given poisoned candy while trick or treating exist, but Ronald actually took that one step too far when he gave his two children and children’s friends packs of Pixy Stix laced with cyanide. Out of all the children, only his 8 year old son Timothy O’Bryan ate and died from the candy.
The small community of Deer Park, Texas went into panic, worried about the potential other candy that had been laced. The other candies were identified and contained by a staple Ronald used to reseal the packages. A few of the kids had fortunately been unable to get the staple open.
Ronald O'Bryan was questioned and eventually found guilty of murder. He was in a large amount of debt and had taken out life insurance on his children prior to the plot to kill them. In 1984, Ronald was executed by lethal injection.
Arpana Jinaga was an Indian immigrant living and working in Redmond, WA as a software quality engineer. Jinaga was attending a local party at her apartment complex when she suddenly went missing. Her family in India, who had daily calls with her, noticed she was no longer picking up their calls, and sent a family friend to check on her.
Immediately he noticed her apartment had been broken into and found her nude dead body strewn out on her bed, her hands covered in high acidity toilet bowl cleaning fluid and the bottom half of her body covered in motor oil. The autopsy determined she had been gagged, beaten, likely raped, and strangled to death. The investigators eventually linked the scene to an ex convict Emanuel Fair, who had served time prior for multiple counts of sexual assault and rape.
Fair was charged with first degree murder but was brought to retrial several times as new evidence developed. After already serving 9 years in prison, Fair was acquitted on lack of evidence and Arpana’s case remains unsolved.
9 year old Lisa Ann French was trick or treating while en route to a party down the street alone. She first went to her neighbor, Gerald Turner’s home, in hopes of receiving candy. Gerald answered the door and lured her inside where he brutally raped her, causing her to go into circulatory shock, and then choked her to death. He put her body in a garbage bag and disposed of it at a Taycheedah farmhouse. Finally, after an exhaustive search that took four days and thousands of volunteers, the farmer of the property found two garbage bags containing her body and her costume on his property.
After nine long months of questioning and evidence gathering, Turner was arrested for the murder and assault of French. He served 17 years and 8 months at the Waupan Correctional Institution until he was released on parole for “good behavior” in 1992. His parole spurred the concerns of the community, which prompted the state to enact “Turner’s Law”. The law allowed criminals like Turner to be eligible for parole so long as they are detained in proper facilities, e.g. mental institutions.
Turner has since violated his parole twice, once in 1992 and another time in 2003, when explicit photographs were uncovered from his room at a Madison halfway house. He served the mandatory 15 year sentence before being released in 2018. He currently resides at a treatment center in Mauston and has been denied release as of 2022.
The abduction and murder of 9 year old Lisa Ann French left a mark on the county of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin permanently. It’s equal to stories like Ronald O’Bryan’s as the most horrifying real life stories that shaped Halloween's reptuation.
"If it had happened on some other day [...] nobody would have gave a damn.” –Gerald Turner
The NCSC crews send compassion and blessings to the families affected by these tragedies and are praying for the peace of all involved. As we close in on the holiday season, NCSC also prays everyone stays safe and has a fun Halloween.