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10 Sinister Halloween Horror Stories That Really Happened

by Eli Nixon
fact checked by Jamie Frater

We don’t put much stock in Halloween anymore. It’s fun for kids and a fine time to snuggle up for a scary movie, but the truly scary aspects climbed on a ship with our silliest superstitions and sailed for Valinor long ago. But witches and ghouls aren’t the only haunts of a hallowed eve—some nights will make monsters of men, and whether by chance or design, these monsters chose the Halloween season to bring their evil to light.

10Martha Moxley

Greenwich, Connecticut, isn’t a place you’d expect to find a body. It’s one of the wealthiest burgs in the States, the place where Bush Sr. played as a boy and where a solid dozen US senators are raising their own kids. But in 1975, amid the sprawling estates, multimillion-dollar mansions, and manicured lawns, the blood-soaked body of 15-year-old Martha Moxley was found on a cold Halloween morning.

The discovery shocked the town. Martha had been beaten with a golf club so hard that the club had shattered, and then she’d been stabbed in the neck with one of the jagged pieces. Then, her killer had dragged her 24 meters (80 ft) and dropped her off in her own backyard. All eyes soon turned to 17-year-old Tommy Skakel, the nephew of Senator Robert F. Kennedy. According to reports, Martha had been out with her friends the night before Halloween, and they had all gone to a party at the Skakels’ house. Tommy had left the party with Martha late at night, but she never made it home . . . even though their houses were only about 130 meters (450 ft) away.

Although the police had their suspect, they never made a conviction, and the gruesome Greenwich Halloween murder remained a cold case for over 16 years. In 1991, renewed investigations into the Moxley case brought it back into the public eye, but it wasn’t until 1998, 23 years after the young girl’s murder, that a killer was named: Michael Skakel, Tommy’s brother. According to novelist Dominick Dunne, Michael had once climbed a tree outside Martha’s window and masturbated. He was infatuated with the girl. And in 2002, Michael Skakel was finally convicted of the murder by a grand jury.

But the story doesn’t end there. Michael Skakel was later granted an appeal, and in 2013, he was released from prison on bail.

9Peter Fabiano

Peter and Betty Fabiano were just getting ready for bed when they heard the doorbell ring on October 31, 1957. It was after 11:00 PM, a little late for trick-or-treaters, but Peter reluctantly headed downstairs and grabbed the candy bowl. It was Halloween. What was one more kid? But when he opened the door, Peter got the shock of his life. On his doorstep stood a grown woman in blue jeans and a cheap mask pointing the bottom of a paper bag at his chest.

Upstairs, Betty Fabiano heard a loud pop then the screech of tires as a car sped off outside. Racing downstairs, she found her husband on the floor in front of the open door, gasping for breath, blood pouring from a gaping wound on his chest. He was dead before they reached the hospital. Police were mystified. Peter Fabiano worked as a hairdresser in the San Fernando Valley. He had no enemies, at least none who would want to kill him.

But the deeper they looked into the crime, the more twisted it all seemed. Two weeks after the cold-blooded killing, police nabbed Joan Rabel, a 40-year-old who’d once been employed at one of Peter’s salons. And for some reason, she was lying about being out the night of Peter’s death. But not all liars moonlight as killers, and the cops had to let Joan Rabel go for lack of evidence. Then, a month later, an anonymous caller directed police to a rented locker in an area department store. Inside, they found a .38 revolver which ballistics matched to the bullet that had been found lodged under Peter Fabiano’s heart.

The locker wasn’t being rented by Joan Rabel, however. It belonged to a woman named Goldyne Pizer, who worked at a local children’s hospital and had no connections with the Fabiano family. The clues were there, but none of them made sense . . . until Pizer began to confess. Goldyne Pizer and Joan Rabel, it turned out, were lovers. For months, Rabel had told her about a man named Peter Fabiano, whom the latter called “evil and vile.” Rabel regaled Pizer with sickening stories of Fabiano and the way he abused his wife, and before long, Pizer began to hate this man she’d never met. She agreed to help Rabel kill him. With Rabel’s money, Pizer bought a gun. Rabel drove to Faber’s house, and Pizer, shaking so hard she had to use both hands to steady the revolver, put a bullet in Peter Faber’s chest when he opened the door to give her a piece of candy.

But why would Joan Rabel spend months seeding this idea of hate in Pizer’s head? Simply put, Rabel had been sleeping with Peter’s wife, and it seemed she just wanted to get him out of the way. At their trials, Rabel pleaded not guilty, and Pizer pleaded insanity. Both agreed to a plea deal for second-degree murder and life in prison.

8Patricia Ward

In 2014, just days before Halloween, witnesses saw a man drag a decapitated body out of a Long Island apartment. He laid the body in the street then kicked the head to the opposite curb. It had all the signs of a macabre Halloween prank, and that’s what everybody thought it was. For a while, nobody did anything about it—one witness even said the whole thing looked fake. The horrifying truth only came to light when a Good Samaritan tried to move the corpse out of the middle of the street and realized that it was a real body.

It didn’t take long for police to deduce that the body belonged to Patricia Ward, a 66-year-old professor at New York’s Farmingdale State College. Even before discovering her body, police had received another call about another dead Ward. This one had been run over by a train about a mile down the road.

Soon, the tragic details of the murder came to light. Patricia’s son, 35-year-old Derek Ward, had a history of mental illness, but he seemed to be on the road to recovery when he moved into the small Farmingdale apartment with his mother. Then, for some reason, he snapped. He beheaded his mother then dragged her body out of the apartment, down the stairs, and through the front door of the building. After leaving the body in the street, he calmly walked away and leaped in front of an oncoming train. As to why he did it, we’ll never know.

7The East Coast Rapist

New Effort Launched to Catch ‘East Coast Rapist’

On the night of October 31, 2009, three teenage girls were hauling bags of candy through a quiet suburb in Woodbridge, Virginia. Just north of them, in Arlington County, a man named Aaron Thomas was climbing into a yellow Chrysler 300 sedan. In his pocket was a cigarette lighter shaped like a 9-mm semiautomatic.

Thomas had once lived in Woodbridge. He’d shared a small fixer-upper with a woman named Jewell Hicks and her young son, whom he raised as his own. The relationship didn’t work out, but they’d remained friends. In fact, Hicks was the reason Thomas was in town that Halloween—he was helping her move out, and it was her car he was driving. Thomas set out that night to buy a new shirt, but he soon found himself cruising by their old house, lost in the memories.

He spotted the three teenage girls trick-or-treating. It was raining. It was getting dark. The girls were alone. Thomas parked the car. Before the girls knew what was happening, Thomas was pointing the fake gun at them and forcing them into a wooded backlot behind a CVS pharmacy, where a steep slope took them to the bottom of a rain-drenched ravine. Thomas ordered the girls to line up and lie down.

One of the girls later said, “I was praying. I thought that was it. I thought I was going to die.” Another girl managed to send a heart-stopping text to her mother: “Man raping my friend in the woods behind CVS call 911.” Then she dialed 911 herself. Thomas was too busy to notice. Police converged on the site within minutes, sending Thomas fleeing into the woods. He tossed the lighter away, doubled back in a wide circle, and then calmly walked past dozens of police officer to his car in the CVS parking lot and drove away.

From 1997 to 2009, families in New England had a reason to lock their doors at night, although they didn’t know it. For those 12 years, Aaron Thomas, soon to be dubbed the “East Coast Rapist,” had been abducting and raping women from Virginia to Rhode Island. The Halloween abduction sparked a massive manhunt, but it still took two more years and an anonymous tip before police tracked Thomas down. They were able to link his DNA to 13 unsolved rape cases, although he’s admitted to raping many more than that. In 2013, Aaron Thomas received three life terms plus 80 years, and in 2015 he pleaded guilty to three more charges and received three additional life sentences.

6The Liske Family

Liske arraigned in triple murder

Like he did on any given Sunday, Devon Griffin woke up early to go to church on October 31, 2010. He was staying the weekend at his father’s house, and before church, he stopped by his mother’s to grab a shirt to change into. It was about 9:30 AM, and the only person he saw around was his stepbrother, BJ Liske. BJ greeted Devon cheerfully and asked how long he’d be gone—a question that struck Devon as odd, since he and BJ didn’t get along and never talked much.

After church, Devon went back home and played video games for a while. BJ seemed to have disappeared, and the house was uncharacteristically quiet. Figuring he ought to go wake everyone up—it was 1:30 PM by then—Devon went to the master bedroom and saw that his mother was still in bed with her husband, William Liske. The blanket was over their heads, as if they were trying to shut out the afternoon light. Devon started talking, hoping to rouse her, and when he got no response, he pulled the cover down.

Police were all over the house within hours. Devon had inadvertently uncovered a murder scene. Sometime early that morning, 24-year-old William Liske Jr., whom the family called BJ, had shot his father in the head five times. Then he turned the gun on his stepmom before beating his stepbrother to death with a claw hammer. The latter two were Devon’s mother and brother.

BJ was picked up by police at the family cabin and taken into custody. He was found guilty of the three murders and sentenced to life in prison.

5Taylor Van Diest

Taylor Van Diest murder

On October 31, 2011, a pretty young zombie left her house in Armstrong, British Columbia, looking forward to a night of fun. The zombie was Taylor Van Diest, an 18-year-old student, and she was planning to meet up with her friend to go trick-or-treating. She never made the rendezvous, but before she went missing, she sent her friend a chilling text message saying that she thought someone was following her. It was the last anybody heard from her.

Hours later, Taylor was found beside a railroad track. Her head was bleeding, and there were bruises around her neck. She died in the hospital. The brutal murder shook the small-town community, and police were quick to nab a man named Matthew Foerster, who confessed in tears after a two-hour interrogation. The exact details of the attack are hazy, even after the trial, but Foerster claimed that he only wanted to have sex with the girl. He said he’d followed her to a lonely part of town then attacked her.

She resisted, so Foerster grabbed her by the neck and pushed her to the ground. At that point, Foerster either bludgeoned her with a flashlight or bashed her head down over a metal pipe. He then left her in the dirt and fled to Ontario, where police tracked him down. Foerster was convicted of first-degree murder and received a life sentence.

4The Hanging Woman

Police identify woman found hanging from fence

For hours, motorists simply drove past the woman hanging from the tree. They saw her—she was hard to miss, dangling 4.5 meters (15 ft) almost directly over the road—but considering the season, they just assumed it was another morbid decoration. It was four days before Halloween, and Frederica, Delaware, was littered with glowing jack-o’-lanterns, stuffed witches, and plastic skeletons.

This body, however, was real. Police were called to the scene hours after the woman was first seen, and it’s likely that she had been hanging there all night. Police only revealed that the woman was 42 years old, and it looked like she’d hanged herself.

This isn’t the last time a Halloween hanging has been disregarded as decor. In 2015, a woman in Ohio was hanging from a fence for hours before anyone mustered up the curiosity to see whether or not she was actually a real person.

3Rebekah Gay

Pastor sentenced for murdering young mother in sexual fantasy

When he wasn’t delivering sermons to the small congregation of his Michigan church, John White dreamed of necrophilia. On a bitterly cold Halloween night in 2012, White took a mallet and a zip tie and went to the home of Rebekah Gay, his fiancee’s 24-year-old daughter. Rebekah lived alone with her three-year-old son, and she happily let him inside—White often babysat her little boy, so it wasn’t uncommon for him to stop by.

But she wasn’t expecting what came next. White bludgeoned her repeatedly with the mallet before wrapping the zip tie around her neck and tightening it. Then, White stripped her down and carried her body into the woods behind the trailer.

When he returned to the house, Rebekah’s toddler son was still there, waiting. While Rebekah’s body grew cold out back, White calmly dressed her son in his Halloween costume and drove him over to his father’s house. The body wasn’t found for another 20 hours, and while police searched, White asked his congregation to pray for the woman.

White was convicted and later committed suicide in prison, but the real horror of the story is perhaps that he’d ever been free at all. In 1981, John White was 22 when he tried to kill his neighbor, 17-year-old Theresa Etherton. White invited her into his basement, and while she was looking at a race track he’d built, White stabbed her in the back. Then he kissed her, smiled, and kept stabbing her. Teresa survived the attack with 15 stab wounds, and White spent two years in prison.

In 1994, White struck again, this time killing the woman he was having an affair with and leaving her naked body in the woods. But without evidence that he’d intended to kill her, prosecutors could only convict White on manslaughter charges. By 2007, he was again a free man, free to live his life, free to become a minister, and free to kill once more.

2Shirley Lynette Ledford

Horrific Torture and Murder of Shirley Ledford on Halloween Night

On October 31, 1979, 16-year-old Shirley Ledford was walking home from a party in the suburbs of Los Angeles when two kind men in a van offered to give her a ride. The next morning, a jogger discovered her mutilated body in an ivy bed on the front lawn of a residential home. It appeared to be a shocking random act of violence, but less than a month later, a tip from a former inmate put police on the trails of Roy Norris and Lawrence Bittaker, an electrician and a mechanic who lived and worked in Los Angeles.

It wasn’t long before investigators discovered hundreds of photos of young girls, bloodstained work tools, and chilling recorded tapes of women screaming and begging for mercy. The police had captured the Tool Box Killers, a serial-killing team that had abducted, tortured, and killed at least five teenage girls over the past few months.

But the true barbarity of this two-man torture team didn’t come out until Roy Norris made a full confession of their murders. Particularly gruesome was his description of what had happened after they’d coerced Shirley Ledford into their van that tragic Halloween evening. Bittaker was driving when they picked her up, and Norris offered her some weed, which she’d refused. Norris then got behind the wheel while Bittaker slid into the back with Shirley. For the next two hours, all Norris heard was “screams . . . constant screams” from the back. While Norris calmly piloted them through the bustling streets of LA, Bittaker beat her with his fists, broke her elbows with a sledgehammer, and sodomized her with a pair of pliers. All of it was recorded on a tape recorder.

Finally, Norris pulled over and strangled Shirley with a coat hanger that he cinched shut with pliers, and the two dumped her body on a random front lawn. Apparently, Bittaker wanted to “see the reaction of the newspapers” when the body was discovered. Bittaker received the death sentence, and Norris received 45 years to life.

1Lisa Ann French

Gerald Turner wasn’t feeling well on Halloween night in 1973. He and his live-in girlfriend, Arlene Penn, had made plans to go to Arlene’s mother’s that night for dinner. When Arlene got home from work, though, Turner stopped her at the front door and urged her to go ahead without him. It was about 7:00 PM, and Arlene shrugged it off and drove all the way to her mother’s house before remembering that her mother wouldn’t be home for nearly an hour. She went back home and wasted time downstairs with Turner for an hour then went back out.

When Arlene got home at 11:00 PM, Turner was still up. She noticed that the blanket from their bed was crumpled up on the floor of the laundry room, but Arlene shrugged it off and went to bed. She didn’t find out until later that the little girl from down the street had been killed in that same bed just hours earlier.

Lisa Ann French left her house just before 6:00 PM dressed like a miniature hobo—ragged jeans, a parka, and a battered felt hat. About an hour later, she made her way to Gerald Turner’s house. The door was open. What happened next is unclear, but Turner got Lisa upstairs to his bedroom, where he forced himself on her and then strangled her to death.

“Then I see the delight in your eyes turn to fear as I shut the door behind you,” Gerald Turner later wrote in a letter he penned in prison to Lisa. The girl’s body was found in a field on the outskirts of town three days after Halloween.

The implications of the timeline are staggering. Had Turner already committed his heinous act when Arlene got home from work, or was he still waiting for Lisa to come by? Had Arlene sat downstairs, holding hands with a burgeoning killer, while his first victim grew cold upstairs, or had Turner already put the body in a trash bag and dumped it?

The jury couldn’t have cared less. Turner was sentenced to 39 years in prison. Amid public outcry, he was released on parole in 1998, but he went back to prison in 2003 for a parole violation. He’s slated for release in 2018.

Eli Nixon is the author of Son of Tesla, a novel about love, friendship, and Nikola Tesla’s insatiable lust for world domination. It’s been called a story that “could have benefited from a strong female or two, or any woman for that matter.”

fact checked by Jamie Frater