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10 Real-Life Horror Scenes Found Lurking Behind Happy Occasions

by A.C. Grimes
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Death’s rictus grin, putrid stench, and aura of cold foreboding are almost unmistakable. But only almost. Death can also be beguiling, presenting itself as the tenderness of a parent’s love or a paramour’s warm embrace. Sometimes, the threat of death shrouds itself in the laughter of children or dons a mask of celebratory mirth. And when Death unveils itself in such seemingly happy moments, it’s all the more horrifying.

10The Toddler On A Swing

Judge: Mom who pushed toddler in swing until he died is not guilty

It was maternal affection personified: a mother tirelessly pushing her young son on a park swing with no end in sight. But as hours passed, the warmth of that image faded. The mother continued swinging her child into the night . . . and into the next morning, followed by another night and another morning. Police were called in the early morning hours of May 22, 2015 to investigate. Officers arrived at 6:55 AM to discover Romechia Simms pushing the lifeless body of three-year-old Ji’Aire Donnell Lee. She had been swinging the child for nearly 44 hours.

Young Ji’Aire was very much alive when he first arrived at the park, and his mother had no intention of killing him. But the 24-year-old Simms struggled with mental illness and had suffered at least one mental breakdown in the past. Instability once drove her to attack her own mother, and in another alarming incident, she leaped from a moving cab with Ji’Aire in her arms. The child’s father, observing Simms’s unhinged state, fought to become Ji’Aire’s sole custodian. The court, however, only granted joint custody, which wasn’t enough to save the helpless toddler.

Days after the court’s ruling, the psychologically fragile Simms snapped once more. She had been living at a motel and was struggling to balance motherhood with school and work. On May 20, at 11:30 AM, she arrived with Ji’Aire at LaPLATA, Maryland’s Wills Memorial Park. Over the course of two days, Ji’Aire slowly died of dehydration and exposure to the cold while Simms swung him, utterly unaware of the lethal agony she caused. She has since been charged with manslaughter and child abuse.

9The Slumber Party

12-year-old stabbing victim: ‘I trusted you!’

Everyone knows slumber parties are about games, gossip, and trampling all over the concept of curfew. But for Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier of Waukesha, Wisconsin, an overnight birthday soiree became the perfect pretext for attempted murder. On May 31, 2014, after a night of roller-skating and deathless sleep, the 12-year-olds viciously stabbed peer and party guest Payton Leutner 19 times, hoping to kill her. Their motive: Slender Man.

Like many, Morgan and Anissa discovered Slender Man on the Creepypasta Wiki. Weier, who suffered from a delusional disorder, and Geyser, who was schizophrenic, believed the lanky, faceless figure was real. Weier worried that Slender Man would harm their families unless the duo sacrificed someone in his honor. So they hatched a scheme to murder Payton Leutner at a slumber party commemorating Geyser’s 12th birthday. From there, they would journey to the Slender mansion.

They revised their plot for months. Initially, they intended to stab Leutner in Geyser’s room as she slept. Then they considered stabbing Leutner in a park bathroom where the blood could escape down a floor drain. Finally, they sprang their trap during a game of hide-and-seek in the woods. Geyser and Weier hesitated at first but eventually mustered the will to spear Leutner repeatedly with knives. They then left her in the woods to die.

Thankfully, Leutner managed to claw her way out of the woods to a sidewalk, where she was discovered by a cyclist. Despite suffering grave internal wounds, she survived. Weier and Geyser were apprehended the same day while trying to walk to Slender Man’s mansion. Despite troubling psychological evaluations that questioned their competence to stand trial, they are being tried as adults.

8The Birthday Reunion

Chimp Mauling | Fatal Attractions

For St. James and LaDonna Davis, their chimpanzee Moe was more of a son than a pet. The couple raised him to shower, dress, and use the commode like a human. But after more than 30 years with the Davises, Moe became too aggressive for human society, attacking a police officer and chomping off part of a woman’s finger. After an emotional trial, the Davises lost custody of Moe, who was relocated to the Animal Haven Ranch sanctuary.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, the doting couple visited their hairy child often and brought him pastries on his birthday. In 2005, Moe turned 39, and in honor of the occasion, St. James and LaDonna came to the sanctuary bearing cake. But a scenario intended to be more sweet than bitter quickly took a turn for the vicious. While trying to celebrate with Moe, the couple was intercepted by two chimps named Buddy and Ollie. Buddy and Ollie stayed in the cage next to Moe’s and had somehow escaped their enclosure. After briefly locking eyes with the Davises, the animals pounced.

Ollie and Buddy first zeroed in on LaDonna, one of them biting off her left thumb. St. James intervened to save her, and they proceeded to mangle his face, rip out one of his testicles, and tear off one of his feet. He ended up losing most of his fingers. In the aftermath, the chimps were put down to prevent future incidents. St. James Davis required 12 surgeries and a medically induced coma to return to some semblance of health. But the nightmarish birthday bash didn’t sour the pair on chimpanzees. Four years after their gruesome ordeal, the couple maintained that chimps are by and large harmless.

7The Children In The Woods

There are few sights more bucolic than children traipsing through the woods, skipping with juvenile prattle. And in the winter of 1993, a group of children exploring the woods of Chesapeake, Virginia, no doubt created a similarly blithe atmosphere. That is, until the youngsters, some as young as eight years old, took a wrong turn.

“Ugh, I saw the hand!” one of the children exclaimed in disgust. As the Free Lance-Star newspaper gloomily described, the youngsters had “discovered an open coffin with a curled hand resting above a pool of dark water.” The grisly encounter with death left a lasting impression in the children’s once innocent minds. They began having nightmares and became fearful of returning to those woods, which their parents bade them to avoid.

What the children witnessed was the twisted handiwork of vandals who had uncovered a private but untended cemetery. Most of the boneyard’s owners were either indifferent to its existence or buried in it, making upkeep and security a low priority. Seeing an opportunity for mischief, unknown rascals began digging up graves on a recurring basis. In addition to setting the stage for someone’s childhood trauma, the vandalism also posed a serious danger.

Some of the uncovered coffins were nestled deep in the earth, threatening severe injury for anyone who might fall inside. No clear signs existed to warn passersby when they were nearing a resting place for the deceased. Upset parents pressured local officials to tackle the problem, which had persisted for over a decade by this point. But with no official laws governing the handling of the private plots, efforts to clean up the cemetery floundered.

6The Dinner Party

In 2007, 42-year-old Didier Charron entertained dinner guests at his home in Verviers, eastern Belgium. Despite having a wife and stepson, he hosted the festivities alone, all the while exuding a noticeable air of unease. But beyond Charron being a bit off-kilter, nothing seemed particularly amiss. One of his guests stayed behind to help tidy up the place. She dutifully tackled the dishes and took it upon herself to lug the leftovers down to the basement freezer. But it was already packed with remains of a different sort. There in Charron’s freezer was a woman’s icy corpse.

The discovery sent Charron’s guest scurrying for the safety of less murderous confines. She then called the police. Officers confirmed that the body belonged to none other than Charron’s wife, 46-year-old Chantal Bernard. From there, the story only got grimmer. Tucked under Chantal was her 11-year-old son, Bryan, whose presence was obscured by the narrowness of the freezer. Charron copped to stabbing Chantal to death after a heated argument but remained mum on the circumstances surrounding young Bryan’s demise.

To some who knew Didier, none of this came as a shock. Charron had been, to put it mildly, a domestic terror who attacked his wife with vicious abandon and upped his aggression when intoxicated—which he often was. A neighbor interviewed about the relationship attested to calling police on numerous occasions to keep Charron’s violent advances at bay. Chantal eventually resolved to divorce her spousal tormentor, but Charron chose to end things with brutal finality.

Charron was convicted of the murders and was sentenced to life in prison.

5The Youthful Partiers

Friend says Tyler Hadley let him see crime scene

Partying teenagers often serve as a horror movie plot device. But usually the ethereal monster that springs up is an outsider. In real life, the inhuman killer is sometimes the teen who organized the get-together, as was the case with Tyler Hadley.

In 2011, the 17-year-old Floridian bludgeoned his parents to death with a framing hammer for reasons that were never fully confirmed. He then hid their bodies in the master bedroom under a pile of towels, books, and other household items. Later, he hosted a party. The night was consumed by beer pong, tobacco, and general juvenile rebellion. But at some point, the young killer purportedly admitted his misdeed to a friend and showed off a bloody footprint. Macabre gossip quickly made the rounds among the guests, and someone contacted authorities before Hadley could throw a second postmortem shindig. In 2014, the teen was condemned to life in prison without parole.

Disturbingly, Hadley’s case isn’t the first of its kind. In 1996, Michigan teen Devon Watts was handed a life sentence for her part in the murder of 73-year-old Leonard Hughley. Watts had been cohabitating with Hughley with his trailer and, according to a recanted confession, was set to marry him. (Hughley’s family dismissed this claim.) But she also wanted best friend Kelly Heemstra to join their trailer family. Heemstra’s presence eventually bred tension, which the girls opted to resolve with a .22 rifle blast to Hughley.

After wrapping Hughley’s lifeless form in a blanket, the deadly duo invited friends over to view the body and chill for a while. The group chugged booze and puffed pot. Watts even had sex with a partygoer despite the fresh corpse in their midst. Watts would later disavow her admission in court, but jurors were unconvinced. Heemstra pleaded guilty.

4The Bachelor Party

Many men view bachelor parties as a kind of happy funeral for their untamed masculinity before they tie the knot. In 2014, Dan Trainor of Rochester, Minnesota, decided to make his bachelor bash a sports-themed road trip. The party would travel south in a massive land boat, picking up friends along the way. After catching a hockey game in Winona, Minnesota, they would ultimately drop anchor in Louisville for the Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately, their trip was derailed by a rather ghastly hiccup: A decaying cadaver had secretly tagged along for the ride.

The body had been unceremoniously crammed in the RV’s front compartment, which Trainor and company had been instructed not to open on account of dysfunctionality. But the guests Trainor picked up during their May 1 stopover in Winona didn’t receive that memo. One of them unlatched the storage area doors and soon came calling the others to take a look. A pair of shoeless legs could be seen peeking from inside. It was later determined that those legs belonged to 22-year-old Kevin Casserly, of Anoka County, Minnesota.

Casserly had been reporting missing in November the previous year. A coroner attributed his death as the result of hypothermia. But how he ended up shoved into the front end of a rental RV remains a mystery. The discovery of his body and the police questioning that ensued put a huge damper on Trainor’s party plans. On the bright side, he, his friends, and the owner of the vehicle were all cleared of suspicion in Casserly’s passing. Whether their unsightly pre-wedding find boded ill for his marriage, however, is unknown.

3The Wedding Surprise

Brazil wedding slaying leaves bride, groom, best man dead

In December 2010—mere days before Christmas—29-year-old Rogerio Damascena and 25-year-old Renata Coelho capped off a three-year courtship with an extravagant wedding in Camaragibe, Brazil. They declared their undying love to each other in front of 200 attendees and partied past midnight. By 2:30 AM on December 19, the celebration was wrapping up and guests prepared to say their goodbyes. But the groom had a surprise to share. After hugging his father and proclaiming his happiness, Damascena took his blushing bride into his arms, kissed her, and fired a single bullet into her ear.

Damascena’s bloodied bride sank to the floor, fatally wounded. The groom then addressed his wedding guests—many of them his own friends and coworkers—with the aid of his .380 revolver. Bullets whizzed past faces and grazed flesh. Damascena unloaded multiple rounds into the head of his best man, killing him. The frenzied gunfire continued until Damascena finally turned his gun on himself. He later died at a local hospital.

Many who knew the groom were stunned. Employees at the motorbike importation company where Damascena worked portrayed him as a diligent and all-around happy guy. Even on his wedding day, he wore a perfect poker face, betraying no discontentment before his homicidal outburst. But those related to the bride saw things differently. According to Renata Coelho’s brother, Damascena had a tendency to fly into jealous rages that could get physical. One of Renata’s former university classmates remarked that he “had a horrible temper.”

Those seeking to make sense of the senseless carnage speculate that Damascena at least suspected that Coelho had been cheating with his best man. Whatever the impetus, his crime left hideous emotional scars where beautiful memories should have been.

2The Newlyweds

June 9, 2008, was a monumental day for Barry Johnson and Wendy Shobrook. On that day, the UK couple said “I do” before friends and family, promising that nothing short of death would separate them. Not 24 hours after exchanging vows, they perpetrated a savage murder.

The newlyweds’ wedding reception was the first inauspicious sign of things to come. Shobrook felt ignored by her new hubby and lashed out by lavishing attention on father of four and possible paramour George Auchterlonie. A neighbor would later claim that after returning home from the ceremony, Johnson verbally chastised his wife for sleeping with Auchterlonie. Hostilities only intensified after a night of debauchery. Arguing drove an alcoholically aggressive Shobrook to set their bed on fire with Johnson in it. She then stormed off to Auchterlonie’s place for the night.

The next day, Johnson and his wife talked on the phone. It’s alleged that Shobrook falsely accused George of raping and robbing her. Incensed, Barry stormed over to Auchterlonie’s house, where Wendy let him in. The pair then pulverized Auchterlonie with an assortment of weapons that included an oar, a rope, and a glass tumbler. Over that torturous stretch of time, the victim sustained 38 injuries, some of which resulted in brain damage. He died within hours.

Auchterlonie’s body was found several days later on Friday the 13th. His assailants were soon arrested. Barry, despite having bragged to friends about the attack, professed his innocence. Wendy only copped to drunken pyromania, later admitting that she rushed to George’s house to punish her husband. She denied instigating the murder. Both, however, were convicted of it. Barry Johnson and his wife were sentenced to 12 and 5 years in prison respectively.

1A Night Out With Friends

Cerys Marie Yemm named as Argoed hotel cannibal murder victim

In November 2014, Cerys Yemm and Matthew Williams met at a bar and South Wales during a night of drinking with friends. A friendly night at the local watering hole soon evolved into plans for a cozier interaction. Williams coaxed the 22-year-old Yemm into dropping by the bed and breakfast where he had been staying. She agreed, no doubt expecting a pleasant evening with a new friend. But less than a day after meeting each other for the first time, Cerys Yemm and Matthew Williams were dead.

B&B manager Mandy Miles was in the building at the time wrapping Christmas presents when she was informed that Williams had a female guest. This was prohibited at the facility, which was designed for the homeless. She abandoned giftwrapping to go lay down the law. After forcing her way into the room, she found Williams looming over Yemm’s lifeless body, blood pooling about her. What Miles didn’t realize at the time was that Williams had devoured chunks of Yemm’s face and one of her eyes.

Officers were called to the scene and tried to subdue Williams with a 50,000-volt taser. The jolt of the stun gun proved lethal for Williams, who died moments after being detained. In the aftermath, it was revealed that Yemm died of traumatic injuries caused by a sharp object, possibly a knife.

Her killer—you’ll be unsurprised to discover—probably should have been in a psychiatric ward. Williams was a violent ex-con who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was prone to drug abuse. At the time of his attack, he was fresh out of prison. His mother attested that he regularly hallucinated, while a friend of Williams alleged that he was hopped up on a bevy of drugs the day he met Yemm. Whatever sinister delusion or uncontrolled rage specifically prompted Williams to kill and cannibalize his victim, however, will remain a mystery.

fact checked by Jamie Frater