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10 Family Secrets That Will Truly Horrify You

by A. C. Grimes
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Every family has a skeleton or two hiding in their closets. Whether shameful or downright sinister, those secrets are like an invisible albatross that one or more members must bear while desperately hoping that no one else bares them. The families on this list amassed enough skeletons to fill entire cemeteries. Each buried secrets that had the power to make or mangle. And in each case, those truths were ultimately dug up.

10The Guarded Wife


Photo credit: AP

While he was alive, Fred Rinkel’s ethnicity and religion impacted him in ways most people only read about in history books. A German-born Jew, Rinkel once faced possible annihilation under the Nazi regime but managed to escape along with a brother. Tragically, his parents ended up perishing in the Holocaust. Carrying the weight of this dark history with him, he started life anew in the US, where he regularly attended synagogue and reaffirmed his identity as part of a prominent Jewish organization.

Given Rinkel’s biography, it would have seemed unthinkable for him to marry a former concentration camp guard. But without realizing it, that’s precisely what he did. In 1962, he tied the knot with Elfriede Rinkel. A former dog handler at the Ravensbruck concentration camp, in her previous life, she spent 10 months keeping enslaved Jews in line, vacating her post once the Nazis discontinued operations. Later, she relocated to San Francisco, where she met Fred Rinkel and fell in love.

Rinkel kept silent about her deplorable employment history, even hiding it from her brother, who had fought for the Germans. As she would explain in an interview, “You don’t talk about things like that, never.” Instead, she fully embraced her husband’s Judaism, attending synagogue and donating to Jewish charities. It wasn’t until two years after Fred Rinkel died that history finally caught up to her.

In 2006, the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations took notice of Rinkel’s ugly past. She quickly confessed to working at Ravensbruck but explained it as a product of financial need rather than genocidal fervor. Nonetheless, at 84 years old, she became the first woman ever prosecuted by the Office of Special Investigations. As a consequence, Rinkel was deported to Germany.

9The Impure Pilgrim


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In 2002, Robert Hale challenged the federal land ownership in famously petulant fashion. Known more popularly as “Papa Pilgrim,” he gained nationwide attention after steering a bulldozer 13 miles through a national park. Pilgrim’s stunt came in response to legislation that permitted drivers to use portions of government-owned land where roads once stood. His insolence made him political gold to those who opposed land use regulations.

As the public got to know Pilgrim, they were seemingly transported to a bygone era. He sported an unkempt beard, shunned television, and gave all 15 of his children Christian-themed names. The family seemed to live simpler but happy lives premised on wilderness survival, kindness to others, and deep religiosity. No one would have guessed that behind the guise of purity stood an abominable abuser that regularly raped and beat his children.

When he felt his boys were out of line, Pilgrim would viciously whip them, forcing his wife to secure their hands and gag them with cloth if they screamed. As his oldest daughter matured, he began sexually preying on her, claiming that the Bible permitted incest between a father and “one special daughter.” Only after becoming acquainted with the norms and dynamics of a non-abusive family did the children grow to understand how monstrous their father had been.

In 2005, the oldest of the Pilgrim girls fled their father’s oppressiveness on a snow machine and sought refuge from state troopers. Once confronted with his crimes in a court of law, Pilgrim declined to put up a fight, pleading no contest instead. But for all the moralizing he’d become known for, he refused to repent himself. He remained unapologetic to the end, dying behind bars in 2008.

8The Unwholesome Couple


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To those who knew them, Gerald and Alice Uden were the spitting image of wholesomeness, unassuming churchgoers who were spending their twilight years in relative solitude. As one longtime neighbor described them, “They’re the kind of neighbors you leaned over the fence and talked about your chickens with.” What the Udens didn’t discuss were the people they’d murdered before coming into each other’s lives.

Before Alice and Gerald ever crossed paths, they were married to other people. In 1974, Alice Uden married a man named Ronald Holtz. Less than half a year later, she would try to divorce him, but no one could seem to find him. In 1980, Gerald Uden shot his ex-wife, and her two sons also mysteriously vanished. Eventually, Alice and Gerald would meet, marry, and raise children together. By the time the truth came to light, the Udens were in their seventies.

Decades after Ronald Holt’s disappearance, one of Alice Uden’s sons turned her in to police. According to Todd, she once admitted to putting a bullet through her then-husband’s head and hiding his body in a gold mine. As investigators collected evidence in Alice’s case, they started looking into Gerald’s questionable past as well.

Sensing that the jig was up, Gerald confessed to shooting his ex-wife and stepchildren with a rifle she bought him as a present. Alice, on the other hand, framed her actions as just. Disavowing the story she allegedly told her son, Alice now claimed she shot Ronald Holtz as he was about to attack her daughter. A jury would find her guilty of manslaughter.

7The Favor


For almost 30 years, no one had seen or heard from Joseph Tarricone. In 1978, after visiting his daughter in Hawaii, the Washington resident seemingly just vanished. Virtually everyone who knew Tarricone, including his seven children, were left to wonder what became of him. But his disappearance was no mystery to Renee Curtiss and her older brother, Nicholas Notaro. They were the ones who made it happen.

Before Tarricone went missing, he had been romantically involved with Curtiss. But Curtiss grew weary of her then-suitor and, investigators believe, recruited her brother to get rid of him. Notaro consented, dispatching of Tarricone with two bullets to the head. To dispose of the body, he and Curtiss cut it to pieces with a chainsaw and buried the remains. For decades, they managed to keep mum about their coldblooded crime.

The siblings’ secret was unearthed in 2007. While tearing down Curtiss’s old home, a construction worker stumbled onto Tarricone’s mangled remnants. Suddenly, the jig was up. Notaro, who had recently killed his own wife, copped to killing and dismembering Tarricone. He was sentenced to life behind bars.

Curtiss confessed to helping dispose of Tarricone’s body but insisted that she had nothing to do with the planning or execution of the slaying. But her persistent indifference to the victim’s gory death left a judge and jury unconvinced. She, like her brother, received a life sentence.

6The Not-So-Guilty Conscience


Photo credit: PA

In 1983, UK dentist Colin Howell married his first wife, Lesley, with whom he fathered four children. Their relationship seemed to be going swimmingly until the also-married Hazel Stewart came along. The two began a torrid affair. Repeated attempts to salvage their respective marriages failed to stem the infidelity. But something had to give. So Howell and Stewart gave in to a different urge: the desire to kill their spouses.

In 1991, Howell poisoned his wife to death with carbon monoxide. He then brought her body to his mistress’s house. From there, Stewart waited patiently as Howell proceeded to gas her husband to death. To conceal the homicides, he propped their bodies in a car in Stewarts’ garage, passing off the murders as a dual suicide. Despite having literally killed to be together, Stewart and Howell went their separate ways, each remaining silent about their murderous betrayal.

Howell remarried and established himself as a seemingly straight-laced family within his community. But in 1998, he started to crack. One day, as second wife Kyle Jorgensen fed one of their children, Howell interrupted her to confess his sins. Initially, he seemed resolved to turn himself in. But Jorgensen, concerned about the impact on their children, stayed his hand. The couple would share the burden of Howell’s guilt for another 10 years.

As time passed, life took a huge downward swing. Howell squandered the family’s life savings on a bogus financial venture, began cheating on his wife again, and took indecent liberties with sleeping patients in his office. Jorgensen, whether driven by vengeance, guilt, or a combination of the two, abandoned her previous position and urged Howell to turn himself in. Her insistence in conjunction with the death of Howell’s oldest son, Matthew, pushed him over the brink. Colin Howell received a 21-year prison term. A judge required co-conspirator Hazel Stewart to spend a minimum of 18 years behind bars.

5The Diary Confession


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The year 2012 kicked off a cavalcade of losses for Diane Staudte’s family. Her husband died without warning, seemingly of natural causes. Five months later, her autistic son Shaun died from what were believed to be seizure-related complications. And the following year, her daughter Sarah needed emergency medical attention for a flu-like malady that turned out to be organ failure. Sarah survived, but not before experiencing brain damage.

Despite the abundance of tragedy, Diane seemed strangely unperturbed. At her husband’s funeral, she was almost jolly, and the death of her son failed to evoke much emotion at all. When her daughter Sarah was admitted to the hospital, Diane shocked doctors with glib jokes and talk about vacationing. Something was clearly amiss.

The Staudte family’s pastor noticed some of this oddball behavior and reached out to law enforcement. It didn’t take interrogators long to coax a confession out of Diane. She had been systematically poisoning her family with flavorless antifreeze that she acquired online. She felt her husband needed to go because he was prone to violent outbursts. She found her son’s autism too onerous. And she deemed daughter Sarah, who had accumulated significant college debt, too much of a financial drain. She intended to spare her other two daughters out of love.

Throughout her questioning, Diane maintained that she acted alone. But police soon discovered a diary that suggested otherwise. The diary belonged to her daughter Rachel, who had clandestinely helped her mother plan and execute the murders. The idea, she would reveal in her writings, was to eliminate the entire family until just she and her mother remained. Both received life sentences for their crimes.

4The Closet


Photo credit: LA Times

Many children go through a phase of compulsively checking their closets for monsters. But the children of Veronica Aguilar knew better. That’s because for three years, they never had to question what was on the other side of the closet door. It was their brother.

According to authorities, the 39-year-old Aguilar trapped her son Yonatan inside closets where she fed him little more than sedatives to keep him docile. To avoid detection, she purportedly swore her remaining three children to secrecy, even as two of them were forced to sleep next to Yonatan’s makeshift prison at night. She successfully concealed the truth from concerned grandparents, teachers, and apparently even her own husband by convincing them that Yonatan—who showed signs of autism—lived at a Mexican institution.

It seems that nobody outside of Aguilar and her children knew about Yonatan’s true circumstances until his tortured body gave out in 2016. By then, the 11-year-old had shrunk to a skeletal 34 pounds. He was losing hair and awash with sores. Aguilar called her husband to let him know his stepson had died. Purportedly still in the dark, he began preparing himself for a solemn journey to Mexico before Aguilar unveiled Yonatan’s actual location. Her husband then left the house and contacted police.

Despite the physical evidence against her, the testimony of her children, and a documented history of child abuse and neglect, Aguilar has maintained her innocence. Let’s hope that whatever the outcome of the case, justice is served.

3The Other Children


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Darren West spent 10 years of his life believing he’d only fathered three children with estranged wife Megan Huntsman. But in 2006, after serving time for drug offenses, he was released into an appalling new reality. While making arrangements to stay with Huntsman, West discovered something unspeakable in her garage: a dead infant. It was far from the only one.

Between 1996 and 2006 Megan Huntsman had secretly given birth to seven of West’s children and choked six of them to death. The seventh was stillborn. Her motive was gut-churningly simple. Huntsman was hopelessly hooked on meth and knew she couldn’t nurse both a child and the addiction. So, forsaking adoption as a viable alternative, she murdered the newborns and turned her garage into a makeshift graveyard. Reticent by nature, Huntsman was able to hide the pregnancies and their ghastly aftermaths without changing much about her general demeanor.

The revelation came as a gut punch to those who knew Huntsman. Even so, much of her immediate family jumped to her defense, depicting Huntsman as a troubled soul who erred out of inconsolable fear. The courts were not so forgiving. In 2015, Huntsman received six life sentences, three of which had to be served consecutively.

2The Troubled Son


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On a January night in 1971, 13-year-old Charlie Brandt launched into a homicidal rampage. Without warning, he shot his father in the back and unloaded a succession of bullets into his pregnant mother as she bathed. He then shifted focus to his older sister, Angela. Luckily, his gun jammed. Seizing her opportunity, Angela tussled with the uncontrollable Brandt, all the while reminding her brother how much she loved him. The tactic worked, and he relented.

Brandt’s father barely survived the shooting. His mother wasn’t so lucky. Because of his age, prosecutors declined to charge him in his mother’s death. Psychologists, too, were at a loss, unable to pinpoint the motive or malady that made 13-year-old boy want to slaughter his whole family. Eventually, the Brandts resolved to bury the whole ordeal in the past, outwardly ignoring its existence. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last time Brandt would kill.

In 2004, Golf Channel executive Michelle Jones thoughtfully welcomed Brandt—her uncle by marriage—and his wife, Teri, to stay with her in Orlando while a hurricane blew through their part of Florida. The three successfully weathered the storm together. Nothing, however, would spare the trio from Charlie Brandt. In an act of unimaginable savagery, Brandt stabbed his wife seven times in the chest, beheaded Jones, and cut her heart out. Afterward, he hanged himself.

Friends and investigators alike were utterly flummoxed. Those who knew Charlie pegged him as a shy oddity, not a vicious killer. To many, the slayings seemed as unpredictable as they were tragic. That is, until Angela Brandt came forward. Her revelation led investigators to a startling theory: Brandt may have been a serial killer in hiding. Subsequent investigations linked Brandt to the 1989 murder of Sherry Perisho. How many other skeletons Brandt has buried in his past might never be known.

1The Colonel’s Daughter


Photo credit: NY Times

In many ways, Victoria Montenegro’s upbringing was an exercise in propaganda and revisionist history. She grew up believing that her father was a valiant figure who sought to keep the nation’s fabric unsoiled by enemies during Argentina’s dictatorship. Lieutenant Colonel Hernan Tetzlaff spent countless hours filling Montenegro’s head with the odious details of tortures and deaths supposedly necessitated by patriotism.

In reality, Colonel Tetzlaff had helped the Argentinian military steal hundreds of babies from families deemed adversarial to the state during the country’s “dirty war.” Montenegro was one of those babies. Her actual parents, Roque and Hilda Montenegro, had been abducted, abused, and assassinated on Colonel Tetzlaff’s orders. At the time, she was just four months old. Seizing the opportunity to raise the Montenegros’ child as his own, the colonel falsified documents to hide her identity.

The truth didn’t emerge until 1992, when Colonel Tetzlaff was charged with child abduction. A court named Montenegro as one of his victims. She responded with fierce denial. But Colonel Tetzlaff himself would confess in 2000, characterizing his crimes as an effort to save children from bad upbringings. For a while, Montenegro clung to that narrative. But as she dug into the past, the colonel’s account seemed more like a grim fairytale. Ultimately, she would testify against Colonel Tetzlaff in court, helping to put him behind bars.

fact checked by Jamie Frater