Episode 43 | MAN DRESSED as SANTA Massacres Family Christmas Eve.
Santa's Christmas Eve. Massacre
It was the night before Christmas, and not a creature stirred.
Well, that is until a frightening call tore through the nightshift at the 911 call center.
“I need someone to come over and help my neighbor’s granddaughter,” a voice screamed at the dispatcher “she’s been shot, in the face!”
“who shot her?” The 911 dispatch asked. “Is the shooter still there?”
“I don’t know,” the neighbor replied, “she says it was Santa.”
It’s Christmas morning: Kids run down the stairs to tear open gifts under a tree wrapped in lights and decorated with sparkling ornaments. Parents carry on tradition of harmless white lies that the hard-earned money they spent on the gifts under the tree and crammed into the stockings were delivered by a jolly, fat man who had broken into their house the night before.
In many homes, dads donned padded suits with over-stuffed tummies and boisterous “ho, ho, hos”- fooling only the youngest of the family. But, in the early hours of Christmas day at 129, Knollcrest Drive in Covina, California, the dozens of men were wearing a different type of suit. Over eighty fire-fighters in protective clothing sifted through the debris of a fire that had started in the early hours of Christmas day. What a way to celebrate Christmas. The fire had been so ferocious that it had taken almost two hours to put out. So far, they had uncovered 9 bodies. All burnt beyond recognition. They would only be identified using dental records. But, that was not necessary, the police already knew who the bodies were. Just hours before, they had been living, breathing members of the Ortega family, celebrating Christmas eve together; blissfully unaware that it would be their last.
Had a cooking accident gone horribly wrong? Was it a gas explosion? A furnace mishap? What could have happened?
Only the 15 surviving members of the Ortega family knew what had happened that night.
It all started at 11.30 pm, on Christmas eve. The night had started with festivity and joy as members of the Ortega family had gathered together for their yearly Christmas eve dinner heralding the holiday seasons. It was a tradition kept up by the elderly patriarch and matriarch of the family ever since they arrived in America from Mexico. The walls of the house could barely contain the laughs and chatter of the happy people from drifting out into the night. They had wined and dined, and now they were all just playing card games, watching TV, swimming, and enjoying laughs together when the doorbell rang and everything changed.
8-year old Katrina opened the door; Her wide welcoming smile changed to one of excitement as her eyes saw the velvet red coat and white trim that heralds, Santa Claus. With one hand, he pulled a large gift-wrapped present on wheels. Katrina’s mind-boggled thinking of what gifts Santa had brought.
“Santa Claus!” She cried giddily. The adults in the room had looked from one to the other wondering who had planned this surprise. “Who ordered a Santa?” someone had asked.
But the words were barely out of their mouths when the blast of a gun tore through the house and 8-year Katrina fell to the floor, blood gushing from her face. The shock was so great even she didn’t realize she had been shot; she just thought the sounds she heard were popping balloons.
The uninvited Santa stepped into the house, gun drawn shooting sporadically into the screaming group.
“It’s Bruce!” Charles Ortega cried, “Oh my God it’s Bruce!” Just before he too was shot. Followed quickly by his brother. One by one, they fell at his hands.
Bruce Jeffery Pardo, the ex-husband of Sylvia Ortega. Their divorce had just been finalized the week before; he’d even gotten the house and cars in the settlement. So, what was he doing in their house, gun blazing in a Santa costume?
45-year old, Bruce Jeffery Pardo was not always a gun-toting maniacal Santa Claus. He had been born in San Fernando Valley and graduated from California State University. Just a year before the shootings, he had been a respectable electrical engineer working at ITT Electronic Radar Systems. On Sundays, he attended Holy Redeemer Catholic Church where he was an usher. Other members of the church had nothing but good things to say about him:
He was tall, educated, charming, had a good sense of humor, and to a smitten Sylvia Ortega, so handsome. She couldn’t stop talking about him to her childhood friend.
Soon, the two were engaged and got married and were on their way to living happily ever… but even before the ink was dried on the wedding certificate, the marriage hit the rocks. And it started, like most marital problems do: with money.
While Pardo earned a six-figure salary as an engineer, Sylvia was working as a secretary at a flower nursery, earning about $31, 000 dollars a year. By society standards, they were comfortable. Sylvia had three children from previous relationships, the last was a 5-year old, the only one who lived with her. The family of three moved into Pardo’s large home in Montrose, California. With Sylvia bringing the bulk of the furniture.
The signs pointed to a wonderful future; Pardo was often seen puttering around the house and taking the family dog on walks to the local dog park. All was well in house Pardo until he insisted the two kept their finances separate and resisted opening joint bank accounts. He also didn’t seem to acknowledge he was now a step-father to her children and did nothing to support them. Prince Charming insisted the children were not his and that their real fathers should take care of them.
By the time they reached their first year together, Sylvia noticed some changes in her miserly husband. He was withdrawn, sullen, cold, and inattentive.
“I don’t think he loves me anymore,” she told her best friend in tears.
If only it was just that.
What she discovered soon after was far worse.
It started when Sylvia discovered tax papers that Pardo had a son from his previous relationship. When she confronted him, he denied it vehemently but, his mother was more than willing to spill the tea to Sylvia; he did have a son from a previous relationship. But, that was not the worst of it. Tragedy had struck the couple when the child was only 13 months old. While the mother had gone to get groceries, the toddler had wandered out back, and fell in the pool.
The boy was rushed to the hospital, and paramedics were able to resuscitate the boy however he would never be the same; he suffered brain damage from lack of oxygen and would spend his life as a paraplegic. Suddenly, Pardo who had been at his son’s side since the dreadful accident, - cut all contact with the boy and mother. In the first year of treatment, a whopper of a medical bill was due- $360,000. The mother sued his homeowners’ insurance policy for payment. She got a settlement of less than 1/3 of the hospital bills. Pardo would never be in touch with either son or mother again, not even to pay child support. A textbook deadbeat dad. Yet, the real kicker, every year, Pardo illegally declared the boy as a dependent on his taxes!
Sylvia, a mother to three children was aghast by this revelation. The lies, callousness, and dishonesty were too much for her. She moved to a separate room and spent weekends with her parents. She hoped to finish out the school year of her youngest before moving out. But, before long, they would come home from a birthday party to see their belongings tossed out onto the driveway.
Sylvia moved in with her sister and brother-in-law and filed for divorce. In court papers, she demanded $3, 166 in spousal support. Well in light of what she had learned from Pardo's MO with the previous relationship, I'd say that is a Hail Mary if there ever was one.
Bad news came in threes for ole Bruce Pardo when he lost his job just a month after he had flung Sylvia’s belongings to the curb. He begged the court to grant HIM spousal support, citing that he had not been given a severance package from his last employers. Of course, he didn’t mention that his employment had been terminated when it was found out that he had been billing clients for hours he didn’t work.
A thief, a fraudster, a deadbeat dad, the guy was running out of nouns to be described by. Yet, just wait, more was coming.
Poor Pardo, the world seemed to be ganging up on him. He had lost his wife, his job, he was $ 31,000 in credit-card debt, had a monthly mortgage of $2,700, and was also to pay Sylvia $1,700 a month in alimony. Yet, he seemed to be taking it all in stride. To his divorce attorney, he was the upbeat client; even Sylvia’s attorney confirmed that he was civil throughout the proceedings.
What no one knew was that literally from the minute Sylvia had said she wanted a divorce, Pardo had obsessively and meticulously labored over a plan to kill her and her entire family. Even while complaining of his rising debt and inability to meet the court-ordered payments; in a matter of three months, he had purchased three 9mm semi-automatic weapons.
It would be the first of many purchases. 4 months before he burst into the Ortega’s home, he found a costume maker and ordered an extra-large Santa Claus suit for $300, complete with boots, belts, glasses, and a hat. He told the tailor that he wanted it “extra-large so he could look extra jolly.” Jolly old St. Nick needed that extra room to pack all that heat.
Putting the engineering degree to good use, he also started building a device to spray flammable fluids . Two months before D-day, Pardo visited a friend in Illinois, where he purchased over 200 rounds of ammunition. A month later, he purchased his fifth 9mm gun and picked up the Santa suit. He was a man on a mission of pure evil.
By December, the divorce was finalized. Pardo kept his house and his cars, Sylvia kept her engagement ring, the family dog, the furniture she had come to the house with, and $ 10,000 in alimony. That didn’t seem to be enough to have Pardo call off his planned massacre; he rented two getaway cars and booked a flight to Illinois. The final touches to his horrific master plan.
At 10 pm on Christmas eve, Pardo was seen by his neighbors, pulling out of his driveway in a car they had never seen before. They asked the jolly Santa where he was off to and with a twinkle in his eye, he replied: “I’m going to a Christmas party.” Pardo then made the 20-mile drive to to his former in-laws in Covina, Los Angeles.
He pulled up to the house at 11.30 pm, taking time to wave and wish a “Merry Christmas” to the Ortega’s neighbors in the cul-de-sac. Little did they know that just a few minutes later, they would be calling the police in a panic reporting jolly St. Nick.
With four guns in his Santa suit, Pardo wheeled a package behind him, all wrapped up with a bow, up the wet walkway to the door of the Ortega residence. The sound of laughter from the happy people within the home must have been an added trigger to his hate-filled brain.
He pressed the doorbell. It was opened by an excited 8-year old, Katrina, who had once called him ‘uncle’ Bruce. But this demented Santa wasn’t there to deliver gifts for the children. Pardo immediately pulled out his guns and in cold blood shot her in the face. Behind her, chaos erupted. Sylvia Ortega’s parents and several of her siblings and their partners were in the front rooms of the residence, playing cards, chatting and some preparing to leave. The younger family members were mostly in the backrooms, watching TV, playing video games, and frolicking in the backyard pool. Upstairs, 17-year old Michael Ortega tapped away at the computer, sending e-mails.
As the first victim 8-year-old Katrina fell, Pardo began firing at everyone he could lay his eyes on. Twenty-five members of the Ortega family ran around the house frantically looking for a means to escape. One sixteen-year-old was shot in the back while she was running away. A 20-year old ran upstairs and jumped from the roof to escape, breaking an ankle, several jumped through windows in the house. Many of those who were in the back rooms escaped to neighbors’ houses. Sylvia’s sister frantically called 911 and identified Pardo as the shooter. It’s seems the Santa suit wasn’t that great a disguise after all.
The remaining nine members of the house were sitting ducks. The elderly Ortegas who had been playing cards at the dining-room table were now hiding under it with a daughter-in-law. Two of Sylvia’s brothers had attempted to overpower him but he shot and killed them both. Then the hunt began, Pardo found grandma and grandpa Ortega under the table, killing them instantly execution style. He then found his ex-wife and her sister; shooting and killing them as well. 8 members of the Ortega family lay dead or severely injured by Pardo but, he was not done yet.
Not by a long shot.
An exuberant Pardo ripped open the wrapped package with the big bow that he had rolled in with him. It was a makeshift gas dispenser, filled to the brim with 18 gallons of gasoline. His plan was to saturate the home with the gas and ignite it; Incinerating his ex, the Ortega family and his fury in fire and ash.
Here, Pardo’s engineering degree met its waterloo. We all know what happens when you expose a flammable liquid to fire. Apparently, Pardo didn’t realize The Ortegas had two open flame heaters going to tame the night chill. As Pardo started to spray the gasoline in the house, Karma took over and the fluid ignited before Pardo could make his unscathed escape. The resulting explosion gutted the entire house. Michael on the computer was trapped upstairs, died in the resulting explosion and fire. The death count was now 9. Pardo sadly made it safely out of the home in his blackened singed Santa suit and fled the scene in his getaway vehicle. He zoomed off into the night, knocking down some street lights in his haste, behind him, the Ortegas’ home was engulfed in fire, an inferno shooting up 50 feet into the Christmas Eve. night.
Pardo drove to his brother’s house 30 miles away in Sylmar, California. Three hours later, after a night of drinking and fun, Pardo’s brother returned home from a Christmas party in the early hours of Christmas day. The gift he found was someone lying dead in a pool of blood, a 9mm pistol in his lap.
It was his brother, Bruce Pardo. He called the police.
When the police arrived at the residence, they confirmed that he had committed suicide. Strapped to his legs, they found $17,000 cash and a plane ticket to Illinois. He had extensive third-degree burns on his hands and arms and parts of his Santa suit had melted into his skin. Outside they found the peeled-off remains of his burnt Santa suit in a car that the Ortega’s neighbors had reported speeding off after the massacre. Authorities discovered the car had been booby-trapped with a homemade firebomb, and a bomb squad was brought in to defuse it. It would have been a swift ka-boom for anyone who had tried to move the vehicle.
It didn’t make sense, who commits suicide with cash and a plane ticket wrapped to their body?
The mystery was quickly solved when a man reported a suspicious vehicle parked in front of his Pasadena home – a silver Toyota Rav4. Police ran the plates of the SUV and found that it had been rented by Pardo a week before. It was packed with food, water, clothes, maps of the US and Mexico, a spare fuel canister, and – Christmas presents? All the makings of a seasonal getaway car.
But why that location in particular? Imagine their surprise when they found out that mere feet away from where the vehicle was parked lived Sylvia’s divorce attorney. It seemed Pardo’s original plan was to drive the booby-trapped Dodge to the attorneys’ house, kill him, leave the car there with the maps to distract investigators into believing he was on the run to Mexico, then escape to Illinois on a plane to plot his next move. In Illinois, he had recently rekindled a friendship with an old high-school mate two months before and had promised to re-visit during Christmas. Or maybe it was the other way around: planting the airplane ticket to fool the police into believing he was in Illinois while he escaped to Mexico. Either way, Pardo had not planned to die that night. The fiery explosion that had severely burned him made his flight impossible and saved the attorney’s life.
It took firefighters nearly two hours to put out the flames in the Ortega residence. Only one of Sylvia Pardo’s siblings survived, her sister Leticia. In all, she lost her parents, two brothers, two sisters, two sisters-in-law, and a nephew. She, the youngest of the family now shouldered the responsibility of matriarch maintaining the family’s traditions and happier memories. Thirteen sons and daughters of the Ortegas lost at least one parent that Christmas Eve. When they had begun to recover from the trauma the kids went to a camp to help them move past their grief. Even today, she still suffers from anxiety and nightmares.
These days Christmas day is a trip to church followed by a visit to the cemetery.
Leticia is also the mother of Katrina, the 8-year old who was shot point blank by Pardo. She survived the gunshot, thanks to a twist of her head at the last second. She was left with a scar on her left cheek and one under her jaw; a reminder of the childhood she lost that horrific Christmas Eve. But it’s not all bad news, she has grown up to become a gun-control activist.
On an egregious note, some so-called Men’s Rights activists hailed Pardo as someone whose rampage was justified because he was ‘provoked’ by the courts taking ‘everything’, including his family. This ignores the fact that Pardo had gotten the house, cars, and was only been asked to pay a fraction of spousal support. Absurd. After his autopsy, toxicology reports revealed that Pardo had cocaine in his system.
FBI profilers also uncovered an incident that sheds more light on Pardo’s character. A decade back, he had gotten engaged to a co-worker and the duo had planned a large wedding followed by a honeymoon in Tahiti. The bulk of the expenses fell to his fiancée as Pardo, who was still living with at home, didn’t have money at the time. So the gushing blushing bride funded the reception and put down deposits for the honeymoon. Then, the wedding day arrived, and the groom didn’t! Not only did Pardo leave her at the altar, but he also withdrew all the money from their joint bank account and took a trip to Palm Springs, Florida. What a guy.
Later in Pardo’s home, they found multiple guns, shotguns, and another tank filled with flammable gas; it boggles the mind to imagine what else this psychopath might have had planned. The final sordid twist is that Pardo had had one more victim he planned to kill that night; his mother! She revealed that she was also supposed to be at the Ortega’s Christmas Eve. gathering but wasn’t feeling well so stayed home. She had no doubt that Pardo would have killed her had she been there. He had been angry with her for maintaining a relationship with his ex Sylvia Ortega.
Today, an empty lot remains of the house that had once stood on 129, Knollcrest drive. A loving home shared between three generations shattered at the murderous hands of one angry, homicidal narcissist who had mastered how to blame his problems on everyone, but himself.