Santa Claus is a universal symbol of holiday cheer and good will to others – but some who have donned the Kris Kringle costume have sullied the suit with Christmastime crimes.
From bank robberies carried out with guns and allegedly explosive Christmas presents to drunken Santas who lost sight of the spirit of the season, below are five alleged criminals who carried out their bad behavior in their fur-lined red suits.
The holiday spirit melted from the faces of tellers in a Florida bank on Christmas Eve, 2013 when a robber decked out with a Santa costume and sunglasses claimed the Christmas present in his arm was an explosive and demanded money.
The bad Santa, later identified as 64-year-old Mark Neal London, passed a note to an employee at SunTrust Bank in Port Orange at 3:13 p.m. that day, insinuating that the gift-wrapped parcel in his arms was harmful, Assistant Chief of Police Wayne Miller told NBC News at the time.
After the not-so-jolly suspect fled the scene in a dark vehicle rather than a sleigh, the bank was evacuated – the Volusia County bomb squad quickly determined that the package he left behind wasn't explosive, Miller said.
Three days later, London was arrested outside his home and charged with possession of a hoax bomb, armed robbery, grand theft and false imprisonment, WESH 2 reported.
London pleaded no contest and was convicted for robbery without a deadly weapon, possession of a hoax bomb, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia in September 2014.
He was sentenced to eight years in prison, per Orlando.com. According to the Florida Department of Corrections, London was released from prison on New Year's Day, 2021 at 71 years old.
Bank customers thought that they might be in for a few presents when a man in full Santa regalia strolled into a Nashville bank on Sept. 22, 2009.
But sugar plums stopped dancing in their heads when the 6-foot-tall Father Christmas pulled out a gun and demanded cash from bank tellers at the SunTrust location.
Eyewitness Richlyn Jones told the Daily Mail that the sinister Santa "took his little red sack and pulled out a gun and told everyone to be still."
"He was actually jovial, which is scary," the witness recalled. "He explained that he was robbing the bank because Santa had to pay his elves."
Police did not disclose the amount stolen at the time, but said that the man threatened to return and "kill everyone" if dye bags were placed among the ill-gotten bills.
Luckily, the bank's CCTV captured the man fleeing the scene in a midsize gray car – proving that the real jolly elf hadn't made the naughty list.
No one was harmed in the robbery, and it is unclear whether the holiday havoc-maker was apprehended – the Metro Nashville Police Department was unable to confirm his arrest.
A Wisconsin woman called police on Dec. 13, 2009 when a man dressed in a Santa suit stumbled into her yard, hugged her kids and repeatedly asked them where his reindeer were.
Luckily, the savvy kids weren't fooled by 55-year-old Thomas Arnold's getup. Katie Dockerty, 9, said she knew he wasn't the real deal because "Santa doesn't smell like alcohol," the Daily News reported.
After the Sparta mother called police, they soon spotted the drunk impostor cruising around town in the passenger seat of a car. Arnold was subsequently charged with possession of an open can of beer in a vehicle, while his brother Kevin Arnold was charged with impaired driving.
Sparta Police Chief Mike Kass said that the men were returning from a holiday party and "thought [they] were spreading good cheer."
"In some lights he may have been," Kass said, per the Daily News. "I don't think Mr. Arnold had any ill intent – I believe his level of intoxication probably impaired his judgment."
A South Carolina 8-year-old was enchanted when Santa rode up on a motorcycle with a stuffed Rudolph in his side car on Dec. 19, 2006.
The girl's father, Tripp Morris, initially said it was a "Hallmark moment:" his three young daughters squealed with glee, charmed by the rosy-cheeked, white-bearded man.
He recalled the man jovially joking with other patrons as he filled his motorcycle with gas. When his 6-year-old middle child rolled down their car window, he recalled, the man "ho, ho, hoed in a perfect and sweet and innocent moment," per The Augusta Chronicle.
His girls gave the man hugs, and the big man played along, asking what they wanted for Christmas.
But things took a turn after the father emerged from the convenience store and found his eldest daughter missing from their car.
The girls' mother said she heard the motorcycle roar – and saw her daughter in its side car.
The family said they flashed their lights and reached speeds of at least 80 miles per hour catching up to the man.
"I said, 'I need my daughter back,'" Morris recalled telling the man after catching up to him in a church parking lot.
"He said, 'I'm sorry. I was just in Santa mode.'"
Lexington County deputies found the bad Santa's motorcycle outside a Richland County bar about two hours later. Per the Augusta Chronicle, his hat was on the bar counter beside his glass of wine. Police said the man – a 55-year-old named John Michael Barton – hid from them in a utility room at the drinking hole.
He had reportedly been drinking before and after the incident.
A spokesperson for the Lexington County Sheriff's Department told the outlet that Barton was not a professional Santa Claus, but was known to pose for photographs in the costume and give rides to his friends and their children.
Morris said that he didn't wish any harm on the man, who was charged with kidnapping after the incident. "He apologized at the arraignment and I accept his apology," Morris said.
However, the father said that he made sure to have a sit-down with his daughter about trusting strangers – whether they are dressed as Santa Claus or not – after the incident.
One Charleston Santa must have misplaced his sleigh last Christmas, and was arrested in his festive red suit after authorities saw him making a getaway on a golf cart.
Brandon Brigman, 28, was charged with two counts of grand larceny greater than $2,000, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after the Dec. 14 incident last year, per Live 5 WCSC.
Public Safety officers at the Medical University of South Carolina reportedly responded to the school's parking garage just after midnight to find a jolly old elf sitting on a golf cart.
Police told the outlet that the man jumped out of the first cart, ran to the front of the facility's garage, then hopped onto another cart to evade following officers.
Per an incident report obtained by the outlet, police tried to cut the man off with their vehicles – but he refused to stop.
Eventually the man was "grounded and arrested," police said – luckily, Santa had made the naughty list on a hospital campus.
Brigman was treated for minor injuries to his forehead, police said.
"[He] appeared grossly intoxicated due to his unsteadiness, confused manner and the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from his person," read the incident report, per the outlet.