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Town Of Santa Claus Rocked By Shotgun Murders Just Before Christmas
A shadow was cast over the tiny Georgia town of Santa Claus when Jerry Heidler shot an 8-year-old and the child's parents to death.
This holiday season, Oxygen explores four real-life nightmares when the happiest times of the year explode in madness and death.
Season Four of “Homicide For The Holidays” unwraps chilling stories of the holidays taking a shocking turn when a loved one is killed by an unforeseen suspect and investigations unfold that stun everyone involved.
One of this season’s stories takes viewers back to three weeks before Christmas 1997 in the town of Santa Claus, Georgia. This tiny, holiday-themed tourist stop, home to under 200 people, is full of Christmas cheer year-round. Its roads have names like Sleigh Street, Noel Street, and Rudolph Way. A life-sized Kris Kringle statue stands beside the welcome sign bearing the town’s motto: “The City That Loves Children.”
But on the night of Dec. 4, 1997, a monstrous tragedy would cast a shadow over Santa Claus for years to come.
Kim and Danny Daniels were remarkably kind, giving parents, according to “Homicide for the Holidays.” Kim grew up in foster care and in 1995, she and Danny began taking in foster children of their own, according to the Savannah Morning News.
“They took children nobody else wanted and gave them a good home,” Kim’s former foster father, Simmie Driggers, told the Washington Post.
And the Daniels family couldn’t have picked a better place to raise children than Santa Claus.
Despite its size, the town attracts visitors from across the country, who come to pose in front of the lavishly decorated City Hall. Each December, more than a thousand letters and postcards are sent out through the big, red postbox labeled “Santa’s Mail” on 25 December Drive, according to South Carolina’s WCSC TV. And the town’s chapel, open 24 hours a day, has a beautifully maintained walking trail out front called “Santa’s Garden.”
“Everybody, as far as I know, believes in Jesus and believes in Santa Claus,” City Clerk Barbara Ward told the Macon Telegraph. “We have neighbors that are neighbors, but they’re not nosy neighbors.”
The holidays were always Kim’s favorite time of the year. Having suffered through more than her share of lonely holidays while in foster care, she resolved that every child under her roof, biological or not, should have a magical Christmas. She’d spend the better part of the year shopping for presents and packing the attic full of toys, according to “Fear Came to Town: the Santa Claus, Georgia, Murders,” a book written about the case.
Tragically, it was Kim and Danny’s love of children that led to their untimely deaths.
Jo Anna Moseley, 10, had been sent to live with the Daniels family for six weeks to escape a toxic family environment, the Savannah Morning News reported. Her father and her stepfather were alcoholics, and multiple child protection workers testified that her mother, Mary Moseley, threatened them with black magic and voodoo.
When Jo Anna’s brother, 20-year-old Jerry Scott Heidler, came to visit her at the Daniels’ home, he began spending a lot of time with their biological teenage daughter, Jessica.
“You could tell something was beginning to take place, how people get close to one another,” Danny’s best friend Guy Aaron testified, according to the Morning News.
Concerned about the age difference between Heidler and his daughter — she was just 16 — Danny had words with the young man, according to court documents. Heidler stopped coming to their home, but his frustration over the circumstances may have been a motive for what he did next, according to the Morning News.
In the wee hours of Dec. 4, 1997, Heidler climbed through a window into the Daniels’ home. He snuck into Kim and Danny’s bedroom, took the semiautomatic shotgun from their gun cabinet, and shot the parents in their sleep, the Morning News reports. He then entered the bedroom of 8-year-old Bryant and shot the sleeping child. Finally, when Jessica ran to see what had happened, Heidler shot her in the head from behind.
Heidler then ushered the Daniels’ two 8 and 9-year-old biological daughters and Jo Anna into a van and drove off, raping one of them, according to the Morning News. He then left the three girls on a country road about 30 miles from Santa Claus, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Heidler was quickly arrested and charged with four counts of murder, three counts of kidnapping, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, child molestation, and burglary, according to court documents. He was sentenced to death and is currently still awaiting execution, according to Georgia State Department of Corrections records.
For more of the shocking true story of the Santa Claus murders, tune in to “Homicide for the Holidays” on Oxygen, premiering Dec. 7 at 7:30 p.m. ET/PT.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story indicated, in error, that the murders took place in 1987.