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Danny and Kim Daniels tucked their children into bed on December 4, 1997, before laying down together themselves. It had been a typical day for the parents of seven, three of which were foster children they had opened their home for. They had no way of knowing that in the darkness beyond their Christmas lights, was a monster.
Jerry Scott Heidler broke into their home on Dasher Street, in Santa Claus Georgia at around midnight. He shot both Danny and Kim in the head while they slept. Their eldest daughter, 16-year-old Jessica, was shot multiple times in the face at close range. Her body was found in the main hall. Heidler then shot and killed 8-year-old Bryant in his bedroom. However, his dark deeds weren’t done. He kidnapped three of the girls, forcing them into his car before speeding away.
At four am, miles away from home, the girls were seen walking down Crater Pond House Road. The oldest of the girls, ten, had been sexually assaulted. When the police arrived they told them where they lived. They also revealed that the man who forced them out of their home was someone they knew. A boy who had dated their big sister.
When police arrived they were greeted by the grizzly scene. Slowly they made their way through the house, looking for any signs of life. Any of the other children. Mercifully they found the four-year-old boy, huddled in a closet with his 10-month-old brother. The boy had woken up when the shooting started and took his baby brother to hide, saving both their lives.
A Portrait Of A Killer
Jerry Heidler was a twisted, odd man. It didn’t take police long to locate him at his mother’s house in Alma Georgia. The police found the black van the children had described parked out back and a search of the premises found Jerry hiding in the basement. When he was arrested Jerry seemed detached, even after police explained the seriousness of the charges he was up against. He confessed, stated it was all like a dream. His confession and the subsequent details released about his life paint a chaotic figure.
Heidler stated that he really didn’t know why he went to the house that night. Earlier that day he had gone to a funeral for a stillborn baby he had fathered from a one night stand. He’d drank a bit and then he found himself parked outside the Daniels home. He broke in, stole a shotgun from the gun cabinet and went to find Jessica who he was upset with for breaking up with him. When he found her, he just started shooting.
As to why he kidnapped the girls, raped one and then let them go. He couldn’t give an answer. Heidler had developed a reputation in his town as an “oddball”. He’d broken into a shop to steal porcelain dolls and knives, he himself had been a foster child, bounced from home to home. During the trial, a woman came forward and stated she had hired him to watch her three children. She said his help had been invaluable to her.
On July 6, 1999, Jerry Heidler escaped from prison along with a few other inmates. He had been volatile during his stay behind bars, so much so that even other prisoners left him alone. He’d made death threats on multiple people, including guards and when his cell was searched they found dozens of shives and other improvised weapons.
Fortunately, thanks to the quick work of police and watchdog groups, he was caught and returned to face trial. Many expressed relief that he hadn’t been able to do any more damage. The Dasher Street Massacre, as it was being called, was too much already.
His defense put forward that he was mentally unfit, due to a history of emotional problems that had led him to spend his teen years in a special school. They also put forward that he was physically unwell, malnourished, obviously not able to take care of himself properly. A symptom of that mental instability. However, their tactics weren’t enough. Even with a change of venue it only took the jury 20 minutes to hand out the death penalty.
Jerry Scott Heidler currently sits in the State Of Georgia’s Department Of Corrections facility in Atlanta. The surviving children were placed with family and are living their lives. They are survivors of an awful tragedy, a tragedy that still marks the town of Santa Claus whose motto has always been “A Town That Loves Children”.
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(If you enjoyed reading about Jerry Heidler, feel free to check out other killers in my Human Monsters category.)