A Bizarre Spate of Christmas Shopping Deaths, from Xuzhou to London to Omaha

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Mon, December 22nd, 2014

“This time of year can be very stressful for many people,” said a spokesperson at a mall in Xuzhou, China, where last year a man jumped to his death after his girlfriend went on a five hour-long Christmas season shoe buying spree.

Christmas shopping deaths seem to fall into two categories: Those people so enthusiastic about Christmas shopping that they cause the death of themselves or others (i.e., the now infamous Black Friday Christmas shopping deaths), or those people who are so fed up with Christmas shopping that they decide to jump off balconies or buildings.

The leap made by 38 year-old Tao Hsiao, in what was surely the most bizarre Christmas shopping death in recorded history, was from a balcony. The event occurred at a shopping mall in Xuzhou, China in early December of 2013.

Hsiao had spent five hours escorting his girlfriend around the mall in search of clothes and shoes, reported the Daily Mail.

“He told her she already had enough shoes,” recalled one eyewitness. “More shoes than she could wear in a lifetime and it was pointless buying any more.”

Then the girlfriend started shouting at Hsiao, accusing him of being a skinflint (a miser), and of spoiling Christmas. It was at about this point that Hsiao chucked the shopping bags to the floor and launched himself over the balcony, falling seven stories, swiping a set of Christmas decorations on the way, and smashing onto the roof of a stall before falling onto the floor. Hsiao was killed on impact. Shoppers fled in panic, then apparently re-gathered to observe.

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A sad Christmas shopping death story from England involved what may have been a jump from the roof of London’s Whiteley’s shopping center, just a few weeks ago.

The victim, reported the Daily Mirror, was rock drummer Johnny Elichaoff, the husband of Trinny Woodall, a well-known British fashion designer and fashion adviser—they were separated at the time. Elichaoff had played in ‘70s bands such as Stark Naked and The Car Thieves, and toured with star performers like Siouxsie Sioux and U2.

“The police said a guy had fallen from the car park (roof),” said a 25 year old man who witnessed the fall. “He looked in a pretty bad way.” Elichaoff was 55 years old. He had battled addiction. After breaking his leg in a motorbike accident, he had become addicted to prescription painkillers. Apparently, he had been talked down from the same rooftop just weeks before, and closed a number of business interests in the period leading up to his death.

“Anyone who’s experienced a death,” said Woodall, “you go through a whole mechanism of feelings.”

The Daily Mail reported that a small card was found at the scene. It read: “Miss you always, T.”

Just the other week in New York City’s fashionable SoHo district a 66 year-old woman fell from a building and landed on a busy street amidst Christmas shoppers. The Daily Mail reported she had jumped out of an 11 story apartment window.

The building is a fancy one, it holds the offices of Interview magazine, Nylon magazine and Art in America. Next door is a Louis Vuitton shop, and across the street is Tiffany and Co. Blankets were quickly placed over the body so that passers-by could not see.

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As for category two, those so enthusiastic about Christmas shopping that they cause the death of themselves or others, we are led first and foremost to Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. In 2008, three violent deaths in two different stores occurred on Black Friday.

A Wal-Mart employee in Long Island was trampled to death as he and other employees attempted to unlock the doors at around 5 a.m.

“This was utter chaos,” Nassau County police Detective Lt. Michael Fleming told CNN.

The employee was “stepped on by hundreds of people” as other workers attempted to fight their way through the crowd, said Fleming. There were about 2,000 shoppers in total thronging to get into the store. Some had begun cuing up at 9pm the night before.

“It has become common knowledge that large crowds do gather on the Friday after Thanksgiving in response to these sales and in an effort to do their holiday shopping at the cheapest prices,” added Fleming. “Today, it happened to be Wal-Mart. It could have been any other store where hundreds and hundreds of people gather.”

In a second Black Friday 2008 incident, two men were shot dead in a Toys “R” Us in Palm Desert, California after having an in-store argument. Authorities said the California shootings had nothing to do with Black Friday. But it still could be the stress of the season at work.

A few years back U.S. News & World Report published a gruesome list, entitled: “10 Violent Black Friday Shopping Injuries, Deaths”. The article points to reckless though non-deadly events at an Urban Outfitters in California in 2011, a Target in North Buffalo, New York in 2010 and a Wal-Mart in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2005.

As much as we think the Christmas shopping death to be a modern phenomenon, there are precedents. A few years back Chicago Magazine published an article citing a Chicago Tribune story from December 24, 1911 that may or may not have reported on the very first Christmas shopping death. The title of the 1911 article was:

Dies in Christmas Scuffle: Floorwalker Killed in Omaha During Shopping Scramble

The unfortunate incident happened in Omaha, Nebraska on December 23. Apparently, two young men, Ed McGrath and F.J. Riley were shopping at the store of J.G. McCrorey & Co. McGrath accidentally knocked some goods off the counter and a floorwalker, one David Stettsy, “seized him by the arm.” A brief scuffle ensued and Stettsy was thrown to the floor. He failed to rise, bystanders rushed to his assistance only to find he was dead.” Stettsy’s neck had been broken.

As a spokesperson at the Chinese mall where 38 year-old Tao Hsiao jumped to his death in defiance of his girlfriend’s shoe-buying spree said, “This is a tragic incident, but this time of year can be very stressful for many people.”

And I suppose it always has been.

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide: do not leave the person alone; remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; and call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

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