The Sordid Truth Behind “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”
In December 1978, a man named Randy Brooks gave a song he’d written to Elmo and Patsy Shropshire, who played it at the Lake Tahoe Hilton. By the early ’80’s, the song was a seasonal hit, delighting young and old with its catchy tune and humorous lyrics. Like “Ring Around the Rosie” and many other popular ditties, however, the truth behind the music isn’t pretty.
In the spring of 1975, an itinerant songwriter by the name of Randall Brooks was scraping a living in a small lakeside town in Minnesota, where he saw an old man that the locals seemed to ignore. The actions of the locals caught Randall’s eye, and he watched the interactions the poor man had for several days. Finally, he wandered over to where the old man sat on a bench and asked him why everyone treated him so shabbily. The story the man told stayed in Randall’s mind for a long time, finally resulting in a macabre and sordid song that inexplicably took hold in American culture as a joyous sound of the season.
According to the old man, in 1964 an old woman was found dead outside the home of her son and his family, a few yards away from their front door. An older woman dying after a struggling walk through the snow after a festive Christmas Eve gathering was a sad story, true, but the details the police found convinced them that it wasn’t the woman’s heart giving out that had caused her death; it was murder.
There were no witnesses to the crime. According to the family, the old woman’s husband left shortly after his wife, accompanied by a grandchild. The grandson was fourteen but born with mild retardation, and was fiercely devoted to his grandfather. The pair claimed to have discovered the body as they walked towards the grandparents’ home.
The body was clearly battered from behind, with the worst injuries on the back of her head and between her shoulder blades. A lack of footprints in the snow led the suspicious police to question the pair relentlessly, but both of the men maintained their bizarre story: that the woman had been run over by Santa’s reindeer.
There were tracks in the snow, resembling hoof prints, but the lead detective pointed out during the trial that a plastic deer stood less than eight feet away from the crime scene. Due to the fact that emergency crews and investigators spoiled the scene with their own tracks, it could not be conclusively proved that the lawn ornament was responsible for the marks.
Both the grandfather and his grandson were found innocent of any wrongdoing, a move that tore the small town they lived in apart. The family shunned the pair afterwards, evidently believing their guilt. The grandson, saddened after the forced separation from his beloved Paw Paw, died in apparent suicide a few years later. Left behind, the old man had nowhere else to go, and remained in his lakeside town, shunned by family and neighbors.
After the fantastic tale, Randall asked if anyone believed their cockamamie story. The old man reportedly replied, “Me and my grandson, we believe.” Months later, the old man was found dead on his park bench. Randall Brooks never forgot the man or his story, retelling it through the eyes of the grandson. The rest is pop culture history.