As Patricia Burns heaved her ham out of the freezer, she was looking forward to a quiet Christmas.
It was December 22, 2013, and Patricia, 42, was spending the festive season at home with her daughters, Megan, 22, Harley, 16, and Autumn, 14.
The family had been through so much…
Patricia’s marriage to Clifford Burns, who was dad to Harley and Autumn, had been rocky.
The couple met when Patricia was working at a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through.
Clifford had pulled up and decided there was something he fancied more than a doughnut.
So he asked Patricia for her number.
At first he’d seemed like a great catch – he had his own business, was a keen fisherman, and doted on Megan, her little sister Christalin and brother, Nick.
But after their ’97 wedding, Clifford became violent.
His traumatic past was often cited as the reason behind his abuse – he’d witnessed his father’s violence towards his mother.
So Patricia gave him the benefit of the doubt, taking him back time and time again.
Together they had their two girls, Harley and Autumn.
But Clifford would beat Patricia in front of the children, then turn back into a doting family man.
Then, tragedy struck when 15-year-old Christalin died in her sleep of natural causes.
Soon after, Patricia decided to start a new life.
She moved into a new apartment with the kids and began working as a nurse at a hospice, and also got a five-year restraining order against Clifford.
Patricia began another relationship. But this new man also had a temper and was slapped with a restraining order after assaulting her, firing a gun into the ceiling and then having a standoff with police.
Now, all Patricia wanted was a peaceful Christmas.
Autumn texted her dad to wish him Merry Christmas, even though he’d not been in touch for eight months.
His reply, which came as Patricia was defrosting the ham, was chilling.
I have a special gift coming soon, something for everyone to talk about, and it will be hand-delivered on foot, not by car, it read.
Autumn interpreted the message as a threat. Harley and Megan agreed, so they showed the text to their mum.
‘Is he going to come here and kill us?’ Megan asked.
But Patricia wasn’t concerned.
‘No Megan, he’s mean, he’s evil, but he’s not that evil,’ she said.
Despite her mum’s lack of concern, Autumn tapped back a reply.
Get it together, I know what you think you want to do, and believe me that won’t end well, she wrote in the message. The only reason you feel so bad is because of what happened between your parents.
Two days later, on Christmas Eve, Harley went to do some last-minute shopping.
Patricia, Megan and Autumn remained at home, preparing Christmas dinner in the kitchen.
This time, Patricia was preparing a turkey.
Then there was a knock at the door.
On the other side of it was a masked man in army fatigues. He was carrying a large hunting knife.
The man grabbed Patricia and held her against the wall. Then he plunged the knife into her stomach.
Megan ran over, grabbing the man and pulling his mask off. It was Clifford.
‘Call the cops!’ Megan screamed to Autumn, who was frozen
Clifford continued to stab their mum, before turning the knife on Megan, slashing her arm.
Patricia, bleeding profusely, pleaded with her ex to stop.
As Autumn called an ambulance, Megan ran out of the house, but her stepdad followed her.
Approaching her, he ran off when diners at a restaurant nearby came out.
Paramedics arrived, rushing them to hospital – but Patricia didn’t make it.
The beloved mum died from multiple stab wounds to her stomach and chest.
With Megan’s arm cut through to the bone, surgeons began working to save it.
Meanwhile, Burns was speeding away from police.
Eventually, he gave himself up, pulling into the sheriff’s department car park.
‘I just wanted to see my babies at Christmas,’ he said.
But during his police interview, he became more and more aggressive.
‘When you go get married, what do they say?’ he asked. “...Till death do us part,” baby doll.’
Burns, 46, was charged with second-degree murder.
He accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to 23 years to life behind bars.
At the hearing, his daughters gave emotional victim impact statements.
Harley addressed her dad, saying, ‘What’s a 15-year-old girl supposed to do without her mother? You didn’t think about your own children.’
‘I lost my best friend,’ Autumn told him.
Megan said, ‘What Cliff really took from me that Christmas Eve was my heart.’
The judge barred Burns from ever seeing the girls.
The three sisters told Crime Watch Daily they believed Patricia would be pleased with how they were dealing with their trauma.
‘She would be proud that we didn’t let the situation break us, but we let it make us,’ Megan said. ●