FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- A popular Santa Claus in the high country is coming under fire after publishing a book about his past. Turns out, this particular St. Nick is also a convicted killer.
Among the kids, Richard Herr, aka Santa Claus, can do no wrong.
"I'm pretty well-known in Flagstaff," Herr said. "I mean, I've met everybody, I do everything with the Santa Claus thing."
But behind the white beard and big red suit, this jolly St. Nick has quite a past, one that includes a murder conviction.
"I'm connected with a murder," Herr said. "I'm connected with prison."
It's a chapter of Herr's life recently made public in his book, "Inside, Outside."
As Herr explains, "I didn't know what type of feedback I would be getting, a little nervous about it, quite frankly."
"Nobody thought much of it," said Gary Smith with Toys for Tots. "That's several years ago in Richard's life. His whole life has changed since then."
Back in 1966, Herr made headlines near Lansing, Mich. His mugshot made him look like a monster. The media even gave him a brand, "The Grand Ledge Slayer."
"First murder in 30 years, this type of thing, yeah, it was high profile," Herr said.
The victim was a beautiful young housewife and mother named Betty Reynolds.
"Apparently, on the day that it happened, after I had left, she disappeared, OK," Herr said.
According to the autopsy report, Reynolds endured a brutal death. The coroner stated "mutilating slash injuries to the neck and chest appear to insure certain death."
Court documents reveal Herr admitted "hitting Reynolds on the head with his fist and then carrying her outside, down a hill and laying her on the ground." The court transcripts show Herr confessed to the stabbing.
But when we spoke with Herr, he said he was pressured to plead guilty and reluctantly told the judge, "I don't know when I did this, I don't know how I did this, I don't know why I did it, you know, and all this, but OK, I'll plead guilty. He says, 'I'll accept your plea, boom.'"
Joe DeRose, Herr's estranged son explains, "He didn't shoot somebody, he stabbed somebody repeatedly, someone who he claims was a stranger, nearly decapitated her and left her nude body in a field. That to me by itself is enough."
DeRose was in disbelief after reading his father's book.
"There are certain things that are just irrefutable," DeRose said. "He actually confessed to us. He told us he did it."
But what's most troublesome for DeRose nearly 50 years later is knowing his father is playing Santa for Toys for Tots and other organizations in Flagstaff.
"I think he has a right to rebuild his life and to live a happy life, but I think just as somebody who's done something wrong he shouldn't be in a position where he's interacting with children on a regular basis," DeRose said.
Meanwhile, Herr maintains his innocence and said no one seems concerned that the ex-felon is also Santa.
"I've never had anybody shy away from me, look at me a little sideways, nothing," Herr said.
"He has put himself out there as a pillar of the community, which, you know, on the surface he may be, but underneath there is someone else there and we wanted the people of Flagstaff and of Arizona to know who this man is," DeRose said.
DeRose has published a book called "The Murderer's Son." You can also find it on www.amazon.com.