Ronald Gene Simmons, Sr., (July 15, 1940 – June 25, 1990) was a retired United States Air Force master sergeant who killed 16 people over a week-long period in 1987. The first fourteen victims were members of his family, including a daughter he had sexually abused and the child he had fathered with her. He also wounded four others.
Early life and military career
Ronald Gene Simmons was born on July 15, 1940, in Chicago, Illinois, to Loretta and William Simmons. On January 31, 1943, William Simmons died of a stroke. Within a year, Simmons’s mother married again, this time to William D. Griffen, a civil engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps moved Griffen to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1946, the first of several transfers that would take the family across central Arkansas over the next decade.
On September 15, 1957, Simmons dropped out of school and joined the U.S. Navy. His first station was Naval Station Bremerton in Washington, where he met Bersabe Rebecca “Becky” Ulibarri, whom he married in New Mexico on July 9, 1960.
Over the next eighteen years, the couple had seven children. In 1963, Simmons left the navy and approximately two years later, he joined the U.S. Air Force. During his twenty-year military career, Simmons was awarded a Bronze Star Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross for his service as an airman, and the Airforce Ribbon for Excellent Marksmanship. Simmons retired on November 30, 1979, at the rank of master sergeant.
On April 3, 1981, Simmons was being investigated by the Cloudcroft, New Mexico Department of Human Services for allegations that he had fathered a child with his seventeen-year-old daughter, Sheila.
Fearing arrest, Simmons fled first to Ward, Arkansas in late 1981 and then to Dover, Arkansas in the summer of 1983. The family took up residence on a thirteen-acre tract of land that would become known as “Mockingbird Hill.”
The residence was constructed of two older-model mobile homes joined to form one large home and was surrounded by a makeshift privacy fence, as high as ten feet tall in some places. The home did not have a telephone or indoor plumbing.
Simmons worked a string of low-paying jobs in the nearby town of Russellville, Arkansas. He quit a position as an accounts receivable clerk at Woodline Motor Freight after numerous reports of inappropriate sexual advances. He went to work at a Sinclair Mini Mart for approximately a year and a half before quitting on December 18, 1987.
The murder Spree
Shortly before Christmas 1987, Simmons decided to kill all the members of his family. On the morning of December 22, he first killed his son Gene and his wife Rebecca by shooting them with a .22-caliber pistol. He then killed his 3-year-old granddaughter Barbara by strangulation. Simmons dumped the bodies in the cesspit he had made his children dig. Simmons then waited for his other children to return to the house. After their arrival, he told them he had presents for them but wanted to give them one at a time. He first killed his daughter, 17-year-old Loretta, whom Simmons strangled and held under the water in a rain barrel. The three other children, Eddy, Marianne, and Becky, were killed in the same way.
Around midday on December 26, the remaining members of the family arrived for their Christmas visit. The first to be killed was Simmons’ son Billy and his wife Renata; both were shot dead. Then Simmons strangled and drowned their 20-month-old son Trae. He shot and killed his oldest daughter Sheila — with whom he had had an incestuous relationship — and her husband, Dennis McNulty. Simmons then strangled his child by Sheila, 7-year-old Sylvia Gail, and finally his 21-month-old grandson Michael. Simmons laid the bodies of his whole family in neat rows in the lounge. All the corpses were covered with coats except that of Sheila, who was laid in state covered by Rebecca Simmons’ best tablecloth. The bodies of the two grandsons were wrapped in plastic sheeting and left in abandoned cars at the end of the lane. After the murders, Simmons went for a drink in a local bar, then returned to the house and, apparently oblivious to the corpses lined up around him, spent the rest of the evening and the following day drinking beer and watching television.
On the morning of December 28, Simmons drove into Russellville, walked into a law office, and killed the receptionist, a young woman named Kathy Kendrick; he had been infatuated with her, but she had rejected him. He next went to an oil company office, where he shot dead a man named J.D. Chaffin and wounded the owner, Rusty Taylor, and then drove on to a convenience store where he had previously worked, shooting and wounding two more people. Afterwards, he went to the office of the Woodline Motor Freight Company, where he shot and wounded a woman. Simmons then simply sat in the office and chatted with one of the secretaries while waiting for the police. When they arrived, he handed over his gun and surrendered without any resistance.
|Date||Name||Age||Relationship||Cause of death|
|December 22, 1987||Ronald Gene Simmons Jr.||29||Son||Gunshot|
|December 22, 1987||Rebecca Simmons||46||Wife||Gunshot|
|December 22, 1987||Barbara Simmons||3||Granddaughter or Daughter||Strangulation|
|December 22, 1987||Loretta Simmons||17||Daughter||Strangulation|
|December 22, 1987||Eddy Simmons||14||Son||Strangulation|
|December 22, 1987||Marianne Simmons||11||Daughter||Strangulation|
|December 22, 1987||Rebecca “Becky” Simmons||8||Daughter||Strangulation|
|December 26, 1987||William “Billy” Simmons II||23||Son||Gunshot|
|December 26, 1987||Renata Simmons||22||Daughter-in-Law||Gunshot|
|December 26, 1987||William H. “Trae” Simmons III||1||Grandson||Drowning|
|December 26, 1987||Sheila Simmons McNulty||24||Daughter||Gunshot|
|December 26, 1987||Dennis McNulty||23||Son-in-Law||Gunshot|
|December 26, 1987||Sylvia Gail Simmons||6||Daughter and Granddaughter||Strangulation|
|December 26, 1987||Michael Simmons||20 months||Grandson||Strangulation|
|December 28, 1987||Kathy Kendrick||24||Acquaintance||Gunshot|
|December 28, 1987||J.D. Chaffin||33||Stranger||Gunshot|
Simmons was charged with 16 counts of murder, found guilty, and sentenced to death. He refused to appeal his death sentence, stating, “To those who oppose the death penalty in my particular case, anything short of death would be cruel and unusual punishment.”
John Bynum successfully prosecuted the case. Simmons was first tried for the Russellville crimes, and a jury convicted him of capital murder and sentenced him to death. He made an additional statement, under oath, supporting his sentence:
“I, Ronald Gene Simmons, Sr., want it to be known that it is my wish and my desire that absolutely no action by anybody be taken to appeal or in any way change this sentence. It is further respectfully requested that this sentence be carried out expeditiously.”
The trial court conducted a hearing concerning Simmons’s competence to waive further proceedings, and concluded that his decision was knowing and intelligent.
Simmons became the subject of the United States Supreme Court Case Whitmore v. Arkansas when another death row inmate, Jonas Whitmore, attempted, unsuccessfully, to force an appeal of Simmons’ case.
While on death row, Simmons had to be separated from other prisoners as his life was threatened constantly. This was because he refused to appeal his death sentence; the other prisoners believed Simmons was damaging their chances of beating their own death sentences.
On May 31, Arkansas governor (later President) Bill Clinton signed Simmons’ execution warrant, and on June 25, 1990, he died by the method he had chosen, lethal injection. None of his relatives would claim the body, and he was buried in a potter’s field.