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Massacre Victims Eulogized at Funerals With AM-Algona Killings

January 1, 1988

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (AP) _ Nine victims of one of America’s worst mass slayings were buried Thursday, including a family of four ″good and gentle people″ and a young mother who wrote a letter of love to her son that he will never read.

The family of Dennis McNulty and Sheila Simmons McNulty was buried at Conway, while Sheila’s brother William Simmons II and his family were buried in their hometown of Fordyce.

In Russellville, separate funerals were held for 24-year-old Kathy Kendrick and J.D. Chaffin, 33, the only victims not part of the Simmons family.

R. Gene Simmons is accused of killing 14 relatives and two former co- workers in a rampage that apparently began at his Dover home before Christmas and ended in a 45-minute shooting spree in downtown Russellville on Monday.

Autopsy findings released Thursday showed that Simmons’ eight younger children and grandchildren, ranging in age from 20 months to 17 years, were strangled, while the older six relatives were shot as many as seven times each.

Simmons was in custody at the State Hospital in Little Rock, undergoing a court-ordered psychiatric examination.

He was charged Wednesday with attempted capital murder and capital murder in the Russellville shootings, which also left four people wounded. Prosecutor John Bynum said he also plans to charge Simmons in the other deaths.

At a news conference Thursday, Pope County Sheriff Jim Bolin released the autopsy results on the 14 bodies found in and around the Simmons residence.

The children were strangled, and some of the bodies found in a grave on Simmons’ property still had cord wrapped around their necks, Bolin said.

All the older Simmons family victims were shot at least once in the head. Simmons’ wife, Becky, 46, was shot twice in the head, and one victim, daughter-in-law Renada Simmons, 22, was shot five times in the head and twice in the neck.

Investigators are looking into the possibility that the slayings were sparked by plans of some family members to leave because of sexual and physical abuse. Relatives have said they believe Simmons fathered Sheila’s 6- year-old daughter.

At St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Conway, Deacon Joseph McCaffrey described Dennis and Sheila McNulty as loving parents who, as recently as Dec. 20, took their turn in charge of the Sunday nursery at their church.

Caskets containing the bodies of Dennis, 23, Sheila, 24, Sylvia, 6, and Michael, 20 months, were lined up in the center aisle of the church. About 300 people attended the funeral.

″Violence for good and gentle people like Dennis, Sheila, Sylvia and little Michael?,″ McCaffrey said. ″There was another about the same age as Dennis, named Jesus. In him we all pass through death to life.″

In Russellville, the Rev. Kenny Jay said Ms. Kendrick was ″a great person ... a joyful, delightful person,″ who always had ″a sparkle in her eyes.″

″The reason why she was taken we can question,″ Jay said. Ms. Kendrick was said to have spurned the attentions of Simmons when they worked together a year ago.

About 350 people attended the service for Chaffin, 33, who was a firefighter in addition to working at the oil company where he was shot. His casket was transported to the church on a fire engine accompanied by uniformed firefighters. The funeral procession was more than a mile long.

The Rev. R. Douglas Little remembered Chaffin as ″a man who loved life. He was deeply devoted to his family. He was a hard worker, a dependable employee, a faithful co-worker and friend, a loving husband and father.″

In Fordyce, the Rev. B.L. Blann eulogized William H. Simmons II; his wife, Renada; and their year-old son, William H. ″Trae″ Simmons III, evoking strong emotion by reading a letter Mrs. Simmons had written for her son to read when he grew up.

″I just finished putting you to bed and I’m sitting here wondering what you will be like when you grow up,″ Mrs. Simmons had written. ″I love you so much. ... I will always remember how fragile and small you were tonight. You will always be my little boy.″

After the half-hour service, Mrs. Simmons and her son were buried in the same casket, alongside Simmons.

Pope County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Billy Baker told the Dallas Morning News there’s a ″good chance″ that the killings may have been sparked by Becky Simmons’ plans to leave her husband.

Police Chief Herb Johnston told the newspaper that investigators heard Mrs. Simmons had written a letter telling of her plans to leave. The chief said he did not know what the letter said.

Summer Mooney, a friend of Simmons’ 17-year-old daughter, Loretta, said Loretta had told her that Mrs. Simmons had been thinking about taking the other children and leaving her husband because of his repressive and abusive behavior.

Ms. Mooney, also 17, said Loretta told her the only thing that kept Mrs. Simmons from leaving home were fears that she could not support the children.

Those who knew the victims told of constant threats by Simmons against family members.

In 1981, while the family was living in Cloudcroft, N.M., Simmons was indicted on three charges stemming from his alleged incestuous relationship with Sheila, his oldest daughter. The charges were dropped after Simmons fled the state and could not be located.

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