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Mass Murderer’s Relationships With Wife, Children - Not Working

January 3, 1988 GMT

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (AP) _ The home of accused mass murderer Ronald Gene Simmons had things that were there, but were not really there.

Like a telephone. It wasn’t connected to a line.

Like a heating and air conditioning system. It didn’t work.

Like a bathroom. The lavatory worked, but the toilet didn’t.

There, but not really there.

Police, neighbors and relatives speak that way about Simmons’ relationships with his wife and children.

There, but not working.

Over the Christmas holidays, Simmons killed 16 people, 14 of them relatives, authorities say. Eight victims - children or grandchildren age 20 months to 17 years - were strangled. Prosecutor Tom Bynum charged Simmons with two murders, plans to charge him with the others and says he will ask for the death penalty.

In a four-page handwritten letter released to newspapers Saturday, Simmons’ dead wife, Becky, complained that she was ″a prisoner here and the kids too.″

″I don’t want to live the rest of my life with Dad, but I’m still trying to figure out how to start, what if I couldn’t find a job for some time.

″Dad has had me like a prisoner ... Yet I know it would be great, having my children visit me anytime, having a telephone, going shopping if I want, going to church. Everytime I think of freedom I want out as soon as possible,″ said the letter.

The Arkansas Democrat and Arkansas Gazette both reported Sunday that the letter was sent to the couple’s son, William H. Simmons II, who was among those killed along with his wife, Renata, and the couple’s 20-month-old son.

″It kind of made us think (Simmons) had a reason ... we think he might have found her writing or maybe she got up the nerve to tell him″ she was going to leave, said Gwenda Hearnsberger of Thornton, Ark., an aunt of Renata.

A neighbor, Kay McMinn, thought Simmons conscientious. On rainy days he would drive his children down to the road and sit with them until the school bus arrived, she said.

Danny Taylor, superintendent of the Dover School District, said the children were bright, clean, generally quiet, personable when drawn out, with no apparent home problems.

According to third-grade teacher Meg Standridge, 8-year-old Rebecca said in a pre-Christmas essay about parents and children, ″You have parents to watch over you so you can be safe.″

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The neighbors didn’t know that Simmons had been charged in 1981 in New Mexico with three counts of incest with his eldest daughter, Sheila. He had moved his family in the night to escape prosecution.

Grocer Dub Brown and timberman Burl Allen thought Simmons strange, sullen, unfriendly. Karen Shaddon, a neighbor, called him ″a slavedriver″ because he required his children to carry five-gallon buckets of dirt from the road to near the house atop a steep hill.

″He’d keep them very isolated,″ she said, and when she walked along the road while they were working ″he’d shoo them away″ to prevent communication.

Simmons’ 17-year-old daughter, Loretta, thought him ″a drunken bum″ and hated him, said Summer Mooney, 17, of Dover, described by others as Loretta’s closest friend. Loretta would insult him to his face and defy him, said Summer.

Simmons’ wife, Becky, 46, hadn’t slept with him for two years, maybe more, according to her relatives, Sheriff Jim Bolin said.

Another sister, Viola O’Shields of Fort Payne, Ala., said Mrs. Simmons explained her daily prayers and Bible reading by saying she did it ″because I don’t want to meet him in Hell.″ The ″him″ was Simmons.

Simmons mailed all family letters. Sometimes he opened them, read them, censored them, and perhaps discarded them, the sheriff said. Simmons allowed no one but himself to pick up incoming mail.

Retired from the Air Force, Simmons gave little money to other members of his family, relatives said, not even enough to buy makeup.

″Not only was he not wanting them wearing makeup, he didn’t want them looking very good,″ the sheriff said. He assumes jealousy was the reason.

The disconnected telephone was another way to keep them from communicating with the world, Bolin said.

Mrs. Simmons stayed with him for the children’s sake and ″as a martyr to a crappy marriage,″ according to sister Edith Nesby of Briggsdale, Colo.

She also was doubtful of her ability to make it on her own with the children and was afraid of what Simmons might do if she left him, relatives said.

Mrs. Nesby says her husband, Pat, didn’t like for her to visit the Simmonses, warning, ″Something is going to happen to that man someday and he’s going to kill his family and I don’t want you there.″

On Monday, Simmons went on a 45-minute shooting spree at four businesses in Russellville, apparently attempting to kill individuals toward whom he bore grudges. He’s accused of shooting six people, killing two, including Kathy Kendrick, 24, who reportedly spurned his advances a year ago.

At his final stop, Woodline Motor Freight, he found Joyce Butts, who had interfered in his efforts to romance Miss Kendrick and who was his supervisory when he quit, under pressure, with the words, ″You can take this job and shove it.″

Authorities said he wounded Ms. Butts in the head and chest. Richard Wood, president of Woodline, said that before telling a woman at Woodline to call the police, Simmons told her, ″I’ve come to do what I wanted to do. It’s all over now. I’ve gotten everybody who wanted to hurt me.″

Authorities became concerned about the well-being of Simmons’ relatives a few hours later. They found five bodies in Simmons’ eight-room house after police climbed through a window.

On Tuesday, seven bodies were found in a kerosene-splashed grave about four feet deep amid oaks and cedars about 150 feet from the house.

Two bodies - 1-year-old boys - were found in sealed dark-green plastic garbage sacks in the locked trunks of abandoned cars about 250 feet from the house.

Bolin said most of the strangulations probably took place on Christmas Eve and the victims probably were asleep when small cord was wrapped around their necks. Christmas packages remained unopened in the house.

Other relatives were apparently shot as they arrived on Christmas visits.

Simmons has been put in the state psychiatric hospital in Little Rock for a court-ordered mental evaluation. Two attorneys have been appointed to represent him. No hearing date has been set.

Billy Baker, Bolin’s chief deputy, said that when police moved Simmons to the hospital, they did so secretly because there were threats that he would not make it alive.