Senior Citizen Serial Killers: Ray and Faye Copeland

We’ll end the month of killer couples with the oldest serial killers: Ray and Faye Copeland.

The Con Man and the Church Lady

Ray Copeland was born Dec. 30, 1914, in Oklahoma. His family moved around a lot, and eventually settled in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. Like many who suffered through the Great Depression, Ray had to drop out of school in the fourth grade to support his family. This left him functionally illiterate for the rest of his life.

From early on, friends and family described him as spoiled and demanding. He committed his first known crime at the age of 20, stealing two hogs and selling them in another town. His father covered for him, and no charges were filed. He continued stealing and selling livestock, then in 1930, he was caught forging government checks in Harrison, Arkansas, and sentenced to a year in county jail.

In 1940, he meant 19-year-led Faye Della Wilson, seven years his junior. Faye had been raised in a dirt-floor cabin in Harrison in a very religious family. The two got married six months later. In 1944 they moved, along with their oldest two kids, to California, where they had another child. They eventually ended up with five children. Ray was violently abusive to all of them, beating them with anything he could lay his hands on, including cattle kickers and cast-iron skillets. Faye, raised a Christian fundamentalist, believed the husband was the head of the household and divorce was a sin, so she wouldn’t leave him. As she said, she bowed her head and took it.

The Scams of a Livestock Rustler

The year their youngest child was born, Ray was accused of stealing horses from a nearby farmer. No charges were filed, but he figured he needed to move on, and moved the family back to Arkansas. Less than a month after his return, he was arrested for stealing cattle and served a year in the State Penitentiary.

When he got out, he moved to Missouri. Again he was arrested for cattle theft. He kept moving the family around and getting arrested for writing forged checks pretty regularly. Finally, they bought a 40-acre farm in Mooresville, outside Chillicothe, Missouri. Faye supported the farm by working in a factory, and later, being a motel maid.

This is where Ray hatched the scam to use drifters to pass forged checks at cattle auctions. By the time the checks would bounce, Ray would have sold the ill-gotten livestock, and the drifter would be long gone. He was able to get away with it dozens of times until one of the drifters was caught and confessed to the police. Ray was again arrested and sentenced to jail for forgery.

From Scam Artist to Serial Killer

When Ray got out of jail this time, he knew he had to be smarter. Here is how the new, improved scam would go down: Ray would recruit homeless men from the missions and shelters in nearby towns, offering them $50 a week plus room and board to help out around the farm. For many, it seemed like a deal that was too good to be true. And it was. Ray in fact hated transients, and often stated they didn’t deserve to live.

He would then have his victim open a checking account in their own name with $200 that Ray would front them, using a P.O. box as an address. They would then go together to various cattle auctions, and Ray would signal the man which cattle to bid on and how much. When they purchased the cattle, the man would pay with his check, which would clear – at first. They would sell the cattle and come back and do it again – only this time, the checks would not clear. In the meantime, Ray would have sold the cattle and murdered the homeless man before anyone was the wiser.

Dennis Murphy was one of these men. In 1986, he was wanted for writing bad checks at cattle auctions. Police had discovered that the cattle had been taken away in a trailer owned by Ray Copeland. The police questioned the Copelands about Murphy. The couple claimed that Murphy also written them bad checks, and that one day he just up and left. Since Murphy was known to be a drifter, the sheriff took the Copelands’ story at face value.

Then a deputy from a different county came looking for another man, Wayne Warner. The Copelands gave him the same story about Warner. In all, there were seven men who were wanted for these forged checks at cattle auctions throughout central Missouri, and and all of them were missing.

It wasn’t until in 1989 that a tip cracked the case open, when a man named Jack McCormick called the Missouri authorities from Nebraska. He told them that he thought he had seen human bones on the Copelands’ farm. The authorities searched the farm, including using cadaver dogs, but they found nothing. McCormick, who was taken into custody and questioned, recanted his statement about finding the bones, but he did reveal something else. He told them all about the check cashing scam that Ray had drafted him into.

He also told them that he was very afraid of Ray. He recounted that one night, Ray had asked him to come out to a neighbor’s barn under the pretense of shooting a raccoon that had gotten into the barn. Ray had his .22 bolt-action Marlin rifle, and he and McCormick went to the barn. But McCormick felt very wary of Ray, and kept his eye on him. When he went to poke a stick and get the raccoon out, as Ray had directed him to, he turned around and saw Ray had that .22 pointed right at his head.

He told police that he talked Ray out of shooting him with the promise that he would leave town and never come back. He told Ray that before he left, he wanted to make good the hot check that he had written, and convinced Ray to take him to the bank where he would deposit his earnings to cover it. Ray actually did this, and McCormick slipped out the back of the bank and over to a used car lot nearby. There, he convinced the salesperson that he wanted to take one of the cars for a test drive. Well, that “test drive” was his way out. McCormick waited until he was safely in Nebraska before he made his call to the police.

Though they did not find any remains on the Copeland farm, the police begin to piece it together: seven missing men, all wanted for writing forged checks at cattle auctions. All seven traced to the Copelands.

They got a tip from a local that Ray had often worked on a neighboring farm, and one of those barns had a smell like a dead animal. So they searched that property, and in that barn, they found a shallow grave containing the skeletal remains of three men, all killed by a .22 bullet to the head. In another barn on the same property, they found another body, then another in a well. This last man had been wearing a belt that said “Dennis.”

Searching the Copelands’ home, they found many of the missing men’s clothes, and, hidden in a camera case, a list of men’s names. Some of the names had X’s next to them. Nearly all of them had been wanted in connection with the hot check scam.

It was very difficult to identify the bodies of these victims. Since they were transients, any medical or dental records they had were very old or non-existent, and many had gone decades without dental care. Dennis Murphy was identified by the odd shape of his mandibular condyle, the joint of the jawbone. Forensic scientists were able to identify the other bodies: Paul Cowart, James Harvey, John Freeman, and Wayne Warner. All of them had X’s next to their names on the list.

In 1989, Ray Copeland was charged with five murders, as was Faye. They were tried separately, Faye first.

Faye was convicted on all five counts and sentenced to death by lethal injection. Ray was found guilty of the same, and given the same sentence. At 69 and 76 years old, they were the oldest couple ever sentenced to death in American history.

Was Faye Really Guilty?

Her son doesn’t think so. Her court-appointed psychologist didn’t think so. She was convicted on only two pieces of evidence: the list in the camera case that was in her handwriting, and the quilt she made of the dead men’s clothes. Neither of which actually proves her knowledge of the murders.

She was a battered wife, the victim of years of abuse and control. Her court-appointed psychologist stated that she suffered from textbook battered woman’s syndrome, a kind of learned helplessness where the victim becomes unquestioningly compliant. Faye stated time and again that whatever Ray did or said, she did not ask questions for fear of being beaten. She was offered a plea deal by the prosecution, but she didn’t take it because she swore she had no information to give them – she didn’t know where any bodies were because she didn’t know about the murders. On a technicality, her psychologist’s statement that she suffered from battered women’s syndrome was excluded from her trial. So no testimony or evidence about the abuse she suffered from Ray or how he controlled her was allowed in her defense. Subsequently, she was convicted on the flimsiest of evidence: the list and the quilt.

Most likely, Ray told her to write the list (throughout their marriage, Faye had to take care of any tasks that required reading or writing). Ray told her to put X’s next to men’s names. This could have simply meant the men left or were no longer willing to participate in the cattle scam. The fact that she made a quilt out of their clothes doesn’t point to her knowledge of their deaths, either, only that many of these transients would leave clothing behind, and she, like any thrifty country woman, found a way to recycle them into something useful.

Ray, who had controlled her and made her life miserable for decades, continued to do so even after his death in jail in 1993. Faye was never exonerated. In 1999, her sentence was commuted to life in prison. She suffered a stroke in 2002 and was released into a nursing home, where she died a year later. To this day, many still believe she was his willing accomplice, a cold-hearted killer rather than a beaten-down wife.

Besides the five known victims, the Copelands were also suspected in the deaths of seven other men. If Faye knew anything about them, she took that knowledge with her to the grave.

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Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, serial rapists and killers

The Ken and Barbie Killers: Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka

Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka were the perfect 80s power couple: they enjoyed every privilege, every benefit of the doubt, because they were pretty, white, and blonde. But there was no humanity behind their sparkling blue eyes. Together they were far more terrifying and psychotic than anything in a Bret Easton Ellis novel.

Paul was born August 27, 1964, into a deeply dysfunctional family. His father, Kenneth, was himself a rapist who even molested his own daughter. He also regularly abused his wife, Paul’s mother, verbally and physically. He often called her a “bitch” and a “fat cow,” terms Paul would later call his own victims. She became deeply depressed and gained a lot of weight, eventually isolating herself in the basement.

Despite that, Paul was known by friends and neighbors as a sweet, happy child with dimpled cheeks and curly blond hair.

When Paul was 16, he discovered that Kenneth was not his biological father. From that point on he hated his family, and once he moved out, he severed all contact with them.

After graduation he went on to attend the University of Toronto. It was there that his sadism began to bloom, and he began abusing his girlfriends. In fact, one of his ex-girlfriends went to the police several times to report him for abuse, rape, and threats, but nothing was ever done about it.

He began raping women in the Scarborough area in 1987. He would abduct them from bus stops and brutally rape them, often punching them, strangling them, cutting and penetrating them with a knife. The media dubbed him “The Scarborough Rapist.”

The Deadly Duo Meet

It was right around this time when he met Karla at a pet food convention; she was 17 and he was 23. It was instant attraction.

Karla was born May 4, 1970. The oldest of three girls, she was pretty and popular. She had normal, loving parents. She wanted to be a veterinarian and went to work for a vet clinic when she was a teenager.

Paul and Karla found they shared the same sadomasochistic desires – they fell into the role of master and slave right off the bat. As time went on, their relationship intensified, as did their sexual crimes. Meanwhile, Paul, with Karla’s full knowledge, continued raping women.

In May 1990, one victim described Paul to the police, who generated a sketch that was sent out to the public. A former coworker of Paul’s called the police after seeing the sketch, but it wasn’t followed up. Months later, the wife of an old neighbor of Paul’s also called, and this time the police finally questioned Paul. But his good looks and charm led them to believe he was innocent. Even though they collected a DNA sample from him, it wasn’t compared to the victims for another two years – time enough for him to murder three girls and rape many more.

They Take Their First Victim

Paul’s entitled attitude led him to believe he deserved to take Karla’s virginity, but since he couldn’t do that, Karla, ever the faithful slave, arranged the next best thing. Karla knew Paul had been looking at her 15-year-old sister, Tammy. He would peep into her window and masturbate to her while she slept – all with Karla’s knowledge and approval.

So Karla hatched a plan to give him what he wanted. On December 23, 1990, at a family Christmas party, Karla and Paul gave Tammy cocktails laced with a sedative. Once everyone else had gone to bed, the couple took Tammy to the basement. There Karla held a rag soaked in the anesthetic Halothane – stolen from the vet clinic where she worked – over Tammy’s nose and mouth. Once the girl was unconscious, the couple began raping her and recording it with the video recorder Paul had gotten as a Christmas gift.

Sometime during the assault, the heavily drugged Tammy vomited and aspirated it, choking to death. After carefully cleaning up the evidence of what they had done, they called the EMTs. Despite the large, unexplained burns on Tammy’s face (a result of the Halothane), the police accepted the pretty young couple’s explanation that Tammy had simply had too much to drink and had choked on her own vomit.

This brutal psychotic act seems to have only brought the two closer. Soon after Tammy’s murder, the couple moved in together. At one point, Karla dressed up in Tammy’s clothes and pretended to be her while she and Paul had sex in her bed. Again, they recorded it – something they would do for every assault they committed.

But Paul still wasn’t satisfied; he blamed Karla for Tammy’s death – which was only a problem for him because she wasn’t available for him to use her anymore.

More Victims

So they decided to get another toy for Paul, a young teenager known only as “Jane Doe.” Jane knew Karla from the pet store where they had worked together, and she idolized the pretty older woman. So Karla invited her out to dinner, and just like she had done to her sister, laced her drinks with sedatives, took her home, and administered the Halothane. Again, both of them brutally raped and tortured her and recorded it. Unlike Tammy, however, Jane survived. She woke up the next day, sore and sick, but with no memory of what had been done to her.

Meanwhile, less than six months since her sister’s death, the couple (mostly Paul) was planning their wedding, a lavish affair including a horse-drawn carriage, an expensive bridal gown, and a sit-down meal of veal-stuffed pheasant. Oddly, Paul bragged to friends that the wedding was really a moneymaking affair, and that he expected to bring in $50,000 in gifts. Even more oddly, rather then Karla taking Paul’s last name, or even keeping her own, the couple both unofficially renamed themselves Teale after the fictional serial killer Martin Thiel from the movie Criminal Law.

Only two weeks before their wedding, on June 15, 1991, the couple stepped up their sick game. Up until now, they hadn’t meant to kill anyone. Tammy’s death had been unintentional, and Paul was actually angry with Karla for causing it.

But with 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy, there was no anesthetic. Paul kidnapped her, and the couple held her captive for several days, raping and torturing her – and, of course, videotaping it. Once they tired of her, they killed her, dismembered her body, and encased the pieces in cement. Karla dumped them in nearby Lake Gibson.

On June 29, as the killer couple was making their vows surrounded by friends and family, anglers and boaters on the lake discovered the blocks of concrete containing Leslie’s legs, feet, and head. The next day, another boater saw her torso floating on the water. While the police were investigating the murder, Paul and Karla were honeymooning in Hawaii.

Nearly a year went by, and the couple apparently abducted and raped at least two more women, though they survived. As an interesting side note, Karla may not have had a conscience, but something kept her up at night. Sometime after Kristen’s murder, Karla went to a psychic for advice on how to exorcise the noises she kept hearing from the basement where Leslie had been dismembered.

In April 1992, the couple abducted Kristen French from a church parking lot. For Kristen, there were no drugs, no blindfold, and no hope of survival. They subjected her to the same brutality and rape as they had Leslie before killing her. Immediately after killing her, Karla left the room to do her hair for Easter dinner with her family. Her body, they simply dumped in a ditch.

The Beginning of the End

Paul’s viciousness would be his downfall. It was around this same time that Paul began turning his abuse onto Karla, and in early 1993 her parents convinced her to leave him and press charges.

After arresting him on the abuse charges, the Green Ribbon Task Force, formed in 1992 to solve the murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, wanted to question Karla more about Paul – and about a Mickey Mouse watch she was wearing that looked a lot like Kristen’s.

They questioned her for about five hours, but she didn’t divulge anything – yet. She got herself a lawyer, and he portrayed her as an abuse victim herself, forced to participate in Paul’s brutal crimes for fear of her life. They asked for a plea deal: in exchange for her testimony against Paul, she would plead guilty to manslaughter, and only be given 12 years. That deal, later called “the deal with the devil,” was quickly accepted.

The police searched Paul’s house for 71 days, but they could not find the alleged rape videos. However, Paul had told his lawyer that the videotapes were hidden in a ceiling light fixture in the upstairs bathroom. His lawyer found the tapes, but did not hand them over for evidence. Over a year later, his lawyer resigned, and a new lawyer, John Rosen, stepped in. Rosen did turn the tapes over to police – but too late. The prosecutors had already made the infamous plea bargain with Karla.

When law enforcement saw the horrific scenes on the tapes, it was obvious that Karla wasn’t the innocent bystander she pretended to be to get her plea deal. What they showed was so brutal that even seasoned detectives and reporters couldn’t hold back their emotion as the transcripts were read in court – and Karla had been a willing, and even eager, participant.

In September 1995, Paul was convicted of several offenses, including two first-degree murders and two aggravated sexual assaults. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for at least 25 years in Kingston Penitentiary, Canada’s toughest maximum-security prison. He was designated a dangerous offender, making him unlikely to ever be released.

He was never tried for the Scarborough rapes, of which there are 19 known victims. There may be dozens more; some put the total figure at 43 victims.

Where is Karla Now?

Karla, meanwhile, finished her sentence in July 2005. She remarried and has three children. In an effort to hide from the public, she’s gone by several names, including Leanne Teale. The conditions of her parole were dropped in 2015, and in May 2017, she was outed for volunteering at a religious school in Montreal where her children attend, to great public outrage. That was the same year Paul came up for day parole and was denied.

The media and people in general continue to be fascinated with her – the question, “Where is Karla Homolka Now?” has generated countless headlines, and numerous social media groups have been created to answer that very question.

Why is everyone so obsessed with Karla, but not Paul, who was at least 50 percent of this deadly duo? I think for one, she is out walking around free, so there’s a lot of anger and resentment toward her.

But also, women who kill – especially when they kill with such cruelty and violence – are considered somehow worse than men who do the same. It upends the old Victorian notions of “feminine nature,” that women aren’t capable of such extreme acts of violence. Indeed it is rare; only 15 percent of serial killers are female and most of them kill quietly and domestically. The few female serial killers who kill along with men usually do so out of a dependent personality disorder: they are vulnerable, have a deep fear of abandonment, have suffered abuse, and are typically not well educated. Karla fits none of these characteristics.

She is an enigma, a psychopath and sexual sadist, a serial killer who is walking around free.

 

 

 

 

Ronald Gene Simmons, the Christmas Killer

The holidays can really test anyone’s nerves. The expectation of overspending on gifts, risking your life traveling to visit people you moved hours away from for a reason, and forced cheerfulness in the company of people who you’d pay good money to avoid. It’s easy to slip into fantasies about doing away with the lot of them. And it’s probably because of these stresses that incidents of domestic violence increase during the holiday season.

The worst of these was committed by Ronald Gene Simmons. Over the course of a week, he slaughtered 14 of his family members and two former co-workers in the little town of Russellville, Arkansas, committing the largest family murder in US history.

Simmons was a “family annihilator,” a murderer who, either in one fatal swoop or over the course of hours or days, kills off most or all of his or her family.

The typical family annihilator that makes the headlines is a man who, outwardly, has all the trappings of a perfect family, such as a devoted wife, a high-paying or -status job, and clean, well-behaved children. There’s usually no history of abuse, and the killer has no prior criminal record. He’s usually set off by some traumatic event that he believes will ruin him, usually the loss of his job or discovery of a secret (usually involving white-collar crime or bankruptcy). John List is the perfect example of this type of killer, which is called the “civil reputable” family annihilator.

Simmons was the more common type of family annihilator: the “livid coercive,” a dominating domestic abuser who is threatened by losing control over his family. For Simmons, slaughtering his family was more about his need to possess them than to spare them from humiliation or poverty. In fact, he made sure his family lived in crushing poverty and isolation. But his psychopathic nature was far more deviant than most domestic abusers.

He Was a Bully and a Tyrant from the Beginning

Simmons showed narcissistic, controlling tendencies early on – hitting his younger siblings, manipulating them and his parents, erupting in fits of rage, and never backing down or admitting he was wrong. His younger brother described him as a bully and tyrant.

When he was in the second grade, his family moved to the small town of Hector, Arkansas, into an old farmhouse without running water, 20 miles away from the nearest paved road. They lived there for several years, and, to Gene, it was paradise. For the rest of his life, he longed to return to Arkansas and live “the simple life.”

At age 17, he entered the Navy, where he met Rebecca (Becky) Ulibarri at a USO dance hall. They fell in love and corresponded frequently while he was away. They were married in 1960 and had their first child, Gene Jr. (“Little Gene”) the following year.

Becky was just the kind of woman Gene wanted: meek, accommodating, and dependent. She couldn’t even drive. Gene ran the household with an iron fist, even when he was away. He had set schedules for meals, laundry, and cleaning. He controlled the finances, paying the bills himself and only allowing Becky a small “allowance,” which usually wasn’t enough to cover decent meals for his ever-growing family – over the next 17 years, the couple had six more children.

Yet meek, cowed Becky, in her diaries and letters, called him “my Gene,” and when she expressed frustration with his tyrannical ways, told herself that he probably knew best.

Unbeknownst to her, they weren’t actually that poor – Gene was just stingy. After finishing his stint with the Navy, Gene worked briefly at a bank, which paid quite well. However, his know-it-all attitude and controlling personality chafed his co-workers and supervisors, effectively shutting him out of any promotions.

So he went back into the military, this time, the Air Force. He spent 1967-68 in Saigon during the Vietnam War working in the Office of Special Investigations. By all accounts he excelled at his job, being a model of efficiency and proper protocol – his same monomaniacal obsession for order and control that he used on his family was an asset in the OSI.

While at the OSI civilian quarters in Saigon, he lived a life of comfort. He had maid service, a cook, and laundry delivered to his door. He enjoyed an officer’s commissary privileges, and when he had R&R, he spent it in Australia.

Meanwhile, his new bride and their (at the time) three small children were kept in a tiny travel trailer on his in-law’s property. He continued to control all their finances from abroad, allowing Becky only $40 a month to support the children on.

After he returned, he moved them to San Francisco, then Cloudcroft, New Mexico. It was there where he began pursuing his dream of having an off-grid farm, and he worked the children long hours to try and make it happen. He had them building rock walls, putting up fences, and various other hard labor from the time they got home from school until late at night. In the summer, he worked them from sunup to sundown.

He also kept them isolated. He would not allow a telephone in the house, and rarely allowed the children to visit friends or have company over. He had the only key to the mailbox, and would read all the incoming and outgoing mail.

While the family lived in isolation and poverty, he bought himself a Honda motorcycle, then later, a Subaru truck. He covered for his financial mismanagement by taking out loans, both from relatives and from the bank.

From Tyrant to Monster

So far, so bad…until the birth of his youngest child, Rebecca Lynn, in 1977. Becky (Gene’s wife) had by now borne seven children, and all of them had been underweight. Her obstetrician diagnosed an underlying health issue, and recommended in strong terms that Becky get a tubal ligation, stating that another pregnancy would put her life in danger. But this being 1977, her husband also had to consent to the procedure. He did not. Becky pleaded with him, literally begging for her life, until, finally, Gene begrudgingly relented.

After that, he was never the same towards her. He never “forgave” her for being putting her own life (and her children’s well-being) over his desires, and essentially stopped having sex with her. In his mind, she was of no use to him anymore.

Meanwhile, he began to turn his attentions toward young Sheila Marie. From the time she was born in October of 1963, it was clear his oldest daughter was his favorite. It was in about 1978 or ‘79 that Gene began actively grooming Sheila. While his other children had to beg for money for school supplies and lunches, Gene lavished Sheila with gifts of clothes and jewelry. For his other children, he had only criticism, demands, and insults. But Sheila was his “little princess,” his “ladybug.”

When Sheila was only 15, her father began molesting her.

By March of 1981, Sheila was pregnant with her father’s child. After dropping her off at her prom, Gene gathered the family and told them Sheila was pregnant. While he didn’t state who the father was, Becky knew. Gene laid down the law, as usual, commanding the family to simply accept the child and raise it as one of their own. Becky dropped into a deep depression, but did or said nothing against her husband.

Yet, somehow, the word got out. Eventually word got all the way to the Otero County office of Social Services. When questioned, Sheila admitted that Gene was the father of the child growing in her belly. The family was ordered to undergo family counseling. At his counseling, Gene was unashamed. He claimed he had done it for Sheila’s own good, in order to “protect” and “teach” her. He saw nothing wrong with what he’d done, and basically dismissed the counselor’s questions.

However, Gene knew that the district attorney, Steven Sanders, took a hard line on child abuse. Soon after Sheila gave birth to Sylvia Gail, sensing that he may be facing legal trouble, he planned a hasty retreat back to Arkansas.

The Simmons Flee to Arkansas

First they settled in Ward, Arkansas. There he impregnated Sheila again, but this time, despite his proclaimed “pro-life” beliefs, he obtained a secret abortion for her.

Once Sheila turned 18, she began taking classes at a business school in Little Rock. At first Gene encouraged her, but once she met Dennis McNulty and began dating him, Gene wanted to shut it down. To his way of thinking, Sheila belonged to him and him alone.

So he moved his family farther away, to a 14-acre spread in Dover, which Gene dubbed “Mockingbird Hill.” There, they lived in a jury-rigged structure comprising an old mobile home and its various additions. As usual, there was no phone, and the only indoor plumbing went to the shower. Water for cleaning and cooking was caught in jugs and buckets lined up along the roof’s dripline. The thrown-together outhouse would overflow in heavy rains, running into the pond.

As in New Mexico, Gene had grand dreams of turning his overgrown, rocky acreage into a self-sufficient farm. As in New Mexico, he worked his children hard to make his fantasies real.

But he didn’t have the resources he’d had in New Mexico. Because he’d up and left his job without notice, he couldn’t get another cushy civil service job, and he was deeply in debt. Instead, he ended up taking low-paying shift work, which he couldn’t hold down. He started hitting on a co-worker, Kathy Kendrick, at the law firm where he worked as a clerk. When he wouldn’t back off, she went to their supervisor, and Gene was fired shortly thereafter.

Meanwhile, he began hoarding the property with salvaged materials for his various “projects” – cinderblocks, pallets, sheets of tin, car parts.

The two older boys – Little Gene and Billy – moved out and started families of their own. Despite her father’s pleas, Sheila also moved out and married Dennis. She had told Dennis about Sylvia Gail’s true father, and Dennis had accepted her, promising to legally adopt the girl.

Gene was losing control. He began physically abusing Becky. He bought himself another gun.

On Dec. 18, 1987, Gene quit his part-time job at the Sinclair Mini Mart.

The Christmas Killings

On Dec. 22, after the younger kids left for school, Gene went into the room of his oldest son, Little Gene, who had brought his 3-year-old daughter, Barbara, back for a holiday visit. Gene bludgeoned his son with a metal pipe, and when that didn’t kill him, he shot him several times. In another bedroom, Becky was cradling little Barbara, pleading for their lives. Gene shot Becky, then garotted Barbara with a fish stringer. He loaded their bodies into a wheelbarrow and dumped them in a large pit the children had dug several months earlier, then doused them in kerosene.

He then went back to the house and waited, passing the hours watching TV and drinking.

When the younger children – Loretta, Eddy, Marianne, and little Rebecca –  came home from school, he greeted them in the yard, smiling and promising them each a surprise. One by one, while the others waited in the car listening to Christmas carols, he took them inside and garrotted them, holding their heads underwater in a rain barrel to make sure they were dead. He took them out to the same pit as the others and covered them with dirt and barbed wire, then placed scrap tin over the mass grave in an attempt to keep out scavengers.

The remaining older children, Billy and Sheila, and their families were expected to arrive the day after Christmas. So again, Ronald Gene Simmons waited.

Four days later, Billy; his wife, Renata; and their infant son, Trae, were the first to arrive. Gene shot Billy and Renata, laying their bodies by the dining room table, covered with their own coats and some bedding. He strangled Trae like he had the others, then wrapped him in plastic and placed his tiny body into the trunk of a car behind the house.

Next to arrive were Sheila and Dennis, along with Sylvia Gail, now 7, and Sheila and Dennis’ biological child, 21-month-old Michael. He shot Sheila and Dennis and strangled the children. Sylvia’s and Dennis’ bodies were laid in the dining room and covered with jackets like the other others. Michael’s body was wrapped in plastic and placed in the trunk of yet another car on the property. Sheila, however, was given special treatment in death, just like she had in life: her body was laid out on the dining room table and covered with their best tablecloth.

Later that day, Gene drove in to Russellville, where he stopped at a store and, bizarrely, picked up some pre-ordered Christmas gifts. That night, he went to a bar and had a few drinks. Then he went home and waited out the weekend, watching TV and drinking beer while the corpses of his family rotted in the next room.

On the morning of Dec. 28, Gene drove back into Russellville, walked into the law office where he had previously worked, and shot and killed Kathy Kendrick.

Next Gene went to another previous employer, The Taylor Oil Company, where he shot and killed J.D. Chaffin and wounded the owner, Rusty Taylor. He then drove to the Sinclair Mini Mart, shooting and wounding two more people. Afterwards, Simmons went to the office of the Woodline Motor Freight Company, where he shot and wounded yet another woman.

Simmons then simply sat in the office and chatted with one of the secretaries while waiting for the police. When they arrived, Simmons handed over his gun and surrendered without any resistance.

Simmons was charged with a total of 16 counts of murder. During the trial for the murder of his family, when prosecuting attorney John Bynum presented a note that Gene had written to Sheila professing his love, Simmons lashed out at Bynum, punching him the face, and then unsuccessfully struggled for a deputy’s handgun. Officers rushed him out of the courtroom in chains.

He was found guilty and sentenced to death by lethal injection plus 147 years. He refused all appeals (even fighting in court for the right to do so), and on May 31, 1990, Arkansas governor Bill Clinton signed Simmons’ execution warrant. On June 25, 1990, he died by lethal injection. This was the quickest sentence-to-execution time in US history since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

None of his relatives would claim the body, so he was buried in a pauper’s field in Varner, Arkansas.