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  • Mark Rein

Losing Control: Rampage in the Ozarks


Welcome to Crime Raven; true crimes, real-life stories from law enforcement, and issues crime fighters face. This podcast highlights crime researched by retired Detective Sergeant Mark Rein, using publicly available information, court records, and personal recollections. Content may be graphic, disturbing, or violent. Listener discretion is advised. Suspects are considered innocent until found guilty in a court of law.


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The Master

The master sat in his armchair in the living room, surveying the festive scene. The ordinarily austere concrete block walls had decorations taped to them - coloring sheets from the youngest daughter; garlands strung from the corners, drooping across the sides of the rooms. That always reminded him of olden days women in their feather boas. Across from him in the far corner was the Christmas tree the kids and wife had trimmed with colorful ornaments and tinsel. The shiny pieces scattered light from a thousand tiny colored bulbs, a garish festive cacophony of reflections when room lights were low. The master thought of the effective as chaos, but it was a good type of chaos as he thought about closing out 1987.

Just off the living room, the four youngest wished the master a good day as they filed out the door for school. "Okay. Last day, see you later." He smiled and watched them go. He planned a big day, which would only start when they were gone. He waited at the door until he heard the confirmatory sound of the car engine turning over and the crunch of tires on gravel. Like many parents, the master sighed, happy they would be out of his hair for at least a few hours.

The master stood for several minutes in the middle of the living room, staring at the wall as if lost in thought. Then the spell broke. He nodded briskly and walked to his side door. Just outside, leaning against the wall, he picked up a metal rod that he'd pre-staged earlier that morning. He walked deliberately, creeping quietly down the hall as he listened for activity. He heard nothing. It was still early. They were asleep. The master opened one of the doors off the hall just to crack. Inside his namesake lay in a tangle of bedclothes. Daylight was just beginning to illuminate the room through the opaque curtains. The master stared for a moment. Then in one fluid movement, he stepped in, raised the metal rod like a short sword, swinging it in an arc that ended against the young man's skull. The effect was not as devastating as the master had hoped. Junior jerked back and let out a bellowing moan, instinctively trying to scramble away from the threat as his brain rebooted and roused. The master immediately followed the first blow with several more. These made less potent by the target's movement. One blow knocked junior down as he tried to stand, and he collapsed dazed on the floor beside the bed. The master felt a sense of urgency, aware that the others in the house were waking to the family's new reality. With this in mind, the master drew his pistol and shot the boy in the head.

Satisfied that the eldest was dead, the master turned and moved quickly down the hall into the wife's bedroom. They met face to face in the doorway. Holding the three-year-old, the wife cowered and begged as she retreated into the corner of the room. The master gave her a wicked, triumphant smile as he raised the pistol and fired two bullets into her skull. The

ringing in his ears only overwhelmed the toddler screaming for a few seconds. He grabbed her as she ferociously clung to her grandmother's flaccid body in her panic, ignoring the bloody mess she was spreading. No matter. The master viciously ripped the girl away. He wrapped a cord around her tiny neck and cinched it tightly.

The master checked all the corpses. When he convinced himself they were all really, truly dead; he carted them out back. Over the last several weeks, the master had made his kids dig an enormous new outhouse pit. From his chair inside, the master had listened to them through an open window, bitterly complaining about the size of the pit he'd demanded. Well, now they know why.

Without ceremony, he dropped the woman, the child, and the eldest into the bottom of the pit. He doused the pile of bodies with kerosene to mask future odors and covered the hole with metal roofing sheets. With the morning's work done, the master retrieved a beer from the fridge and sat in his chair in the living room, and waited.

Midafternoon found the master still on his throne when he heard the familiar sound of wheels, grinding gravel. He jumped up and rushed outside as the kids pulled up. He waved his arms, hands down, motioning them to stay where they were. The front window rolled down as he approached. And there was a nervous smattering of "hi daddy,” greeting him, accompanied by confused looks. Smiling broadly, the master said, " Hey, everybody. Stay seated where you are and wait. I have a surprise for y'all, and I wanna give it to you one at a time."

The master gauged their attitudes, noting that the two youngest girls looked surprised and excited. It was Christmas, after all. The older boy and the oldest girl were smiling, but their eyes held suspicion. "Come on, Loretta, you're first," he said. Suspicion turned nervous as she stepped out from behind the wheel and followed her father. As they got to the door, the master stepped aside, holding the door open and smiling. With exaggerated chivalry, he bowed deeply, sweeping his free arm in an arc, palm showing her inside. He closed the door talking loud enough so that she couldn't hear him throw the deadbolt. The girl looked back, and the master gestured for her to proceed across the room. "It's back there," he said, emphasizing with a tilt of his head. As she turned away, the master threw the cord around her neck and whipped it tight, effectively clotheslining her. She fell to her back, the snare already inescapably tight. The master followed her to the floor as she fell, kneeling over her and then on her, pinning her down as she struggled. She tried to pull the ligature away to loosen it. When that didn't work, she tried to strike out, but the position was awkward, and he was too close for her blows to be effective. As the darkness took her, she tried to beg to look pleadingly into her father's eyes, but his face was slack, his eyes dark and glassy, like a shark. The master held the garotte tight and watched as she stopped struggling; her face turned purple, then convulsions, then everything slackened, and he was alone. When the master was certain, she was dead. He dragged her to a staging area.

He repeated the process three more times. All went according to plan. When the master's children were stacked in the staging area, and he was sure they were all dead, he carted them off one by one, retracing steps from earlier in the day. Standing over the mouth of the pit, the master surveyed his incomplete work. Most of his close family members lay in the chaotic pile below. The wife, even in death, irritated him. She’d come to rest on her back off to this side. It seemed she was glaring up at him through cloudy eyes, vacant yet accusatory, nonetheless. He poured in more kerosene, pushed in the mounded dirt, and re-covered everything with the sheet metal.

It was early evening by the time the job was done. The Simmons house was darker and quieter than usual. The master, the patriarch of the Simmons clan set back in his chair. He had a while to wait. The next day was the Eve of Christmas Eve. It was going to be a peaceful holiday

On Saturday, the 26th of December, the master was waiting when the first of his adult children arrived for the Christmas visit. He greeted them in the driveway, motioning and saying that everyone was waiting inside. The master followed the couple up towards the house. Without warning, he pulled a pistol from his pocket and put a bullet through the back of the son's skull. He followed by putting five bullets into the daughter-in-law's head. And as the parents lay on the ground, fighting against death, the master knelt over the screaming baby and choked the life out of him.

The master pulled the bodies inside, positioning the parents on the floor of the dining room near the Christmas tree. He wrapped the baby in plastic and placed him in the trunk of one of the derelict cars in the backyard. Then he retraced his steps to clean and reset the scene.

When the next guests arrived, the master repeated the procedure from earlier. Greeting them at the car, ushering them towards the house, shooting the two adults, and manually strangling the children. First, the seven-year-old to keep her from running away while the one-year-old screamed and wandered between his parents as they bled out. Then it was the little boy's turn. When all four were dead, the master packed the baby, like the other one entombing him in the trunk of one of the abandoned cars. The master haul the three remaining bodies into the house, positioning one on the dining room floor next to the others; one in a back bedroom; and he put the daughter on the dining room table and covered her with a shroud.

It was midday on Saturday. Seven of the master's subjects lay in the ground behind the house. Four lay in the dining room. Two in the trunks of his cars and one in a back bedroom. Everything was going according to plan. He cleaned up and ran some errands. When he returned, the master spent time with his guests.

On Monday, December 28th, the master drove into town, first stopping in front of a business bearing the sign Peel and Eddy Law Firm. As the master stepped through the front door, an attractive young woman looked up from the reception desk. When she saw the master, her smile melted and was replaced with apprehension, then fear. The master used the moment of surprise to close the distance between the door and the desk. He pulled his pistol and shot the woman four times in the head. Then walked back to his car.

The second stop was at the industrial yard of the Taylor Oil Company. The master walked through the lot, scanning. When he didn't see whom he was looking for in the yard, he proceeded to the office building. Once inside, the master saw whom he was looking for, standing with another man. The second guy looked like he could interfere. No matter. As the master approached, the target greeted him. The only warmth in the response was the master's gun barrel. He left both men bleeding on the floor.

The Sinclair Mini Mart, about five minutes from Taylor Oil, was the third on the list. As usual, the day clerk was behind the register. The owner was off to the side, sitting at one of the tables and talking to someone. They greeted the master as he stepped in. He responded by pulling out his gun and firing a round over the register. The bullet hit the cashier in the head, and she collapsed to the floor. The owner immediately stood and grabbed the only weapon in reach - a chair. He whipped the chair overhead, launching it at the master, who simultaneously fired his pistol. The range was only four feet, and the bullet hit the man in the head, causing him to fall to the floor with a gushing head wound. The unknown man began throwing cans of soda at the shooter. The master having no quarrel with the second man, walked back to his car and drove away.

Satisfied with the mission so far, the master drove the short distance to the office of Woodline Freight Company. Once inside, he had no trouble finding his target. He walked briskly up to the woman, pulled his pistol, and shot her four times in the head and chest. She collapsed to the floor. He paused. There was satisfaction in watching the pool of blood slowly expand around her upper body. When the master finally turned away, he felt spent. There was a second woman in the office, trapped behind her desk as she had a dazed deer in the headlights look. The master smiled his most magnanimous smile; shaking his head, he pulled up a chair close to her desk and sat. Speaking softly, the master angled his head toward the bloody mess on the floor and told her that he was there to kill her. He added in a reassuring tone that he was finished. He'd gotten everyone who'd wanted to hurt him.


In foothills along the Southwestern edge of the Ozark mountains, the region is a knitting of small towns, including Russellville, about 30,000 people and growing, and the much smaller community of Dover, about eight miles north of Russellville.

It's certainly not a place accustomed to violent crime on a large scale, other than the occasional homicide. With the succession of calls that hit Pope County 911 center on the morning of December 28th, 1987, it seemed to the first responders like the world had gone crazy.

The first call was from the offices of the Peel and Eddy Law Firm. A woman had been shot. Help had barely arrived at that location when the next call came in. Two shooting victims at nearby Taylor Oil. Cops and paramedics arriving at Taylor oil were stunned when they recognized one of their own, firefighter Jim Chaffin. Jim had taken a bullet through the eye and was beyond their help. There was only a brief reprieve from the calls until the third location was broadcast. Two shot at the Sinclair Mini Mart, four miles away, injuring Roberta Woolery and David Salyer. This time, the callers were able to put a name to the chaos, a former employee, Ronald Gene Simmons,

Linking the shootings together, authorities now knew for whom they were looking. Although almost no one knew him personally. Having a name didn't prevent the fourth call for help at Woodline motor freight, where Joyce Butts was reportedly shot. There was a surprising postscript to that call. The suspect was still on scene and waiting for the police.

Police arrived at Woodline freight, expecting a gun battle with a man who'd been on a four-stop shooting rampage. They were surprised when the man, a normal-looking, overweight, balding white guy, came out, obeyed commands, and submitted to arrest.

Once Simmons was in custody, the scene was secure, and Joyce Butts had been transported to the hospital, the officers couldn't help but reflect on the last hour and a half. The crazy leapfrog from one scene to the next, the entire time, a growing recognition that a reckoning with the man responsible was coming. Then for it to end without a deadly confrontation seemed, well, it seemed like there was a shoe still yet to drop.

As the smoke cleared, the scenes were processed, and the blood stains began to get washed away, one of the investigators thought to ask a critical question. Who knows something about this Simmons? The guy had worked at the places he targeted and presumably had beef with people there. However, no one knew anything about his kin. Has anybody talked to any of them? From the vehicle registration and talking to coworkers, Simmons lived on a small piece of property near Dover. Attempts to call the residence were unsuccessful, and it was unclear if their listed phone line was even working. Sometime in midafternoon, two officers were sent to contact the family.

As officers pulled up the driveway, they saw a dingy hybrid of a home that looked like maybe someone had added on to a mobile home with a concrete block structure. They saw obvious signs of poverty, including outhouses and old junk cars. In the driveway, ahead of the officers, were several newer, functional-looking cars. Too many to be from those living in this ramshackle trailer house. It was silent as they exited their patrol cars. That preternatural silence weighed heavily on the officers as they cautiously approached. One officer went up to the door, and one stood back in contact and cover. This wasn't the usual way. It was just that this hadn't been a usual morning. They didn't know what to expect. And the tension was a palpable bond between the two. In any case, when someone answered, and it turned out everything was fine, the family was not going to be happy with the news. The officers were acutely aware. They were, at the very least, bearers of very bad news.

But no one answered. And no sounds from inside. The pair began a circuit around the house, calling out, looking into and through dirty windows. The evidence of Christmas celebration the officer saw as his eyes adjusted to the darker interior reassured him that everything was well until he saw the foot. One of the windows allowed a view in the dim light, just visible through an interior doorway; he could see a foot positioned in such a way that the owner had to be laying prone on the floor. Urgently the officer banged on the window and shouted, "hey, police!" The pale foot did not stir. The officer and his partner were able to pry a window open and shimmy inside. They continued to announce themselves as they passed through a room and burst into the open dining room, and at their feet, three corpses lay in repose, a fourth under a shroud on the dining room table. A brief search of the home also revealed a little girl in a bed in a back bedroom. To the officers, this was no longer a home. It was a mausoleum.

The discovery of additional bodies required additional resources. So officers and investigators were enlisted from around the region. As the sunset on the day of the shootings that rocked the Russellville region of Arkansas, the investigators took stock of what they had. The shooter, Simmons, had killed a 24-year-old legal secretary, Kathy Kendrick, whom he'd known from a prior job at Woodline Motor Freight. Simmons' next stop was Taylor Oil, where he'd shot the owner, Rusty Taylor, and Jim Chaffin, the firefighter. Rusty Taylor, after being hit twice in the torso, would survive, while Jim Chaffin, shot through the eye, died instantly. The working theory on this shooting was that Simmons left employment at Taylor Oil under strained circumstances and was seeking revenge on Rusty Taylor. Jim Chaffin was possibly an uninvolved bystander.

Similar to the first two incidents, the Sinclair Minimart was Simmons's most recent employer. Miraculously, Roberta Woolery survived with a grazing wound to the head. David Salyer had tried to hit Simmons with a chair. The bullet passed through that chair and penetrated David's scalp, but not his skull.

Simmons's last stop was to target an employee he'd also worked within the past. He shot business manager Joyce Butts. Despite suffering serious wounds to head and chest, Joyce would live. So out of the six people that Simmons ambushed and shot on December 28th, four survived.

Police at Simmon's home delayed their search so that they could apply for warrants and wait for sunrise. The bodies in the dining room were identified as Simmon's daughter, 24-year-old Sheila, under the shroud on the dining room table. On the floor with Sheila's husband, Dennis McNulty, 33, Billy Simmons, 23, and Billy's wife. Renata 21. The body of the little girl found in the bedroom during the initial sweep of the house was Sylvia Gail McNulty, Sheila's six-year-old daughter. This tally left several family members conspicuously missing. And at the end of the day, one investigators knew that the odds of finding them alive were not looking good

Day two of the investigation brought movement and resolution to parts of the murder spree that had been visited on Russellville and the Simmons compound. The patriarch, Simmons, was sent to the state psychiatric hospital in Little Rock for a court ordered evaluation.

When the search resumed, two of the missing little boys, William "Trae" Simmons, one, and Michael McNulty, one, were found encased in garbage bags in trunks of abandoned cars. Excavation of a recently filled-in pit in the backyard yielded the remains of seven Simmons family members: Ronald Gene Simmons, 29; Bursabe Rebecca "Becky" Simmons, 46; Barbara Simmons, three; Loretta Simmons, 17; Eddy Simmons, 14; Maryanne Simmons, 11; and Rebecca Simmons, eight.

The pattern seen with the other bodies was consistent. The adults were each shot in the head some, several times, and the children appeared to have been strangled. The Russellville area was shocked for the second day by the numbers as the seven confirmed deaths on Monday increased to 16 deaths on Tuesday.

The investigation in the aftermath of the shootings, the search of the Simmons property, and the recovery and examination of all the victims. All of these events and processes gave detectives a massive amount of information about what happened. The investigation would have a much more difficult time answering why it happened.