Holiday homicide: The man who killed 14 family members on Christmas

·4-min read

“You can take this job and shove it.”

Those are the last words office manager Joyce Butts heard before her former coworker Ronald Gene Simmons shot her in the head and chest.

“I’ve come to do what I wanted to do. It’s all over now. I’ve gotten everybody who wanted to hurt me,” Simmons told Ms Butts’ colleague after he ordered her to call the police.

Stunned officers soon arrived and arrested the 47-year-old former Air Force sergeant, ending his 45-minute shooting spree at four businesses in Russellville, Arkansas, on December 28, 1987.

Simmons is seen with his wife and some of their children. Source: Youtube
Simmons poses for a photo with his wife and some of their children. Source: Youtube

During the rampage, Simmons had attempted to kill former colleagues toward whom he bore grudges, the Associated Press reported at the time.

He shot six people, killing two. Luckily, Ms Butts survived.

As police loaded Simmons into a holding jail cell, they wondered what could have provoked him to unleash such a fury.

However, they would soon learn the attacks were just the beginning of the horror they were going to unfold that day.

Bodies of 14 family members found

With Simmons in custody, police became concerned about the well-being of his relatives, which included seven children.

Police learned that the 47-year-old lived on a nearby rural farm with his wife and four of their children. Neighbours told local publications at the time they were incredibly secluded.

The Simmons home is pictured with crime scene tape in front. Source: Youtube
Police discovered five bodies scattered throughout the eight-room house. Source: Youtube

After crawling into the Simmons home through a window, police discovered five bodies scattered throughout the eight-room house — including one laying under the Christmas tree.

The next day, seven bodies, including Simmons’ wife and his eldest son, were found in a kerosene-splashed grave about a metre deep near the house.

Two bodies — one-year-old boys — were found in sealed in dark-green plastic garbage sacks in the locked trunks of abandoned cars on the property.

Over the Christmas holidays, Simmons had killed 14 relatives.

Eight of the victims — children or grandchildren aged between 20 months to 17 years — were strangled, the Associated Press reported.

Police are seen standing near a covered body under the Simmons' Christmas tree. Source: Youtube
Simmons' daughter Sheila was found dead under the Christmas tree. Source: Youtube
Inside the Simmons home after the murders. Source: Youtube
Over the Christmas holidays, Simmons had killed 14 relatives. Source: Youtube

Police said most of the strangulations probably took place on Christmas Eve and the victims were likely asleep when a cord was wrapped around their necks.

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

The tragic event is the largest all-in-one-family massacre in US history.

What prompted Simmons’ rampage?

While Simmons never spoke of what motivated him to kill his family, a four-page letter released to newspapers soon after the murders laid bare his wife’s torment.

Becky Simmons had written the letter to her oldest son and in which 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.

Police are seen uncovering the seven bodies stashed in a hole on the Simmons property. Source: Youtube
Seven bodies, including Simmons’ wife and his eldest son, were found in a kerosene-splashed grave about a metre deep near the house. Source: Youtube

“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. Every time I think of freedom I want out as soon as possible,” the letter said.

However, Mrs Simmons’ desire for a divorce wasn’t the only family secret.

Extended members told local publications after the 47-year-old’s arrest that the Simmons had moved to the rural property six years prior after he had impregnated his then 15-year-old daughter Sheila.

They had moved from New Mexico so he could escape prosecution following three charges of incest, the Associated Press reported.

One of the children killed, six-year-old Sylvia, was the product of the relationship between dad and daughter. Sheila and her new husband were also murdered.

Sheila is pictured as a child. Source: Youtube
Simmons moved his family to the rural property after he had impregnated his then 15-year-old daughter Sheila. Source: Youtube

A letter shown to the jury during Simmons’ trial revealed he had been furious at Sheila for marrying and moving out of the family home.

Karen Shaddon, a neighbour, called him “a slavedriver” because he required his children to carry buckets of dirt from the road to near the house atop a steep hill.

“He’d keep them very isolated,” she told the Associated Press at the time, and when she walked along the road while they were working “he’d shoo them away” to prevent communication.

Mrs Simmons stayed with him for the children’s sake and “as a martyr to a crappy marriage”, her sister Edith Nesby said.

Simmons was convicted of the murders and executed in 1990.

Simmons is seen in handcuffs outside of court. Source: Youtube
Simmons was convicted of the murders and executed in 1990. Source: Youtube

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