Each and every child is different from every other one, but there is a typical pattern as a baby becomes a toddler who becomes an explorer alert to all the wonders of life. At 20 or 21 months, most children can walk and run, squat and stand up again without toppling over, climb stairs without holding on, scribble with a crayon, drink well from a cup. They know their names and cling to caregivers. They love family.
Trae Simmons was 20 months old and his cousin Michael McNulty was 21 months when their grandfather strangled them.
A few days before, on Dec. 22, 1987, he bludgeoned and shot their grandmother, who was 46 years old. As the Central Arkansas Library System Encyclopedia of Arkansas tells the story, the former Bersabe Rebecca “Becky” Ulibarri had been married to Ronald Gene Simmons for 27 years. During those years, he served in the Navy and the Air Force, went to Vietnam, earned a Bronze Star. He fathered her seven children in New Mexico, and then he fathered a child, Sylvia, with their daughter, Sheila. Fleeing investigation of this incest in 1981, he moved the family to Arkansas.
The day in 1987 that he killed Rebecca, he also killed his 3-year-old granddaughter, Barbara, and his son, Ronald Gene Simmons Jr., 29. He put all three bodies in a pit dug some months before, for a new outhouse. The family’s built-over mobile home on 13 acres in Pope County had no indoor plumbing and no telephone.
Later that day, the last schoolday before Christmas, the Dover schoolbus stopped down the hill and let off Loretta, 17; Eddy, 14; Marianne, 11; and Becky, 8. Their father added their bodies to the pit.
The little boys and their families were murdered when they arrived for a post-Christmas dinner. Trae’s parents Billy and Renata Simmons were 23 and 21 years old; Sheila McNulty was 24; her husband Dennis McNulty was 33; Sylvia was 7.
Then Simmons drove to Sears to pick up some Christmas gifts.
Two days later, he killed or tried to kill people he used to work with: He killed Kathy Cribbins Kendrick, a receptionist at a law firm; he wounded Rusty Taylor, the owner of the Sinclair Mini Mart; then he killed Jim Chaffin, a driver for Taylor Oil. Simmons wounded Roberta Woolery and David Slyer at the Mini Mart, and at the Woodline Motor Freight Co, where he had been fired over sexual advances, he wounded his former supervisor, Joyce Butts. Then he held Vicky Jackson at gunpoint and made her call the police.
Simmons was tried twice, first for the murders of Kendrick and Chaffin, and then for his 14 family members. Described by his defense attorneys as a staunch believer in capital punishment, he refused to appeal his death sentences. Others appealed on his behalf, resulting in one stay of execution. But both appeals were denied. Gov. Bill Clinton signed his death warrant.
Page 1 of the June 26, 1990, Arkansas Gazette reports the execution.
— Celia Storey
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