RUSSELLVILLE, ARK., DEC. 30 -- Ronald Gene Simmons Sr. built a private, barbed-wire-ringed kingdom in the Ozark foothills where he ruled his family with an unrelenting combination of intimidation and abuse that ended last weekend in their deaths, law enforcement authorities said today.
Simmons, a former Air Force sergeant, fled to Arkansas in 1981 from Cloudcroft, N.M., where he had been charged with incest involving his teen-aged daughter after she said that she was carrying her father's child, former state prosecutor Steven Sanders said today.
That daughter, Sheila Simmons McNulty, 24, and the child, 6-year-old Sylvia McNulty, were among the 14 family members whose bodies have been found in the home, outside in a shallow grave and in two car trunks. They were discovered after Simmons was arrested Monday after a downtown shooting rampage that left two former coworkers dead, including a secretary who had rejected his advances.
Just before Simmons, 47, surrendered to Russellville police, he stood in offices at the Woodline Motor Freight company -- where he once worked as a clerk -- and said in a calm voice, "I've gotten everybody who has hurt me," according to Woodline president Robert Wood.
Simmons' refuge in recent years was a ramshackle castle: two old trailers stitched together on 13 acres atop a remote western Arkansas hillside and bordered by a forbidding wall of cinder blocks and barbed wire. Neighbors said he was obsessed with privacy.
"It was like going back in time," said Summer Mooney, who described herself as a "best friend" of Simmons' slain 17-year-old daughter, Loretta. Mooney, also 17, said she sometimes spent the night at the home, where broken fixtures forced the family to use an outhouse.
She said Simmons spent most of his time alone in a foul-smelling room drinking beer, occasionally emerging to issue orders to his family. "Loretta told me that she hated her father . . . . He was spooky," Mooney said.
Loretta Simmons, a senior, was ranked third in her class and had a reputation for being well-dressed and attractive, said Lloyd Herrick, principal of Dover High School. Jim Lackey, a middle school principal, gave similar assessments of three younger Simmons children -- Edward, 14, Marianne, 11, and Rebecca, 8.
Simmons' neighbors said he earned a reputation as an unfriendly recluse, who refused so much as to wave at passers-by in a community where most people come to know each other quickly and well.
They perceived him as a relentless taskmaster, pushing his family to work about the property moving rocks, dirt and branches. "The kids were constantly working, and they never said a word to neighbors," said Julie Huffine, who lives across the street from the Simmons property.
She said Simmons seemed especially watchful of his children. During the school year, he would stare at them from a nearby car as they waited for the bus, then follow them as the bus traveled down the road.
Former colleagues described him as reclusive and not particularly bright. But there was nothing extraordinary about him either, they said.
"He kept to himself, but he did his job fine," said David Sayler, the manager of the convenience store where Simmons worked until he quit Dec. 18, complaining of low pay. "He was methodical."
Sayler was interviewed in a hospital bed in Little Rock, where he is being treated for a gunshot wound to the head suffered during Monday's rampage.
Simmons has been charged with two counts of capital murder and four counts of attempted murder. He is accused of going first to a Russellville law office and killing secretary Kathy Kendrick; killing J.D. Chaffin and wounding another employe at Taylor Oil Co.; wounding Sayler and another employe at Sinclair Mini-Mart, and wounding the office manager at Woodline Motor Freight.
Kendrick and Simmons were former employes at Woodline, where Kendrick had reported his advances to her supervisor. Taylor Oil Co. owns the convenience store.
Investigating officers said they were unable to get a word out of Simmons but noticed that his lower lip quivered whenever they asked about his family. They went to his home in Dover, where they found five bodies inside Monday. During a search Tuesday, they found seven bodies in a shallow grave outside and two in car trunks.
Besides Sheila and Sylvia McNulty, the dead are believed to include Simmons' wife, Becky; the four younger children who lived at home; McNulty's husband and their 21-month-old son; Ronald Gene Simmons Jr., 27, and his 3-year-old son; and William Simmons, 22, his wife, Renata, and their 20-month-old son.
Officials said Simmons, a Chicago native, served in the Navy as a clerk from 1957 through 1962. He served in the Air Force with various clerical and administrative duties from 1963 until 1979, when he left with the rank of master sergeant. He served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968, officials said.
No formal charges had been filed against him in the deaths of his family. He was moved today to the state hospital in Little Rock for psychiatric evaluation.
The 1981 charges against Simmons were filed after New Mexico social workers investigated anonymous complaints that Simmons' daughter Sheila was pregnant with his child. Former state prosecutor Sanders said the girl acknowledged having had intercourse with her father but insisted that the incidents "were her fault" and pleaded unsuccessfully with Sanders to drop the case.
When authorities tried to notify Simmons that a grand jury had indicted him on three counts of incest, Sanders said, they discovered the family had cleared out all their belongings and moved.
Today, the Simmons hilltop property looked as if it had been suspended in time. The family dog ran by, and dirty dishes stacked high were visible through the kitchen window. About 75 yards from the home, a pile of dirt remained next to the open grave where investigators had found the family members.