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A Christmas tragedy

by Carolyn Newman

WALSENBURG — If you dislike grim Christmas stories, read no further.

Little Gene Simmons was a first grader at Hill School in Walsenburg in 1967 while living with his grandparents and his mother, Rebecca Ulibarri, who had graduated from Huerfano County High School, class of 1959. There he is in his first grade class photo. The mother was a beautiful, petite, and shy girl who married soon after school.

That December of 1967, 50 years ago, young Gene was invited to a birthday party in Walsenburg. His family was indecisive – reluctant really – to allow him to attend – usually he went back to the ranch by school bus. How would he get home after the party? That was worked out with the party hosts driving him home. Their strange reluctance was perhaps an early indicator of what would come. Much later, the Walsenburg friends learned that the boy’s father did not allow the children to take part in any school activities. But Gene did get to enjoy this party.

Gene grew to manhood as he watched six younger siblings enter the family. Growing up was tough; when his father returned home from the military he did not fit well into civilian life, holding low-paying jobs in New Mexico. Then one daughter accused the father of fathering her baby. Ronald Gene Simmons Senior fled, taking the family to Arkansas. He erected a wall and fences around the house on his 13 acres, no telephone, no indoor plumbing. No mail in or out.

Shortly before Christmas, 20 years after the birthday party, Ronald Gene Simmons, the father, killed his wife, his visiting son Gene, and his three-year-old granddaughter. As the four youngest children came home on the school bus, he killed them too. Seven were killed that day, Dec. 22.

The other two older children, their spouses, and their children were invited home for the day after Christmas when he told them he had a present for each, but wanted to give out the presents one by one. Then he killed them, also one by one, down to the youngest, a 20-month old baby. Seven more were killed that day, Dec. 26.

The first bodies were put down a cess pit, which he had the children dig earlier for a third outhouse. Later bodies were laid out in the house, while Ronald Gene sat around drinking beer and watching television.

Two days later he drove to town, Russellville, Arkansas, and killed a receptionist in a law office. She had rejected him. Then on to an oil company office where he killed one and wounded one. On to a convenience store where he had once worked, and wounded two more. Last to a freight company and wounded one.

In the freight office he sat and chatted with one of the secretaries while he waited for the police. He did not resist. He said he had taken care of everyone who had hurt him.

Bill Clinton, then Arkansas governor, signed the execution warrant. Ronald Gene Simmons died June 25, 1990, by lethal injection, his choice. He did not want any appeals.

Information is from the internet, from Wikipedia, and from personal knowledge. The photo of Gene is by Carolyn Newman, the photo of Rebecca is from the HCHS 1958-59 school yearbook.

The History Detective is a service of the Huerfano County Historical Society. For historical information phone 719-738-2346 and leave a message.

Ronald Gene Simmons, Jr. in his first grade class photo at Hill School in Walsenburg, 1967.
Photo by Carolyn Newman.

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