Murder Mystery: Arkansas Mass Murders, Part 2
“I am a Liar, a Drunkard, and a Devil,” said desperado Cullen Baker. Seldom has a man analyzed himself so well.
Baker was one of the first Old West gunslingers, born in 1835, the year the Colt revolver was patented. He became so fast and deadly with a gun, men would step aside when he walked down the street. He was also handy with a whip and knife and was known to kill people just because he didn’t like their appearance.
After deserting from the Confederacy, Baker joined a group of no-accounts who terrorized citizens in northeast Texas and southwest Arkansas. In 1864, he and his gang killed 10 travelers trying to cross the Saline River in the Ouachita Mountains. The atrocity became known as the Massacre on the Saline. It wasn’t Baker’s only mass murder, but probably the one with the most victims.
In December 1868, Baker attempted to kill schoolteacher William Orr, a rival for the affections of young Belle Foster, but Orr survived. A month later, Baker returned with a cohort named Matt “Dummy” Kirby. While the two were in a drunken sleep, Orr and five accomplices blasted away, and Baker died the way he had lived — by the gun.
Though Cullen Baker blazed a trail of carnage across Arkansas, the state’s most infamous mass murderer was Ronald Gene Simmons.
Simmons moved his family to Arkansas in 1981 to avoid arrest in New Mexico, where authorities discovered he had committed incest and fathered a baby with his eldest daughter Sheila. A jealous and spiteful man, he ruled his family with a miserly fist. They had no telephone and no indoor bathroom in their ramshackle dwelling located behind a concrete-block wall off Broomfield Road near Dover. In late 1987, Simmons ordered four of his children to dig a pit for a new outhouse. Loretta, Eddy, Marianne and Rebecca never imagined the dark hole they were digging would be their grave.
Becky Simmons stayed with her husband because she feared she couldn’t support the children even after the three oldest — Gene, Jr., Billy and Sheila — had moved out and had families of their own.
Gene’s life was spiraling out of control. He was obsessed over losing Sheila to another man, and he was deep in debt despite working two jobs at Russellville’s Sinclair Mini Mart and Woodline Motor Freight. He quit Woodline, after his supervisor, Joyce Butts, reprimanded him for making unwelcome advances to Kathy Kendrick, a Woodline employee, who later went to work for Peel Law Offices.
In December 1987, Gene Jr., Billy and Sheila finally convinced their mother to leave and planned to help her and the younger children move out over the Christmas weekend. They didn’t know their father had plans of his own.
Gene, Jr. arrived several days early with his 3-year-old daughter, Barbara. On the morning of Dec. 22, Gene, Sr. clubbed and shot his wife and son to death and strangled Barbara with a nylon string. After putting the bodies in the open pit, he drank wine and watched “Wheel of Fortune.” When Loretta, Eddie, Marianne and Rebecca came home from school, he strangled and drowned them.
Four days later, Billy and Sheila arrived with their families. Gene shot the adults and garroted and drowned the children. Over the weekend, he made a list of people he hated: Kathy Kendrick; Joyce Butts; David Salyer, a Sinclair Mini-Mart employee; and Russell Taylor of Taylor Oil Company, who owned the Mini-Mart.
On Monday, the Pope County Sheriff’s Office in Russellville got a call about a shooting at Peel Law Offices. Within minutes, another call came in about a shooting at Taylor Oil Company. Then it was Sinclair Mini-Mart, then Woodline Motor Freight. Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Simmons crisscrossed the town to confuse police, but after he had shot everyone on his hit list, he surrendered.
Besides his 14 family members, Simmons killed Kendrick and James Chaffin, a part-time oil company worker. Four people were wounded but survived: Butts, Taylor, Salyer and Roberta Woolery, another employee at the Mini-Mart.
Simmons didn’t fight the death penalty imposed on him. In fact, he welcomed it. He was 20 days shy of his 50th birthday when executed on June 25, 1990.