By Janie Jones
Being the children of a retired military man, the Simmons kids were accustomed to carrying out the orders of the patriarch, Ronald Gene Simmons, Sr. When he told them to dig a pit for a new outhouse, they dug. And while it may have bothered other families to be using an outhouse in 1987, the Simmons youngsters already knew what it was like to be different. Their land off Broomfield Road outside Dover near Russellville was posted with various signs against trespassing, and the children, at their father’s direction, had built a wall of concrete blocks to further deter outsiders from encroaching on their territory. Up a long, rutted driveway was their house, or more precisely, a mobile home with additions. Though it lacked certain amenities, it was a roof over their heads, and it kept the cold December weather at bay, so when Gene Simmons, Sr. said a new outhouse was needed, Loretta, 17; Eddy, 14; Marianne, 11; and Rebecca Lynn, 8, put their backs into their work, never imagining that the dark hole they were digging would be their grave.
Born in Chicago in July 1940, Gene Simmons wasn’t quite three years old when his father died. He was raised by his mother, Loretta, and his step-father, William Davenport Griffen, a civil engineer with the U.S. Corp of Engineers. Gene had three siblings but wasn’t close to any of them.
Transferred to Arkansas in 1946, Griffen moved his family to Hector in the Ozark foothills, and it was there that Gene experienced the happiest days of his life. He loved the freedom of the outdoors. When the family moved to Little Rock in 1950, Gene didn’t adjust well. Jealous of his siblings, he was sullen and surly with his mother and step-father. Prone to tantrums, he got to be too much to handle, so his parents enrolled him in a Catholic boarding school for troubled boys. He was back home within a month. Then he went to Morris Academy in Searcy for the 1955-56 school year. He finally seemed to find his niche in life when he joined the Navy in 1957. He led an exemplary military career where he excelled in administrative work. He was a born paper pusher.
In 1960 Gene met and married Becky Ulibarri, a USO volunteer from the small town of Walsenburg, Colorado. She liked Gene’s step-father right away and would stay in touch with him for the rest of her life. On her side of the family she was closest to her sister, Violet or “Vi.” Becky adored Gene but suffered from low self-esteem, and when he scolded her for some trifling reason, she just resolved to be a better wife.
Leaving the Navy in 1963, Gene embarked on a career in banking, a career which lasted all of four months. Then it was back to the military where his keen sense of order and superior knowledge of almost everything would garner him the appreciation and respect that he deserved. He joined the Air Force and was transferred to the Office of Special Investigations stationed in Vietnam. Being with the OSI appealed to his secretive nature, and he received promotions, commendations and special privileges for his efficiency and dedication to duty. He was awarded the Bronze Star for exhibiting coolness under pressure during the 1968 Tet Offensive, even though the OSI was not attacked. After Vietnam, he was assigned to San Francisco where his super-patriotic sensibilities were disgusted by hippies and flower power. In 1973, he was transferred to England, and it was there that he began to beat Becky.
Gene was a voracious reader and seized every opportunity to pontificate on a variety of topics. If anyone contradicted him, he became argumentative. He was often sarcastic, especially with Becky, ridiculing her countrified accent in public. He controlled everything about her life and the lives of their children. He managed their finances, causing Becky to beg him for money to buy necessities, while at the same time he bought expensive things for himself. At some point, he even took control of all the family’s mail. It didn’t matter to whom a letter was addressed, he opened it and read it. He dictated Becky’s letters to her and doled out postage stamps as if they were tokens for good conduct. The Simmons household also never had a telephone; that would have been a luxury and a temptation for Becky and the children to talk to people whenever they wanted. Gene couldn’t allow that.
In 1976, Simmons was assigned to the Space and Missile Systems Organization at Cloudcroft, New Mexico. Buying a place he couldn’t afford, he still dreamed of someday returning to his earthly paradise of Hector, Arkansas. After his retirement from the military in 1979, he remained in Cloudcroft and became a civil service employee for the Air Force’s Computer Sciences Division.
Over a period of twenty-one years, Becky bore seven children. She had complications with the birth of Rebecca Lynn, and the doctor strongly advised her not to have any more babies. Gene blustered and fumed. What was man without procreation? Having offspring was a sign of virility, but after Becky pleaded, saying she might die if she were to get pregnant again, Gene relented and let her have a tubal ligation.
Even though his wife was no longer the vessel for his perception of love, Gene wasn’t too upset because he had someone else whom he loved as much or more than he had ever loved Becky. The object of his obsession was his own sixteen-year-old daughter, Sheila. She had always been his favorite child, and he never tried to hide that fact. He called Sheila “Little Princess” and “Ladybug.” He showered her with the best presents on her birthday and at Christmas and always featured her prominently in the many pictures that he loved to take. In the summer of 1980, Gene went on a car trip to California with Sheila as his only traveling companion. It was during this time that Gene Simmons went from being a mean man to a monster, for it was then that he raped Sheila for the first time.
Sheila was shy and withdrawn. She knew what she did with her father wasn’t normal, but she was helpless to say “no.” She was ashamed and when she realized she was going to have a baby, she tried to hide the truth, not just from others, but from herself. Her burgeoning belly soon gave her away, though, and neither she nor her father could conceal their secret any longer.
On the day of Sheila’s senior prom in 1981, Gene told Becky and their two oldest children, Gene Jr. and Billy, that Sheila was pregnant with his child. While the boys were appalled and Becky was dumbstruck, Gene was practically jubilant. But he also knew he could be arrested, so he ordered all to keep quiet. Gene, Jr. disobeyed and told a social worker who investigated and filed a request with the district attorney to remove Sheila, Loretta and Marianne from the home. By the time a warrant was issued for Gene’s arrest, however, the Simmonses were on their way to Arkansas.