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  • Writer's pictureMacabre Emporium Pod

Episode 56 - Corpse Roads and Ronald Gene Simmons


Corpse Roads

Corpse Roads, Corpse road
An old corpse road path.

When someone you love passes away, you’re distraught, you’re grieving, and the last thing you really want to do is talk to a funeral home and make the proper preparations for sending your loved one off into the afterlife. Thankfully, the funeral homes come equipped with people to help you every single step of the way to make it as easy on you as they can. They take on caring for your loved one’s body. They do everything they can to make your loved one look amazing for their showing if you’re having an open casket. They help you with choosing the right casket, the perfect flowers, the most heart rending song, etc. It really does take alot off of your plate while you’re currently having the worst time of your life. But what if things weren’t always that easy?

We are going to hop in the hearse and travel back to the very early Victorian era all throughout Europe.

Back in these times, a funeral and the preparation of a deceased loved one was definitely something that you didn’t get help with outside of yourself and perhaps some family members. You cleaned and cared for the body. You dressed the body. You hauled them up and out your front door with the help of others, because you surely couldn’t carry deadweight by yourself for very long, or very far.

Now, if I said “corpse road” to you, what would you think? I can only imagine you’d think of roads just full of rotting bodies and bones just laying around where a full intact body once laid. But you’d be wrong, or shall I say - dead wrong.

There are many names synonymous with corpse roads such as bier roads, lych roads, coffin road, burial road, church way. They are all the same thing, just different names for different locales. But essentially they are non-traditional routes that were used to move deceased people from their homes, that were usually from isolated communities, and to the cemetery (or churchyard) they were to be laid to rest in. 

These roads were usually very tumultuous and over uneven land. Some went through water and mud. Just really unpleasant conditions to have to walk through for a long time. They were left clear of any construction of any kind. No buildings or anything would be built in the path of the corpse roads, in fact, nothing was ever built semi- near them either. So the wildlife took over, the vegetation grew in abundance and that added to the rough terrain. I can only  imagine there was a lot of ankle twisting, tripping and falling. Not to mention that some of the shorter ones were as long as five or six miles, while the longer ones were up to sixteen miles long. 

While I said there were no buildings or anything nearby, there were spots where large flat stones would be stacked up and placed along the road. These would come to be known as coffin stones. They were used as a temporary resting place for the coffin, or the body, so that whoever was doing the carrying could have a reprieve and put the body down. Now, you could not put the body (or coffin) on the ground because if you did, it would allow the spirit to wander off. So you put them somewhere off the ground. Families, if they traveled this far, would usually say a prayer while the coffin or body was resting, every time they stopped. 

They most often went straight out of the village because no one wanted to see a dead body be drug outside of their house. These roads were out of the view of the public for the most part. They went far out of the way to avoid it.

The term corpse road, or any variation of it, came about when there was a spike in population which forced many people to have to move farther and farther away from their ministers and “mother” churches. The mother churches were the OG churches. They were the only ones with churchyards, and the most important bit was that they were the only ones with the legal right to bury people. So if someone that had been pushed back far away from the church died, they have no choice but to carry their loved one to the closest mother church - since they were the only ones that could actually bury them. 

Even if they had a church closer to them, they were not allowed to take their dead there, as they weren’t allowed to be buried in the churchyard of a normal church. It HAD to be the OG churchyard or nothing. Because being able to monopolize the market meant big money.

Most of the people that lived back then were poor, and didn’t have a horse and cart to help haul their beloved’s body. So the body would be carried, literally carried for however long and however far the mother church was. Usually the group doing the carrying consisted of eight men that worked in groups of four. So they would carry (or drag) the body for however long they could, and then they would stop and the other four would take over helping move the body. 

Sometimes the family members would help also, but not as the main people. They would stand in between the four men and help very little actually. Sometimes there was very little family that could even help or attend because back then you absolutely had to work - not even death could part you from having to work. Usually though, they took the corpse roads while the family went a more traditional and direct route so they didn’t have to struggle like those actually carrying the body.

Some say that the path of a corpse road was a straight line shot from the village to the mother church because they believed that spirits could only travel in a straight line. So they would travel that straight line to make sure that the spirit could move with their body the entire way to the churchyard for burial. 

Once the body actually made it to the churchyard, they would stop before a gate, or as they called it, a lych gate. Lych meaning corpse, so corpse gate. Most of these gates were built after 1550. If the family and body reached the gate prior to the minister or priest being there, they had to wait until he showed up. This is why almost all of the pictures you see of lych gates have a roof overhead in case the weather was not in their favor. But would it really matter if it rained there, especially after you could have literally just walked up to sixteen miles in it? At any rate, most of the gates had a coffin stone to set the coffin in while you waited on the priest to arrive so you didn’t have to hold it the entire time - since ya know, wandering spirits if you put it on the ground.

In Clearance Bin #2 - I went over corpse candles, which are lights that appeared outside the home of someone who was expected to die. Basically the harbinger of death. If you didn’t listen to that episode, go back and listen to it and this may make more sense. But in Wales where corpse candles seemingly originated in, they could be seen lurking along corpse roads between the churchyard and the home of the person that was about to die until the person actually did die. Then they would make their way to the churchyard and stay lit right above where the deceased person would be interred. 

Ghost stories stemming from corpse roads are alive and as viral as ever. There is one in particular that is more famous than the rest. It states that a family made the mistake of strapping the coffin of their deceased son on horseback. They were on the way to the mother church on a particularly foggy and eerie day. A noise spooked the horse and the horse took off with the body and coffin still strapped to its back. A long search ensued and needless to say the horse, the corpse and the coffin were never found. It’s said that the mother was so distraught because of what happened to her son after he died, that she herself collapsed and died. And she is said to still haunt that particular road.

Corpse roads are still visible today if you look for them. Some areas actually have signs up that literally point you to the direction of them. They have become dark tourist hotspots. A lot of people use them now as walking trails for exercise. Some travel to them at night and tell ghost stories. Some still go out to look for the elusive corpse candles. While others go there for the peace and quiet. But even now, the locals will tell you not to walk the corpse roads at night. 

Would YOU walk any of the historic and hidden corpse roads?



Ronald Gene Simmons

Ronald Gene Simmons
Ronald Gene Simmons - murdered his family.

Ronald Gene Simmons was born in Chicago IL to Loretta and William Simmons on July 15, 1940. His father died when he was only 2 years old on Jan 31, 1943. His mother would remarry that same year, William D Griffen a civil engineer for the US Army Corp of Engineers. They would to Little Rock, Arkansas after reassignment with the Engineer Corps and several more times across the state. 

All I could find about his childhood is that he dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and joined the Navy in 1957 and would be stationed in the state of Washington at Naval Station Bremerton as a clerk. While stationed here he would meet his soon-to-be wife Bersabe Rebecca “Becky” Ulibarri. For this episode, I will refer to her either as Becky. Ronald and Becky would end up meeting at a USO dance and they would go on to be married in New Mexico in 1960 on Jully 9. Over the next 18 years, they would go on to have seven children. 

Simmons would leave the Navy in 1963 and join the USAF approximately two years later where he would do various clerical and administrative duties. He would be awarded a Bronze Star, Airforce Ribbon for Excellent Marksmanship, and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross while serving in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. Ronald Gene Simmons retired from the Air Force in 1979 with the rank of Master Sergeant.

On April 3, 1981, Simmons would find himself being under investigation by the Dept. of Human Services of Cloudcroft, NM where he and his family lived after his daughter Shiela, 17 at the time, told her school nurse, Carol Nix, that she was carrying her father’s child. She would go on to have this child and it would be raised as one of his own children. Simmons would also be violently abusive towards his wife Becky. Steven Sanders

 Fearing arrest for abusing his daughter, he would flee back to AK with the entire family. First, they would make a home in Ward, AR in Lonoke County, and then move to Pope County in 1983.

Here they would live on 13 acres about six and a half miles North of Dover, AR. and dubbed the land Mockingbird Hill. Here where they now made home where Simmons felt more at ease they would take to single-wide trailers to make somewhat of what we know as a double-wide, which didn’t have a telephone or running indoor plumbing.  And with no indoor plumbing, he would order his children to dig cesspits for them to use and would build a privacy fence that in some sections was 10ft high. This fence would be made from cinder blocks topped with barbed wire,  which would also make it easier to keep his family in and the outside world out to keep his secret getting out in AR. 

Their neighbors said that he was a relentless taskmaker. They would say he would push his family to work the property by moving rocks, dirt, and branches. The kids would never speak to them and were constantly working according to Julie Huffine who lived across the street from the Simmons.  She would also say he kept a watchful eye on them, he would stare at them from a nearby car as they waited for the bus and then would follow their bus as it went into town. Summer Mooney, Loretta Simmon’s best friend said that when she would go there to spend time with Loretta her father would keep himself isolated and would only come out of his room to sometimes issue orders to the family and more than likely drunk as she said he smelled like beer. 

He ended up working several low-paying jobs in Russellville, AR. He worked at Woodline Moter Freight as an accounts receivable clerk and quit this job after numerous reports of sexual advances on co-workers. At a  Sinclair Mini-Mart for a year before quitting on Dec. 18, 1987. By this time the two oldest Sylvia and Ronald Jr have moved out and started families of their own. Shiela would take the daughter that she had with her father, Sylvia, in hopes of a better life and marry Dennis McNulty. 

Dec 22, 1987, where family most families are getting last-minute Christmas shopping done, going out to see Christmas lights, and children are having Christmas parties at school just before the long break for the holiday. Ronald Gene Simmons almost looking like Santa Claus himself would become a more sinister Krampus and decide to kill his entire family. 

This morning he would load a .22 revolver, grab a hammer then first shoot his wife 46YO Becky Simmons, and then his oldest son 26 Ronald Gene Simmons Jr., and beat them to death with a hammer. He then would strangle his 3YO granddaughter Barbra. He dumped their bodies into one of the cesspits he had forced his children to dig years ago and waited for his other children to come home from school for Christmas break.

Here he would then tell 17YO Loretta, 14YO Eddie, and 11YO Marianne Simmons, that he had presents for them and wanted to give them one at a time. Their excitement with early Christmas presents made it easier for him to go on and strangle each one of them one by one and drown them in a rain barrel. Then proceeded to dump their bodies into the same cesspits he put his other family members in after their deaths. Christmas would come ago where Ronald would sit and drink alone as if nothing had even happened. 

He would then invite the remaining family members to come visit for the holidays. December 26th his son 22YO Billy and and wife 21YO Renata arrived first and Ronald shot and killed both of them with the 22. revolver. Then strangle and drown their 1YO son Trae. 

Shiela and her family would arrive next not knowing what her father had done to the rest of the family, Ronald would then go on to shoot 24YO Shiela and her 33YO husband Dennis. Simmons would then strangle 7YO Sylvia and 1YO Micheal. 

He wouldn’t dump their bodies into the cesspools like the others but would cover their bodies with coats and neatly place them in rows except Sheila’s, he would place Sheila’s body under Becky’s best tablecloth under the Christmas tree. Micheal and Trae would be found by police wrapped in plastic sheeting and left in abandoned cars on the property. After the murders, he would go to Sears in Russellville to pick up the presents he had ordered for his family that he had just murdered. Like the nights before he would sit in the home and drink watching television as if nothing happened.

Dec. 28th, Simmons would go to Walmart in Russellville and purchase a second .22 revolver to continue his trail of death. He would go to a law firm where 24YOKathy Kendrick was working as a sec and Simmons was infatuated with her but she had rejected him. He would shoot and kill Kathy Kendrick. He next went to an oil company owned by Russell Taylor which also owned the mini-mart where he worked. He would shoot Taylor after killing 33YO James David Chaffin an employee of Taylor’s but Russell Taylor would survive being shot. He also shot at another employee here but missed his target. 

He then drove to the minimart where he did work, shooting and wounding two more people, and his final target which was his former supervisor, Joyce Butts, he would shoot twice and she would survive. Vicky Jackson, an employee at the trucking company watched all this unfold in front of her in the office she was in and cried out to Gene please don’t shoot me! After she realized Gene had shot Joyce for real when initially she thought it was a prank.

He would tell her “Vickey, I’m not going to shoot you I want to turn myself in!” Police would arrive and Ronald Gene Simmons would peacefully surrender his guns to the police and said “ I got everyone that hurt me.” His shooting spree across Russellville, AR all happened in approximately 40 minutes. 

Before his trials were started, Simmons would be evaluated to see if he was fit to stand trial and he was. But he had to be moved to a state hospital in secret from the Russellville jail,  as law enforcement was receiving death threats for Simmons as the world found out about his crimes.

He would first be tried for the murders of Kathy Kendrick and James Chaffin and was found guilty on May 12, 1988, and sentenced to death. While still under oath he supported his sentence and made the statement.  

I, Ronald Gene Simmons, Sr., want it to be known that it is my wish and my desire that absolutely no action by anybody be taken to appeal or in any way change this sentence. It is further respectfully requested that this sentence be carried out expeditiously.

He then would then go on trial for the murder of the 14 family members where again he was found guilty and sentenced to death. For as they believe the motive was that a family friend told investigators that Becky was saving up to file for divorce from Gene. He would even remain mute during investigations when he was questioned by the investigators and even when asked during an interview with a news anchor when they asked if he would ever tell us why, he just replied “I'm not going to comment on that.”

During his trial, he would punch prosecutor Joh Byhnum on the chin. Bynum was asked how much it helped his case he replied. “Nothing, except it shows what kind of violent man we're dealing with here. It shows how fast a man can go from zero to 60.” Simmons would make this attack after Byhnum introduced a five-page letter as evidence that revealed he was the father of her child and his anger toward Dennis her husband.

Simmons's quote from the five-page note: "If you are trying to hurt me, then you should be very proud of yourself, because you have done a very good job of it,' Simmons wrote in the notes. 'You have destroyed me. I do not want D. (Sheila's husband Dennis McNulty) to set foot on my property. He turned you against me. You want me out of your life. I will be out of your life. I will see you in hell."

Testimony would resume after lunch recess and Simmons was allowed to return to the courtroom but in chains. Feb 10, 1989, Simmons was found guilty of 14 counts of murder and sentenced to death. 

During this time the state of Arkansas allowed death row inmate to waive their rights to an appeal and since Ronald did this from his trials he would be under protective custody while on death row as other inmates felt he was damaging their own chances at an appeal causing them to threaten Simmon’s life. 

He would be put to death on June 25, 1990, after Governor Clinton signed his execution warrant in May of the same year. Ronald Gene Simmons had chosen lethal injection and for his last meal, he requested filet mignon, two raw onions, tomato slices, a banana, six rolls, and a 7-Up. 

His last words were “Justice delayed finally be done is justifiable”

No surviving family members ever claimed his body and was buried in a pauper’s plot.

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