On October 22, 2966, 42-year-old Robert Sims, his 34-year-old wife Helen, and their 12-year-old daughter were brutally murdered in their home. Their 2 teenaged daughters found them.
The killer has never been caught, despite numerous theories of potential suspects who may have been involved. The case has been cold for over 50 years.
October 22, 1966 was just like an other October night in Tallahassee, Florida. It was a Saturday night and most of the town was attending a local football game, but nobody in the Sims family went. The 2 older daughters, aged 16 and 17, were making some extra cash babysitting for the night. And Robert, Helen, and 12-year-old Joy were enjoying a relaxing evening at home.
But the relaxation soon turned to terror.
One of their daughters, Jenny, arrived home from her babysitting gig at about 11:15 pm to the absolutely horrific scene. She found her parents, alive, but holding on by a thread. Her father was lying on his bed, blindfolded, gagged, and bound. He had been shot in the head. Though he was still breathing when Jenny arrived, he would die soon after.
Her mother was on the bedroom floor, similarly blindfolded, gagged and bound. She had been shot 3 times, 2 times in the head and once in the leg. She was breathing, but would die after 9 days in the hospital, never regaining consciousness.
Joy, her younger sister, was already dead when she arrived. She had received the most brutality from the killer. She had been shot once in the head, but also stabbed 6 times in her torso. Her underwear were pulled down, suggesting the killer sexually assaulted the child.
It appeared that the attacks had happened just recently from when Jenny arrived home, which was corroborated by a neighbor who said she heard screams at about 10:45 pm. There was no sign of forced entry into the home, and nothing was stolen, even though money and valuables were left in plain sight. The police believed that whoever had committed the murder knew the family personally, and had some sort of true motive for the murders beyond robbery.
While the police collected evidence at the scene, they found an interesting clue: The knots used to bound the family were a specialized kind, not a standard knot that just anyone would know.
News of the crime spread through the community, who were shocked and terrified. Just a week away from Trick or Treat, the event was cancelled out of fear that the murderer was still on the loose. No one could understand why a well-liked family could all be slaughtered in their home in a safe community one night, and didn't want to take the chance that they would be next.
THE SUSPECTS AND THEORIES
The investigation first focused on Pastor C.A. Roberts, a high profile member of the community. Helen had been employed by him at the First Baptist Church, but had chosen the leave the job just days before she and her family would be murdered. It was never public knowledge why she resigned. However, there was speculation that the Pastor had been having affairs with a variety of local women, and Helen found out and disapproved of his actions.
Once a well-liked community member, news of his affairs spread once the Sims family died. That, along with his being a suspect in the terrible crime, ruined his career.
However, the Pastor had been at the football game that evening. He was seen by a variety of witnesses during both halves of the game, and there was video footage that placed him there the night of the murder. Without an exact idea of when the killings took place, it is still possible he attended the game and then went to the Sims house to kill the family, but he was never formally charged with any sort of connection with the murders.
Another set of suspects in the case was a young couple who lived in the Sims' neighborhood, 19-year-old Mary Charles LaJoie and her boyfriend, Vernon Fox Jr. Mary was described as "odd" and "obsessed with death" which, sure, it is a little weird but I would argue those are also descriptors you could use for me. But, to take it a step further, she was caught several times breaking into funeral homes.
Fox Jr. was a loner who was suspected of being a peeping tom. In fact, he was spotted peeping on 12-year-old Joy just weeks before the family was murdered.
In the 80s, years after the case went cold, Mary, who had since moved away, went back to Tallahassee to talk to the police about the case. She suggested that Vernon, now her husband, had committed the crimes all those years ago. While she had a strong motive to turn him in (reward money), there is still good reason to believe they could have been suspects. Despite conflicting statements to the police, there was never enough evidence to arrest them.
So, who did it? Well, I was in the crazed murder couple camp, until I read a Reddit post from a user who has dedicated a lot of their time to this case and trying to crack it. From podcasts to articles to documentaries, they have seen everything there is to see and heard everything there is to hear on this case, and they don't think either of the suspects listed above are involved.
The user brings up another murder, one that I have written about recently on this blog: The Bricca Family murders. If you didn't check it out, about a month before the Sims family was killed, another family was murdered in an extremely similar way in Ohio. They were found gagged, bound, and stabbed in their bedrooms, their 4-year-old daughter brutally stabbed. The case remains unsolved.
I actually thought of this case right when I started learning about it. Even down to little things, like an age gap between husband and wife, and a rumored affair with her boss (Mrs. Bricca was rumored to be sleeping with, or avoiding the sexual advances of, her boss at the local vet).
However, others dispute the connection. For example, everyone in the Bricca family was dead when the killer left. But in the Sims house, husband and wife were left alive, even though they eventually died. Additionally, everyone in the Bricca family was stabbed, whereas the Sims were killed by a combination of shooting and stabbing.
Some people also argue that the timing of the murders insinuates the killer was a local. It may have been lucky that the 2 teen daughters were out of the house, but it probably wasn't just luck that most of the town was at a football game that evening, leaving behind fewer witnesses who may have seen or heard something. That knowledge may insinuate the person lived in the area, which wouldn't support someone traveling between Tallahassee and Cincinnati.
Though the cases may not be connected, it is a little bit odd that in the timespan of a month, 2 families, including 2 parents (the wife 7-8 years younger than the husband) and a daughter were brutally slaughtered in their own homes, never to be solved. And, both of the wives bosses had some sort of infidelity going on. They could just be total coincidences, but it is certainly interesting to think about. The police did investigate this angle and found nothing to tie the murders together... but I don't know.
I'm more in the camp of the weirdo, peeping tom and death-obsessed couple being involved, though I would imagine a crime committed by 2 weird youngsters would leave behind more evidence. But if Joy was sexually assaulted, Vernon seems like the right guy.
It has now been 54 years since this murder took place. 2 teenaged girls had to see the most horrific sight of their entire life, and learn to live and move forward with their parents and sister brutally slain in their own home. I hope they have been able to live normal, beautiful lives since their innocence was stripped from them all those years ago.