Monday, October 8, 2012




After thirty years of researching Peoria’s history I can tell you that there are a lot of gangster fans here in Peoria. Never, during my many lectures did anyone ask me about our churches, schools, or  our industrial background. Frankly, I was glad, because gangsters and sordid history is a lot more fun to talk about.
Peoria became a city in 1845 and we quickly rose head and shoulders above all the other river towns.Booze and beer propelled us along, and we grew like no other town, thanks to our location along the Illinois River. Never, and I mean never, was Peoria considered a gangster town nor were we referred to as a bawdy, wide-open town during our early history. Peoria was a great place to live, raise a family, and find a job.Prohibition hit Peoria, Illinois harder than any other city because of our dependence on the breweries and distilleries. 1920 spawned the Roaring Twenties and gambling and prostitution really took hold here in the old river city. Our reputation began to change from a Metropolitan, liberal town into a wide-open bawdy town.  A place where a man could get a drink and dabble in the other vices the city provided. Still, you will never find any history of gangsters, nor was that label ever attached to the great town of Peoria, Illinois. Peoria had 79 murders during Prohibition and only two of them were connected in any way to bootlegging.It was not until 1946, one hundred and one years into our history, that the word ‘gangster’ began to appear in the newspapers. That year brought us three ‘gangland style’ murders and the out of town reporters ripped into us with a vengeance.  On the evening of February 21, 1946, Frank Kramer a local tavern owner was working inside his glassed in porch. A gunman, armed with a rifle, fired three shots, killing the well-known businessman. On a Saturday in September the ‘bullet ridden’ body of Joel Nyberg was found on a golf course in Lacon, Illinois.  He was a local small-time hoodlum who was out on bail pending his manslaughter conviction. On the evening of October 25, 1946, another gangland style murder hit the newspapers with major headlines.  Phillip Stumpf, a gangster wannabe was driving on Big Hollow Road when a car came up behind him carrying four men with guns blazing. Police found eight holes in Stumpf’s car, and one in the back of his head.
In 1947, there was the kidnapping and murder of Flavel Feuger, a Bradley student which caused major headlines locally, and brought in at least a dozen reporters from large cities. In 1947, George McNear was shot near his home by a lone gunman firing a shotgun. McNear was a very prominent Peorian and that murder was in the newspapers in many large cities in America. In July of 1948, Peoria’s own pet gangster, Bernie Shelton was shot down in the parking lot across from Hunts Drive In.  Reporters had a field day on that murder, and every story about Shelton that was ever written was reprinted.

Those six murders ended the quaint reputation of Peoria being a bawdy, wide-open town. Newspapers from around the United States labeled Peoria a ‘ gangster town,’ and it stayed with us to this very day. One reporter, a man named Link, from Saint Louis was out after bloody details, and he hurt us the most. I am happy to say that he was indicted here in Peoria.

The FBI repeatedly reported that Peoria was as “safe as any other town its size.”  Big city reporters, out for sensational headlines, would have you believe that machine gun fire was as common as fireworks on the Fourth of July.   I am here to tell you that I was never able to verify the use of a Thompson Machine Gun in any of the 235 murders I wrote about over the years.  Once the reporters left town our local reporters went about the task of reporting the coroner’s inquest and the actual facts surrounding the murders. But the damage had already been done, and the gangster reputation stuck.

Today, there are a lot of grandfathers in town that will tell you bloody details that will curl your hair. I have heard them all. Truth is, some of them have an element of truth to them, but most of them are just myths. I can also assure you that those same gentlemen will not believe a word of what I have just written. After all, gangsters and machine gun stories are a lot more fun than the simple truth.  You can read all of the actual details in my books, available in our local library.

Editor’s Note: Norm is a retired private investigator, historian and author. These stories are excerpts from his books, available in the Peoria Library.  He welcomes your comments.  ( )


                                    MARTY SHRAI:   A VOICE FROM OUR PAST
                                                       NORMAN  V.  KELLY

During the early 1980’s here in Peoria I made it my business to talk to a lot aging Peorians. I sought out only those that knew about us and lived during the days of Prohibition and WW 11 here in Peoria, Illinois. These people were in some instances ‘shady characters,’  but many like Marty were just street wise people.  Here is a transcribed statement of Marty talking about the old Peoria Days.  Of course he is gone now, but I really liked him and when I ran across this piece I had to share it.

“I’ve always liked Peoria, hell…I was born here just about eighty-one years ago.  My parents divorced when I was twelve and just before I turned thirteen…why I was out on my own. I lived in the south end of Peoria, and in those days it was a nice, clean respectable place to live.   I grew up fast and had a rented room down there by myself.  Sometimes I didn’t have the money, so it was when I had the money that I rented.

Hell, I had all kinds of jobs…you name it…I did it.  I worked in the Alliance Life Building, later First National Bank, you know, right there on Main and Jefferson. I am sure it has changed names a few times. Truth is I probably lived like a rich kid. That job I had there made me $12.00 a week and for a kid…hell a young man, that was a lot of money.  All I had to do was take care of myself.  I even had a job as a soda-jerk out of a window in that building, and that was a busy building. A lot of lawyers came in and out of there and I made it my business to know them. I ran errands for them, got their shoes shined, picked up their clothes at the cleaners and the money flowed in.  I would even run and get sandwiches, you know whatever they wanted me to do I did.  They paid me and I got a lot of tips too.  It was really great.

I’d save up my money and just about every two weeks, sometimes every week, why I would go rent a car. That’s right, rent a car even though I was only fourteen.  No such problem like insurance, or a license, hell, I’d give ’em the money they gave me the car.  It was that simple. I loved to drive and believe me I went everywhere…all over town. I knew this place like the back of my hand.

Not always, but most of the time this town was run by Mayor E.N. Woodruff a local politician and business man, he had an ice house and at one time a big fish business as well. He was quite a guy and he had a political machine that was second to none.  I remember seeing a picture in the paper about his business.  The photographers snapped a picture of one of his clearly marked ice trucks backed up delivering ice to a well-known whorehouse. Hell…so what Whores have to have ice too.  Of course the opposing political newspapers in town attacked him all the time but he managed to get elected eleven times for I think a total of twenty-fours years. Hell…he wasn’t afraid of anything or anybody.  Of course the paper hinted that the whores were throwing money into the truck…but that was stupid as far as most of us were concerned.

Hey….he ran the town, so you know he had to have enemies….but a hell of a lot of friends too, I mean he had control over a lot of jobs in town.  I can remember a slot machine in just about every business in town, but of course as a kid I wasn’t supposed to play them…but I did.  They wouldn’t let me into any of the big gambling places, but I sure as hell knew where they were, I can tell you that.  Even the laundries, dry cleaners and grocery stores had slots, and they were just part of Peoria…it was that simple.

You know Norm Peoria, was a safe town. I mean…you know, there was crime, hell, lots of it, but it was more or less controlled by a certain element in town.  If there were shootings, it was usually within this group.  People walked wherever they wanted to go, and no need to lock your house, you know like that. They were just bad guys, crooks I guess, but the truth is they were business men…well, not really, but they thought they were. If they caught someone trying to muscle in on their area…why they fought back.   A few of them ended up full of holes.

I had a close buddy that got $10.00 to jimmy pin ball machines.  He’d go in play the machine and when the time was right he would take a screw driver and jam the coin receiver.  He did a lot of stuff like that.  Then of course the other guys would come in and replace the machine telling the owner that they could protect them.  Hell…they were just penny ante guys, sure as hell no big organized gangsters…nothin’ like that.  Oh, yeah, he’d leave the screw driver in it, ‘course no one was gonna play that machine for awhile.

Well this guy asked me to go with him…‘Marty…it’s easy money,’ he would always say, but I was not dumb enough to take up that kinda profession, I can tell you that.  I was much too interested in living to do that.  A guy can be a tough guy, don’t have to be a gangster…just protecting his business I always said. 

I got to drinking pretty early in life.  Hell, Prohibition lasted a long time, and booze was easy to get.  My God when that stupid law was finally lifted, the soft drink parlors were gone and taverns, bars and nightclubs popped up on every corner. My God there were hundreds of them it seemed to me.  I remember a place called The Shanty…or maybe the Shanty House…come to think of it…they called it The Shanty Town.  Jesus but it was a wild place, well, mainly on Friday and Saturday nights.  Me and my friends went in there almost every week. They had a live band and there was fun to be had, but a guy could get himself hurt in there if you got out of line.  I had fun but I watched out for myself, and if things got out of hand I was gone.

You know Norm I had a great time but I got married very early in life.  I had a pretty good income and it just seemed the right thing to do. We even bought a house over on Sherman.  It had an indoor bathroom but no gas for heat. Just after I got my coal furnace all set up, why gas was available to heat homes.  There I had all that coal furnace converted, but my God that must have been well over fifty years ago.  There were a lot of people that just had a house, out door outhouse, and they lived pretty rough if you know what I mean.

I was talking about crime, wasn’t I norm?  We never had much to steal but we never locked our doors and my wife felt safe walking wherever she felt like it.  We had grocery stores on damn near every corner and she was never bothered. Now there was a cop on almost every corner and they were tough guys.  They approached strangers and if they talked to you by God you better answer.  They carried Billy clubs and if you got out of line why they would work you over quick, if you get my drift.  You did not dare mess with a beat cop…not in my part of town anyway.  The typical cop new everyone and he was usually liked and respected, so it worked out pretty good.

I remember a rash of crimes on streetcars, people getting robbed and mugged when they got off the cars. I remember I suspected a couple of guys, you know, they just looked shady.  They looked at me when I got on the car, and I felt that they knew me.  So sure enough, the next stop they got off. To this day I bet they were thinking about robbery when they spotted me. Guess they did not want a witness…’cause I sure couldn’t scare them.

Over all Peoria was a pretty damn good place to live. We had a lot to do like going to Kelly Beach and El Frisco Beach and that big tower over on Grand View Drive. I drove everywhere and got my own car. We just seemed to be as free as a bird, but I guess it all had to do with whether or not you had money. Lot of poor folks here, bums downtown, you saw a lot of that, but still, a lot of folks lived pretty damn well.

That Tower I mentioned was over near the heights.  My dad worked on that tower…hell when was that?  Maybe 1910 or earlier. It was a Fire Watch there at the top of Grandview Drive and it was really a neat place to look out over the river, especially in the fall.  We had a lot to do here, plus we had the river, and I got to watch a lot of baseball games.  I used to get in free to watch the Chiefs…that was a baseball team here and they played at Woodruff Field up in the north end of Peoria.  Oh, that’s right, we have a Chief team now, don’t we.

I know you write a lot of crime stories Norm, and I loved the one about that Thompson Case.  I think you said it was 1935, God I sure remember that one, I would have guessed it to be a bit earlier than that. It was the biggest thing to happen here, I can tell you that.  That young woman he killed, she was such a nice, decent innocent kid.  Here this guy was out raping women, according to that report, at least 16 of them.  He kept that little black book and wrote down there names. Of course nobody ever saw it and I guess the jury never did either. I had a lot of cop friends and they told me that a few prominent names were in his book.

When that murder story broke, why I hi-tailed it up to the newspaper building and bought all the papers I could afford.  Then I ran around town selling those things as fast as I could, selling them for whatever I thought the person would pay.  That one was called the Evening-Star, but we had others in town, like The Journal Transcript and there were others, can’t remember them.  They competed like crazy for stories especially like this Thompson case.  I think that girl was… damn, that’s right Mildred Hallmark.  She was really a wonderful young lady according to all those reports. I think I paid as much as a nickel for them, we went around, well we ran around, yelling ‘EXTRA’ as loud as we could. We really made some quick money.  I went on the street cars, in the taverns, hell, all over.

Oh, we had radios, after all, like you said it was 1935, and we loved all the shows they had on, but if it was immediate news, we usually read it in the paper, morning and evening.  God, I can remember that first headline, I think he killed her on Sunday and for a week that is all that you could see in the papers, stories about Gerald Thompson, his fiancé his family and him.  They printed lots of pictures of Mildred Hallmark and her boyfriend and of course the family.  It was pitiful and Peoria would have torn that guy apart if they got a chance. We read that two brothers were out looking for him with bullbats, so I suppose he was safer with the police.  He worked at Caterpillar in the same building where her father worked.   They tried him here and if they had found him innocent I feel certain he would have been lynched or worse.  It really upset the town.  God that was the talk around here for weeks and weeks, you would think that Peoria never had a murder, which we sure as hell did.  But this one had all that youth, rape and intrigue…God it was sensational.

I saw pictures from my police photographer friend, flat out porno pictures with him and some women, one bending over the front fender. My God, he had a member on him that was huge.  I mean those pictures were sold for a quarter and my friend got rich on that.  He printed hundreds of them so I know all or most of the people in this town saw one or more of them.   How he got these women in his car was something we never figured out. ‘Course he was a pretty good looking guy.  The story about his car having a handle off the passenger door was known by everyone in town.  Who knows if any of that was true?

Norm, you asked me if we had radios in our cars back then, but truth is I really don’t remember.  I had cars with radios, of course, but I just can’t remember if they were installed in those 1930 cars.  You know Norm, the truth is that the cops and the authorities did railroad Thompson. I ain’t no lawyer, but I know what a Capital Crime is, and a lot of lawyers and pretty smart people wanted him punished…but the death penalty?   They held him in the city hall for hell, what, maybe over twenty hours? Of course no one but the cops knew what went on in there. Sure he admitted he did it, but so would a lot of us admit to anything given enough time.   Peorians hated the fact that he never said he was sorry, you know, never showed remorse. He was an arrogant bastard, so the town said execute him and that’s what they did. I’m sure that any town in the U.S. would have done the same thing.

I didn’t know anyone on that jury or as a matter of fact I never even talked to anyone that was on the jury, but the papers ran daily articles and people knew more about Mildred Hallmark and Gerald Thompson than they did their own kids.  The courthouse was packed every day of the trial and mostly women managed to get into see the trial.  Guess they liked those porno pictures of him, huh? ( Laughs) After the trial why it wasn’t long that they took him up to the death house in Joliet.  I guess they did appeal to the Supreme Court, but in the end they electrocuted him.  Sure was no drawn out year after year of appeals I can tell you that.  You know Norm, after that we never heard another word about him or the case.  Pretty fast justice I’d say.

The main thing we talked about…me and my friends was why this young gal got in his car. It was over on Pennsylvania and I think she got off a street car for some reason.  We did know it was raining like the devils so maybe that’s why.  She was such a sweet girl, you know innocent so the way the paper wrote about her it got the town up in arms.  Women were scared for about a week then they caught the guy.  They were afraid to go out alone, stuff like that.

There was a lot of talk about lynching him…hell just talk, mostly in the taverns, but they hated him.  Funny I was talking about newspaper EXTRAS and that very day that I heard the first kid yell about that murder, why my friend was killed.  They had a big company strike in town and he was killed in that brawl. That was one thing in town, the unions it could and did get rough.  You know, union against non-unions. The company would bring in scabs and the big fights would break out.  Christ it was ugly. But, jobs meant everything here, I can tell you that. I know there were houses that were ruined by throwing Creosote on them, you know non-union guy would paint them and the union guys would throw that stuff on them.  I saw men with shot guns staying in those houses at night protecting them. Oh, that guy’s name was Brown…well, one of them was.

Back to Thompson…we heard in Peoria that he had his passenger car door handle removed so when a woman got in she could not get out.  Hell…we heard that over and over. I bet you really know the truth about all that Norm, since you are writing the book.  For four nights the damn cops rounded up a lot of innocent men and drug them into the station. Hell, they got hundreds of tips, it’s a wonder they didn’t drag my ass in. I was always downtown, the Empire Room, all those places.  Maybe it was because I had a lot of cop friends, and one of them was a police photographer. God…he used to show me some horrible pictures.  I remember seeing that picture of Bernie Shelton down at Saint Francis.  Christ he had a big hole in his lower back.  Hell, they just took any shot they wanted to of the bodies of people killed…wonder where they are today?  Remember he was shot there at that tavern on Farmington…what the hell am I telling you that for, I bet you wrote about him, huh?

I saw a big picture of Thompson, blown up into an 8 by ten of him in the nude.  Like I said he was hung. Have no idea if my friend took that picture or not.  I knew the two detectives on the case, Welty and Ford and the Sheriff….ah…Nussbaum, that was his name.  Back then a lot of women came into the bars, and of course the men came in to find them.  It was wild scene in Peoria. I remember the first time I ever drank a Pabst beer in a can…I can still remember doing that.

I finally got into the dress business…I always joked that I spent the first 20 years trying to get women out of their dresses and the last 30 trying to get them in one. (Laughs)

Marty SHAI, Peoria, Illinois    Recorded by Norm Kelly  1986.    3,139 words.

Editor’s Note:  This is a authentic, transcribed statement of an old time Peorian…we apologize for the language…But Norm tells us that Marty talked just exactly like this…a truthful, street wise old time Peorian.  Marty was Norm’s friend during his P.I. days in Peoria.

Friday, October 5, 2012


                           BABY  HEATHER’S  MURDER


I have said it before murder is always a surprise and most definitely a shock to the loved ones and acquaintances of the victim. I believe that most everyone would put murder in that compact box. But where do we put the murder of a baby? I’m not talking about a late abortion I am talking about the actual murder…the killing of an innocent baby. I can tell you this if you know the murdered child, or the family of a murdered baby, the answer to the question is simple. Pain…agonizing pain, and between sobs the question that is always asked is…WHY?

The story I am about to tell you began near Alton, Illinois in June of 1989.
I decided to bring this story to you because it touched the hearts of folks here in Peoria, Illinois because some of them were jurors in the trial held right here in River City.

Paula and Robert Sims were just another married couple. She came from a farm in southern Missouri and Bob worked the nightshift in Alton, Illinois.
They were no different than the thousands of newly married, and like the others their lives were ordinary. Then on June 17, 1986 Paula made a call to the local police, screaming into the telephone that a man had stolen her baby girl. Well, now that is news that will catapult a person into the spotlight rather quickly.

It was 10:00 that June night and Paula Sims was watching the news on TV
while her husband was off to work. At that time they lived in a rural setting in Brighton, Illinois. Paula was stunned senseless as she saw a man standing in front of her with a masked face and a mean looking gun in his hand. She had a habit of watching TV in her basement and locked the rear door only after she was ready to go upstairs to bed. The gunman forced her to lie on the floor warning her to stay there at least ten minutes. The moment she heard the door close she got up and raced to check on her baby. Her infant girl, Lora lei was gone!

We are all aware of the uproar and the publicity connected with a kidnapping of a child, and this case was no different. The local press down there in Alton and Saint Louis and surrounding areas raced to get the story to the public. The first person to be quoted was Paula’s father, Orville Blew.
                  “Somebody’s got to be sick to do something like
                   this or have no feelings at all. It could be somebody
                   in the market for selling babies or maybe somebody who
                   lost theirs and wants another.”

Paula and Robert were much too distraught to speak to the press, but finally
on June 20th Robert appealed to the press. “They could have stolen anything I have,” he said, standing in his driveway and pointing toward the house,
“They could have fired me, sent me back to war, nothing compares with this.”

The couple appeared in newspapers, heads together, tears on their faces holding up a poster they had made. “Have you seen Lora lei?  She abducted
from Brighton home Tuesday Nite, June 17.”

Seven thousand fliers were sent out by I-Search, describing little Lora lei
as light-haired and 19 inches long. Five thousand photos were made up and sent out and within a few days over $8,000.00 were offered as a reward for information. Authorities made every effort to find the infant as they waited for a ransom note, but none came.

                            THE  WORST  NEWS  POSSIBLE

On June 24, 1986, one week after the baby was kidnapped the decomposed remains of an infant were found in a deep ravine less than 150 feet from the Sims home. The bones had been scattered about apparently from animals and no clothing or anything else was found at the scene. Hospital x-rays could not reveal whether the bones were those of a boy or a girl, only that they were human. Were those pathetic remains that of little Lora lei?

The police immediately asked Robert and Paula to take lie detector tests. Coming out of the police inquiry, the press asked them how they did.
Robert smiled, “We passed with flying colors.” The truth was that they had not only not passed with ‘flying colors,’ they had indeed failed the tests.
What did that mean? Could it be possible that this nice couple murdered their daughter? For the folks that knew them that thought was absolutely

Right after the tests the Sims moved away telling friends that the pressure on them from the media was just too much…so they left. A month or so later
Dr. James McGivney, a forensic dentist, told the press that the remains were those of a thirteen-day-old baby, based on the tooth buds he found in the  jaw bone. Later the police had experts compare the bone marrow and reported that their experts reported that they were 97.2 percent positive that the baby found in the ravine was that of Lora lei Sims. Paul and Robert rejected that idea completely. It was not their daughter, they were sure of that fact. To counter that even more sophisticated tests were made and the results were that the experts were now 99.75 percent sure that the baby was Lora lei. Remember the sophistication of today’s DNA tests were yet to come.

The couple then told the press that they had accepted the death of their daughter and were just barely “Keeping their sanity.” However, Robert hedged a bit by adding, “But I can’t say, down in my heart, that I absolutely know it’s her,” The father, whom many suspected, struck out at his tormentors. “What I can’t believe is how little support we’ve got from the
world in general. We’ve been condemned.”

The family of little Lora lei buried her in Woodland Cemetery over in Wood River, Illinois just a few miles from where her grandparents lived. No death
date was carved on the stone because the date is uncertain. Also, although they buried the remains of the infant, the Sims family left the cemetery not exactly sure that they had indeed buried Lora lei Sims.

In March, 1987, the grand jury met to consider the death of the infant, which
told the reading public that authorities must believe that the baby was murdered by one or both of her parents. Both Robert and Paula were asked to appear which they did but they invoked the Fifth Amendment and did not answer the questions put to them. The public assumed at that point, since  they had flunked the lie detector tests and refused to answer questions from the grand jury, that they were guilty of murder. That was how it was then and as the months went on they never changed their minds. Paul and Robert Sims were guilty of killing their baby…why aren’t they in jail?

                          CAN  LIGHTINING  STRIKE TWICE?

On February 1, 1988, there were grins on the faces of hard-luck parents, Robert and Paula Sims. They had a baby boy. The happy parents then announced to the suspicious world that another child was born to them thirteen months later, a little girl named Heather. Joy settled over the distraught parents and even the folks that believed the couple had killed Lora lei were now willing to give them some space. After all, in spite of the hell they had gone through they had a boy named Randy and sweet, beautiful Heather to raise. They would prove they were decent parents given a chance. Interest in the couple waned and like always life moved on.

And then the impossible happened. On April 29, 1989, a Saturday at 10:20
P.M., Paula was taking the trash out when she was accosted by a masked man. The armed man forced her back into the house then smashed her with some kind of Karate chop across the back of the neck. She lay there unconscious for as much as forty-five minutes. That’s when Robert returned from work to revive her and call police. The couple dashed through the house to check on Randy and Heather. Randy was just fine but Heather was gone!

The news raced through the community like a tornado and as in the last case, soon was a national story. The doubters quickly said “I told you so,” and soon the Sims house was the center of crowds and TV cameras. The folks would buy the first case, well some of them, but not this one. These two cases were so similar that the people were now positive of the guilt of the young couple. How could the authorities have allowed this to happen? They should have had one or both of those people in jail after the death of Lora lei. That was the sentiment of the folks who had not quite gotten over the horror of the first case three years previously.

The couple took their only son and raced over to the Blew’s house to take refuge. People showed up there as well, some carrying placards, others just stood staring at the house. One lady told the press that they should not judge these people “Only God can judge them.” The media circus kicked up a notch when police found pornography in Robert’s garage. There were soft-porn magazines in his locker, one of them, Abnormal Wife, had a picture of a naked woman sitting on a human skull.  The media took some pains to inform the people that the police found a picture of the son in his locker but none of his daughter.

                               ANOTHER  INFANT  BODY

Just four days after the baby’s disappearance a man was searching a park area near the Mississippi River. He’d often found a few cans in the trash- cans, and when he saw a large green garbage bag he immediately opened it. To his utter horror what he saw was not aluminum cans. No, what he saw was the frozen body of a very small infant! Authorities were summoned and they soon identified the pitiful remains as those of the missing infant, Heather Lee Sims. The news bumped the case up to international coverage, and the media converged once again upon Paula and Robert Sims.

More and more TV cameras were aimed at the couple but before long they seemed to zero in on Paula Sims alone. After all she was with the two infants when they were kidnapped, and as far as people were concerned she was guilty of their murders. Of course the media did not say that but by their very actions the finger pointing was obvious. A lot of people reduced the number of suspects to two, and they had already made up their minds which two. They made it clear that they thought either Paula and Robert did it together or Paula did it on her own…one or the other.

                             WOULD  THEY  CHARGE  PAULA?

The first kidnapping and murder were in 1986, which cost the life of Lora lei
and then in 1989, the murder of Heather. The authorities did not charge Robert or Paula for the 1986 murder so what was different about the 1989 murder? If they had nothing on her then how could they charge her now? That was the question that bounced around among the people who followed the Sims case. What were they going to do? In 1986, Sheriff Frank Yocum  
of Jersey County, who with the help of  dogs found the body of Lora lei certainly did everything he could possibly do to get the evidence needed to charge Paula. Three frustrating years, following every lead, countless hours of endless investigations…tip after tip…all for naught. Finally he took what he had to Lee Plummer, the Jersey County State’s Attorney, who decided that they did not have enough evidence to proceed.

Sheriff Yocum expressed his concern over so many inconsistencies in the case, shaking his head and totally frustrated he let them be known to the public. He told reporters that the tear in the screen door where the intruder made his entry was not only too small it was on the wrong side of the screen. He wondered why neither Robert nor Paula had ever gone on any of the searches for the bodies. Also the sheriff pondered the fact that no clothing, no baby clothing was ever found on or near either one of the infant’s bodies. Despite all of Yocum’s suspicions and hard work there was nothing in the years between the two cases that ever tipped the scales of justice his way. Lora lei’s fate remained a deep, dark mystery not only to him but everyone else as well. Yocum was stunned when he arrived at the Sims house once
again to investigate yet another kidnapping and another murder. He stood looking at the crying couple. He said he could see them cry “But I’ve never
been able to put an adjective as to what Paula’s emotions were that night. To this day I can’t.”

                                        NOW  WHAT?

There is no Statute of Limitation on murder. However, there is on the other charges that the SA could charge Paula with, so with time running out he did file them. Lee Plummer had Paula arrested and arraigned on concealing a homicide and three counts of obstructing justice, all in connection with the death and disappearance of Lora lei Sims. So finally the mystery lady from  La Plata, population 1,423, was under the jurisdiction of Illinois law. Now all the public could do was wait and see what developed.

The little town she grew up in was known as “The soybean capital of the
world.” The town is a nice little farm town, it even has a nine-hole golf course, and most everyone there certainly knew Paula as the “Pleasant tomboy from Bates Street.” She busied herself taking care of her disabled brother and never showed any signs of having a bad disposition. The town had its dark side, as reporters found out when they went there to find out about Paula, who she was and why she would kill her kids. Reporters said that at one time there was a sign along Route 63 that read “Nigger don’t let the sun set on your head in La Plata.” But, hell, that was 1965 a long time ago.  Surely folks had changed their attitude…hopefully.

Reporters found the town a bit protective of Paula. The folks admitted they never locked their doors, and left their keys in their cars, but those same folks carried guns in their cars. There was a sizeable marijuana crop there as well, according to some of the more snoopy reporters. The principal of the school told reporters that he “Had nothing to say,” and other folks told the intruders the same thing. Paula’s smiling picture in the 1970 high school book was proudly shown with the hint that if she went wrong it was after she left La Plata. Some local folks resented the press calling her a La Plata girl. “She was born here but she didn’t even graduate high school here.” The reporters never really got the answers to the “Why” Paula Sims would kill her children, but they learned a lot about her and reported much of it to their readers.

One interesting thing did pop up from the reporter’s investigation when she interviewed a high school student that was in school with Paula. “If anything ever come up missing at school, every finger would point at her. She’d get real paranoid about it. ‘Why do you always say I did it?’ Paula would ask. “Well because 99 chances out of 100 you did it that’s why.”

Another young lady that spent some time with Paula quickly added          “she didn’t act very feminine; she was tall and not much of a figure. She was prone to fighting…fists and cat fights. She was tough and she didn’t bluff.”

So that’s enough about Paula, what any of that has to do with why she would kill her kids, is beyond me. Also…keep in mind she was not even charged with murder when all these interviews took place…but people love to talk…my how they love to talk.

                       FINALLY  THE  CHARGE  IS  MURDER

On May 12, Paula was charged with concealing a homicide and obstructing justice for the death of Lora Lei. That trial would take place after the murder charges have been concluded. July 1, the same charges are filed only this time they are in connection with the death of Heather Sims. On July 11 Paula Sims is charged with Heather’s murder and this time she is charged without the possibility of a bond. A major surprise is that the Madison County judge transferred the trial to Peoria, Illinois because of pre-trial publicity. Now all the publicity would be generated here in Peoria, Illinois. Of course that trial will mean a pretty penny for the hotels and merchants here in town so authorities eagerly awaited the trial.

                     FROM  MADISON  COUNTY  TO  PEORIA

Paula spent her time secluded in her Madison County Jail, rarely talking to anyone, sitting, reading…staring out into space. Publicity still surrounded the case and every time a pre-trial motion or hearing was held, the crowds swarmed and the media frenzy continued. Roadblocks were put up on the street where the Sims family lived but still the parade of people going by never stopped. One TV reporter from KMOV-TV said to reporters that contacted the station by phone “you’d have to be here to see the circus atmosphere.” What would it be like here in Peoria, Illinois?

A very important decision by the judge in Madison County ordered that information about the death of Loralei could be used in the trial of Paula for the murder of her second daughter, Heather Sims. This was huge as far as the prosecutor was concerned. Just think of it from the juror’s viewpoint. They sit there and for a few days and they hear that this woman, according to the prosecutor, killed her first daughter. The judge allowed this under some section of the law consistent with ‘showing a consistent pattern of crime.’ It was a devastating ruling, and one that a Peoria jury would get a chance to listen to. Many lawyers interviewed felt that in the end this just might be reversible error,

PEORIA, ILLINOIS                                                                  1-08-1990

Reporters flocked into Peoria, Illinois where the TV vans took up valuable
parking spaces, and crowds flooded the courthouse. That was the scene that cold January morning when the Paula Simses jury waited in the Jury Commission Room to be called for questioning. This was another one of those ‘hot tickets’ I told you about, but less spectators would see this show.
Since so many visiting reporters took the good seats, and other VIP’s were allowed in, frustration prevailed even among the very early seat hopefuls.

Judge Matoesian from Madison County would preside and local reporters quickly told the Peoria readers that Andy Matoesian was a graduate of the Peoria Barber College. Most folks hoped that the man had also gone to law school. The media coverage was a blitz not only TV, newspaper and radio, there were live broadcasts back to the Alton, Illinois area as well. The death
penalty would be sought by the county’s prosecutor, William Haine and his two valuable assistants, Kit Morrisey and Donald Weber. Paula Sims had as her lawyer Donald Groshong, a very competent defense attorney. The actors were in place, the judge was ready, and the bit players were waiting to become jurors. Camera…action!

Judge Matoesian questioned 97 jurors himself excusing many before either side got to talk to them. The questions centered around what the prospective juror knew about the case and what their views were concerning the death penalty. It was a long, sometimes boring process, but eventually the deed was done. The jurors were finally in the box and the alternates were sitting in ready to take over when the judge asked both sides if they were ready to go. “Ready your honor” came the answers and the opening statements were delivered. I can tell you after 22 years of hearing and watching the beginning of trials I was never able to quiet my heart… it’s better than TV that’s for sure.

                                 A  PARADE  OF  WITNESSES

Frank Yocum the Jersey County Sheriff, led by the SA went through the three years of frustrating investigation in the first murder and was off the stand before he even got to the second murder. The strategy of the People was now apparent. For the first three days they put on witness after witness
who discussed the first death, that of Lora Lei Sims. The sheriff told the jury that Paula had a dog, a big, very alert dog, named Shadow. Neighbors reported to him that not once during the night of the kidnapping did Shadow bark. Why not? That’s what the prosecutor asked the jury. How could a man come up into the yard, enter the house and not even cause a whimper from the dog? Damn good questions?

The eight-men and four-women jury, leaned a bit forward as the first 16 witnesses, which included investigators, neighbors and forensic experts,
paraded in front of them. Each brought with them a piece of the puzzle the prosecutors hoped to fit into the complicated motives that caused Paula Sims to kill her two beautiful baby girls. Prosecutors even put on a roommate of Paula’s who had her baby the same day that Paula did. The lady told the jurors that she heard Paula talking to someone on the telephone. “I’m sorry I had a little girl,” Paula said to someone on the other end of the telephone.

By the time the jury had heard from 26 witnesses the spectators had already made up their mind about Paula Sims. Reporters talked to a lot of them during the breaks, reporting their comments. “Guilty as sin,” was the general
consensus. There was also a call-in public poll being conducted but the results would be published after the trial.

Nurse Diane Seavers testified that in all the time she saw Robert Sims at the hospital he never once looked at the new baby girl. State investigators repeatedly told the jury that they did not believe the kidnapping story and at one time told Paula that to her face. She abruptly got up and walked out of the room leaving the police looking at each other.

The State put on the physician that did the autopsy on the body of Heather once they had finally gotten around to the second murder. There are very few surprises in a murder trial what with all the discovery and pre-trial motions, but there was in this trial. As the good doctor took the stand, the defense attorney for Paula Sims led her out of the courtroom. He did that without explanation, which was his right, but later he told reporters she did not want to hear the details concerning her beloved daughter’s death. It was while she was out of the courtroom that Dr. Kay dropped the bomb. Since the doctor was not only a pathologist, but a neurologist as well, the judge let her testify beyond the autopsy. She told the jury that in her opinion based on a degree of medical certainty that she did not believe Paul Sims was knocked unconscious. She went into an elaborate medical explanation about memory loss and recovery that probably went over most heads. It was devastating to the defense and Mr. Groshong did everything he could to keep it out.
“Overruled,” said the judge, “the doctor may continue.”

After Doctor Mary Kay’s dissertation on retrograde amnesia was allowed to sink in the prosecution rested its case. The 215 exhibits would fill a damn pickup truck and the testimony from 51 witnesses that went with them must have jammed the juror’s brains to the limit. Somehow they had gotten through it, sequestered at the Pere Marquette, herded around like cattle and now they faced the long anticipated defense. To me it was magic to watch a jury, and to this day I am amazed that in most cases they got it right.

                                  ACT  TWO: THE  DEFENSE

Of course the defense started during the opening statements and continued with every witness the People put on the stand. Every exhibit is subject to objection and every word out of every witness is scrutinized and often attacked. When the case is finally in the hands of the defense attorney, many of those very same witnesses are back on the stand. It is a time consuming, grueling procedure especially when the evidence seems stacked against the defendant as it was in this case. Donald Groshong was a master at his craft, and his main task was to show the jury that the State had no real evidence against his client…they had nothing but circumstantial evidence and a lot of
innuendo and gossip.

Robert Sims was not charged with a crime in the murder of his two daughters. He would be a key defense witness and as it is in all murder trials the big question was, ‘will the defendant take the stand?’

Several relatives of Paula Sims told the jury that Robert and Paula loved the baby girls and the idea that either one of them would harm them was absurd. Linda Condray, a sister-in-law showed dozens of pictures depicting scenes of love and affection on the part of Paula toward both the baby girls. She was also very upset that the police had searched her home some ten miles from the Sims home. She told the jury that she thought the search was “a bit absurd.” In all the defense put on 18 witnesses that testified that the children were loved and that they did not show any special interest in their son. “Robert and Paula loved their kids,” it was that simple. The spectators were anxious to see what Paula and Robert Sims had to say.
                                  THE  INNOCENT  PARENTS

Robert Sims looked over at the jury “I wouldn’t cover for one minute for anyone that would harm a hair on my children no matter how much I loved them.” He choked up a bit before he said “I believe Paula absolutely and she
is a good mother and an excellent wife.” The defense took Robert through all the accusations the witnesses had testified to and one by one he denied them.
One important aspect of the testimony from Robert was that he disagreed with his sister-in-law about what time Paula had visited her the day of the murder. He told the jury it was ten in the morning and the sister-in-law said it was three in the afternoon. This was important because police maintain that it was in the afternoon while Paula was supposed to be over at the sister-in-law’s home that she removed the body from the freezer and disposed of it. Robert endured a brutal cross-examination from two of the prosecuting lawyers.

The shy, withdrawn Defendant, Paula Sims took the stand. The crowded courtroom was hushed as the soft-spoken woman, now 30 looked over at her lawyer as he walked up to her. Gently her lawyer led her through the horrible ordeal of losing her two daughters. He asked question deliberately, nodding as his client answered. It was a very well rehearsed sensible examination of an innocent woman.

“I loved my daughters and I had a lot of plans for them. I wanted to give them these dresses. This dress was mine when I was fifteen months old and I wanted to give it to Heather. She held up two tiny dresses for the jury to see. The defense held up a deflated balloon that had ‘It’s A Girl!’ printed on it. Paula sobbed, “we were going to put that in her room.”

Paula’s testimony went well. She was believable, answering her lawyer’s question in a straight-forward manner and looking like the distraught innocent woman that she said she was. The cross-examination was not so kind and not so forthcoming on the part of the witness. She was at one point courteous, even kind, but the flip side was anger and resentment. The prosecutors tore in to her on the discrepancies of her earlier statements and it was brutal.

The SA questioned her about a visit to a card shop when she and her husband walked into the store carrying Heather. The SA pointed a finger at her. “That child was dead wasn’t she? Your baby was dead and you carried it in there in a blanket to establish an alibi didn’t you?” Paula bristled
as she yelled back, “I was never in that card shop!”

                                THE  CLOSING  ARGUMENTS

In the ideal world closing arguments should not win a trial. But we all know better than that. Lawyers are supposed to use the closing arguments to summarize the evidence garnered from the witnesses. They are allowed some leeway, and I don’t have to tell you, leeway to a lawyer means freedom to go off on a rant. Good lawyers are good public speakers and damn good actors. The closing arguments in this case were dramatic and aggressive. The urge to object is overwhelming to the opposing lawyers but forcibly subdued for one simple reason, If one objects…the other will follow suit.  After eleven days of testimony three days to pick a jury, the end was in sight. Hell…get on with it, the jury would like to visit their kids before they graduate from college. That was the sentiment of the jury and even the press was getting anxious to get home.

The trial was over! After 84 witnesses, and four and one half-hours of closing arguments, the end was near. The long, sometime arduous task
by the judge of instructing the jury as to the law can often empty a courtroom in a hurry. Once the jury is charged, they are sworn in and from that moment on they are the sole holders of justice. Soon they would select a foreman and began their deliberations. Would they reach a verdict or would they become deadlocked? Paula Sims was on trial in Peoria, Illinois for the murder of her child. If they found her guilty she could and probably would be executed. Think about it a minute, that is one hell of a responsibility. How would you vote?  If guilty would you have her put to death?

That last day of the trial Paula and Robert Sims ate lunch together and he stood and watched as guards took her back inside the courthouse. The judge would now instruct the jury as to the law in the case, and soon the jury would have the case. The end was near to the case that had brought as much interest as did the Richard Speck trial twenty-three years earlier. Would Robert Sims get his wife back or would he lose her forever?

                         A  JUROR’S  WORK  IS  NEVER  EASY

It was a cold January 30, 1990, the jury had deliberated for seven hours and
speculation was high. A lot of people indicated to the press that they assumed the jury would take a couple of hours to find the defendant guilty. They were certainly surprised how long they had been out and still no verdict. What was wrong with those people?

The folks in Peoria were also talking about the closing of Bishop’s Cafeteria after 61 years in business and fretting about the Varsity Theater shutting its
doors as well. The good news was that the old Apollo Theater was going to be refurbished and there was talk about the riverfront project. Other than that, all eyes were on the media for news about the jury.

The jury had gotten the case at 5:30 on Monday, they had to eat dinner, get settled down, pick a foreman, take a few votes, hell, it all took time. Once
they did all that they asked the judge for a transcript of the trial, which of course was not available. They would have to go by memory, exhibits and notes.                               

Suddenly the word came that the jury had reached a verdict and it was
ready to meet with the judge. The moment had arrived. The courtroom filled up quickly and excitement was in the air. The jury is in the box…it’s over. GUILTY!

                                 LIFE  OR  DEATH?

Thursday 2-2-1990 the jury is back in the box and the courtroom is once
again filled up for the final phase of People vs Paula Sims case. This day
Is the second birthday for Paula’s son whom she has not held since her incarceration. Paula was led into the courthouse dressed in a long sleeved
V-necked striped sweater. Her hair was long and pulled back behind her bare ears. Two county officers guided her between them as all eyes swept over her. She was now the convicted killer of Heather Sims, her infant daughter. The charges against her concerning Laura lei would be tried in March. She was now waiting to hear the verdict of life or death against her. At least that’s what the spectators assumed.

The truth of the matter was simple. Once the jury had found her guilty they had decided that they would not impose the death sentence upon her. So the threat of death row was not even to be considered. But many of the folks that crowded the courthouse that day seemed to be unaware of that. The judge, after a hearing would decide what the penalty would be. Would it be life or something less? That is the question that would be answered  by Judge Matoesian of Madison County, not whether she lived or died.

The judge finally had the decision in his hands. He looked down at Paula Sims, pausing in thought he said “you will serve your natural life behind bars.” Sims did not move, showed no signs she even heard the judge. “That means in plain English that you’re not eligible for parole.” Only a hand full of spectators heard the final sentence that would bring to close the trial that had created an uproar for three weeks. The judge then ordered that Sims be escorted to the Illinois Department of Corrections’ women’s prison in Dwight, Illinois.

That poll I told you about, was finally published in the Peoria Journal
Star: Of the 2,268 people that responded to Dial-A-Vote, 2,034 said she was guilty and deserved the death penalty. The remaining 234 said that she did not deserve the death penalty. Hell, Illinois is not a state that is quick to execute. Also the means of execution had changed from the electric chair to lethal injection in 1983. Now after Governor Ryan signed into law his legislation it will be another fifteen years before Illinois even gets close to an execution. It is my guess that we never will. Have any idea how long ago it was that Illinois executed a prisoner? Good guess…it was 1962.

So, let’s leave this case with some questions unanswered. Will Robert Sims eventually be indicted for his part, if any, in the death of his two baby girls?  Will Paula Sims be sentenced additionally when she is tried for the charges against her in connection with Lora Lei’s death? Maybe, if I ever write another book like Murder In Your Own Backyard,  I’ll answer
those questions for you.

Editor’s Note:  Norm Kelly is a retired private investigator, author and historian.    He welcomes you comments.                               




On April 21, 1898, America declared War on Spain following the sinking of the Battleship MAINE.  Secretary of State John Hay called it a “Splendid Little War.” Historians tell us it was an important war, one that freed Cuba and ceded Guam and Puerto Rica to the United States. That war took the life of a Peoria sailor whose name was George H. Ellis. The historical fact is that he was the only sailor killed in the naval engagement and he was born and raised right here in Peoria, Illinois.  He was born October 26, 1875, at a time when Peoria, Illinois was a bustling, busy town with a population of 26,000 citizens.  He joined the U.S. Navy on February 26, 1892 at the ripe old age of seventeen and off he went to see the world.

On the morning of July 3, 1898, George held the rank of Chief Yeoman on board The U.S.S Brooklyn, the fleet’s flagship that took him into the thick of the naval battle just outside the Harbor of Santiago de Cuba. Our forces had the Spanish Armada trapped within the harbor and when they attempted to escape to sea, all hell broke loose.  The ensuing battle gave the United States Navy a devastating victory over the Spanish Navy.  Let’s let the U.S. Navy records tell us what happened to our native son.

Yeoman Ellis was stationed to give the ranges shown by the stadimeter to the Captain of the USS Brooklyn who communicated them from time to time. During the battle, Yeoman Ellis went toward the side a second time to verify the range. He had advanced only a few feet when he was struck in the face by a large shell, he fell immediately dead. At the time of his death he was performing his duty, finding the range of the enemy, under a most galling fire, in a most heroic manner.

George Ellis was the only sailor killed in that historic battle that injured his friend, Fireman J. Blevin. George was buried in a temporary grave with full military honors at Camp McCalla, Guantanamo.  On November 28, 1898 his body was taken to Brooklyn, New York, where it was re-buried in Evergreen Cemetery, again with full military honors.   A small contingent of sailors, led by Peoria Mayor Lucas Butts attended the military funeral representing the people of Peoria, Illinois.  Officials here in Peoria made an attempt to obtain the body of Yeoman Ellis for burial here, but the efforts proved futile. The United States Navy further recognized Yeoman George Ellis by naming a ship after him.  THE USS  ELLIS, referred to by the Navy as DD-154 proudly carried the fallen Peorian’s name through many years of distinguished service to America during WW 11 and beyond.

I purchased a photograph from naval records showing the ship in 1942. A United States Naval vessel named after a Peorian!  What a distinct honor.  There are 55 telephone numbers in our local book under the name of Ellis, and I was wondering if any of those folks are relatives of our fallen sailor.  Seems to me a small plaque should be placed in George’s honor down by the river. You folks interested?

Editor’s Note:   Follow Norm’s stories in the new News and Views.        




As an historian, I am just a local yokel.  My stories cover Peoria and Peorians, so what am I doing writing about the Spanish American War?  Good question.  The answer is easy enough because I want to tell you a story that surrounds a Peorian who long ago slipped into oblivion. I’ll give you a little background before I tell you of Peoria’s connection to this war.

On April 21, 1898, America declared war on Spain following the sinking of our Battleship MAINE while anchored in the Havana harbor. Secretary of State John Hay called it a “Splendid little War.” Historians tell us that it was an important war, and one that freed Cuba and ceded to the United States, Guam and Puerto Rico. It allowed America to purchase the Philippine Islands from Spain. It also cost the United States the lives of 3,000 men, most of whom died of yellow and typhoid fever. That is your history lesson for today, now let’s get to the Peoria connection.

His name was George H. Ellis and he was born here in Peoria, Illinois October 26, 1875.  Way back in 1875 Peoria was a bustling, vibrant city on the grow with a population of nearly 26,000 people.  We grew up with the smell of breweries and distilleries in the air, and Peoria flourished.  By 1890 our population was at 29,259 and Peoria was a pearl along the Illinois River, and a cosmopolitan, lively city.

George Ellis lived here until the ripe old age of 17 when the excitement of the war prompted him to enlist in the United States navy on February 26, 1892.