Ten years ago then-Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell stared straight at me and said: "I've seen some terrible things in 45-plus years of law enforcement. But I can see Joy's eyes as clear today as I sit here talking to you."
Campbell was referring to Joy Sims, the 12-year-old daughter of Robert and Helen Sims. At the time he was speaking to me, it had been 40 years since that terrible tragic night when someone assaulted and murdered the Sims family. For Campbell, a 24-year-old deputy at the time of the murders, it became a case that haunted him throughout the years because no one was ever arrested for the crime.
He kept parts of the case file in his desk over the years and he tried unsuccessfully in the '80s to get an arrest in the case. I had talked to him several times about the murders and each time he would mention little, but scary details of the crime, such as the fact that it appeared that someone had taken a knife to shrubbery outside the Sims home which prompted Campbell to speculate they were anxiously whacking at the bushes just moments before the assault began. There were the similarities to In Cold Blood and that one of the suspects may have had a fondness for necrophilia.
Campbell passed away nearly two years ago, convinced he knew who had committed the murders but said that absent a confession it would likely be impossible to win a conviction.
Here's what I wrote back in 2006 for The Miami Herald:
For those who lived in Tallahassee then, 1966 is still remembered as the year that changed everything.
That was the year once-open doors were locked, the pastor of one of the city's largest churches became a murder suspect and an entire lake was drained for evidence. Halloween was nearly canceled.
Women filled water guns with ammonia to better fight off an attacker. Children were kept home at night. And police wandered the streets with German shepherds, looking for the killers who hogtied and savagely murdered a family.
Forty years ago today, while many residents were watching Florida State University and Mississippi State play football, someone attacked Robert Sims, his wife Helen and their daughter in their modest brick house on a cul-de-sac.
All three were bound, their mouths stuffed with stockings. The two adults were blindfolded. Robert Sims, 42, a top official with the state Department of Education, was shot in the head. Helen Sims, 34, was shot twice in the head and once in the leg. Joy, 12, was stabbed six times, then shot in the head. Her panties were found pulled down, and there was evidence that she was molested.
Their bodies were discovered by Joy's older sister, who with another sibling had been baby-sitting for families who went to the football game. Robert Sims and Joy Sims died at the scene. Helen Sims lay in a coma for nine days before dying.
....Forty years later, the savage murders of the Sims family remain officially unsolved despite a massive investigation that has been reopened several times over the years. Campbell has two prime suspects, including one person he says has a fondness for necrophilia. But he says there's not enough evidence for a conviction.
The 50th anniversary of this still officially unsolved crime has brought with it a renewal of interest.
Next Thursday four Florida State University media production students will screen a documentary on the murders and the subsequent investigation. Included in the documentary is an interview they did with one of the prime suspects in the case (and who previously has denied any involvement.)
The film, entitled 641 Muriel Court (after the address of the Sims home), will be shown at The Moon and features interviews with Henry Cabbage, who once went to court to try to get records related to the case, retired Tallahassee Democrat columnist Gerald Ensley, State Attorney Willie Meggs and Rocky Bevis, who was one of the first people who responded to the murder scene back in 1966.
The project by the filmmakers prompted a Mississippi newspaper, The Meridian Star, to do its own article on the Sims murders earlier this year. The newspaper pointed out that the Sims family had moved to Tallahassee 10 years earlier from Meridian and that all three victims were buried at a Baptist Church cemetery in the town.
Kyle Jones, of the FSU students who worked on the documentary, told the Star that the popular opinion in Tallahassee is that "Everybody knows everybody so everybody thinks they know what happened. Everybody thinks they know who did this. But the popular opinion in this city would be that those two did it and there was good reason for that, I think." But Jones did add: "We treated everybody in this equally because we're not going to pretend we know who did it."
Back in 2006 Campbell said he "believes there were two murderers, that it was a sex crime and that one of the suspects had a "hang-up" with dead people and probably had engaged in necrophilia. But he refuses to name the two suspects."
In the Herald article I noted that Cabbage "obtained a video showing Campbell and another detective interrogating a woman for hours in 1987. The woman, who now lives in Jacksonville, had a boyfriend who lived near the Sims family. A summary of the interviews says that she remembers going to the Sims' house that night - but that she can't remember any details.
The woman's boyfriend, who she later married and then divorced, told detectives in 1989 that he had nothing to do with the murders. The man, who now lives in St. Petersburg, theorized that "gangsters" killed the family."
While the speculation as to the identity of the murderers remains ongoing, there is no doubt that the Sims murders had a lasting impact on Tallahassee.
As Bevis, who helped his father uncut the ropes that bound the victims, told me back in 2006: "We just woke up one morning in Tallahassee and we were part of an evil world....It's disturbing to go to sleep knowing someone is still out there."