August 24, 1968. Ernie Simmons was
awakened by a clap of thunder. He looked outside into the intermittent darkness
and spotted what he had always known would happen......several thieves were loading his
precious motorcycles onto the back of a truck.
His years of suspicions had
"I grab Remington 3
1/2 pump, race in my sleeping underwear to lane, I yell halt and I shoot. I tell
fellow on ground to get up and walk and he say he can't....."
Five men and a woman were
apprehended, and subsequently, charged. Ernie's two
shotgun blasts had wounded three persons, one of them seriously. After a lengthy
trial, charges against three of the culprits were dropped. The others were
given a two year suspended sentence with probation. Charges pending against Ernie were
dropped. In those days it was still legal to defend one's property.
At around 4:45 PM on the afternoon of
December 15, 1969, Ernie was working on some machines in his yard
when he was approached by a young man. Although he was a stranger, he expressed
an interest in buying a car so Ernie walked with him around to the south of the
house where the old cars were kept. Ernie noticed some new tracks in the pristine
fresh fall of snow on the ground. Immediately, his
suspicions were aroused. He knew he was in danger so he reached for an oak
stake frozen in place on a nearby flatbed truck. Before he could do this, a
masked man stepped out from where he had been hiding behind some old trucks. A
third person, also masked, appeared. Without saying a word, the first
masked man opened fire with a revolver. Ernie, shot seven times, fell to
the ground. The assailants kicked him and demanded his money. Ernie, who later
said he felt little pain, "just numb", was lucid enough to know that he would be left to die
in the snow if he told them anything. He insisted they had to take him to the
house or they'd get nothing. One man grabbed him by the arm, another by
the hair, and they pulled him into the house. He remembered one of them
commenting that "He sure is a heavy old devil" and the other agreeing
as he was being dragged.
Ernie's poor, senile
mother was ignored, as they roughed him up further in the house. Finally, Ernie
gave in and told them where to find some money. (less than $200.)
The assailants must have lost their nerve, as they took the cash, cut the phone
lines and fled.
Ernie crawled to the
window and saw them leave in a '55 or '56 Chevrolet, possibly two tone.
He was a very strong man.
Though getting weaker by the minute, he crawled to the phone and managed to
splice the wires back together and call for help. We can only imagine his joy as
Ernie Simmons, the hermit, saw two sets of headlights come down his lane half an
hour later. The police and an ambulance had arrived.
Ernie chafed at his
enforced stay in the hospital. His mother had been taken to Norfolk General
a state of shock. That left his cherished collection totally unguarded.
Fortunately, none of
his wounds were very serious. He still had six bullets in him. His doctors
planned to remove the rest after he had recovered more fully. They had removed
one that was dangerously close to his spine, the others were not threatening
where they were.
All he could think was
that, if only he had had a loaded automatic rifle, or a good pistol, he could
have taken out some or all of his attackers. Determined to get them himself when
he recovered, he didn't co-operate too much with the police.
After a few weeks, he
couldn't take it any more. He resolved to leave the hospital. He was going to go
buy himself a good .30 caliber M1 carbine as soon as possible. THEN let any
intruders beware! We can only imagine the consternation he caused when he
stubbornly signed himself out, ignoring the pleas of friends and doctors. He returned home, nowhere near recovered,
less than a month after his
Home again, still
seriously injured, all alone in his cold, isolated farmhouse. Ernie told friends
that he had never been able to warm up again after his attack. (One had brought
him some extra Hudson's Bay blankets in the hospital) Always an
enterprising sort, he strung ropes across his tiny bedroom and hung blankets and
a plastic sheet around his bed, forming a makeshift tent. Inside he placed two space heaters to
keep the bed area warm.
In January, 1970, a friend
became concerned when he tried to phone Ernie several times and didn't receive
an answer. He and a neighbor went by snowmobile to the farm and found Ernie Simmons
dead in bed, in the same room in which he'd been born. He was only 57 years old.
It was reported that the temperature in
Ernie's "tent" was 120 degrees!
An autopsy showed the
cause of death to be pneumonia.
Ernie's mother, Grace, never really
recovered from the shock. She died a few months later in the senior's home
where she had been placed.
Those responsible for the assault were
never apprehended. Some people thought that the police didn't try too hard.
After all, it was only "Crazy Ernie".