The woman’s voice was shrill and panic. “Let me in! Please, let me in!”
Minnie Gray didn’t recognize the voice and no one was visible as she looked through the peephole of her front door. “Who is it?,” she asked.
It was Paula Marie Sims, Minnie’s next door neighbor.
They Stole My Baby!
Paula was hyperventilating. Between breathes she told Minnie, “They stole my baby!”
“Who?,” asked Minnie, becoming frantic herself.
Paula began explaining that as she watched the evening news, a masked gunman entered her home and told her to lay on the floor for ten minutes or he would kill her. Paula said she was terrified and did as she was told. She said when the man left she realized he had taken her 13 day-old daughter, Loralei Marie Sims, and she took off after him. Paula told Minnie she chased the man down the driveway, but he disappeared into the darkness.
As Minnie’s husband called the Jersey County Sheriff’s Department to report the abduction, Paula rushed home to find her husband’s telephone number at work. Minnie accompanied Paula back to her home and Paula pointed out where Lorlei was sleeping and the door the abductor used to gain entry.
Minnie felt unsettled by Paula’s story. Things just didn’t feel right. For one, she noticed the baby’s blanket in the bassinet was neatly folded back.
Robert Sims hurried home after his supervisor at the factory where he was working called him to the phone and Paula told him, between quick breathes and uncontrollable crying, that someone had kidnapped their daughter.
By the time he arrived, police were already roaming all over his home. A frantic Paula ran up to her husband and said, “Rob, I’m so sorry I disappointed her.” When her husband tried to reassure her, Paula continued on. “You were disappointed when Loralei was a girl, and I disappointed you because I didn’t stop the man from taking her.”
Realizing that several officers were listening to their conversation, Rob leaned over and whispered something in Paula’s ear.
But the words “you were disappointed when Loralei was a girl” would resound in detectives’ ears for years to come.
Police were desperate to find the infant, but her own parents weren’t much help. Rob spoke in a low monotone and Paula was inconsolable. With what little they were able to pull from the hysterical mother, however, they were beginning to feel a lot like Minnie Gray: something just didn’t feel right.
As soon as the sun rose on Wednesday, June 18, 1986, police stepped up their search efforts by bringing in scent dogs, sent planes up for an ariel view search, and divers donned wetsuits to began searching the pond at the rear of the Sims’ home.
While the divers were getting into the suits, however, police noticed Paula and her family standing on the porch and that they continually stared in the pond’s direction. When an officer approached Paula and suggested now would be a good time to go with deputies and give her official statement, Paula said something that made the hair on the back of his neck stand straight up. She said, “No, I want to be here when they bring her body up.” Realizing immediately what she had said, Paula corrected herself, “No, that’s not what I mean. I mean, my baby is alive and I want to be here when they bring her onto the porch.”
Searchers found nothing that day, but they continued to search. And they continued to question Robert and Paula, especially hoping Mom would remember something that could help them find the baby. Eventually, however, the couple grew tired of the police’s accusations and retained an attorney.
On Tuesday, June 24, 1986, a week after Loralei’s disappearance, searchers were still milling about the area surrounding the Sims’ home, looking for their daughter. Rob was standing nearby when one of the detectives pondered aloud whether the wooded area had yet been searched. Rob responded by saying the woods was covered in poison ivy and he didn’t recommend anyone search there for very long lest they have a miserable reaction. The detective found the comments strange and soon thereafter ordered the dogs be taken into the woods to search for Loralei. Just a short distance in, the dog began barking.
Baby Loralei had been found.
Loralei’s Death Becomes A Cold Case
Following an autopsy, the medical examiner proclaimed that Loralei had died of asphyxiation. Based on evidence, he theorized this was the result of a blanket or hands being pressed against Loralei’s mouth and nose.
Now, more than ever, detectives were certain Paula had killed her daughter and they were pretty sure that Robert had been covering for his wife. But the pair had lawyered up and their attorney wasn’t allowing them to say much to police.
There wasn’t enough evidence to make an arrest. The polices’ hands were tied.
Robert and Paula moved from Brighton, Illinois, to a new home in Madison County.
The murder of a Loralei Sims grew cold.
A Private Life
Robert and Paula quietly left Brighton and moved into a new home at 1053 Washington Avenue in Alton, Illinois. Neighbors at their new home were blissfully unaware of the Sims’ history.
Before the birth of their second child, a son they named Randall Troy Sims, in February 1988, Rob built a privacy fence around the property and Paula hung curtains and blinds that always stayed pulled tight. Later neighbors would say they hardly ever saw anyone outside the house, not even the mother and her young son.
The Sims were living a private, or some would say reclusive, life; staying out of the spotlight they’d been just a couple of years before.
Until 1989 when it happened again.
They Took My Other Daughter!
On March 18, 1989, Paula gave birth to a second daughter, Heather Lee Sims. Her life would prove to be only slightly longer than that of her older sister.
Heather was only six weeks old when Rob came home from work on April 29, 1989, and found his wife lying unconscious on the kitchen floor. Flashing back to three years before, Rob ran to his daughters bassinet and discovered it empty. He returned to his wife, trying to arouse her, screaming, “Where is Heather? Paula, where is Heather?” When Paula finally came to, she answered that the baby was in her bassinet. When he told her their daughter was missing, they both ran upstairs to check on their son, whom they found sleeping safe and sound in his bed.
Rob called for help and police soon arrived. The responding officer was unfamiliar with the Sims and was confused when Rob made the statement, “They’ve taken my daughter. They took my other daughter.”
When detectives asked Paula what had occurred, her story was eerily familiar.
It was around 10:30 p.m., she said, when she took the trash out and met up with a masked me who was holding a gun. Paula said he told her to get back in the house and she complied. As they stepped through the threshold, the intruder hit in the back of the head and she didn’t come to until Robert came in and found her.
Although they began organizing a search for the baby, investigators felt certain Paula’s story was nothing but lies. When they had examined Paula for injuries, they found none; not a bump on her head or scrapes to her arm and elbow – things that should have been present if what she said was true. Then there was the odd statement Paula had made to Robert in the presence of several officers, “My son’s all right. That’s all that matters.”
It finally dawned on one of the Alton officers, Sims; the name of the couple who just a few years before had claimed a masked gunman had kidnapped their daughter. After sharing the memory with fellow detectives, they too became certain this was all a ruse to cover up another baby’s murder.
They became determined that Paula Sims wouldn’t get away with murder twice.
Paula was taken to the Alton police department in hopes of gaining as much information about the “kidnapping” as possible. Meanwhile, other officers continued to search the Sims home looking for evidence as Rob followed them around, watching their every move.
Detectives who questioned Paula were surprised by her demeanor. Unlike the hysterical woman she had been three years ago, this woman was very calm and laid back. She casually smoked while answering the investigators’ questions with simple, unhelpful answers.
Although Robert had said he intended to call his attorney before Paula went with the officers, she, as yet, had not requested such but cops knew it wouldn’t be long before she did.
Outside the police precinct, the news of the disappearance of Heather Sims was big news and especially so when reporters linked the Sims to Loralie. While some prayed for the return of an abducted infant while others began keeping an eye out for the body of baby girl, certain the Sims had murdered a second child.
The latter group wasn’t wrong, unfortunately.
On Wednesday, May 9, 1989, a fisherman had noticed a lone trash bag in a recreational bin and something called him to check it out.
Inside were the remains of Heather Lee.
Paula Sims Guilty!
Just as with Loralie, Heather had died of asphyxiation, most like because of a hand or blanket being pressed firmly against her nose and mouth.
Fearing for the safety of the Sims’ only surviving child, little Randy was removed from his parents’ home, which seemed to have a greater impact on the couple than the death of their daughters.
A little forensic work proved that the trash bag in which Heather had been found had been made from the same roll of those currently being used by the Sims.
Confronted with the evidence (and the obvious), Robert finally broke down and admitted that he believed Paula had killed their daughters. He had wanted to believe she capable of murder, but maybe she was.
Trying to elicit a possible motive from Robert, they asked him about life before Heather’s birth. Robert admitted that he and Randy slept in a bedroom separate from Paula and Heather, but after her abduction they had resumed sleeping together. Then, to the shock of the investigator questioning him, Robert said, “On Monday or Tuesday, Paula and I had the best and long-lasting sex we’ve had in a long time.”
They couldn’t gather enough evidence to arrest Robert, but they did have enough for Paula and she was taken into custody on Sunday, July 2, 1989. The state announced soon afterwards that they intended to seek the death penalty in the Paula Sims case.
The trial in People versus Paula Marie Sims began on Monday, January 8, 1990. It came to a close just a few days shy of a month later of February 2, when a jury found Paula guilty two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of obstructing justice, and one count of concealing homicide.
Although jurors believed prosecutors that Paula had killed Loralei and Heather simply because they were girls, a gender that was a disappointment to their father, they deadlocked during the sentencing phase and, as such, the Judge made a compromise, of sorts, and sentenced Paula to life sentences without possibility of parole.
As of this writing, Paula Sims is incarcerated at the Dwight Correctional Facility in Dwight, Illinois.
In August 1990, Robert filed for divorce. As part of their divorce agreement, Rob was required to bring their son Randy to visit her once a month in prison. It was reported that during one of those visits, Randy asked his mother why she had killed his sisters. Paula accused Robert of putting Randy up to asking the question.
A little more than two years after her conviction, Paula admitted to murdering her infant daughters, claiming that she was trying to please Robert who had been upset at the birth of daughters instead of sons.
By August 1994, however, Paula claimed, in a pro se post-conviction relief petition, she had suffered from postpartum psychosis and didn’t understand that her actions, at the time, were wrong. Her petition was denied.
As if to back up her claim, Paula also admitted to almost killing Randy one night. According to her, “He was crying and I had tried everything I knew to comfort him, but nothing was working. Before I knew it I snapped and laid him down in the playpen and yelled at him to be quiet and then I threatened him, he quit crying immediately. His eyes got big and he just stared at me. I quickly picked him up, held him closer to me, and told him I was so sorry; I didn’t mean it. I believe it was this sudden adrenaline rush and Randy’s reaction, along with actually hearing me threaten him which brought me out of postpartum depression, psychosis. Just enough to save Randy from the terrible fate of his sister.”
In 2007, Paula petitioned for clemency. Fortunately, her request was denied.
Randy Sims lives in Illinois and vocally defends his father against accusations that he should have been prosecuted for his role in helping cover-up Heather’s death.