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Florence Snyder: Postcard from a cold case

in Apolitical/Top Headlines by

A half-century after an unsolved murder, who did the crime is less important that what the crime did to those left behind.

The October 22, 1966, murders of Robert and Helen Sims and their 12-year-old daughter Joy changed Tallahassee, overnight, from a place where everyone trusted everyone to a place where the unspeakable could happen to anyone.

Sims, a pioneering information technology official with the state Department of Education, and his wife and youngest child were slaughtered that night in their home on a quiet cul de sac in Midtown. Their bodies were discovered by their teenage daughters who had been out babysitting for family friends attending the Florida State-Mississippi football game.

The dad for whom the older girls baby-sat was among the packed house at the Tallahassee City Commission Chambers recently for a public lecture on the cold case by local historian Henry Cabbage.

“Robert Wilson Sims was my boss, and my best friend,” he said. You could hear the pain, regret, and self-reproach in the old gentleman’s voice. “I was a good dad. I drove them home, and waited until they were inside the house before driving away…..”

If it didn’t occur to parents to search for bogeymen before the Sims murders, it occurred to their children after.

One woman, then a young mother and Sims’ family neighbor, described how her child, a playmate of Joy’s, began to insist upon frequent room-to-room searches. The murders on the street where they lived made it impossible to sell. Neither could they stay because their child was too traumatized. They ended up giving their house back to the bank, a financial hit from which the family never recovered.

Crime scene investigations were primitive in those days. In the absence of science, rumors were easy to start and hard to extinguish.  Among the casualties of the Sims’ murders was the good name of a prominent pastor alleged to have been having an affair with Mrs. Sims, simply because she had worked as a church secretary.

The pastor had an airtight alibi, and people who were close to the Sims family are, after all these years, enraged by the slander. Sims’ friend and DOE colleague “didn’t believe ‘the affair’ for a second. Those were two people who loved each other.”

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