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Norfolk Man Sentenced to Life in Prison for Fatal Kidnapping

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 Acting United States Attorney Jan Sharp announced Ramon Simpson, 51, of Norfolk, Nebraska, was sentenced today in federal court in Omaha for Kidnapping Resulting in Death and Conspiracy to Commit Kidnapping. United States District Court Judge Brian C. Buescher sentenced Simpson to life imprisonment on each count. Simpson was convicted by a jury in March following a 7-day jury trial.

Phyllis Hunhoff regularly traveled from her home in Yankton, South Dakota to her mother’s home in Utica, South Dakota.  Her regular practice was to call her mother upon returning to Yankton.  On November 4, 2018, at approximately 9:45 p.m., Phyllis Hunhoff left her mother’s residence, alone, to drive home to Yankton.  She did not call her mother as she did not make it home.  Having not heard from Phyllis, her mother began repeatedly calling her phone to determine her whereabouts.  All calls were unanswered.

Simpson, Joseph James, and other men were near Phyllis Hunhoff’s mother’s residence as she was leaving.  James and Simpson encountered Phyllis Hunhoff outside of the residence and got into her car with her inside.  Simpson and James kidnapped Phyllis Hunhoff and took Hunhoff and her vehicle to Norfolk, Nebraska, arriving at about 11:00 p.m.  When they arrived in Norfolk, James remained in the vehicle and Simpson exited the vehicle with James’s cellular phone.  James drove Phyllis Hunhoff’s vehicle, with her inside, to the Santee Sioux Indian Reservation in Knox County, Nebraska. Simpson proceeded to delete communications and location data from James’s phone detailing their travels and activities on November 4, 2018.

Video from a gas station on the Santee Reservation showed James driving Hunhoff’s vehicle and putting gasoline into her vehicle.  Later, James returned in the same vehicle to the gas station and pumped gasoline into a soda bottle.  James then drove to an isolated location on the Santee Reservation where he set fire to Hunhoff’s body and her vehicle to conceal evidence of the murder and kidnapping.  James abandoned the body and vehicle and left the area.

On November 8, 2018, Phyllis Hunhoff’s body was located inside of her vehicle on the Santee Sioux Indian Reservation. Hunhoff had been killed by strangulation and stab wounds. Hunhoff’s body and vehicle were set on fire.  

Law enforcement officers investigated the murder and obtained evidence, including surveillance footage of James at the gas station during the early morning hours of November 5, 2018.  Santee Police recovered the shirt James was wearing when he killed Phyllis Hunhoff.  Her DNA was on James’ shirt.  James’s DNA was on clothing Phyllis Hunhoff was wearing when he killed her. 

When contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Simpson repeatedly lied about his and James’s whereabout on November 4 and 5, 2018.

James pleaded guilty to Murder in Indian Country on February 5, 2020, and on July 15, 2020, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Judge Buescher noted during the sentencing that the evidence and testimony in this case “will remain with us for the rest of our lives and will remain with the 12 jurors.” Judge Buescher also noted that on the day of sentencing he wanted to remember the victim, Phyllis Hunhoff, stating “she didn’t deserve what happened to her… the end that she came to is tragic.”

Acting United States Attorney Jan Sharp stated, “Phyllis Hunhoff was a loving daughter, sister, and aunt.  She was active in her faith and volunteered in her community. Her death was a tremendous loss to her family and her community.  We hope today’s sentence brings some small bit of closure to the Hunhoff family knowing that Joseph James and Ramon Simpson will spend the rest of their lives in prison and not be in a position to harm anyone again.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Eugene Kowel added, “Ramon Simpson’s participation in the kidnapping of Phyllis Hunhoff led to her brutal death.  Today’s life sentence demonstrates the commitment by the FBI and our law enforcement partners to bring justice to the families who have lost loved ones to senseless, violent crime.”

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jody Mullis and Sean Lynch.

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Nebraska State Patrol, Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Santee Sioux Nation Tribal Police, Yankton County Sheriff’s Office, Yankton Police Department (South Dakota), Norfolk Police Department, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the Nebraska State Fire Marshal, and the Lincoln Police Department.


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