|The Naked City||Sep 9 2009|
In the eyes of the police, you’re never innocent for long.
Above is another cover of one of our favorite magazines, Front Page Detective, from September 1967, featuring a nice duo-toned image of a girl in serious difficulty. You see mention of a person named Dykes Simmons, Jr., who the magazine refers to as a tragic figure. This is not because of his seriously unfortunate name, but because he was the first American citizen ever sentenced to death by a Mexican court. The story is worth a detailed explanation, so sit back and relax.
The date was 12 October 1959, and a dentist named Raúl Pérez Villagómez, broke down on a Mexican highway while driving with his younger brother and two sisters. Not long afterward a car stopped, and a man emerged and tried to repair their auto, but to no avail. Unfortunately, when the sisters giggled at his failure, he pulled out a gun and riddled the entire family with bullets. Hilda Villagómez was the only survivor of the attack, though she had been shot seven times. In the hospital she told police her assailant drove a Chevy, had two gold teeth, and was tall, thin, and blonde. Police immediately began looking for gringos and soon picked up Dykes Simmons. But he didn’t fit the description—not even close. He was short, dark-haired, and heavy. So the cops let him go.
At that point Dykes should have gotten the hell out of Mexico. But instead he went sightseeing, and the police soon learned that he had entered the country with false identification. Pressure was mounting in the media to find this gringo madman who had slaughtered upstanding middle-class locals, so the authorities appear to have decided—in that longstanding tradition of authorities everywhere—that any perp was better than none at all. So they began looking for Dykes again, and when they picked him up, they paraded him into Hilda Villagómez’s hospital room dressed like the gunman she had described. What happened next was pure frame-up. Villagómez could barely speak because a bullet had damaged her tongue and taken out her upper teeth. The prosecutor put his ear to her mouth, then stood up and declared that she had identified Simmons. Nobody else in the room had heard what she’d said, and she was dead days later, leaving her alleged identification of the Simmons the only evidence tying him to the crime.
Simmons was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death based upon the prosecutor’s dubious hearsay, but the U.S. Government wasn’t too thrilled about Mexicans executing Americans and got involved in the case. The appeals and maneuvering went on for years. In the interim Simmons tried to escape twice, was shot during the second attempt, but unbelievably, tried a third time and got away dressed as a woman. He made it across the Mexico-U.S. border, and began a long battle against extradition. The story ends there, with him fighting to stay in the States, and magazines like Front Page Detective taking up his cause. We found no info on him after 1960, and so Dykes Simmons, Jr. passes into historical purgatory. But whatever happened to him, he imparts this crucial lesson to the rest of us: when the police say you’re free to go, you hit the exit door like a halfback hitting the hole and never stop running.