1990: Vigil for Victims of Domestic Violence

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On July 29, 1990, Marthaler Park in West St. Paul hosted a vigil organized by women’s advocates to stop domestic violence. The gathering was prompted by the murder of Linda Simmons, a Sunfish Lake mother of three who was shot to death by her husband the week before.

“We’ve received a lot of calls from women who are worried because of what happened to Linda Simmons,” said Sue Swenson in a 1990 Star Tribune article. Swenson worked at Lewis House, the only women’s shelter in Dakota County at the time. “Lots of them who thought they were safe don’t think so now.”

Speakers at the vigil included advocates who talked about how women in abusive situations can protect themselves as well as victims sharing their stories.

The Background

Two days before her murder, Linda Simmons called the police because her husband, Douglas Simmons, was drunk and breaking dishes. West St. Paul Police took Douglas to a Dakota County detox facility. He was released three hours later.

On Sunday, July 22, Linda was holding her son’s hand and trying to leave when Douglas shot her in the back of the head.

“I shot my wife,” Douglas told police according to the criminal complaint. “She just wouldn’t stop bugging me.”

Only later did it become clear that Douglas had a history of alcoholism and failed treatment—a revelation that proved as shocking as the murder. Douglas served as the chief medical pathologist at Midway Hospital. None of his colleagues were aware of his problem or that he’d sought treatement.

According to grand jury testimony, the couple went to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting the day before the murder. Multiple friends counseled the couple to get help that weekend and even hours before the murder. Neighbors who talked to Linda 15 minutes before she was killed noted that Douglas was drunk. He would later plead not guilty by reason of temporary insanity and intoxication to charges of first- and second-degree murder. But Douglas killed himself before the trial.

Seeking Help From Abuse

In 1990, the murder of Linda Simmons prompted a spike in calls from women in abusive situations seeking help and prompted the vigil.

“There seemed to be this realization among [the callers] that domestic abuse victims are not just somebody from an inner-city neighborhood,” Art Fleischer, a supervisor with Dakota County Child Protection, said in a 1990 article. “It’s like a light bulb went on and they realized they were vulnerable, too.”

Today, 360 Communities runs Lewis House and continues to help victims of domestic violence. Learn more about their violence prevention and intervention resources. The West St. Paul Police Department also works with Community Advocate Ava January to help victims of domestic and sexual violence.

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