Killed by their Mother
By Walton Golightly
On April 29, 1989, Paula Sims was taking out the garbage when a masked gunman ordered her into the house before knocking her unconscious. When she awoke her six-week-old daughter, Heather, was gone. Paula called the police. They searched the surrounding area, but it was only several days later that Heather’s body was found in a park Dumpster.
A number of things about the case worried the detectives of Madison County, Illinois. Forensic evidence suggested little Heather’s body had been kept in a freezer prior to being dumped – presumably to make confirming time of death more difficult. And the black plastic bag holding Heather’s body was manufactured by the same machine within seconds of the bags found in the Sims’ home. Paula hadn’t been injured in the attack. More damningly, she said she remembered being struck on the head – people knocked unconscious rarely remember the blow that caused the concussion.
There was more. In June 1986, while living in Jersey County, Paula claimed a masked gunman entered her home, made her lie on the floor and fled with her 13-day-old daughter, Loralei. The infant’s remains were later found in a wooded ravine behind the Sims’ home. According to the pathologist, hands placed over Loralei’s nose and mouth suffocated her. Needless to say, the prime suspects were Robert and Paula Sims. But with insufficient evidence to charge them, the case went cold and the couple moved.
Now history had repeated itself. The state immediately removed the couple’s son, Randall, two. Defence attorney Donald Groshong discussed an insanity plea with Paula, but she continued to insist she hadn’t killed her children. Moreover, she had no history of depression, post-partum or otherwise. At her trial, Paula stuck to her story about Loralei and Heather having been abducted. The prosecution claimed she’d killed the infants because the couple wanted only male children. On February 2, 1990, Paula was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of obstructing justice and one count of concealing homicide.
Before sentencing, Paula confided in Groshong that she had indeed killed both infants. Her husband hadn’t been involved, she added. However, her account of how she killed the children differed from the findings of the pathologists.
Paula was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. She and Robert were divorced a short while later. In August 1994 she filed an appeal alleging Groshong provided ineffective assistance of counsel by dismissing the use of the post-partum psychosis insanity defence. She also claimed he was only focused on her ex-husband’s defence.
She said she suffered from major depression and guilt at the time, because Robert did not want Heather and blamed her for having the child. She also admitted to almost killing Randall one night.
“He was crying and I’d tried everything I knew to comfort him, but nothing was working,” she recalled. “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.”
Paula’s request for a new trial was turned down, as was a 2007 petition for clemency and she remains in prison. Randall 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.