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Press Release

Norfolk Man Convicted in Fatal Kidnapping

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Nebraska

Acting United States Attorney Jan W. Sharp announced that a federal jury in Omaha, Nebraska, returned guilty verdicts today against Ramon Simpson, 50, of Norfolk, for Kidnapping Resulting in Death and Conspiracy to Commit Kidnapping.  Kidnapping Resulting in Death carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.  There is no parole in the federal system. United States District Judge Brian C. Buescher presided over the 7-day trial and set sentencing for June 30, 2021.

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.  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 in Knox County, Nebraska, 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.  

The FBI and other 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 entered a plea of guilty to Murder in Indian Country on February 5, 2020, and on July 15, 2020 was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Acting United States Attorney Jan Sharp said, “The abduction and killing of Phyllis Hunhoff was a ghastly crime.  Our hearts go out to her family.  Mr. Simpson is richly deserving of the sentence he will likely receive.  The two-year investigation and prosecution of Mr. Simpson, and Mr. James before him, was complicated by complex jurisdictional issues and the need to analyze volumes of digital evidence.  The FBI and the trial team did an outstanding job putting together the case that led to Mr. Simpson’s conviction.”

After today’s verdict, FBI Omaha Special Agent in Charge Eugene Kowel said, “Ramon Simpson may not have killed Phylliss Hunhoff, but his participation in her abduction and kidnapping ultimately lead to her violent and senseless death.  FBI Omaha is committed to continue working with our state and local partners to apprehend violent criminals and bring them to justice.”

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.

Updated April 2, 2021

Indian Country Law and Justice
Violent Crime