A native son, talented, caring, addicted
- Published: June 6, 2013
While Oliver Simons, the local man who police say is behind a string of nine burglaries in the village this year, is now locked up at the Greene County Jail in Xenia awaiting trial and facing serious jail time, back in town friends, family, victims and community members are left dealing with the aftershock of his alleged crimes.
Simons’ father regrets not being stricter with his now 34-year-old son when he was young. Friends recount the now-apparent warning signs of drug abuse that they say is a likely motive in the burglary spree. Victims lament the loss of precious personal items and the violation of being burgled.
And those who know Simons as a talented musician and an intelligent and caring Yellow Springs native find a tragic situation in the burglaries, not just for the burglary victims but for the accused perpetrator as well, who is seen as a victim of his own drug addiction.
Simons and 33-year-old Bianca Stone Chappelle, a couple living together in Xenia, were indicted this month by a Greene County grand jury on felony charges related to burglary and money laundering. Between January and May they allegedly entered local homes forcibly and through open doors and windows during daytime hours and took cash, jewelry, currency and other valuables. The couple, who remain jailed pending release on bond, are to go on trial in June.
To one burglary victim, Connie Crockett, the impact on the community is the most harmful outcome.
“It’s tragic,” Crockett said. “The first people hurt are of course the family. We are auxiliary to that….It’s not real to me that I was betrayed by someone I knew because I didn’t witness it. But it rends the fabric of community. To me that’s a greater loss.”
Trying to make sense of it
Simons’ friends and family are trying to understand what went wrong.
“It’s a shame this happened,” said one longtime friend, who asked not to be named. “The only reason he could have done this was out of pure addiction. He’s not a bad person, he cares about people and people’s privacy. Something must have got the better of him.”
Added Steve McQueen, another local friend: “I don’t think he purposely meant to cause the fear — and it’s the fear you never get over. At that point, I can only say drugs took over. I don’t think it was something that was well thought out or calculated.”
Friends and family suspect Simons’ need to support a drug habit was a major factor in the burglaries. Simons has fought drug addiction since the late 1990s, when he began taking methadone for heroin withdrawal, according to his father, Jeff Simons. He has also struggled with the abuse of the benzodiazepine Klonopin, a drug prescribed to treat anxiety. Police recovered drugs and drug paraphernalia, including syringes, at Simons’ and Chappelle’s Xenia home.
Simons is best known locally as a musician who played in local bands. He was a one-time member of Paul’s Apartment and more recently was in the classic rock band 767. He is adept at the mandolin in styles ranging from bluegrass, folk and Celtic to Latin, rock and funk, and can also play guitar and bass guitar. In the fall he started a music instruction business for local kids with a friend, telling the Yellow Springs News that he hoped to give back to the community.
Simons declined to be interviewed for this article.
Simons was born at his home outside Cedarville in 1978 and grew up in the village. The son of Jeff Simons and Christina Hess, who died of cancer in 2011 at age 58, Simons’ childhood was steeped in music, seeding a lifelong love. Both parents, who later divorced, were musicians — Jeff played classical guitar and Hess, who was also a solo performer and songwriter, played guitar with the local Celtic band Heartstrings. Simons’ stepfather, Chris Moore, is a jazz cornettist. The younger Simons first played the mandolin as a youth at the Antioch College Shakespeare Festival.
When Simons was 16 he dropped out of Yellow Springs High School. He would have graduated with the class of 1997. Instead, he became a follower of the Grateful Dead known as a “dead head,” during which he saw about 200 live shows and was likely first exposed to hard drugs, one longtime friend said.
John Gudgel, who was the YSHS principal when Simons dropped out, said Simons was “an engaging kid” who got along well with others, had no discipline issues and just lost interest in school. He regrets that YSHS couldn’t do more to keep him.
“You feel like as a school we have not been successful meeting the needs of our students, which saddens me considering what has taken place in recent weeks,” Gudgel said. “When you don’t finish school it limits opportunities.”
Simons later earned his high school equivalency while in jail.
Jeff Simons said he disagreed with his son’s decision to quit school, even though Simons was not a good student at the time. Though his parents divorced when Oliver was five years old, he and his father had a lot of good times together in his childhood, his father said. But Simons said he wishes he had been harder on his son when he began experimenting with drugs as a teen.
“I really regret not having been more forceful, more demanding, more hard-ass about [drugs],” he said. “I couldn’t foresee [the burglaries] happening, just like I couldn’t foresee him putting a needle in his arm because he was petrified of needles. I just never conceived that it would be this.”
The younger Simons then spent many years traveling around the U.S. and Mexico with friends, playing music. While living in New York City he played music for a Celtic musical and taught music lessons, according to one friend. He was in and out of methadone clinics while there and would disappear for a week at a time before turning up on the street, his longtime friend said. Simons slept in halfway houses and on the street and was often hospitalized, according to his father. According to Stephanie Blackburn of Xenia, a lifelong friend of Oliver’s mother and a chemical dependency counselor, during that time Simons was likely adjusting his prescribed methadone doses. She said he had “an addiction mindset.”
“He thought — ‘I’m bigger than this. I can do no wrong. I’m strong, I’m powerful.’ I would argue with him,” Blackburn said.
Over the years, Simons also tried to quit benzodiazepines, which he has used for the past decade, but would suffer epileptic seizures, a serious withdrawal symptom. The drug has anxiolytic, anticonvulsant, muscle relaxant, sedative, and hypnotic properties. In January 2012, Simons was admitted several times to Greene Memorial Hospital for seizures, one time staying for more than a week, according to his father.
When Simons returned from New York City last summer he was no longer using methadone or heroin and was focused on starting the music instruction business for local youth, his longtime friend said. Simons was even sending money from New York before he returned, to help pay for a teaching space.
“He wanted to come back here and make his family happy that he was doing something constructive,” said the longtime friend. At one point he had four students, according to McQueen, but the business never quite got off the ground.
McQueen and Gigi Davis, who both became close friends of Simons over the past year, said Simons wasn’t using hard drugs to their knowledge. McQueen said Simons was extremely laid back with a great sense of humor and that he was grateful to Simons for encouraging him to return to playing the drums. Davis, who gave Simons a place to live for a time, said Simons was generous, “always made sure people were cared for” and one time spent all day helping her move when she only had one day to do so.
But late last year Simons stopped hanging out with local friends and stopped returning their phone calls. According to McQueen, Simons and Chappelle, now a couple, got married in New York and were living in Xenia. Both of their phones were disconnected. Simons stopped using Facebook.
“He went from being social to not being social at all — he flipped,” McQueen said. He now recognizes Simons’ hiding from his friends as indicative of drug use and wishes he would’ve done more. However, McQueen saw no signs of criminal behavior and his concerns were allayed since the couple continued to drive Chappelle’s three children, who were living with them in Xenia, to Yellow Springs Schools.
“I feel like I could have done something,” McQueen said. “Maybe I should’ve reached out more. By respecting their space, it turned into something where they obviously got into trouble.”
Police said that between January and May, Simons and Chappelle burgled nine Yellow Springs residences, stealing cash and valuables which were taken to pawn shops, including some out of the area. Police said that there is physical evidence linking them to the crimes and they are not looking for other suspects. Neither Simons or Chappelle had previously been convicted of such a serious offense. But Simons did have frequent run-ins with the law and one time spent three months in a Franklin County jail for failing to appear in court after he was given probation for stealing Indians tickets from a Cleveland hotel room in 1998, his father said. Chappelle was charged with theft in February and has several other misdemeanor charges dating back to 1998.
Anna Francis, one of those burglarized, had precious jewelry of sentimental value to her and her partner stolen, including family heirlooms. Francis believes there is little chance of recovery, because while police said they found some items in Simons’ and Chappelle’s Xenia residence, much had already been sold to pawn shops. Although Francis was somewhat relieved to hear that the suspects were locals, the burglary was still a disturbing experience.
“It was definitely a feeling of being violated and just feeling not safe, especially that evening after discovering it happened,” Francis said. “It took a few days to get past that feeling. I’m still suspicious of people. I’m always looking around now.”
Crockett, another victim who also had been good friends with Oliver’s mother, said she found Simons as a child “smart, engaging and creative.” The burglar entered through her window and stole irreplaceable gold jewelry from Tiffany’s which Crockett’s late husband had given to her over many years. She said the burglaries didn’t make her more afraid. Instead, Crockett said the “the human tragedy of this being one of our own” has made her feel less stable in the village.
Drugs an ugly mix
In interviews, friends and family kept returning to the fact that drugs must have played a major role in burglaries. Simons’ longtime friend said Simons was expert at hiding his drug addiction and that though he had many good qualities, drugs were his undoing.
“[Oliver] is very personable, intelligent, well-read, well-traveled, talented — that’s enough right there to get you by,” his longtime friend said. “The drugs just ruined him. It’s a shame.”
Blackburn, the family friend and chemical dependency counselor, said Simons would give lip service to quitting hard drugs because that’s what his mother wanted to hear. Over the years Hess would try to support Simons’ creative side, one time buying him a mandolin so he would have a “creative emotional outlet,” Blackburn said.
“On the non-judgement side, you have a craving your body needs,” Blackburn said of his dependency. “[Hess] cared about him deeply. She tried the tough love with him but she would end up reaching out to him and helping him in constructive ways, not just sending cash.”
His mother’s death in May 2011, which family members did not expect, hit Oliver hard, his longtime friend said.
Blackburn said Simons could have benefited from better detoxification programs, such as those that monitor methadone doses in inpatient settings and deal with both the benzodiazepine and opiate addictions. Instead, such services are being shut down across the state, she said.
Jeff Simons said it was likely his son’s addictive personality together with an “ugly mix” of drugs that created the irrational and delusional thinking that he could get away with the burglaries. Simons added that the legal system didn’t fail him.
“I’ve dealt with judges, detectives, cops, public defenders and every one of them did their best to help Oliver,” Simons said. “I never met a single one of them that was out to get him. If anything, they would say he doesn’t belong in this. He’s a good kid, a smart kid. He’s got to get his act together.”