Norfolk man sentenced to life in prison for fatal kidnapping

(Omaha, NE) -- A Norfolk man will spend the rest of his life in prison for his part in the fatal kidnapping of a South Dakota woman.

The United States Attorney's Office says on Wednesday, 51 year old Ramon Simpson was sentenced to life in prison for Kidnapping Resulting in Death and Conspiracy to Commit Kidnapping. Federal Judge Brian C. Buescher sentenced Simpson to life imprisonment on each count. Simpson was convicted by a jury in March.

Federal prosecutors say Phyllis Hunhoff regularly traveled from her home in Yankton, South Dakota to her mother’s home in Utica, South Dakota. They say her regular practice was to call her mother upon returning to Yankton. On November 4, 2018, Phyllis Hunhoff left her mother’s residence, alone, to drive home to Yankton. Investigators say she didn't 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.

Prosecutors say Simpson, Joseph James, and other men were near Phyllis’ mother’s residence as she was leaving. They say James and Simpson encountered Phyllis outside of the home and got into her car with her inside. Simpson and James kidnapped Phyllis and took Hunhoff and her vehicle to Norfolk, Nebraska, arriving at around 11:00 p.m. When they arrived in Norfolk, James remained in the vehicle and Simpson exited the vehicle with James’ cell phone. James drove 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.

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 before driving to an isolated location on the Santee Reservation 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. She had been killed by strangulation and stab wounds.

When contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Simpson repeatedly lied about his and James’s whereabouts on November 4 and 5, 2018. James pleaded guilty to Murder in Indian Country on February 5, 2020, and on July 15, 2020, was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Judge Buescher noted during the sentencing that the evidence and testimony in this case “will remain with us for the rest of our lives and will remain with the 12 jurors.” Judge Buescher also noted that on the day of sentencing he wanted to remember the victim, Phyllis Hunhoff, stating “she didn’t deserve what happened to her… the end that she came to is tragic.”

Acting United States Attorney Jan Sharp stated, “Phyllis Hunhoff was a loving daughter, sister, and aunt. She was active in her faith and volunteered in her community. Her death was a tremendous loss to her family and her community. We hope today’s sentence brings some small bit of closure to the Hunhoff family knowing that Joseph James and Ramon Simpson will spend the rest of their lives in prison and not be in a position to harm anyone again.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Eugene Kowel added, “Ramon Simpson’s participation in the kidnapping of Phyllis Hunhoff led to her brutal death. Today’s life sentence demonstrates the commitment by the FBI and our law enforcement partners to bring justice to the families who have lost loved ones to senseless, violent crime.”

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