‘Til Death Do Us Part — (St. Paul Pioneer Press)

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St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)

March 17, 1991

Author: BYLINE: Lynda McDonnell Staff Writer[]

Behind the lace curtains of his home in Sunfish Lake, Dr. Douglas Simmons was drunk and angry, cursing and throwing dirty dishes. Outside, on the front deck, his sobbing wife, Linda, huddled with their children and waited for the police.

The two veteran cops who answered Linda’s call that Friday evening last July sized up the limits and dangers of the situation. Doug hadn’t hit anyone, so they couldn’t charge him with assault. They gave Linda a pamphlet for abused women. They gave Doug some advice: Spend the night elsewhere; sober up and cool down. He seemed to agree: “I wouldn’t leave me here with that woman.”  Before the cops hauled Doug to the county detox center, one played peacemaker. “There are three words you need to exchange,” he told the couple.

“I love you,” Linda told her husband.

“You f—ing bitch,” Doug answered.

Two days later, 40-year-old Linda Simmons was dead, shot through the head with a 9mm Browning pistol as she tried to leave the house with her two sons. Douglas Simmons, 41, a respected St. Paul pathologist, was arrested by the same cops who sought to calm things Friday night.

Six days later, Linda lay in a casket, and Doug sat in jail, charged with murder. Among the funeral flowers at House of Hope Presbyterian Church on Summit Avenue was a large spray of white gladiolus and red roses from Doug. The card said,  “I love you.”

The mind does not want to believe that the heart can hold love and hate in equal measure. Those who loved the Simmonses – her vivacity, his humor, their devotion to their children – look outside the heart to explain why Douglas Simmons killed his wife July 22 and killed himself Feb. 1.

He did love her, they say. So they blame the booze, the desire for wealth, the anti-depressant drug he used. They point to Linda’s troubled childhood, the crippled marriage, the judges who released him from detox and jail. It was a moment of madness in a good man’s life, they say.

The Simmons’ tragedy cannot be catalogued as a simple tale of villain and victim, a man overcome by chemicals and a woman overcome by a man. Rather, it is the story of people trapped – by alcoholism, wealth, fear and, most of all, by themselves.

Alcoholism was tightening its noose around Douglas Simmons that Friday in July, choking his career and marriage. A medical official had threatened to report him to the state medical board. After sharing Doug’s life for 20 years, Linda was weary of the struggle against his drinking and edging toward divorce.

Based on police records, court files and extensive interviews with friends, relatives, lawyers and counselors, it is clear that Doug and Linda Simmons were, like most of us, creatures of contradiction. The man who was sarcastic and crude when drunk was a talented doctor who could be witty and generous when sober. The woman who delighted friends with her curiosity and amusing stories could scream like a child and be fastidious to the point of obsession.

Their relationship mirrored those contradictions. Since they met as students at the University of Minnesota, their union swung between empathy and blame, affection and abuse. They “kept chipping away at each other over the years,” Fred U’Ren, Doug’s closest friend, told police.

Linda Simmons was growing stronger in the months before she died, her friends and counselor say. She distinguished her fight with depression from her husband’s fight with alcohol. She began to view his demeaning words and unpredictable behavior as abusive.

Several times before when Doug was drunk, Linda sought refuge with the children at a motel or a friend’s house. That Friday, for the first time, she called the police. But that night, as so often, Doug’s wealth, intelligence and status shielded him from consequences without saving him from himself.

Doug Simmons grew up on a quiet block of Blair Avenue, where the neighbors included a milkman, a barber, a draftsman. His father, Lloyd, was a printer who also worked part-time at a pharmacy. Lots of kids lived in the modest homes of St. Paul’s Midway area in the 1950s. And families stayed put. Doug had the same pals from grade school to college.

Lloyd Simmons was a cautious man. He had a degree from Hamline University, but would not abandon his secure printing job for a loftier post. As a fervent, teetotaling Methodist, he shunned restaurants that served beer.

Mabel Simmons stayed home to care for their two adopted children and Doug, her baby and only biological child. For years, she took in infants for the Children’s Home Society, mothering them in the weeks between birth and adoption. Friends remember her as wry and quiet, the heart of her family.

Before Lloyd and Mabel died in the mid-1980s, the family had its trials. Mabel was addled by Alzheimer’s disease; Lloyd put her in a nursing home and dated another woman. Doug adored his mother; he visited her faithfully in the nursing home, bringing ice cream and chocolates.

As a child, “Dougie” Simmons wanted to know how everything worked. He dismantled alarm clocks and attacked every hinge in the house with an oil can. Doug and a friend once pestered a sandblaster at a nearby church with so many questions, he gave the boys each a nickel to go home. A 1958 newspaper article about his mother’s foster parenting described him as the family scientist, and pictured him – a 9-year-old with a blond crewcut – squinting into a microscope.

He was stubborn, but good-humored. A childhood friend remembers encountering Doug at the neighborhood grocery a week after they tangled on the boy’s lawn; Doug made a fist, then grinned – and the feud was over.

Doug and his buddies joined the swim team, bought motorcycles, carpooled to Central High School. In the summer, they worked as counselors at Camp St. Croix. In the winter, they worked out at the Midway YMCA. Yet even with his friends, Doug was competitive. He exercised longer than anyone else, and was a tenacious lightweight wrestler. He could be absent-minded; in the bitterness of winter, he wore a light jacket, sneakers instead of boots, no hat. He dated, but it was nothing serious. Doug was shy with girls, his brother says.

And he was busy with his studies. By high school, Doug had become interested in how the body functions. He dissected animals killed by cars, and brought a medical book to camp to look up possible reasons for his aches and pains. He worked his way through college and medical school at the University of Minnesota. As a part-time orderly at Midway Hospital, six blocks from his home, he befriended the top pathologist and gained permission to watch autopsies. In time, Doug would become Midway’s chief pathologist, analyzing tissue samples to diagnose diseases, dissecting corpses to find the cause of death.

A pathologist is a doctor’s doctor, Doug told his college friends. He never deals with sick people, never gets calls in the middle of the night. The neighbor ladies on Blair Avenue approved of his choice; with his baby face, Dougie would have a hard time getting patients to take him seriously.

Linda Simmons twirls flaming batons in her father’s favorite photograph. She is 16 or 17, straight-backed and solemn as she concentrates on burning patterns of light into the darkness.

She was the oldest of four children and Daddy’s pet, with curly hair her father describes as “the color of a new penny.” During high school in Faribault, she made the honor roll, played saxophone and was lead majorette.

Linda spent her youth following her father to a string of backwater towns like Waco, Texas, and Ord, Neb., where Richard Stoddard worked as an announcer and news director on radio stations. Between ages 6 and 15, when her family finally settled in Faribault, Linda lived in seven towns.

Linda’s mother, Bea Burmeister, and her sister, Deborah Hempel, say Stoddard was big on dreams and short on cash. He also possessed a hair-trigger temper. The family “walked on eggshells,” Hempel says, lest they provoke him to lash out with words or the back of his hand.

He once threw a Sloppy Joe at his wife when she served him leftovers, they say. When his daughter Deborah chewed her corn on the cob too loudly, he made her eat on the floor “like a pig.” Another time, they say he slapped his wife, breaking her eardrum, because she had ignored Linda’s sister’s
late-night request for an apple.

“Take the apple,” he ordered the girl. By then, the 10-year-old child was too frightened to eat. She hid the apple in her dresser drawer, lay down on her bed and sobbed.

In those days, you didn’t dare call police for fear it would make matters worse, says Bea Burmeister. A mild woman, she divorced Stoddard after they settled in Minnesota, where she was close to her family. She has remarried.

Stoddard refused to discuss the family’s history. “It was a troubled relationship between Linda’s mother and myself. That’s where it ends,” he said. “I do become very angry and very suddenly but about things that stretch back a long time.”

Linda was 18 when her parents separated. Then, and for the rest of her life, she was torn. She was angry at her mother for the divorce and wanted to make her father happy. But she yearned at times to cut off contact with Stoddard, who would disappear for months before turning up in need of money and a place to live.

Stoddard says he knew nothing about the conflicting feelings Linda described to friends, relatives and her therapist. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “Linda and I always had completely open communication. She never expressed that to me.”

His pride in Linda is evident. In the living room of his cramped Northfield apartment, four snapshots of Linda, Doug and their children are the only photos on display. He brags that Linda so impressed her third-grade teacher with a spontaneous drawing of the solar system that she was allowed to study science with older children. Her interest in science, he says, was “probably following her father’s direction”; Stoddard was a combat medic in the Navy.

To demonstrate his daughter’s affection, Stoddard produces two sets of sweat shirts and sweat pants, still in their boxes. They were a Christmas present from Linda, who wanted him to exercise more. “Every time I look around here, all I see is gifts from Linda,” Stoddard said.

Even now, after Linda’s murder and Doug’s suicide, Stoddard remains loyal to his son-in-law. He wrote to Doug in jail and tried to block photographers from taking Doug’s picture outside the courtroom. He blames the demands of Doug’s job and use of anti-depressant drugs for Linda’s death.

“Doug was a teddy bear. He isn’t a killer,” Stoddard said.
***

In a snapshot from the early 1970s, Linda and Doug sit on a sofa in front of a Christmas tree in her Minneapolis apartment. She is slim and pretty, with long red hair. He has a mild, doughy face, shaggy blonde hair and an arm flung around her shoulder. They always looked great in photographs. Their clothes were casual, their smiles relaxed. They seemed to fit each other.

Doug brought humor, intelligence, family loyalty and a strong work ethic to the relationship. He also brought stubbornness, an insecurity with women and streaks of arrogance.

Linda brought intelligence, energy, a desire to please others and a hunger for the stability she lacked as a child. She also brought a dependent nature, the memory of marriage as chronic conflict and a tendency to depression.

They met in college. For a time, Doug dated another woman as well. Depressed about many things, Linda swallowed a bottle of aspirin and cut her wrists. Her suicide attempt became a strand in the twisted cord that tied Doug to Linda in sympathy and resentment.

When Filus Bruneau and Mary Zupancic met Linda in 1973, she already was looking forward to being a doctor’s wife someday. She had quit school and worked as a technician at the university’s pediatrics lab while Doug was in medical school.

Most of the time, Doug was unpretentious, funny and intense about his work. He didn’t snub secretaries and technicians, as some med students did. He wanted to help Linda overcome her depression. She was proud of his intelligence and hard work. Both loved science and travel. Both wanted the money and status they lacked as children.

They could be charming and generous friends. Linda was an avid shopper and knew a bargain. If a friend collected flamingos knick-knacks or needed a crib, she’d find the items at garage and estate sales. When single women friends came to dinner, Doug phoned to make sure they’d gotten home safely.  When Zupancic had an eye problem, Doug used his influence to get her an immediate appointment at the Mayo Clinic.

But from the beginning, friends worried about Doug’s condescension and Linda’s compliance. The first time Bruneau met Doug, he berated her and Linda for reading “Chariot of the Gods,” a best-seller about ancient space aliens. “Only people who are stupid read Von Daniken,” Doug sneered. Embarrassed that she hadn’t finished college, Linda urged Doug to share what he was learning in medical school. Zupancic, a scientist in the university’s microbiology department, remembers him telling Linda: “Repeat this after me and if you can’t remember it … you’re stupid.”

They lived together in Rochester during Doug’s residency at the Mayo Clinic. But Linda complained to girlfriends about Doug’s unpredictability, his overbearing ego, his obnoxious behavior when drunk. Then, and later, Doug complained about Linda’s nagging, her spending, her depression, her frigidity, her inability even to get supper on the table on time.

“They were either bitching about each other uncomfortably or they couldn’t keep their hands off each other,” said Dr. Fred MacInnes, a Washington pathologist who knew the Simmonses since he worked with Doug at Mayo.

Doug completed his residency in 1979. He and Linda planned a small family wedding in Faribault that summer. The cake and flowers were ordered, the hall reserved, the minister hired. Shortly before the wedding, they called it off. Linda told friends Doug feared he’d have to share his money if they ever divorced.

Then one evening that August they got married in a minister’s back yard; only Doug’s parents attended. Linda wore a denim skirt. They sipped catawba juice and cut a cake from a convenience store. There was no honeymoon; years later, it was all retold as an amusing tale of youthful jitters and improvisation.

There were lots of second honeymoons. In a photograph from one of them, Linda and Doug embrace in evening shadows on a Hawaiian beach, backlit by a brilliant sunset. She wears a bikini; he wears trunks.

To Laurie MacInnes, a longtime family friend, the trips bespoke Doug’s love for Linda. She remembers the Christmas that Doug gave Linda pieces of paper cut with pinking shears; Linda assembled the puzzle and found an itinerary for the West Indies.

To others, the vacations fit a disturbing pattern: A big upset was followed by an emotional reunion followed by a lavish gift or trip. Over the years, Doug and Linda reconciled their domestic disputes in Greece, Barbados, Disneyworld.

In time, even the honeymoons failed. After a fight in Texas, Doug packed his clothes and flew home alone. He once abandoned her and the children at a Wisconsin resort, taking their money and credit cards and hitchhiking home.

For years, Linda agreed with Doug’s diagnosis: She was the problem. She was depressed. She found little pleasure in sex. She behaved compulsively at times, spending thousands of dollars at garage sales and consignment shops for things she didn’t need. She could spend hours searching for a missing piece to a game.

In 1982, Linda sought therapy; she thought her emotional problems might be blocking attempts to get pregnant. If she were healed, her husband wouldn’t need to drink or destroy her credit cards.

Eileen McGinley, a licensed social worker in St. Paul, saw Linda’s shopping and other compulsions as an escape from deeper problems. Linda could keep track of the pieces of games; pieces of her life were not so easily held together.

McGinley also suspected Doug had a drinking problem. “He’d stop at bars on the way home, not tell her and come home drunk,” she said. “He wouldn’t do it often, but he did it too often to be normal.”

About that same time, Linda called Physicians Serving Physicians, a voluntary program that offers confidential support to chemically dependent doctors. When a counselor checked back with Linda, she said she no longer needed help. Doug was drinking less and his attitude was better. And Linda was pregnant with her first child; she didn’t want to upset things.

Linda clung to the happy times and the material comforts of her marriage. She felt she could handle her husband’s continued verbal assaults, and learned to retaliate with her own sharp tongue. She often excused his cruel words as the utterances of a man too drunk to know what he was saying. She told Laurie MacInnes: “My heart goes out to him because if he remembers the next day, he’s so sorry.” And Doug’s attacks were rarely physical – just a few slaps, she told friends. Last spring, Linda assured MacInnes that Doug had not hit her.

“She didn’t know it was abusive because compared to her father, it wasn’t bad,” McGinley said.

Linda also blamed herself for Doug’s behavior. “Some core part of her felt he was right, that the problem was hers,” McGinley said.

So Linda tolerated the barbs Doug flung, even in front of friends and strangers. “You know these redheads. They never get enough sex and chocolates,” he said at a party. He chided her for the easy life she bought with his money. Even as he supported her efforts to get well, he belittled her:  “See how much I love my wife,” he told his sister-in-law. “Look how much I’ve spent on her counseling.”
***

Doug preferred a tangible return on his investments. He owned part of an Edina apartment building and played the commodities’ and stock markets; his salary and investment income totaled as much as $250,000 a year.

He also invested in guns, pricey Kimber rifles and Ruger pistols that would increase in value. Guns, he could hold. Guns, he could show off. When friends visited, Doug passed around his newest gun as others might pass around a graphite fishing pole or heirloom jewelry.

Doug rarely hunted. He sometimes shot at targets and blackbirds at his in-laws’ farm near Faribault. He told Bruneau that he slept with a handgun under his pillow for a time “to protect my beautiful wife.”

The guns made Linda nervous. She didn’t know exactly how many he had. She didn’t know exactly where he kept them. Police later would find seven rifles and five pistols in the couple’s basement exercise room and the closet of the bedroom they shared.
***

More than anything, Doug and Linda wanted a happy family. The pictures that filled the walls and shelves of their home reflected that: Snapshots of the family, school pictures of the kids, professional portraits. Always, the blond children are bright-eyed and smiling; friends joked that Pepsi-Cola could use the Simmons’ annual Christmas photo in ads.

Both Doug and Linda worked hard to do right by the children, the boys born in 1983 and 1984 and the girl born in 1989. Linda interviewed teachers rigorously, joined her boys on field trips and hauled them to classes at the Science Museum of Minnesota. She planned elaborate family trips and canvassed the neighborhood for playmates. She read that children need a certain number of hugs each day to thrive, so was sure to give them at least that many.

She worried about Doug’s parenting. She complained when he came home too late to play catch with the boys. She fretted when he had the kids in the car after he had been drinking.

But Doug could be a gentle, involved father. He took time to answer his children’s questions. He taped a note to a sculpture his older son made: “This is beautiful. I’m very proud of you.” He also was protective; he once kept his older son home from a neighbor boy’s birthday party because the younger boy had not been invited. And when Linda once called Doug’s office in tears because she had been screaming at the kids, he calmed them all.

But the births of the children did not stop the fights. Once, after Doug stormed out of the house, Linda called Bruneau for help; the boys were in the bathtub and Linda was too spent to get them ready for bed.

Linda leaned heavily on her women friends, many of whom admired her dedication to her marriage.  “I always hoped someday they’d grow up and they’d fit into a mold that most married couples do,” Bruneau said. “I hoped you could call and invite them to dinner – instead of being afraid to call them, because you never knew what their relationship would be two weeks down the line.”

Over time, though, some friends grew exasperated. Linda learned the buzzwords – codependency, dysfunctional families, emotional abuse – but she could not seem to leave the marriage or break the cycle. “Nothing ever got resolved with Linda,” Zupancic said.

Doug’s friends saw him as the victim.  “Linda spent her time in counseling and going to rummage sales. She couldn’t participate in an adult relationship,” said Doug’s brother, Richard, a Mequon, Wis., businessman. “More than once, I urged my brother to get a divorce because it was a very destructive relationship.”

But Doug didn’t want to lose his children or the possessions that seemed to prove his worth, his brother says.

Linda, too, was bound by fear. “She couldn’t ever think in terms that she could take care of herself and the kids. And Doug certainly perpetuated that,” McGinley said. He threatened to give her nothing if she left. He said he would get custody of the children because of her psychiatric history. To protect herself from that threat, Linda kept a label from a bottle of Doug’s Antabuse, a drug that causes violent illness if alcohol is consumed. It is against the law for doctors to self-prescribe medicine, but Doug risked his license rather than seek help.

Doug’s habit of stopping at bars after work began when he was a resident at Mayo. If co-workers wouldn’t join him, he drank alone.

His personality changed when he drank too much. At parties, he’d boast that he was a doctor, then provoke arguments about politics, investments, medicine. He told offensive jokes, and degraded women in general and his wife in particular. Linda was “the bitch,”  “the nag,”  “the hen.”

The husband of one of Linda’s friends refused to socialize with Doug after he downed a few beers and told a crude ethnic joke. Steve Buetow, a childhood friend, remembers meeting Doug at a party for the first time in 10 years. Doug wiggled his tie in greeting across the buffet table. It was a perfect imitation of Oliver Hardy, a reminder of their boyish high jinks on Blair Avenue. That same night, another guest told Buetow that Doug was an obnoxious drunk.

Doug usually drank vodka, which carries no telltale scent. He didn’t drink every day. But every few days, he’d go on a short bender: An evening, an afternoon or a weekend of steady drinking. He developed an extraordinary tolerance for alcohol; he spoke without slurring, walked without staggering, and drove without veering across the median.

“He could fool anybody he wanted to fool,” his brother said.  “Maybe he fooled himself.”

But Linda could always tell. Doug would come home late and argumentative, and do strange things while his family slept. He cut up his wife’s credit cards and dumped her books in a neighbor’s trash can. In the morning, he often denied or forgot what he had done. Some nights when he came home drunk, Linda would shriek at him in rage and tell the children, “Don’t talk to Daddy. He’s been drinking.”

The boys knew.  “He gets a strange face and walks around stomping,” the 7-year-old told a psychiatrist after his mother’s death. The boys made signs to help their parents. “Don’t smoke” was for Mom. “Don’t drink” was for Dad.

Determined to save her husband and herself, Linda attended Al-Anon meetings, read daily meditations published by the Hazelden Foundation and learned all she could about the disease and its treatment. At times, she was so preoccupied with Doug’s drinking that she talked of little else.

Finally, in late spring of 1988, Linda could no longer manage alone. She was pregnant with their third child. In desperation, she assembled friends for an intervention to persuade Doug to get help.

The group gathered at 6:30 a.m. at the Highland Park house where the Simmonses then lived; included were Bruneau, U’Ren, Richard Simmons and two doctors from Doug’s practice. It was a brave step for Linda; she feared Doug would hate her and no one would believe her. Indeed, some were skeptical. Richard Simmons blamed his brother’s marriage for the alcoholism. Bruneau had witnessed Doug’s behavior at parties, but wondered if Linda’s stories were exaggerated. And she worried about Doug’s guns.

For the next five hours, Doug’s friends described the damage done by his drinking. He resisted their pleas and cursed his wife. Two friends drove him to the Hazelden Foundation in Center City, Minn., but he refused to go in. Only after bouncing from friend to friend for a couple of days did he agree to enter Hazelden for four weeks of treatment.

Plastic sheets covered five windows. Holes were punched in the walls. Cats had so fouled the interior that even the heating ducts had to be replaced.

But Doug and Linda believed the house at 10 Acorn Drive in Sunfish Lake could be saved. In the fall of 1988, they believed everything could be saved. Doug was sober after a month at Hazelden. Their daughter would be born in January. Sunfish Lake was a perfect address for a wealthy doctor with a growing family and a wish for a fresh start.

Built on the grounds of old estates eight miles south of downtown St. Paul, Sunfish Lake is encircled by freeways. But there are echoes of its former life. Big, expensive houses rest on wooded lots backed by acres of pine, birch and oak. There are ponds for skating and canoeing. The dirt roads are narrow and little-traveled. At the entrance to Acorn Drive, a sign says:  “Private road. No trespassing.”

The Simmonses paid $335,000 for the house. They spent more than four months and $50,000 on its renovation. They could afford the best of everything.

Linda threw herself into the house with the same intensity she directed at her children and her bargain-hunting. Under her direction, it became a showcase for a fashionable, family-centered life. She scoured country-living magazines for just the right style of fencing. Her stepfather brought hostas for the yard and corn for the deer. She hung lace curtains at windows once covered with plastic. Cedar woodwork gave way to more stylish oak. The red whirlpool in the master bath was changed to mauve.

For Doug, there was a lavish exercise room, complete with a treadmill with built-in television and stereo. His workshop held the best power tools, which he seldom used. The huge round bar in the basement was replaced with a children’s playroom. It was part of Linda’s effort to support Doug’s sobriety, although by now he had resumed social drinking.

Barb Telander found her new neighbors delightful. Linda Simmons was the sort of mother you don’t see much anymore: a full-time mom who turned off the television and taught her children about science and nature.

Telander was equally impressed by Doug. “He was fantastic. He wanted to know how things worked. He wanted to know the flavor of the community.” When Telander gave him a tour of the woods, they talked about converting the marsh on his property to a duck pond. He faithfully attended Monday night meetings of the City Council. Bruce Telander, Barb’s husband and chairman of the town’s planning commission, planned to name Doug a member.

When Linda worried about raising children in the woods, Telander gave her instructions: Teach them to swim. Show them the rotten grapevines that can’t support a would-be Tarzan. Dress them in long pants and shirts to foil brambles and mosquitoes and poison ivy.

“Leave all those plastic toys. Sell them in the garage sale,” Barb advised Doug and Linda. “Pretty soon you’ll be invited to their fort.”

Late in 1989, Doug bought an arcade-style pinball machine, the sort he might have played as a boy. He had it refurbished and sneaked into the house as a Christmas present for his sons. The following February, Linda hosted the party of her dreams. The food was catered by CocoLezzone, a chic Italian restaurant in Golden Valley. Linda glowed as she mingled with her 45 guests.

Doug wasn’t drinking that night. He was neither gregarious nor boastful. He was nervous, quiet, apologetic for having gained weight. Bruneau was unsettled by Doug’s anxiety; she assumed that he craved a drink.

One evening soon after the party, Doug led two strangers on a tour of his five-bedroom house. Linda worried they were casing the place. Like Doug, the men were drunk. But they were unlike him in other ways. That was the point.

Doug’s guests were a ghastly show-and-tell, a way for Linda to see what real alcoholics looked like. They wore dirty clothes and reeked of booze; he drank expensive vodka, owned a showplace home and wore neat clothes from the Lands’ End catalog.

After Linda emptied their bottle of vodka, Doug led them upstairs to shout abuse at her. She called the Telanders to see if she could take refuge there with the children. Later, she called to cancel the visit. Doug had left with the other men after she threatened to call the police.

Doug spent the night on his drinking buddies’ sofa; he urinated on himself.

***
Doug Simmons grew up on a quiet block of Blair Avenue, where the neighbors included a milkman, a barber, a draftsman. His father, Lloyd, was a printer who also worked part-time at a pharmacy. Lots of kids lived in the modest homes of St. Paul’s Midway area in the 1950s. And families stayed put. Doug had the same pals from grade school to college.

Lloyd Simmons was a cautious man. He had a degree from Hamline University, but would not abandon his secure printing job for a loftier post. As a fervent, teetotaling Methodist, he shunned restaurants that served beer.

Mabel Simmons stayed home to care for their two adopted children and Doug, her baby and only biological child. For years, she took in infants for the Children’s Home Society, mothering them in the weeks between birth and adoption. Friends remember her as wry and quiet, the heart of her family.

Before Lloyd and Mabel died in the mid-1980s, the family had its trials. Mabel was addled by Alzheimer’s disease; Lloyd put her in a nursing home and dated another woman. Doug adored his mother; he visited her faithfully in the nursing home, bringing ice cream and chocolates.

As a child, “Dougie” Simmons wanted to know how everything worked. He dismantled alarm clocks and attacked every hinge in the house with an oil can. Doug and a friend once pestered a sandblaster at a nearby church with so many questions, he gave the boys each a nickel to go home. A 1958 newspaper article about his mother’s foster parenting described him as the family scientist, and pictured him – a 9-year-old with a blond crewcut – squinting into a microscope.

He was stubborn, but good-humored. A childhood friend remembers encountering Doug at the neighborhood grocery a week after they tangled on the boy’s lawn; Doug made a fist, then grinned – and the feud was over.

Doug and his buddies joined the swim team, bought motorcycles, carpooled to Central High School. In the summer, they worked as counselors at Camp St. Croix. In the winter, they worked out at the Midway YMCA. Yet even with his friends, Doug was competitive. He exercised longer than anyone else, and was a tenacious lightweight wrestler. He could be absent-minded; in the bitterness of winter, he wore a light jacket, sneakers instead of boots, no hat. He dated, but it was nothing serious. Doug was shy with girls, his brother says.

And he was busy with his studies. By high school, Doug had become interested in how the body functions. He dissected animals killed by cars, and brought a medical book to camp to look up possible reasons for his aches and pains. He worked his way through college and medical school at the University of Minnesota. As a part-time orderly at Midway Hospital, six blocks from his home, he befriended the top pathologist and gained permission to watch autopsies. In time, Doug would become Midway’s chief pathologist, analyzing tissue samples to diagnose diseases, dissecting corpses to find the cause of death.

A pathologist is a doctor’s doctor, Doug told his college friends. He never deals with sick people, never gets calls in the middle of the night. The neighbor ladies on Blair Avenue approved of his choice; with his baby face, Dougie would have a hard time getting patients to take him seriously.
***
Linda Simmons twirls flaming batons in her father’s favorite photograph. She is 16 or 17, straight-backed and solemn as she concentrates on burning patterns of light into the darkness.

She was the oldest of four children and Daddy’s pet, with curly hair her father describes as “the color of a new penny.” During high school in Faribault, she made the honor roll, played saxophone and was lead majorette.

Linda spent her youth following her father to a string of backwater towns like Waco, Texas, and Ord, Neb., where Richard Stoddard worked as an announcer and news director on radio stations. Between ages 6 and 15, when her family finally settled in Faribault, Linda lived in seven towns.

Linda’s mother, Bea Burmeister, and her sister, Deborah Hempel, say Stoddard was big on dreams and short on cash. He also possessed a hair-trigger temper. The family “walked on eggshells,” Hempel says, lest they provoke him to lash out with words or the back of his hand.

He once threw a Sloppy Joe at his wife when she served him leftovers, they say. When his daughter Deborah chewed her corn on the cob too loudly, he made her eat on the floor “like a pig.” Another time, they say he slapped his wife, breaking her eardrum, because she had ignored Linda’s sister’s
late-night request for an apple.

“Take the apple,” he ordered the girl. By then, the 10-year-old child was too frightened to eat. She hid the apple in her dresser drawer, lay down on her bed and sobbed.

In those days, you didn’t dare call police for fear it would make matters worse, says Bea Burmeister. A mild woman, she divorced Stoddard after they settled in Minnesota, where she was close to her family. She has remarried.

Stoddard refused to discuss the family’s history. “It was a troubled relationship between Linda’s mother and myself. That’s where it ends,” he said. “I do become very angry and very suddenly but about things that stretch back a long time.”

Linda was 18 when her parents separated. Then, and for the rest of her life, she was torn. She was angry at her mother for the divorce and wanted to make her father happy. But she yearned at times to cut off contact with Stoddard, who would disappear for months before turning up in need of money and a place to live.

Stoddard says he knew nothing about the conflicting feelings Linda described to friends, relatives and her therapist. “I don’t believe it,” he said. “Linda and I always had completely open communication. She never expressed that to me.”

His pride in Linda is evident. In the living room of his cramped Northfield apartment, four snapshots of Linda, Doug and their children are the only photos on display. He brags that Linda so impressed her third-grade teacher with a spontaneous drawing of the solar system that she was allowed to study science with older children. Her interest in science, he says, was “probably following her father’s direction”; Stoddard was a combat medic in the Navy.

To demonstrate his daughter’s affection, Stoddard produces two sets of sweat shirts and sweat pants, still in their boxes. They were a Christmas present from Linda, who wanted him to exercise more. “Every time I look around here, all I see is gifts from Linda,” Stoddard said.

Even now, after Linda’s murder and Doug’s suicide, Stoddard remains loyal to his son-in-law. He wrote to Doug in jail and tried to block photographers from taking Doug’s picture outside the courtroom. He blames the demands of Doug’s job and use of anti-depressant drugs for Linda’s death.

“Doug was a teddy bear. He isn’t a killer,” Stoddard said.
***

In a snapshot from the early 1970s, Linda and Doug sit on a sofa in front of a Christmas tree in her Minneapolis apartment. She is slim and pretty, with long red hair. He has a mild, doughy face, shaggy blonde hair and an arm flung around her shoulder. They always looked great in photographs. Their clothes were casual, their smiles relaxed. They seemed to fit each other.

Doug brought humor, intelligence, family loyalty and a strong work ethic to the relationship. He also brought stubbornness, an insecurity with women and streaks of arrogance.

Linda brought intelligence, energy, a desire to please others and a hunger for the stability she lacked as a child. She also brought a dependent nature, the memory of marriage as chronic conflict and a tendency to depression.

They met in college. For a time, Doug dated another woman as well. Depressed about many things, Linda swallowed a bottle of aspirin and cut her wrists. Her suicide attempt became a strand in the twisted cord that tied Doug to Linda in sympathy and resentment.

When Filus Bruneau and Mary Zupancic met Linda in 1973, she already was looking forward to being a doctor’s wife someday. She had quit school and worked as a technician at the university’s pediatrics lab while Doug was in medical school.

Most of the time, Doug was unpretentious, funny and intense about his work. He didn’t snub secretaries and technicians, as some med students did. He wanted to help Linda overcome her depression. She was proud of his intelligence and hard work. Both loved science and travel. Both wanted the money and status they lacked as children.

They could be charming and generous friends. Linda was an avid shopper and knew a bargain. If a friend collected flamingos knick-knacks or needed a crib, she’d find the items at garage and estate sales. When single women friends came to dinner, Doug phoned to make sure they’d gotten home safely.  When Zupancic had an eye problem, Doug used his influence to get her an
immediate appointment at the Mayo Clinic.

But from the beginning, friends worried about Doug’s condescension and Linda’s compliance. The first time Bruneau met Doug, he berated her and Linda for reading “Chariot of the Gods,” a best-seller about ancient space aliens. “Only people who are stupid read Von Daniken,” Doug sneered. Embarrassed that she hadn’t finished college, Linda urged Doug to share what he was learning in medical school. Zupancic, a scientist in the university’s microbiology department, remembers him telling Linda: “Repeat this after me and if you can’t remember it … you’re stupid.”

They lived together in Rochester during Doug’s residency at the Mayo Clinic. But Linda complained to girlfriends about Doug’s unpredictability, his overbearing ego, his obnoxious behavior when drunk. Then, and later, Doug complained about Linda’s nagging, her spending, her depression, her frigidity, her inability even to get supper on the table on time.

“They were either bitching about each other uncomfortably or they couldn’t keep their hands off each other,” said Dr. Fred MacInnes, a Washington pathologist who knew the Simmonses since he worked with Doug at Mayo.

Doug completed his residency in 1979. He and Linda planned a small family wedding in Faribault that summer. The cake and flowers were ordered, the hall reserved, the minister hired. Shortly before the wedding, they called it off. Linda told friends Doug feared he’d have to share his money if they ever divorced.

Then one evening that August they got married in a minister’s back yard; only Doug’s parents attended. Linda wore a denim skirt. They sipped catawba juice and cut a cake from a convenience store. There was no honeymoon; years later, it was all retold as an amusing tale of youthful jitters and improvisation.
***
There were lots of second honeymoons. In a photograph from one of them, Linda and Doug embrace in evening shadows on a Hawaiian beach, backlit by a brilliant sunset. She wears a bikini; he wears trunks.

To Laurie MacInnes, a longtime family friend, the trips bespoke Doug’s love for Linda. She remembers the Christmas that Doug gave Linda pieces of paper cut with pinking shears; Linda assembled the puzzle and found an itinerary for the West Indies.

To others, the vacations fit a disturbing pattern: A big upset was followed by an emotional reunion followed by a lavish gift or trip. Over the years, Doug and Linda reconciled their domestic disputes in Greece, Barbados, Disneyworld.

In time, even the honeymoons failed. After a fight in Texas, Doug packed his clothes and flew home alone. He once abandoned her and the children at a Wisconsin resort, taking their money and credit cards and hitchhiking home.

For years, Linda agreed with Doug’s diagnosis: She was the problem. She was depressed. She found little pleasure in sex. She behaved compulsively at times, spending thousands of dollars at garage sales and consignment shops for things she didn’t need. She could spend hours searching for a missing piece to a game.

In 1982, Linda sought therapy; she thought her emotional problems might be blocking attempts to get pregnant. If she were healed, her husband wouldn’t need to drink or destroy her credit cards.

Eileen McGinley, a licensed social worker in St. Paul, saw Linda’s shopping and other compulsions as an escape from deeper problems. Linda could keep track of the pieces of games; pieces of her life were not so easily held together.

McGinley also suspected Doug had a drinking problem. “He’d stop at bars on the way home, not tell her and come home drunk,” she said. “He wouldn’t do it often, but he did it too often to be normal.”

About that same time, Linda called Physicians Serving Physicians, a voluntary program that offers confidential support to chemically dependent doctors. When a counselor checked back with Linda, she said she no longer needed help. Doug was drinking less and his attitude was better. And Linda was pregnant with her first child; she didn’t want to upset things.

Linda clung to the happy times and the material comforts of her marriage. She felt she could handle her husband’s continued verbal assaults, and learned to retaliate with her own sharp tongue. She often excused his cruel words as the utterances of a man too drunk to know what he was saying. She told Laurie MacInnes: “My heart goes out to him because if he remembers the next day, he’s so sorry.” And Doug’s attacks were rarely physical – just a few slaps, she told friends. Last spring, Linda assured MacInnes that Doug had not hit her.

“She didn’t know it was abusive because compared to her father, it wasn’t bad,” McGinley said.

Linda also blamed herself for Doug’s behavior. “Some core part of her felt he was right, that the problem was hers,” McGinley said.

So Linda tolerated the barbs Doug flung, even in front of friends and strangers. “You know these redheads. They never get enough sex and chocolates,” he said at a party. He chided her for the easy life she bought with his money. Even as he supported her efforts to get well, he belittled her:

“See how much I love my wife,” he told his sister-in-law. “Look how much I’ve spent on her counseling.”
***

Doug preferred a tangible return on his investments. He owned part of an Edina apartment building and played the commodities’ and stock markets; his salary and investment income totaled as much as $250,000 a year.

He also invested in guns, pricey Kimber rifles and Ruger pistols that would increase in value. Guns, he could hold. Guns, he could show off. When friends visited, Doug passed around his newest gun as others might pass around a graphite fishing pole or heirloom jewelry.

Doug rarely hunted. He sometimes shot at targets and blackbirds at his in-laws’ farm near Faribault. He told Bruneau that he slept with a handgun under his pillow for a time “to protect my beautiful wife.”

The guns made Linda nervous. She didn’t know exactly how many he had. She didn’t know exactly where he kept them. Police later would find seven rifles and five pistols in the couple’s basement exercise room and the closet of the bedroom they shared.

***
More than anything, Doug and Linda wanted a happy family. The pictures that filled the walls and shelves of their home reflected that: Snapshots of the family, school pictures of the kids, professional portraits. Always, the blond children are bright-eyed and smiling; friends joked that Pepsi-Cola could use the Simmons’ annual Christmas photo in ads.

Both Doug and Linda worked hard to do right by the children, the boys born in 1983 and 1984 and the girl born in 1989. Linda interviewed teachers rigorously, joined her boys on field trips and hauled them to classes at the Science Museum of Minnesota. She planned elaborate family trips and canvassed the neighborhood for playmates. She read that children need a certain number of hugs each day to thrive, so was sure to give them at least that many.

She worried about Doug’s parenting. She complained when he came home too late to play catch with the boys. She fretted when he had the kids in the car after he had been drinking.

But Doug could be a gentle, involved father. He took time to answer his children’s questions. He taped a note to a sculpture his older son made: “This is beautiful. I’m very proud of you.” He also was protective; he once kept his older son home from a neighbor boy’s birthday party because the younger boy had not been invited. And when Linda once called Doug’s office in tears because she had been screaming at the kids, he calmed them all.

But the births of the children did not stop the fights. Once, after Doug stormed out of the house, Linda called Bruneau for help; the boys were in the bathtub and Linda was too spent to get them ready for bed.

Linda leaned heavily on her women friends, many of whom admired her dedication to her marriage. “I always hoped someday they’d grow up and they’d fit into a mold that most married couples do,” Bruneau said. “I hoped you could call and invite them to dinner – instead of being afraid to call them, because you never knew what their relationship would be two weeks down the line.”

Over time, though, some friends grew exasperated. Linda learned the buzzwords – codependency, dysfunctional families, emotional abuse – but she could not seem to leave the marriage or break the cycle. “Nothing ever got resolved with Linda,” Zupancic said.

Doug’s friends saw him as the victim. “Linda spent her time in counseling and going to rummage sales. She couldn’t participate in an adult relationship,” said Doug’s brother, Richard, a Mequon, Wis., businessman. “More than once, I urged my brother to get a divorce because it was a very destructive relationship.”

But Doug didn’t want to lose his children or the possessions that seemed to prove his worth, his brother says.

Linda, too, was bound by fear. “She couldn’t ever think in terms that she could take care of herself and the kids. And Doug certainly perpetuated that,” McGinley said. He threatened to give her nothing if she left. He said he would get custody of the children because of her psychiatric history. To protect herself from that threat, Linda kept a label from a bottle of Doug’s Antabuse, a drug that causes violent illness if alcohol is consumed. It is against the law for doctors to self-prescribe medicine, but Doug risked his license rather than seek help.
***

Doug’s habit of stopping at bars after work began when he was a resident at Mayo. If co-workers wouldn’t join him, he drank alone.

His personality changed when he drank too much. At parties, he’d boast that he was a doctor, then provoke arguments about politics, investments, medicine. He told offensive jokes, and degraded women in general and his wife in particular. Linda was “the bitch,” “the nag,” “the hen.”

The husband of one of Linda’s friends refused to socialize with Doug after he downed a few beers and told a crude ethnic joke. Steve Buetow, a childhood friend, remembers meeting Doug at a party for the first time in 10 years. Doug wiggled his tie in greeting across the buffet table. It was a perfect imitation of Oliver Hardy, a reminder of their boyish high jinks on Blair Avenue. That same night, another guest told Buetow that Doug was an obnoxious drunk.

Doug usually drank vodka, which carries no telltale scent. He didn’t drink every day. But every few days, he’d go on a short bender: An evening, an afternoon or a weekend of steady drinking. He developed an extraordinary tolerance for alcohol; he spoke without slurring, walked without staggering, and drove without veering across the median.

“He could fool anybody he wanted to fool,” his brother said. “Maybe he fooled himself.”

But Linda could always tell. Doug would come home late and argumentative, and do strange things while his family slept. He cut up his wife’s credit cards and dumped her books in a neighbor’s trash can. In the morning, he often denied or forgot what he had done. Some nights when he came home drunk, Linda would shriek at him in rage and tell the children, “Don’t talk to Daddy. He’s been drinking.”

The boys knew. “He gets a strange face and walks around stomping,” the 7-year-old told a psychiatrist after his mother’s death. The boys made signs to help their parents. “Don’t smoke” was for Mom. “Don’t drink” was for Dad.

Determined to save her husband and herself, Linda attended Al-Anon meetings, read daily meditations published by the Hazelden Foundation and learned all she could about the disease and its treatment. At times, she was so preoccupied with Doug’s drinking that she talked of little else.

Finally, in late spring of 1988, Linda could no longer manage alone. She was pregnant with their third child. In desperation, she assembled friends for an intervention to persuade Doug to get help.

The group gathered at 6:30 a.m. at the Highland Park house where the Simmonses then lived; included were Bruneau, U’Ren, Richard Simmons and two doctors from Doug’s practice. It was a brave step for Linda; she feared Doug would hate her and no one would believe her. Indeed, some were skeptical. Richard Simmons blamed his brother’s marriage for the alcoholism. Bruneau had witnessed Doug’s behavior at parties, but wondered if Linda’s stories were exaggerated. And she worried about Doug’s guns.

For the next five hours, Doug’s friends described the damage done by his drinking. He resisted their pleas and cursed his wife. Two friends drove him to the Hazelden Foundation in Center City, Minn., but he refused to go in. Only after bouncing from friend to friend for a couple of days did he agree to enter Hazelden for four weeks of treatment.
***
Plastic sheets covered five windows. Holes were punched in the walls. Cats had so fouled the interior that even the heating ducts had to be replaced.

But Doug and Linda believed the house at 10 Acorn Drive in Sunfish Lake could be saved. In the fall of 1988, they believed everything could be saved. Doug was sober after a month at Hazelden. Their daughter would be born in January. Sunfish Lake was a perfect address for a wealthy doctor with a growing family and a wish for a fresh start.

Built on the grounds of old estates eight miles south of downtown St. Paul, Sunfish Lake is encircled by freeways. But there are echoes of its former life. Big, expensive houses rest on wooded lots backed by acres of pine, birch and oak. There are ponds for skating and canoeing. The dirt roads are narrow and little-traveled. At the entrance to Acorn Drive, a sign says: “Private road. No trespassing.”

The Simmonses paid $335,000 for the house. They spent more than four months and $50,000 on its renovation. They could afford the best of everything.

Linda threw herself into the house with the same intensity she directed at her children and her bargain-hunting. Under her direction, it became a showcase for a fashionable, family-centered life. She scoured country-living magazines for just the right style of fencing. Her stepfather brought hostas for the yard and corn for the deer. She hung lace curtains at windows once covered with plastic. Cedar woodwork gave way to more stylish oak. The red whirlpool in the master bath was changed to mauve.

For Doug, there was a lavish exercise room, complete with a treadmill with built-in television and stereo. His workshop held the best power tools, which he seldom used. The huge round bar in the basement was replaced with a children’s playroom. It was part of Linda’s effort to support Doug’s sobriety, although by now he had resumed social drinking.

Barb Telander found her new neighbors delightful. Linda Simmons was the sort of mother you don’t see much anymore: a full-time mom who turned off the television and taught her children about science and nature.

Telander was equally impressed by Doug. “He was fantastic. He wanted to know how things worked. He wanted to know the flavor of the community.” When Telander gave him a tour of the woods, they talked about converting the marsh on his property to a duck pond. He faithfully attended Monday night meetings of the City Council. Bruce Telander, Barb’s husband and chairman of the town’s planning commission, planned to name Doug a member.

When Linda worried about raising children in the woods, Telander gave her instructions: Teach them to swim. Show them the rotten grapevines that can’t support a would-be Tarzan. Dress them in long pants and shirts to foil brambles and mosquitoes and poison ivy.

“Leave all those plastic toys. Sell them in the garage sale,” Barb advised Doug and Linda. “Pretty soon you’ll be invited to their fort.”

Late in 1989, Doug bought an arcade-style pinball machine, the sort he might have played as a boy. He had it refurbished and sneaked into the house as a Christmas present for his sons. The following February, Linda hosted the party of her dreams. The food was catered by CocoLezzone, a chic Italian restaurant in Golden Valley. Linda glowed as she mingled with her 45 guests.

Doug wasn’t drinking that night. He was neither gregarious nor boastful. He was nervous, quiet, apologetic for having gained weight. Bruneau was unsettled by Doug’s anxiety; she assumed that he craved a drink.

***
One evening soon after the party, Doug led two strangers on a tour of his five-bedroom house. Linda worried they were casing the place. Like Doug, the men were drunk. But they were unlike him in other ways. That was the point.

Doug’s guests were a ghastly show-and-tell, a way for Linda to see what real alcoholics looked like. They wore dirty clothes and reeked of booze; he drank expensive vodka, owned a showplace home and wore neat clothes from the Lands’ End catalog.

After Linda emptied their bottle of vodka, Doug led them upstairs to shout abuse at her. She called the Telanders to see if she could take refuge there with the children. Later, she called to cancel the visit. Doug had left with the other men after she threatened to call the police.

Doug spent the night on his drinking buddies’ sofa; he urinated on himself as he slept. Soon afterward, he checked himself into Hazelden for a second round of treatment.

Doug had stayed sober for only three months after his first visit to Hazelden. When he resumed drinking, he sometimes attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, got an AA sponsor, saw a psychiatrist, swore off booze. He risked his medical license by self-prescribing Antabuse.

Doug’s efforts at sobriety were episodic and increasingly desperate. The lure of alcohol proved more powerful than his good intentions. After years of blunting painful feelings with drink, his body and the mind craved that chemical euphoria. He seemed unable to find the faith and humility experts say is necessary to overcome the addiction.

“He did not want help,” said McGinley, who told Doug in mid-1989 that alcohol was destroying his life. “He wanted me to help his wife. He believed that he could drink. And he did not want to not drink.”

Yet Doug followed McGinley’s advice and contacted Dr. Roger Johnson, a St. Paul psychiatrist who is a recovering alcoholic. The men met nine times between the summer of 1989 and February 1990. Johnson prescribed Prozac, an antidepressant. Later, he prescribed Antabuse at Doug’s request. Still, Doug kept drinking.

“He wasn’t willing to adopt the state of mind that said, `Help, I can’t control this. I must abstain,”’ Johnson said. “He never took that first step, not sincerely.”

But now, in February 1990, Doug’s own body signaled his loss of control. He knew he needed help. This time, they hoped, things would be different. Late on the night before Linda joined Doug at Hazelden for a week of family therapy, he called her. For a long time, they talked about how they could beat this thing together.

Three weeks later, Doug was drinking again.
***
Doug’s drinking apparently didn’t blemish his career. Midway Hospital administrator Ann Schrader told police he had an outstanding work record.

Two of Doug’s pathology partners participated in the intervention in 1988, says Linda’s friend Bruneau, who is coordinator of the university’s plastic surgery clinic. In the weeks before Linda’s death, fellow doctors urged Doug to enter a five-month treatment program in Atlanta, says Diane Naas, of executive director of Physicians Serving Physicians.
***
But they did not report Doug to the Minnesota Board of Medical Examiners. State law requires health professionals to report a colleague who is addicted to drugs or alcohol; failure to do so can result in civil penalties, including license restrictions. The law exempts doctors who participate in a first intervention. But if the physician starts to drink again, the exemption ends. In the fiscal year ended last June, 29 doctors were reported to the board; nearly all had their licenses restricted.

The law is designed to protect a doctor’s patients and family, board officials say. It uses a doctor’s most valuable asset – the medical license – to motivate change. The board can prescribe treatment; if the doctor fails, the board can revoke his or her license.

Doug’s three partners refuse to discuss his drinking and their failure to report it. When asked for an interview, Dr. Jack Uecker, a partner at the Midway-based Central Regional Pathology Laboratories, said, “My answer is `No’ – today, tomorrow and for the rest of my life.”

Other physicians say there is a natural resistance to reporting a colleague, a desire to let troubled doctors work things out on their own. Those loyalties are strong because the stakes are so high.

“Most of us know how hard he worked to get that degree,” said Dr. Sam Hall, an internist with the Ramsey Clinic who often works with alcoholic doctors. “And if you report it, you’re putting that on the line.”

Doug’s co-workers were not exposed to the full range of Doug’s alcoholic behavior: The mood swings, drunken rages and alcoholic blackouts. “It’s important to understand the secrecy and the conspiracy of silence,” said Dr. Richard Irons, who runs an assessment program for addicted professionals at the Golden Valley Health Center. “There were lots of people who had little pieces of this, but no one had the whole picture. There’s a resistance to act on that little piece.”

Even Linda resisted. She feared that Doug would lose his job and the family would lose its income. Perhaps that’s why she waited eight years to make a second call for help to Physicians Serving Physicians. Perhaps that’s why it took her so long to understand that she could not save Doug. He had to save himself.
***

The breakfast dishes were still dirty; limp Cheerios swam all day in milky bowls. It was 5 p.m. on a Friday evening and there was no dinner on the stove. This time, Doug’s drunken rage didn’t stop at words; he started smashing dishes.

He was desperate. The day before, he made a promise to Naas, of Physicians Serving Physicians: He would report his alcoholism to the state medical board by Monday. If he didn’t, she would.

It was a rare threat for Naas, who says she prefers to coax chemically dependent doctors into treatment – to use the carrot, not the stick. She is not a health professional and therefore is not bound by the state’s reporting requirement. But she felt the time had come for Doug to choose between his drinking and his career.

Doug also may have sensed that his marriage was crumbling. Earlier that week, Linda told her therapist that Doug cared for another woman; the attraction was at least a year old. Linda recalled that Doug had dated another woman in college. She reached an important conclusion. “She never had him. She was always competing with other women or alcohol,” McGinley said.

As Doug took out his anger on the dirty dishes, Linda called for advice and moral support. She called counselors – McGinley and Naas. She called friends – U’Ren and Bruneau. For the first time, she also called the police.

The officers found Linda and the two boys sobbing on the front deck. Doug stood next to them, screaming at Linda. He told police Linda wanted his house and his money, that her meddling was going to cost him his job. “He blamed everything on her,” Patrolman Sherman Ellison said. “She was out to get him.”

Doug phoned John Curtis, who runs Hazelden’s halfway house in Minneapolis. “John, you’ve got to speak up for me here,” Doug said. “There’s guys in my yard with guns.”

Instead, Curtis advised the police to take Doug to detox. In the police car, Doug argued: “You don’t really think I’m drunk, do you?” The admission form the police signed said Doug was swaying but speaking clearly, excited but cooperative, with glassy eyes, a flushed face and neat clothing.

That night, Linda called a few close friends. U’Ren advised her to get a restraining order to keep Doug away. McGinley advised her to rest and decide on Saturday. Linda put the children and herself to bed, expecting her husband to be in detox for 48 hours.
***

The Dakota County Receiving Center is a shabby building on the grounds of a former mental hospital in Hastings. Within hours of arriving, Doug was angling to get out. He contacted Hastings lawyer James O’Connell, who called his former law partner, 1st District Judge William Thuet.

In a later statement, Thuet notes that O’Connell was “a prominent and long-time Hastings attorney.” He described what O’Connell told him: Simmons was a pathologist who lived in Sunfish Lake, an alcoholic who sounded sober and rational and had no history of violence. He reportedly had had two drinks, broken one dish and argued with his wife, who reacted by calling the police.

Thuet did not check the account with detox counselors, the police or Linda before he signed an order releasing Doug. “I don’t think there are two sides necessarily,” Thuet said. “I believed what Mr. O’Connell told me. I still believe what Mr. O’Connell told me.”

Thuet also believes the Dakota County detox center often admits people who are not inebriated. He believes police use detox “as a private holding cell” because it can be harder to get out of detox than out of jail. He believes that by releasing Doug to O’Connell’s care, he ensured that Doug would stay away from home overnight.

Law allows drunks to be held in detox for 72 hours – long enough for the alcohol to be flushed from their bodies. About 10 percent of the people admitted in Hastings are released early by judges’ orders; a review of the records shows Thuet is among the most liberal in issuing such orders.

Joe Swanson, the burly man who runs the center, says early release defeats the center’s purpose: To keep inebriates from hurting themselves or others while they dry out, to urge them to seek additional help. “The system, where the judges intervene with us now, stinks,” Swanson said.

About 11:20 p.m. that Friday, O’Connell drove Doug to a Hastings motel. The next morning, Doug was back home.

In phone calls and personal visits that Saturday and Sunday, friends and counselors all gave Linda the same advice: Leave. Take the children and go. She refused: “Why should I go? He’s the one causing all the problems.” And she didn’t want to upset the children further. She didn’t call police again. Patrolman Ellison thinks he knows why: “The man obviously could control the system. He had the money to buy what he wanted and the connections to move people on his behalf. The system had failed her completely.”

Bruneau was shocked when Doug answered the phone on Saturday afternoon. She was worried by Linda’s weak, frightened tone. “Her barriers were completely broken down,” she said. Linda talked to Bruneau about irrelevant things – her relationship with her father, her interest in joining a new church. Bruneau urged her to leave the house. She suggested that Linda come over Sunday to help address invitations to Bruneau’s wedding. Linda suggested instead that Bruneau bring the invitations to Sunfish Lake. But Bruneau didn’t want to spoil that happy task. She did not speak to Linda again.

Doug also rejected advice to leave; he wanted to play with his kids and work around the house. He promised to attend two AA meetings Saturday. Doug and Linda agreed not to discuss what happened Friday evening unless a third person was present.

Like children, Linda and Doug could neither abandon nor settle their fight. They kept calling for someone else to step in, pull them apart and put their battle on a high shelf, beyond their reach. “They weren’t able to resolve anything by themselves,” said Naas, of the physicians’ support group.

They called a brief truce Saturday night. A baby sitter stayed with the children. Linda went to an Al-Anon meeting, Doug went to AA. They ate at a restaurant on Grand Avenue before returning home.

Sunday, the battle raged anew. They were to see a counselor Monday but called Naas to see if someone could meet with them Sunday. She knew of no one. About 4 p.m., Doug called Naas from his car phone and asked her to have him arrested for drunken driving. She instead urged him to call his AA sponsor and go to an AA club. According to the court record, Doug called his partner, Jack Uecker, at 5:30 p.m., and said, “I might be getting out of control. Please talk to me.” Uecker arrived at the house shortly after 6 p.m.

At 6:45 p.m., Linda called Naas to complain that Doug was saying things she didn’t like to Uecker. Again, Naas urged her to leave. Again, Linda refused. She was feeding the baby, she said. And she didn’t know where to go.

In the next room, court records show, Doug expressed his fear of losing his children and his home in a divorce: “This is my stuff, Jack. This is my house, this is my deck, this is my stereo. This is the cabinet that I designed and had made for it. I paid for it. I worked for it. She didn’t do a damn thing for it.”

Uecker advised him to get a good lawyer. When Doug complained about his sexual relationship with his wife, Linda interrupted. Uecker didn’t want to hear this, she said. Uecker agreed and got up to leave. When Linda said she wanted to walk Uecker to his car, Doug objected: Uecker was his friend, not hers. Uecker warned them to stop fighting; they were hurting the kids.

About 8 p.m., Linda and the boys rode bicycles to a nearby vegetable stand. The owner was just closing. He chatted with Linda about the work on the house, and the dog who had run away that spring. The boys sipped lemonade and played with a cat before they pedaled home.

According to the police report, a neighbor couple drove by the Simmons’ house shortly after 9 p.m. They stopped to greet Linda, who was tossing a piece of wood off the roadway. “Great job of keeping the road cleared,” John Thornton teased. A few moments later, Doug walked up holding a glass:  “I’m here, too.” They shook hands and the small-talk continued. Doug interrupted again: “Why don’t you move on down the road. I’m having an argument with my wife.”

Linda was embarrassed: “We don’t pay too much attention to him. He’s been drinking all day and he’s very drunk.” She took her older son’s hand, turned and walked toward the house.

The Thorntons talked to Doug for a few more moments; John Thornton hoped the chitchat would defuse things between Doug and Linda. Doug asked how the Thorntons liked their Saab, then made an odd comment about Saabs being as hard to handle as Scandinavian blondes. He patted the roof of the car and the Thorntons drove off. “Jeepers,” John Thornton said to his wife. “I haven’t seen a guy as blitzed as that just hanging around on a regular day since God knows when.”
***

Doug followed Linda into the house. Their 7-year-old described to police what happened next:

“They started fighting again and I was looking. I was (behind) my dad and I saw the gun and I started crying … I said I was really afraid and I said there’s a gun in Dad’s pocket in a crying voice and I kept telling my Mom and she didn’t understand so good.

“So then we came over by our front door and my Mom was holding my hand really tight and I wanted … I didn’t want her to hold my hand because I wanted to go away. And I kept saying I want to go away and my Mom didn’t answer. But then my Dad took the gun out of his back pocket and pulled the trigger back and then he shot like right about here.”

The child put his finger above his ear.

Linda Simmons lay dead in her front hall with one bullet through her head. Her younger son was standing on the porch. Through the window, he had watched his mother unlock the door, his father grab her arm, pull her back and fire the gun. The gunshot awakened the 18-month-old girl upstairs. She began to cry.

Doug telephoned U’Ren, his oldest friend: “Fred, I shot Linda.” U’Ren told Doug not to hurt the kids; Doug was shocked at the suggestion. He took his sons to the front porch, knelt down to comfort them and wait for the police. “Mom won’t be able to nag you anymore,” he told the boys. “Dad’s going to jail for a long time.”
***
Last fall, the Simmons boys invented a game. “The Lost Children” had simple rules: The younger boy and his cousin were lost. The older boy and another cousin were policemen who helped them find their way home. Over and over in fantasy, the children went home again.

After Linda’s death, while Doug was awaiting trial for her murder, their children lived with relatives until they were reunited in the home of their legal guardians. The St. Paul couple are among the Simmonses’ oldest friends and have young children of their own.

The boys have done well in new schools and laugh when their older cousin clowns around. They show no signs of shock or physical distress. Dr. John Gilbertson, a psychiatrist who reported to the court, thought the boys might suppress their fears; they are receiving short-term counseling.

Mostly, the boys have worried as children do – with innocence and indirection. The older boy is a quiet and responsible first-grader. He didn’t know what to say when other kids asked why he didn’t live with his parents. He sometimes woke up sobbing at his aunt’s house last fall; he said nothing when she held him in her arms. The younger boy, more talkative and demonstrative, dreamed that his cousin drilled a hole through his brother’s hand and his brother died.

When the psychiatrist asked the boys to make three wishes, he reported that the 7-year-old answered: “Mother be alive. Dad be out of jail. We were all a happy family.” The 6-year-old wished “for everything in the world.” That way, he wouldn’t need more than one wish.

The older boy worried that Dad was in a sad, boring place. He worried that he would have to take care of Dad’s drinking now that Mom was gone. He tried not to think about Mom. He wanted to send his father a postcard that said, “I love you.”

Their baby sister uttered her first sentence last October: “Hi, how are you?”

As Doug’s trial neared, 1st District Judge Leslie Metzen was acutely concerned with the children’s welfare. She asked reporters not to publish their first names. She agreed to take the boys’ testimony on videotape rather than make them speak in a packed courtroom.

On Dec. 14, Doug greeted his sons in an emotional embrace outside the courtroom where the videotape was made. Metzen then granted Doug liberal visitation privileges. A psychiatrist testified that Doug had been a loving father; seeing him would ease his children’s worries. The psychiatrist hoped Doug would talk to the boys about getting on with school and the rest of their lives and would help them “separate out the work of children” from the work of adults.

In the next six weeks, while he was living at a halfway house in Golden Valley, Doug visited his children as much as his restricted schedule allowed. Sundays and a few evenings each week, they talked and played games. Occasionally, they went to a movie. Without the kids, Simmons told his lawyer, he’d have no reason to live.
***
The murder trial was set for this month. Ronald Meshbesher, one of Minnesota’s premier defense attorneys, pleaded Doug not guilty and planned a four-pronged defense: intoxication, temporary mental illness, mental illness and temporary mental illness induced by intoxication.

Doug was too drunk to know what he was doing when he shot his wife, Meshbesher says; he could not remember firing the pistol. And he was pushed to violence by Prozac, the lawyer says. The popular but controversial antidepressant has been blamed for causing severe suicidal feelings in a few patients.  “The guy was going,” Meshbesher said. “It was a gradual process. It was like a volcano erupting.”

Doug began defending himself the night he killed his wife. At the police station, he cried that Linda “has been mean to me for five years.” He complained that no one had answered his calls for help. He demanded a lawyer and a blood alcohol test. Then he beat his face with his fists.

Doug was kept under close watch during his early weeks at the Dakota County jail. He spoke daily with the chaplain. He told friends he wished he had put the gun to his own head. In a letter to Linda’s father, he described his concern for his children and the “hideous nightmare” his life had become.

But by October, the risk of suicide seemed to have passed. Judge Metzen released Doug on $100,000 bail. She stipulated that he live in a halfway house, take Antabuse under a doctor’s supervision and have his whereabouts monitored electronically. Given Doug’s background, Metzen did not think he would flee or harm anyone, including himself.
***
Doug lived with 15 other men at Damascus Way, a Christian halfway house in Golden Valley. His scuffed, impersonal room housed two roommates, two sets of knotty pine bunkbeds and two dressers. He called friends and his children from a pay phone in the hall. A machine in the room rang at odd times, and checked on Doug by having him stand in front of a small video camera.

Doug was humiliated by the machine and the constant media attention. But he participated faithfully in the daily routine of counseling and chores. He prayed each morning, read the Bible and listened to New Age instrumentals on a CD player brought from home. He held an unpaid job at North Star Services, the Christian-based construction firm that had remodeled his house. He sometimes offered other Damascus residents personal advice. At Christmas, when some of the men couldn’t afford presents for their children, Doug bought his housemates handsome bathrobes from Lands’ End. He was considered a model resident.

When he returned to the Sunfish Lake house for the first time, Doug pressed one of Linda’s sweaters against his face and sobbed. He contributed about $2,000 to a memorial her friends established at the Science Museum of Minnesota. When he saw Linda’s aunt at church one Sunday, he apologized for what he had done. At court hearings, while waiting for the judge to appear, Doug thanked Linda’s family for caring for the children. Their responses were polite but curt.

Doug worried about his upcoming trial. He grieved when he decided to sell the house where death overcame hope. Only later did friends recognize the signs that his depression had turned to despair: He skipped his prayer meetings the last few days of January. He asked to leave work early Jan. 30 because he couldn’t concentrate. He called his sons and asked them to remember his love, no matter what.

On Jan. 31, at 8:37 a.m., Doug left the halfway house in his Jeep Cherokee as he did every weekday morning. But he never reported to work. No one knows where he spent the day. Late that evening or early the next morning, as police searched for him at airports, his wife’s grave and on the wooded roads near his home, Doug drove to a cemetery not far from Damascus Way and parked.

The doctor who understood the body so well cut deeply into the brachial artery above his left elbow with a razor blade. In the quiet night of the cemetery, he lay back in the seat of his Jeep and bled to death.
***
Advocates for battered women have added Linda’s name to their ledger of victims. A state legislator wants to require formal hearings before judges release people from detox. The state Board of Medical Examiners will investigate the failure of Doug’s colleagues to report his alcoholism.

But the tragedy of Doug and Linda Simmons defies a single view of truth and a simple placement of blame. There are many who dissect what happened, trying to understand the causes of their deaths, the lessons of their lives.

William Thuet is the judge who let Doug out of detox: “If you look at it realistically, he was going to kill her. Sometime, he was going to kill her.”

Richard Simmons was Doug’s big brother: “He truly was the gentlest, sweetest guy. I think the relationship led to the alcohol and then it was the combination.”

Deborah Hempel was Linda’s little sister: “I put part of the blame on my father, the way he was when we grew up, the example he set.”

Karen Asphaug is the assistant Dakota County attorney who handled murder charges against Doug: “He was a brilliant man … He was young. He had many choices. The marriage is not the issue and it’s not the excuse.”

Laurie MacInnes was a longtime friend to both Doug and Linda:  “This was a man who was watching everything he most cared about walk out the door. He happened to have a gun in his pocket.”

Dr. Richard Irons works with chemically dependent professionals at Golden Valley Health Center: “We believe people are responsible for what they do.”

Diane Naas, of Physicians Serving Physicians, is a recovering alcoholic and an alcoholic’s widow: “I hope other people see themselves in Doug’s pattern. And I hope other people see themselves in Linda’s pattern. They can take different steps.”
***
In Filus Bruneau’s dream, she is at her friend’s house in Sunfish Lake that Saturday last July. She begs Linda to leave. Linda ignores her. Finally Bruneau cries: “He’ll kill you tomorrow if you stay.” Again, Linda dismisses the warning.

Perhaps the dream was Bruneau’s way of forgiving herself for what she believes no one, save Doug and Linda, could prevent. Now she believes this: “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Doug and Linda together again.”