Man in trunk ‘of interest' in open case

A man found dead in the trunk of his ex-girlfriend's car this weekend had served prison time for killing a woman in the 1980s and was a person of interest in a current investigation of a missing woman.

Ricky Dale Simonds Sr., 49, had also been under a protective order that ex-girlfriend Kim Sprenger had filed on May 27 to keep him away.

“My roommates and I are afraid,” she wrote in the order.

Police said Sprenger first noticed a strange smell in her car on her way home from work Saturday night. The smell persisted the next day as she drove friends to church in the Bradford Heights neighborhood, said Gastonia police Detective Sgt. Jimmy West. Around 6 p.m., she opened the trunk of her 2007 Ford Taurus and found Simonds inside.

West said preliminary autopsy reports indicated that Simonds died from overheating and he didn't expect any charges to be filed. Temperatures climbed above 90 degrees over the weekend.

West said Simonds may have climbed into the trunk on his own. He said police found him with a set of car keys in his pocket. Sprenger had reported her purse stolen from the car last week, he said.

The trunk had a working emergency latch, but West said it's not clear why Simonds didn't use it.

“If you get into that trunk and that heat is that intense, I'm sure that panic may set in,” he said.

West said he couldn't say whether Simonds had any weapons with him.

His cousin, Paul Husky of Charlotte, said Simonds had met Sprenger in 2003 when he started working as a painter for her family's business.

Husky said Sprenger left her husband, her south Charlotte home and her three children to live with Simonds. Her criminal record shows that she has since been convicted of fraud, writing bad checks and shoplifting.

Simonds' criminal record includes similar charges for stealing and fraud stretching to the 1980s.

Husky, 51, said Simonds had been a good person when they were kids. He said they used to go on double dates to the drive-in movies, but lost touch after high school.

“When I did see him later he was a totally different person,” Husky said. “Anything he said was lies. He was an irritable person like he hated life. He was like the devil. He made enemies everywhere he went.”

In 1986, Simonds, then 25, was convicted of manslaughter for strangling ex-girlfriend Donna Miller, 24, in her Bessemer City trailer.

After the slaying, Simonds was hospitalized for a drug overdose and charged with first-degree murder three days later. While awaiting trial, he was admitted to a state mental hospital after threatening suicide when a bondsman came to revoke his bail. He was sentenced to 20 years but released on parole in 1992, according to state records.

Recently, police said he had been a “person of interest” in the disappearance of Jamie Michelle Fraley, a 22-year-old Bessemer City woman who was reported missing on April 8. Gaston County Police Sgt. Chris Reynolds said Simonds was one of Fraley's neighbors in an apartment complex on Lowell-Bethesda Road. Reynolds said Simonds was of interest because he knew Fraley – she was dating and living with his son, Ricky Dale Simonds Jr., 31.

Simonds Jr. is not a suspect because he was in state prison when Fraley disappeared, Reynolds said. He had been convicted in January 2007 of larceny over $1,000 and served time in state prison through April 29, 2008, according to records.

Reynolds said police are still investigating Fraley's case.