Norfolk man convicted for role in kidnapping, death of Yankton woman

OMAHA — A Norfolk man will likely spend life in prison for his role in the 2018 kidnapping and killing of a Yankton woman.

A federal jury in Omaha returned guilty verdicts today against 50-year-old Ramon Simpson for kidnapping resulting in death and conspiracy to commit kidnapping. The former charge carries a mandatory life sentence.

The charges date back to November 2018. Authorities say Simpson and Joseph James got into 59-year-old Phyllis Hunhoff’s vehicle as she was heading from her mother’s home in Utica, SD back to her home in Yankton, SD. The pair kidnapped Hunhoff, went to Norfolk and dropped off Simpson. Authorities say Simpson deleted communications and location data from James’s phone.

After dropping off Simpson, James drove to the Santee Sioux Reservation and set Hunhoff’s body and vehicle on fire. Gas station video shows James arriving in Hunhoff’s car and pumping gas into a soda bottle. The U.S. Attorney’s Office says Hunhoff died from strangulation and stab wounds. Her body was discovered four days after she went missing.

Prosecutors say Simpson repeatedly lied about his and James’s whereabouts to FBI investigators.

FBI Omaha Special Agent in Charge Eugene Kowel said, “Ramon Simpson may not have killed Phyllis Hunhoff, but his participation in her abduction and kidnapping ultimately lead to her violent and senseless death.”

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

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

Simpson will be sentenced on June 30.