Slaying of Fargo native in California desert 32 years ago remains unsolved
FARGO- Carol Armfield was just two years removed from graduation at Fargo North High School when she embarked on what looked to be a promising military career.A young woman with a life of adventure ahead, she enlisted in the U.S. Army in spring 1...
FARGO- Carol Armfield was just two years removed from graduation at Fargo North High School when she embarked on what looked to be a promising military career.
A young woman with a life of adventure ahead, she enlisted in the U.S. Army in spring 1984 after marrying David DeWayne Simonson, also of Fargo.
She went on to receive basic and specialized training, and that October, at age 20, was stationed at Fort Irwin, Calif., to serve as a battalion legal clerk at the remote outpost in the Mojave Desert.
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Less than two months later, on Dec. 10, 1984, she was found dead, left along a desolate desert freeway, strangled and beaten.
Though her husband was once charged with murdering her, the charges were later dropped and Armfield's slaying is classified as a cold case by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
Three decades later, her surviving family members - sister Connie and brothers Daniel, Larry and Jim - still wonder what happened to their baby sister.
A matter of time
Carol was born in Fargo on Oct. 14, 1964, to Luverne and Edith Armfield, the youngest of five children. Family members described her as a "gift to the family" and "our little angel."
Connie Stenhjem, her oldest sibling, said Carol loved animals, coloring, reading, climbing trees and her family. She was especially close to her father.
Jim Armfield of Fargo and Stenhjem, of Venice, Fla., recently agreed to discuss their sister's homicide, which they said continues to bring pain and sorrow to their family.
"Our wound is still very much open and sensitive," Stenhjem said.
Not long before she died, Carol had begun divorce proceedings against David Simonson. David's younger brother, Jeff Simonson, was living with the couple at their California home.
The Simonson brothers, ages 24 and 22 at the time, were originally arrested and charged with Carol's murder, but charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence.
Authorities said at the time, however, that the brothers were still considered the prime suspects, according to Forum archives.
"Someone, somewhere knows exactly what happened," Stenhjem said.
The family says their knowing who killed Carol is not as important, however, as the need for those who were, and are there, to investigate and prosecute the crime.
"We believe more could have and should have been done, by those hired to do the right thing for the good of us all," Armfield said.
Around the time of Carol's death, her mother was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer. The family's attention turned to her, while still staying in contact with those investigating the case.
Stenhjem believes Carol's murder hastened the deaths of her mother and grandmother, who died in 1988 and 1986, respectively.
Looking back, she realizes how naive the family was in thinking the U.S. Army and law enforcement officials would be on top of the case. They figured it would only be a matter of time before the criminals would be brought to justice.
"Thirty-two years later, we understand how wrong we were," Stenhjem said.
A criminal past
David Simonson was charged with various crimes and served prison time between 1979 and 1983 for theft, burglary, possession of a controlled substance and being a fugitive from justice, according to Forum archives.
Carol began divorce proceedings against David in fall 1984 and was going to meet with an attorney about it when she returned to Fargo on Christmas break, Stenhjem said. The family learned later that the Fargo attorney called Carol in California, presumably to confirm the appointment, but she wasn't home and a message was left with David.
David and Jeff Simonson had just arrived in San Bernardino County from Nebraska, where they robbed and abducted a young Ohio woman at knifepoint at a rest stop on Oct. 17. The brothers left the woman bound and gagged in a farm field and drove her car to California, where the stolen car was found and the men were arrested, according to Forum archives.
Carol's murder occurred during the time the Simonson brothers were out on bond. The brothers were arrested and charged with Carol's murder within a week, after authorities said evidence at their home matched evidence at the scene of the victim's body. That evidence included blood and a weapon believed to be used in the killing.
However, autopsy and lab tests showed the weapon was not linked to Carol's death and some of the blood was animal blood. The origin of other blood couldn't be determined. In January 1985, then-prosecutor Gary Roth dropped the charges due to insufficient evidence.
"The evidence that appeared to be very incriminating turned out not to be incriminating," said Roth, a deputy district attorney at the time.
But law enforcement said the two men remained the prime suspects.
The brothers both pleaded guilty to the Nebraska rest stop robbery and abduction, and each served about 10 years behind bars and were released in late 1995, according to Nebraska state prison records.
Their whereabouts now are unknown.
A lingering emptiness
Stenhjem and Jim Armfield say it's mentally challenging to realize Carol's murder may never be solved.
Even though they admit they don't know who did it, the family doesn't acknowledge Carol's surname as Simonson, Stenhjem said, "for obvious reasons."
At one time, Stenhjem suggested to authorities in California that they do some DNA testing, but she never received a response. She said the traumatic experience has made their family a little more suspicious and less trusting.
"The person or persons responsible for Carol's death were able to kill once and not only did they escape punishment for their actions, they probably have or would do it again," Stenhjem said.
Carol's killing is listed on a section of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department website devoted to cold cases, one of the agency's more than 120 unsolved homicides between 1975 and 2009. Anyone with information on the case is asked to call the county's homicide division at (909) 387-3589.
Carol Armfield is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Fargo alongside her father, with a military marker nearby, one of the few remembrances of a beloved sister.
The family is left wondering what their world would be like if Carol were still alive.
"It is an emptiness that will not be filled," Armfield said.
One of Carol's brothers, Daniel, wrote this poem the year after she was killed:
"In this world that moves so fast
Yet progresses so slow
I've learned one thing
The hard way, I know
We're going to hurt
But we've got to let it go
Little sister Carol who never hurt a soul
Coming home for Christmas
Killed by men
Why, we'll never know
Yes we're going to hurt
But we've got to let it go
A man who lived for kindness
His heart gave up, but not his soul
Standing by a double grave
That senselessness has made
I watch my mother go
Oh yes I know
We're going to hurt
But we've got to let it go
And give it to Jesus
Who will give us a life
Where there is not hurt, soon, we know"