Dykes Askew Simmons, small-time Texas criminal and sometime crane operator, did not intend to stay long in Mexico when he drove there on a vacation in 1959. But after three young Mexicans were murdered by a lone man not far from where he crossed the border, his plans were abruptly changed. One of the victims did not die immediately, and she identified Simmons as her assailant. Though the dying girl had also identified a variety of other persons as the killerincluding her doctor Simmons was convicted and sentenced to death. He was the first American ever to be condemned in Mexico.
Soon Simmons became a two-way embarrassment. The U.S. State Department did not like to appear unable to protect one of its citizens abroad. The Mexican government did not want to interfere with its courts lest it appear to be giving in to its powerful neighbor to the north. In an effort at compromise, Simmons was given to understand that he would "probably" be released if he petitioned for a commutation. Since that might have implied an admission of guilt, he refused. But he had nothing against trying to escape. In 1962, one attempt got him two bullets in the leg. Last week he finally made it.
Nun Story. Just how is a matter of dispute. In Los Angeles last week Simmons told his version of the story. First, he bought a key to his cell by bribing a guard. Next, an accomplice smuggled in a nun's habit, complete with rosary beads and pancake makeup to darken his light complexion. On Sunday he put on the disguise, stepped out of his cell and joined a crowd of women visitors leaving the prison.
Mexican authorities tell the tale quite differently. The nun story, they claim, is a fabrication to cover for Simmons' brother Carroll, a fireman in Fort Worth. On the day of the escape, as often before, Carroll arrived in his car to visit. Because it was raining, he was allowed to park inside the prison. Screened from view, Dykes climbed into a secret compartment under the car's back seat and Carroll coolly drove out the gates.
Over the Border. Whichever version is true, Simmons was driven 100 miles to the Texas border, where no passports are required of Americans. He did not stay in Texas long, however, probably because he is technically wanted for escaping from a Wichita Falls mental hospital 10 years ago. Though the Mexican government says it is going to apply for his extradition, it has not yet done so.
In many ways, both the U.S. and Mexico are as happy as Simmons is, for they are rid of an embarrassment with no loss of face. But if Simmons "doesn't keep his mouth shut," warns a State Department official, "he could arouse the Mexicans' machismo and be extradited." Simmons does not seem concerned. "I'm not running anywhere," he boasts in his happy drawl. "After ten years, I've got hot showers, clean sheets, rugs on the floorno more adobe. I'm free."