UPDATE: Strangulation cause of death in ‘Lady in the Lake’ murder as arrest made

Hill Country

LLANO COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A man was indicted by a grand jury on a murder charge May 3 in connection with the death of a Buchanan Dam woman who went missing nearly 15 years ago.

The Llano County Sheriff’s Office said Jimmy Don Wolfenbarger, 57, is accused of murdering Holly Marie Simmons, who originally went missing from her home in Buchanan Dam in November 2006. Her remains were found July 2009 in Inks Lake.

According to the indictment KXAN obtained Thursday, Wolfenbarger is suspected of strangling Simmons to death using “a wire, cord or similar ligature.” He was named the suspect five years after the case was reinvestigated by the Texas Ranger starting in 2016, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Simmons’ brother, Paul Wishman, and sister, Deb Sherwood, spoke with KXAN on Wednesday and both said they were “relieved” after waiting 15 years for something to happen in her case.

“There was always that little glimmer of hope that it would happen,” Wishman said.

“Our mom had been in contact with a Detective Williams for the last 15 years, calling him once a month, getting, you know, updates and whatnot,” Sherwood said. “The phone call came in Monday morning, just before 11 o’clock, saying that, you know, they had him that he was arrested and was going to be indicted.”

Holly Marie Simmons went missing from her home in Buchanan Dam in November 2006.
Holly Marie Simmons went missing from her home in Buchanan Dam in November 2006.

Wolfenbarger turned himself in Wednesday to the Lubbock County Jail. He was released after posting a $2 million bond, according to the sheriff’s office. He was also ordered to turn in his passport.

Wolfenbarger’s bond conditions state he must undergo drug tests and refrain from using alcohol or drugs. He is required get treatment for both substance abuse and mental health while out on bond and maintain employment. He cannot be charged or arrested again in the state and must appear in district court when required.

Sherwood and Wishman said they weren’t surprised when they learned Wolfenbarger had been arrested for the murder. Simmons had been living on his family’s property, and he was her landlord at the time of her disappearance.

“What we’ve been told over the past 15 years is he was the main suspect,” Sherwood said, “but there wasn’t enough evidence.”

The siblings were both disappointed Wolfenbarger bonded out of jail.

“I don’t think he should have ever been able to have bond,” Wishman said. “He should be behind bars.”

“Hopefully he doesn’t get away, and hopefully they’ve got a good case, and justice will be served for her, her kids, her grandkids and the rest of the family,” Wishman said.

While originally of the Buchanan Dam area, according to the sheriff’s office, Wolfenbarger has recently resided Lubbock.

A case that started in 2006

On Nov. 29, 2006, Simmons, who was 45 at the time, was reported missing “under suspicious circumstances” from her home, located at 216 Cortez Trail in Buchanan Dam. She was last seen the day before sending her daughters off to school just before 7 a.m.

Both the sheriff’s office and the Texas Rangers have been investigating the case.

“Her purse, her cell phone, her car were at the house when her daughter came home that afternoon, but she was missing at the time,” said Llano County Sheriff Bill Blackburn in an October 2015 interview with KXAN.

Nearly three years later on July 7, 2009, possible human remains were reported to be in Inks Lake, which is east of Buchanan Dam off Highway 29 about 6.7 miles away from Simmons’ home.

The sheriff’s office, Texas Rangers and personnel with the Lower Colorado River Authority responded to the call. Some recreational divers had found the remains at the bottom of the lake, near its center, under the Highway 29 bridge, according to the sheriff’s office.

Investigators previously told KXAN the body was submerged in a boat 18 feet deep and weighed down by 600 pounds of concrete.

Two days later on July 9, 2009, the Texas Department of Public Safety Dive Team recovered the remains, the sheriff’s office said. The remains were taken to the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office, as the case turned into a homicide investigation.

“There was physical evidence that something did occur at the house,” Sheriff Blackburn said in the past interview. “We don’t think she left the house alive.”

Almost two months later, on Sept. 1, 2009, the medical examiner’s office was able to identify the body as Simmons through dental records. Her death was then ruled a homicide.

Today, Simmons would’ve been 60 years old. According to a KXAN Investigation from October 2015, investigators believed she had been murdered violently in her home — and that she knew her killer.

“I will say that is was a personal type of death… it was someone she knew,” Blackburn said in 2015.

New details released from the Texas Department of Public Safety Thursday said in 2016, the Texas Rangers Unsolved Crimes Investigation Program reviewed the case and assigned it to a Texas Ranger to reinvestigate alongside the Llano County Sheriff’s Office.

After a five-year investigation, Wolfenbarger was named a suspect, according to DPS. In addition to being Simmons’ landlord, he lived near her home in an RV park at the time of her death.

“He often had disputes with Simmons regarding one of her two daughters,” the DPS release said.

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