Little Miss Murder 

A Livermore love triangle. A jealous teen sociopath. A cold-blooded plot. And one of the most chilling crime tales the East Bay has ever seen.

Page 5 of 8

The two worked together a few years back at a Livermore restaurant where Belflower was a hostess. Stauffer remembered that although she was bright, she had a dark side. "She had a temper," he said. "When things didn't go her way, she'd get an attitude, try to prove a point."

A longtime neighbor remembers a very different girl. She said the Katie she knew was sweet and no trouble at all: a cute dark-haired rail of a girl who offered to help her neighbors with their chores.

Katie's mother, Robin Belflower, declined to be interviewed for this story. But Cliff Gunther, who was friends with Katie as well as with Mike and Jenna, said Katie at times lived with her mother and brother in Livermore, and at other times stayed with her father in Amarillo, Texas. Gunther described Robin Belflower as "cool" and says he's absolutely dumbfounded as to "how she ended up with a kid like Katie."

It was at Gunther's house late last summer that Katie first met Mike Simons. He was hot: blue eyes, lean frame, and chiseled good looks. Gunther recalls that his friend Mike had two great loves -- girls and booze -- and that things between the two heated up quickly.

Simons' childhood was eerily similar to Jenna's early years. His mother, according to Mike's friends, was largely out of the picture, and his dad was in prison. He grew up in Livermore with an aunt who adopted him.

Mike was no angel. According to Jenna's grandmother, he disappeared from the valley years ago after being sent to juvenile boot camp and then to a group home to live. According to one friend, Mike said he'd stolen a car in Oakland.

After he returned to Livermore, Simons held a succession of low-end jobs -- at a local Jack in the Box, a Wal-Mart, and finally a Pleasanton car dealership, where he cleaned up vehicles that had been serviced. A co-worker there described him as conscientious. "He was very quiet and reserved," said Stan Bartosz, Mike's supervisor at the dealership. "He was very offended by cussing around him. He actually came up and got me, the manager, and had me address cussing with one of the technicians because he was very offended by it. He appeared very clean-cut and churchgoing."

But there were signs that things were off-kilter. Before he hooked up with Jenna, the young man was briefly homeless, camped out in a creek bed. One night shortly after his return, he shot a goose in the eye with a BB gun, according to Jenna's friend Nora Rinker, who also knew Mike. "He dragged it across the street and told us he was going to cook it for dinner. He freaked the hell out of me," she says.

Mike also was obsessed with the military. When he wasn't on the clock, he almost always dressed in green Army camouflage and a maroon beret. He'd started the enlistment process, and even showed up at a few parties and other events with his Army recruiter in tow.

Gunther says his friend Mike wasn't exactly the soft-spoken young man described by Simons' boss. "He was a white guy trying to be black, listening to rap all the time and speaking Ebonics," he says. "He tried to hit Jenna, and either me or another friend would stop him and say, 'Mike, don't even think about it. '"

Of course Jenna really didn't need protection, Gunther adds: "Had he ever hit her, she would have pushed us out of the way and kicked his ass. She was tough."

In his videotaped interview with detectives, Mike comes off as manipulative and mendacious. He repeatedly denies his involvement in Jenna's death, plays dumb, and repeats questions over and over in an attempt to avoid answering them. He denies he left with Jenna the night of her murder, and says the last he saw of her, she drove off to visit friends. He says he has no idea what happened to her and where she went. Confronted with the fact that detectives have videotape of him at a gas station from that night filling up her tank, he changes his story: Okay, he did get her gas, but then he went back to Katie's house.

Again and again throughout the lengthy interview, he is caught in a lie, then adjusts his story and admits a little more. At one point, Mike denies throwing the flare into her car, and insists he'd simply lit it and Jeff threw it. "I didn't throw no flare in no car," he says. When detectives confront him with the existence of a witness who saw him throw it and picked him out of a lineup, he weakens. "I threw the flare," he admits sheepishly.

Mike finally confesses, after repeatedly denying his involvement, that he'd helped plan Jenna's murder and destroy the evidence, and that he was at the scene of her execution. "I did not pull that trigger," he still insists. He was too "chickenshit" to gun her down, he tells the detectives, so Jeff did it instead. The authorities and the prosecutor on the case are convinced Simons was, in fact, the triggerman. His attorney, Ralph Cingcon, refused to speak with the Express.

Despite his admissions, Mike swears he didn't know Jenna had a life insurance policy. "Insurance money?" he asks, looking incredulous. "What are you talking about?" Pressed to explain why he participated, he says, "I just went along with the crowd."

Yet he had another side to him that in retrospect seems out of character. Acquaintances recall that he used to accompany Katie to school, and even sat with her in classes to make sure she stayed there and didn't cut out. "One day," recalls Jessica Goodness, a seventeen-year-old student at Del Valle, "Mike Simons handcuffed her to a desk so she'd stay in school. She got out of the handcuffs and jumped out the window."

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