by SEAN KIMMONS
A capital murder arrest warrant was issued Wednesday for a runaway suspect believed to have murdered a Buda resident last month.
On April 17, the decomposing body of Steven Woelfel was discovered in the charred rumble of his garage, about 20 feet from his home at 1132 Live Oak Loop. Investigators say that the 55-year old had been dead for at least a week.
Authorities believe that Mark David Simmons, 51, was staying with Woelfel and started the fire to cover up his murder. It appears that he also rigged the house to explode and possibly harm emergency personnel called out to the fire, an arrest affidavit said.
Buda firefighters arrived to the garage fire at 11 a.m. About five minutes later, an explosion blew out the windows of the home and ripped the back wall off the structure. No injuries were reported.
Investigators say the explosion was caused by a lit candle left near a disconnected gas line to the stove.
While searching the home, investigators found three empty gun cases, with the firearms possibly stolen by Simmons. A strong odor of the same cleaning product was also detected throughout the house, the affidavit said.
The murder charge, coupled with the stolen guns claim, gives authorities the right to issue the offense of capital murder, punishable by the death penalty. District Judge Bill Henry signed the arrest warrant this week.
The Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office, tasked with carrying out the autopsy, ruled the death a homicide, said Justice of the Peace Scott Cary, who oversees the area in which the murder took place.
Cary couldn’t give the exact cause of death since it is still an open investigation but sources close to the investigation say Woelfel was shot in the head execution-style.
Woelfel’s ex-girlfriend, who asked the Hays County Sheriff’s Office to conduct a welfare check on him, said that Woelfel told her that a friend named “Mark” was staying with him. He then said that Mark had been in trouble for selling guns to drug dealers in the past, investigators say.
Neighbors informed police that they saw a middle-aged white male and a silver-colored sedan at the residence days leading up to the fire. Simmons’ mother, Wanda Simmons, had said that her son stole her silver-blue 2008 Hyundai Sonata from her home in Rockport, Texas, on April 1.
The guest bedroom and bathroom in Woelfel’s home was wiped clean and bedding was stripped from the bed, as if the person living with him wanted to hide their identity, the affidavit says.
Investigators say that bedding was located in the burnt garage along with a torn-up note, matching Simmons’ handwriting, on how to clean up a crime scene.
Simmons, who has a history of mental heath issues and illegal weapons crimes, is considered armed and dangerous. He also has an active arrest warrant for illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Wanda Simmons had said that her son, a paranoid schizophrenic not currently medicated, was living with her in Rockport and employed as a ceramic tile worker. Woelfel, the victim, owned Precision Tile, a tile laying business that he operated from his home.
In 2008, Simmons completed 10 years probation for prohibited weapons charges in College Station, Texas, according to Brazos County court records.
In the early morning hours of May 2, 1997, police in an unmarked patrol car on burglary detail witnessed Simmons carrying a duffel bag into a wooded area. They later stopped him and noticed a 9mm Glock pistol and a .32 caliber Beretta automatic Tomcat pistol in his wristband and on his ankle, court records say.
Police then searched the wooded area and found three holes dug into the ground next to a metal detector. Three pipe bombs were later unearthed nearby.
A search of Simmons’ home and a field revealed more weapons in his small arsenal, including a Charter Arms pistol and three .22 caliber Ruger Mark II pistols with silencers attached to the barrels, according to court records.
Simmons advised police that he was a racist who didn’t like black people.
“Simmons spoke about how he was a racist and then about how the white race needed to start preparing for the war. Simmons stated the reason why he had the guns on him was because he was being prepared,” a police report filed within court records said.
On Feb. 11, 2010, Simmons was arrested again for illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He did not show up to his court date, which led to the active warrant being issued.
Anyone with information about this case is asked to contact the Hays County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division at 512-393-7814.
Sean Kimmons is senior reporter at the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the Mercury.