Vanishing Act

A local rockhound disappears just before the Gem and Mineral Show.

According to friends, Tucsonan Chuck Simmons is a creature of habit who has established dozens of close friendships during the course of his lifetime.

He has a love affair with minerals that several times a month takes him to a mine in Morenci, Ariz., to see what treasures may have been unearthed. Simmons spent the entire year anticipating the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, which got under way at the end of January.

That's why it was so unlike the 52-year-old to mysteriously vanish a couple weeks before the start of the show, leaving only his truck--parked near the mineral emporium he worked at part-time--behind.

Simmons' disappearance bewildered friends and colleagues in the local gem and mineral industry, leading many of them to band together in hopes of finding him, according to childhood friend Scott Patterson.

"During the course of a friendship, you make certain commitments to people, and this has to be one of the most extreme tests of a friendship," Patterson said. "He has a number of friends who are willing to pull out all the stops."

According to the Arizona Daily Star, a spokeswoman from the Pima County Sheriff's Department said Simmons was last seen on Jan. 14. Days later, his truck was discovered by co-workers near Zee's Minerals, 1 E. Toole Ave, the Star reported. There were no signs of foul play.

PCSD deputies didn't respond to phone calls from The Weekly seeking comment.

Patterson, who has known Simmons since fifth grade, claimed that "under no circumstances" would he miss the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. He had just returned from a trip to the Morenci mine he co-owned, Patterson said, and was not likely to go somewhere else so soon.

"Chuck very specifically did not schedule time out of town this time of year," he said. "I know that someone who maintains a fairly routine schedule has disappeared. It was totally uncharacteristic that he'd leave town again without letting anyone know."

Patterson, who has been spearheading efforts to locate Simmons, said that he was frustrated by the PCSD's reluctance to share information about the investigation with Simmons' friends.

The missing man's immediate family has been deceased for years, so he came to think of his friends as family, Patterson stated.

Friends had to contact a "semi-distant cousin" in Phoenix in order to file a missing persons report, said Patterson. The friends have since lost contact with the cousin, making them "totally disconnected" from the investigation, he added.

In the meantime, Patterson said rumors have been circulating among the missing man's friends about whom--if anyone--is responsible for his disappearance.

Eugene Conner, who has known Simmons for about 20 years, got his start in the gem and mineral industry through his association with the missing man. He now works at wholesale dealer Top Gem Minerals, 1201 N. Main Ave.

Conner claimed that many people in the gem and mineral community owed Simmons money and could possibly benefit from his death.

Patterson said that Simmons had often loaned money to prospectors to get minerals in return; he had amassed a sizeable collection through those transactions.

Conner claimed that there are a lot of people in the "cash-starved" gem and mineral industry who lead a "rock 'n' roll lifestyle."

In addition, it's a line of work where bartering is common, meaning there's not always a paper trail when deals are made. To some, it could possibly seem shady at times, even though it's all perfectly legal.

"You've got a mixed crowd," he said. "There are a lot of cool people, but also some who are just getting by."

According to Patterson, Simmons was stockpiling minerals with the dream of one day opening a shop. Simmons, a strict vegetarian, was deliberate, straightforward and somewhat old-fashioned, he said. He didn't use the Internet or have a cellular phone.

"He was trusting," Patterson said. "It was possible for him to allow other people to become indebted to him. I don't think any of these debts worried him. As for enemies--no, he didn't have any."

Simmons' friends are blanketing the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show with fliers seeking information. They're also scouring local homeless shelters hoping to find him.

"Until anything is actually disproven, there is still the possibility that somehow he got bopped on the head and is walking around with amnesia," he said. "Personally, I'm trying to stay focused on keeping the friends buoyed and actively engaged in grassroots-level activities outside the sheriff's investigation to get Chuck's face out to the public.

"I've found myself proceeding through the clinically identified stages of grief," Patterson said. "Last week, I went through an angry phase. This is a very emotionally fatiguing circumstance for all his friends to experience."

Time may be running out. Conner said he still hopes that Simmons is all right. But he has his doubts, considering how much time has elapsed without any word.

He described Simmons as a man with simple tastes.

"There were two things he loved: He loved minerals and he loved basketball," he said. "Those were the things he was pretty passionate about. They pretty much consumed his life.

"Chuck almost had a sickness about rocks," Patterson added. "Maybe that's not the right word--more like a passion. But he loved his rocks."

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