Alton Coleman (November 6, 1955 – April 26, 2002) was an American spree killer, who along with accomplice Debra Brown, committed a crime spree across six states in the Midwest where 8 people were murdered between May and July 1984.
Coleman, who received death sentences from three states, was executed by the state of Ohio in 2002.
Alton Coleman was born on 6 November 1955, in Waukegan, Illinois. Coleman's mother worked three jobs, and he lived with his 73-year-old grandmother in Waukegan. A middle-school drop-out, Coleman was well known to the Illinois law enforcement community, having been charged with sex crimes six times between 1973 and 1983. Two of the cases were dismissed, with Coleman pleading guilty to lesser charges in two and was twice acquitted. Coleman was scheduled to go on trial in Illinois on charges stemming from the rape of a 14-year-old girl when he fled and began his killing spree.
Coleman was diagnosed with mixed personality disorder with antisocial, narcissistic and obsessive features, with additional diagnoses including epileptic spasms, psychosis and borderline personality disorder.
Debra Brown, one of 11 children, is borderline intellectually disabled, suffered head trauma as a child, and a psychiatrist diagnosed her with dependent personality disorder. Brown was engaged to another man when she met Coleman in 1983, but left her family and moved in with him shortly afterwards. Although a willing participant in the assaults and murders, Brown had no history of violence, or any record of trouble with the law until she met Coleman.
Wisconsin and Illinois
Coleman and Brown committed their first crime when they killed nine-year-old Vernita Wheat from Kenosha, Wisconsin. Coleman had befriended her mother, Juanita Wheat, and on May 29, 1984, Coleman abducted Vernita and brought her to Waukegan. The corpse of Vernita was discovered on June 19, 1984 in an abandoned building, four blocks from Coleman's grandmother's apartment. Her body was badly decomposed and it was determined she had been raped, and the cause of death was ligature strangulation.
On May 31, 1984, Coleman befriended Robert Carpenter in Waukegan and spent the night at his home. The next day he borrowed Carpenter's car to go to the store and never returned.
Indiana and Michigan
In June 1984, Coleman and Brown were in Gary, Indiana and encountered two young girls there, nine-year-old Annie and her niece, seven-year-old Tamika Turks. Both Coleman and Brown had sexually assaulted Tamika and Annie (who survived), and on June 19, Tamika's partially decomposed body was discovered. The day that the body of Tamika Turks was found, Donna Williams, a 25-year-old woman from Gary, disappeared. On July 11, Williams's badly decomposed body was discovered in Detroit, Michigan about half a mile from where her car was found. She had been raped and killed by ligature strangulation.
On June 28, Coleman and Brown entered the home of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer-Jones of Dearborn Heights, Michigan, where they were beaten severely. Coleman ripped the telephone from their wall before stealing money and their car.
On July 5, Coleman and Brown arrived in Toledo, Ohio, where Coleman befriended Virginia Temple, the mother of several children. Temple had stopped communicating with her relatives, and concerned about the welfare of her children, entered Temple's home and found the young children alone and frightened. Temple and her eldest child, 9-year-old Rachelle, had been strangled to death, and their bodies were discovered in a crawl space. The same morning as the murders of Virginia Temple and her daughter, Coleman and Brown entered the home of Frank and Dorothy Duvendack in Toledo, where Coleman bound the couple with appliance and phone cords which had been cut, taking money and their car. One of Mrs. Duvendack's watches was stolen, and later found under another victim. Later that same day, Coleman and Brown visited the Dayton, Ohio home of Reverend Millard Gay and his wife Kathryn. The two stayed with the Gays and accompanied them to a religious service on July 9, where the next day the Gays dropped off Coleman and Brown in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio.
On July 12, Tonnie Storey, a 15-year-old girl who lived in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of Cincinnati disappeared, and eight days later her raped and murdered body was discovered. A bracelet that had been stolen from the Temples in Toledo was found under Storey's body. Coleman and Brown were later convicted of the rape and murder of Storey, and sentenced to death for it, but Brown's death sentence was commuted, and later, in a separate proceeding, Coleman's sentence of death was overturned.
On July 12, the FBI added Coleman to its Ten Most Wanted List as a "special addition". Coleman was just the 10th person since the initiation of the list in 1950 to merit inclusion in such a manner.
Coleman and Brown bicycled into Norwood on July 13 at about 9:30 a.m. Less than three hours later, they drove away in a car belonging to Harry Walters, who was unconscious, and his wife, Marlene, 43, who had been raped and beaten to death. Harry Walters survived and later testified that Coleman and Brown inquired about a camper he had offered for sale. While Walters sat on the couch as he and Coleman discussed the trailer title, Coleman picked up a wooden candlestick and, after admiring it, hit Walters on the back of the head with it. The impact of the blow broke the candlestick and drove a chunk of bone against Mr. Walters' brain, and remembered little else of the incident beyond that point. Sheri Walters, Harry and Marlene's daughter, returned home from work at about 3:45 p.m., where she found her mother dead at the bottom of the basement steps, and her father still alive. Both had ligatures around their throats and electrical cords tied around their bare feet, her father's hands were handcuffed behind his back, while her mother's hands were bound behind her back and her head was covered with a bloody sheet. The coroner indicated Marlene Walters had been bludgeoned on the head approximately 20 to 25 times, with twelve lacerations, some of which were made with a pair of locking pliers, covered her face and scalp. The back of her skull was crushed to pieces, and parts of her skull and brain were missing. The living room hallway and basement were splattered with blood, and shards of a broken soda bottle, bearing Coleman's fingerprints, were found in the living room. Strands of Marlene Walters's hair were found on a bloodstained magazine rack located in the living room, and bloody footprints made by two different kinds of shoes were found in the basement. The Walters's car, a red Plymouth Reliant, was missing, as well as money, jewelry, and shoes which had been stolen. Two bicycles, clothes and shoes not belonging to the Walters had been left behind.
Kentucky, return to Ohio, Illinois and Indiana
Two days later, the Walters's Plymouth Reliant was found abandoned in Kentucky, where the couple had kidnapped Oline Carmical, Jr., a college professor from Williamsburg, and drove back to Dayton with Carmical locked in the trunk of his car. On July 17, they abandoned this stolen vehicle in Dayton, Ohio, and Carmical, who was still locked in the trunk, was rescued by authorities. Coleman and Brown later received 20-year sentences for a Federal kidnapping charge for bringing Carmical across a state line.
Coleman and Brown returned to the home of Reverend and Mrs. Gay in Dayton. Reverend Gay recognized Coleman, who at this time was the subject of a huge nationwide manhunt, and Coleman accosted Millard and Kathryn with guns. Reverend Gay asked Coleman, "Why you want to do us like that, like this?", and according to Gay, Coleman responded: "I'm not going to kill you, but we generally kill them where we go." Coleman and Brown took their car and headed back toward Evanston, Illinois. Along the way, they stole another car in Indianapolis and killed its owner, 75-year-old Eugene Scott.
On July 17, 1984, Alton Coleman became the 388th fugitive listed by the FBI on its Ten Most Wanted list.
Arrest and conviction
Three days later, on July 20, Coleman and Brown were arrested in Evanston. As Coleman and Brown walked westward across an intersection, they passed immediately in front of a man in a car stopped at the red light who was from Coleman's old neighborhood in Waukegan. He recognized Coleman and drove north to a gas station and notified the police. A description of the two was broadcast to police. As officers entered the area, a detective saw Coleman and Brown sitting on portable bleachers in empty Mason Park, but noted they were wearing different T-shirts. As the detective reported this, two sergeants who were driving by the park heard this, turned, and saw Coleman and Brown. As they approached Coleman, the officers observed Brown walking away from Coleman toward the rear of the park. The detective joined the two sergeants and Coleman was approached for questioning; he had no identification and denied he was Alton Coleman. Meanwhile, two other officers stopped Brown as she tried to exit the park, searched her, and found a gun in her purse. The pair were taken into custody without incident and transported to the Evanston Police Department, where both were identified by their fingerprints.
In the Evanston police station, Coleman was strip-searched and a steak knife was found between two pairs of sweat socks he was wearing. When taken into custody, they had a shopping bag full of varied T-shirts and caps. Officers learned that the pair stopped every three to four blocks as they walked and changed shirts and caps. A week after they were arrested, more than 50 law enforcement officials from Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio met to plan their strategy for prosecuting Coleman and Brown, as the two had committed crimes of varying severity within each state. Desiring the death penalty for Coleman and Brown, Michigan was quickly ruled out because it did not employ capital punishment. Eventually it was decided to give Ohio the first attempt at sentencing, with U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb stating, "We are convinced that prosecution (in Ohio) can most quickly and most likely result in the swiftest imposition of the death penalty against Alton Coleman and Debra Brown".
The state of Ohio convicted Coleman and Brown, finding them guilty of the rape and murder of Tonnie Storey in Cincinnati and Marlene Walters in Norwood, but not for the murder of Virginia Temple and Rachelle Temple in Toledo. Coleman and Brown were both sentenced to death and the appeals process began. Coleman's case was sent to the U.S. Supreme Court several times between 1985 and 2002, but his numerous arguments that his conviction and death sentence were unconstitutional failed to sway the justices.
Execution of Coleman
On April 25, 2002, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected a claim by Coleman's attorneys that the state's plan to accommodate the large number of victims and survivors who wanted to view the execution would turn it into a "spectator sport". So many victims and survivors of Coleman's crimes were allowed to witness the execution that prison officials had to set up a closed-circuit viewing venue outside of the building. For his last meal, Coleman ordered a well-done filet mignon smothered with mushrooms, fried chicken breasts, a salad with French dressing, sweet potato pie topped with whipped cream, French fries, collard greens, onion rings, cornbread, broccoli with melted cheese, biscuits and gravy, and Cherry Coke. On April 26, 2002, reciting Psalm 23, Alton Coleman was executed by lethal injection in the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said Coleman had not directly expressed remorse for the killings, but that he had "admitted what he's done in his own convoluted way."
Coleman had received two death sentences from Ohio, and one apiece from Illinois and Indiana. At the time of his execution, he was the only condemned person in the United States to have death sentences in three states.
Imprisonment of Brown
Brown, who was originally sentenced to be executed in Ohio for her complicity in the crimes, had her death sentence commuted to life in prison by Governor Richard Celeste in 1991. In commuting Brown's sentence, Governor Celeste cited her low IQ scores, ranging from 59 to 74, and her "master-slave" relationship with Coleman influencing her actions. Brown was one of eight Ohio death row inmates (including all four of the Ohio's female death row inmates) to have her sentence commuted by Celeste, a staunch opponent of capital punishment, a week before he left office. Despite her non-violent history before the spree, Brown was initially unrepentant for her acts. During the sentencing phase of her first Ohio trial, Brown sent a note to the judge which read in part: "I killed the bitch and I don't give a damn. I had fun out of it." She still has a death sentence for the murder of Tamika Turks which the two committed in Indiana. However, Brown is serving her sentence without possibility of parole at the Dayton Correctional Institution in Dayton, Ohio.
Brown only finally showed remorse for her crimes in 2005, when she recorded a video in which she apologized to the families of her and Coleman's victims.
Almost all of their victims were African-American like Coleman and Brown themselves; some authorities believe this was simply because they knew they would blend in better in the black community, and that there was no deliberate racial motive in their crimes. However, John E. Douglas, a retired FBI profiler, argued that there was at least some racial motivation behind the attacks. On page 184 in The Anatomy of Motive, he cites evidence that Coleman, in the middle of a vicious sexual assault, "went into a practically incoherent tirade about how blacks were forcing him to rape and murder other blacks." Coleman and Brown had left a racist slogan written in lipstick at the scene of the rape and murder of Tonnie Storey, their only victim who was not African-American.