July 20

This Day in History

Crime

Jul 20, 1984:

A serial-killing couple is apprehended

Alton Coleman and Debra Brown are apprehended in Evanston, Illinois, after a particularly vicious two-month crime spree that left eight people dead and many more injured. Coleman had been added to the special eleventh slot on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List for actively dangerous fugitives.

Coleman had a long criminal record before he met Brown in 1983. Nearly a decade before, he had abducted and raped a woman in Waukegan, Illinois, and was sentenced to prison. Psychiatrists determined that Coleman was a "pansexual willing to have intercourse with any object, women, men, children, whatever." He was obsessed with tying up young girls for violent sex. Still, he was released and later acquitted of subsequent rape charges in 1976 and 1980.

Coleman and Brown's spree began on May 29, 1984, when they took nine-year-old Vernita Wheat on a ride in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Although the FBI began pursuing the couple the next day, Wheat's body was not found until June 19. The day before, two young girls, ages seven and nine, were walking near their home in Gary, Indiana, when Coleman and Brown abducted them. Both were raped and beaten, but one managed to escape; the other girl was choked to death.

The murderous twosome turned up next in Detroit, Michigan, where they began a pattern of accosting people and stealing their cars. On July 2, Coleman beat a Detroit couple with a pipe in their home. On July 7, the body of Virginia Temple and her 10-year-old daughter were discovered in a crawlspace in their home in Toledo, Ohio.

Their next victim, a 15-year-old girl, turned up in Cincinnati, Ohio. On July 13, Coleman and Brown bludgeoned a woman to death and stole her car. In Lexington, Kentucky, the couple abducted two men but were talked out of killing them. The last victim of the rampage was 77-year-old Eugene Scott of Indianapolis, who was killed for his car on July 18.

Coleman and Brown now faced a series of trials across the nation. Coleman was unconcerned with the death penalty at the time of his final trial in Illinois (1987), and told the court that "I'm dead already."

Coleman was sentenced to death in three states and was executed by lethal injection in Ohio on April 26, 2002. Brown remains in prison in Ohio.

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