Alton Coleman graduated from troubled teenager to full-scale killing machine. But how did he end up facing four death sentences in three states?
When sex pest Alton Coleman met eager-to-please Debra Brown, it was a match made in Hell.
The couple went on an orgy of violence across America. Through the summer of 1984, they caused terror across six states. Police pursued them for eight murders, seven kidnappings, four rapes, numerous assaults and home invasions.
‘Seldom in my career,’ wrote one FBI profiler, ‘have I come across a more depraved individual than Alton Coleman, willing to rape or kill practically anyone or anything that moved…’
It began in May 1984, when Juanita Wheat met a ‘nice man’ as she hung out her washing.
Coleman, calling himself Robert Knight, befriended Juanita and her kids. That evening, Coleman took Juanita’s daughter, Vernita, 9, to pick up some stereo speakers. Her body was found three weeks later. She’d been strangled.
Next, the brutalised body of 7-year-old Tamika Turks was found in Detroit. Another 9-year-old who’d been abducted with Tamika, told police that Coleman and Brown had forced her to watch as they murdered Tamika.
The pair had then sexually assaulted the second girl, before suffocating her and leaving her for dead.
But what was behind Coleman’s crimes?
‘A hatred for his mother because she did not raise him,’ was one verdict.
Born to a prostitute, his father unknown, Coleman was brought up by his grandmother in the brothel she ran. There, he was physically and sexually abused. He was forced to kill animals for body parts used for voodoo spells.
At school, he was taunted and nicknamed ‘Pissy’ as he often wet his pants. As he grew up, he became known to police as a sexual predator.
Then, when on bail for raping a 14-year-old girl at knifepoint, he hooked up with Debra Brown, and their rampage began.
Donna Williams, 25, was the next person to be found on 11 July 1984. She was reported missing after giving a couple a lift.
The depraved duo then carried out a series of violent assaults, car thefts, home invasions and shootings before, on 7 July, Virginia Temple, 30, and her 20-year-old daughter were found raped and strangled.
Tonnie Storey, 15, was next in the seemingly never-ending list of victims. On 13 July, Coleman and Brown tortured Harry and Marlene Walters. Harry, 45, was left brain-damaged. His wife died from her injuries.
Three days later, an elderly Reverend and his wife were found unconscious at their home, their car gone. A few days on, it was found dumped beside a car wash – where the 77-year-old owner was reported missing.
Their last victim.
Police soon swooped on the couple.
Coleman was sentenced to death in Illinois for killing Vernita Wheat, in Ohio for the murders of Tonnie Storey and Marlene Walters, and Indiana for murdering Tamika Turks. He entered the history books for facing four death sentences in three states.
He was executed on 26 April 2002.
Debra Brown was also convicted of the murders of Marlene Walters, Tonnie Storey and Tamika Turks – with death sentences in both Ohio and Indiana.
She’s still facing the death sentence in Indiana but, in 1991, had her Ohio sentence reduced to life in prison because of her very low IQ, her childlike emotions and her ‘master-slave’ relationship with Coleman.