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Herbert James CODDINGTON





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Kidnapping - Rape
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: August 18, 1981 / May 16, 1987
Date of arrest: May 18, 1987
Date of birth: 1959
Victims profile: Sheila Keister, 12 / Maybelle Martin, 69, and Dorothy Walsh, 67
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Nevada/California, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in California on January 20, 1989

Supreme Court of California

opinion S008840

On May 16, 1987, two teenaged models and their elderly female chaperones were reported missing after they failed to return from a trip to Lake Tahoe, on the California-Nevada border, for production of an anti-drug video program. 

Missing were: Maybelle Martin, 69, operator of the Showcase Finishing and Modeling School in Reno, Nevada; her friend Dorothy Walsh, 67; model Alecia Thoma, 14, of Reno; and model Monica Berge, age 12, from nearby Sparks.

A three-day search by fifty law enforcement officers, including agents of the FBI, centered on Lake Tahoe, where local girls had complained of a "weird" man who tried to recruit them for anti-drug video projects. 

One of the girls was suspicious enough to record the man's license plate number, a detail which led investigators to the rural home of Herbert Coddington. 

The name was a familiar one to officers throughout Nevada. Coddington had worked at two casinos in Las Vegas during 1980, and a warrant filed in Douglas County charged him with a cheating scam in April 1984. Arrested in Las Vegas, he had been released on $500 bail and the case was still pending. 

On May 18, 1987, federal agents armed with warrants raided Coddington's mobile home, freeing Thoma and Berge from a boarded-up bedroom where they were held captive. The bodies of Maybelle Martin and Dorothy Walsh were found in an adjoining room, bound up in plastic garbage bags. 

On May 20, Coddington was arraigned on two counts of murder, with five other counts charging rape and acts of deviate sexual abuse against the teenaged victims. With their man in custody, authorities began to search his background, and they soon discovered links with yet another crime.

In August 1981, 12-year-old Sheila Keister had been kidnapped, raped and strangled in Las Vegas, her body discarded beside an unpaved road on Sunrise Mountain, east of town. 

Upon examination, prosecutors charged that dental casts obtained from Coddington matched bite marks on the dead girls body, and another charge of homicide was filed on July 22, 1987.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers


Agents rescue girls and find 2 bodies in California home

The New York Times

May 20, 1987

Federal agents smashed through the door of a mobile home Monday to rescue two terrified adolescent models and arrest a man who the authorities believe kidnapped them and killed their chaperones.

Terry Knowles, an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said that Herbert James Coddington, 28 years old, lured the girls on the pretext of filming an anti-drug film. He was arrested late Monday and booked for investigation of murder and kidnapping.

Mr. Knowles, who is in charge of the F.B.I.'s Sacramento office, said the two girls were found apparently unharmed but ''scared to death'' in one bedroom of the mobile home. The bodies of two women were found in bags on the floor of an adjoining bedroom.

The girls were identified as Alecia Thoma, 14 years old, of Reno, and Monica Berge, 12, of Sparks. Mr. Knowles said the authorities believed they were present when the slayings took place.

The girls disappeared Saturday in the company of Maybelle Martin, 69, the operator of Showcase Finishing and Modeling School, and her friend, Dorothy Walsh, 67, of Reno.

The identities of the two women found dead in the home and the cause of their deaths were not released today.

The four were reported missing by their families after they failed to return Saturday night. As many as 50 law-enforcement officers aided in a search for them.

Mr. Knowles said other youths had told the authorities of a man interviewing them for a drug-rehabilitation film. Information from the youths led agents to the mobile home.

He said that upon entering the home agents immediately overpowered Mr. Coddington. He declined to say whether the suspect had been armed, but said weapons were found in the home.


'81 killing linked to suspect Tahoe man named in Nevada slaying

By Chris Bowman - Sacramento Bee

July 23, 1987

A South Lake Tahoe man accused of murdering two elderly chaperones of teenage models in May has been charged in a 1981 slaying of a 12-year-old Las Vegas girl.

The Clark County Justice Court in Las Vegas issued an arrest warrant Wednesday for Herbert James Coddington, 28, after authorities said an impression of his teeth was a ""positive match'' to a bite mark on the victim.

A former Coddington girlfriend also told police that a sketch of a suspect in the 6-year-old kidnap-murder case, ""is exactly how (Coddington) looked at the time,'' said Bob Teuton, a Clark County prosecutor.

The warrant charges Coddington with the murder, first-degree kidnap and sexual assault of Sheila Jo Keister, 12, whose partially-clothed body was found Aug. 18, 1981 in a desert wash near the Sunrise Mountains, east of Las Vegas.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Lt. Kyle Edwards said detectives would deliver the arrest warrant to Coddington today at the El Dorado County Jail in South Lake Tahoe.

Coddington is being held without bail on charges carrying the death penalty in connection with the May 16 slayings at Lake Tahoe.

He is accused of strangling to death Maybelle ""Mabs'' Martin, 69, who/ owned a Reno modeling school, and her friend, Dorothy ""Dottie'' Walsh, 67, also of Reno, who accompanied a 12-year-old girl from Sparks and a 14-year-old girl from Reno on a purported video-taping session at the lake.

Similarities in the cases and the victims' young ages prompted Las Vegas police to investigate whether Coddington was involved in the kidnap-murder of the Keister girl, Teuton said. The Las Vegas girl had hitched a ride from a stranger who was driving through the trailer park where she lived.

An autopsy revealed that she had been raped and strangled, Teuton said. Authorities removed a bite mark on the corpse and preserved it for evidence. A doctor determined the imprint came from ""crooked teeth with a gap in front,'' Teuton said.

That description seemed to fit the Coddington's teeth, Teuton said, so police obtained authority from El Dorado County Superior Court to take a dental impression of Coddington.

Ray Rossen, a Las Vegas dentist, ""compared the impressions from Coddington with those of the victim and stated he had a positive match,'' according to a statement prepared by Las Vegas police.

Further investigation revealed that Cod- dington was living in Las Vegas at the time of the Keister killing, police said.

Ron Tepper, the El Dorado County district attorney, said none of the victims in the Tahoe case had bite marks. The chaperones were found strangled in plastic garbage bags in a rear bedroom of Coddington's mobile home in South Lake Tahoe. FBI agents rescued the girls from the home.

The four had been two days late in returning from Lake Tahoe where they were to meet a free-lance commercial photographer on the pretense of filming an anti-drug commercial.

On July 8, Coddington pleaded not guilty to two murder counts and other charges. The charges specify the ""special circumstance'' allegation of multiple murder, which carries the death penalty.

Tepper said that if he wins convictions on the multiple-murder charge, he will introduce Coddington's arrest in the Las Vegas murder as evidence that he should be executed.

Coddington is scheduled to appear in El Dorado County Superior Court for an Aug. 7 hearing for pretrial motions. His preliminary hearing in June was closed to the public.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal rejected an attempt by The Bee to overturn an order requiring Lake Valley Justice Court Judge Eugene Rasmussen to close the hearing and seal the transcripts.



Elizabeth Wasserman - Syracuse Herald-Journal (NY)

July 23, 1987

A former Brewerton man facing charges in Lake Tahoe, Calif., of kidnapping two teen-aged models and strangling two chaperones will be charged today with the 1981 murder of a Las Vegas, Nev., girl.

Herbert J. Coddington, 28, a 1976 graduate of the Central Square schools, will be charged with the murder, sexual assault and kidnapping of 12-year-old Sheila Jo Keister, Las Vegas police said.

They linked Coddington to the unsolved 6-year-old crimes after his arrest May 18 in Lake Tahoe, according to Lt. Kyle Edwards.

Det. Bob Leonard, in charge of investigating the murder of Keister, whose nude body was found in a dessert area near Sunrise Mountain, discovered similarities in the methodology between his case and the Tahoe killings.

In addition, Leonard noticed that Coddington resembles a composite drawing made of the suspect in Keister's murder in 1981.

Las Vegas police are flying to California today to formally charge Coddington, who is being held without bail at the El Dorado County Jail.

Pre-trial conferences in the Tahoe case are slated for Aug. 7.

On May 18, FBI agents smashed in the door of Coddington's mobile home near Lake Tahoe and discovered the bodies of two women stuffed in plastic garbage bags. The agents also found two frightened girls inside a box in Coddington's bedroom.

Police charge that Coddington successfully lured the girls -- models Alicia Thoma, 14, of Reno, Nev. and Monica Berge, 12, of Sparks, Nev. -- to his three days earlier by posing as a film maker. They were accompanied by the slain chaperones Maybelle "Mabs'' Martin, 69, and Dorothy "Dottie'' Walsh, 67, both of Reno.

Coddington, a resident for 15 years of Woodlawn Drive in Brewerton, whose father was a former member of the Central Square school board, was charged with two counts of murder, one of rape, four other sex crimes and a special allegation of multiple murder.

He faces a maximum penalty of death.

Investigators believe that Coddington had lived in Florida and in Santa Monica, Calif., before moving to Las Vegas in 1980. Last January, Coddington moved to the Lake Tahoe resort area.


Brewerton man's nightmare may end in a gas chamber

By Matthew Spina - Syracuse Herald-Journal (NY)

June 20, 1989

Editor's note: The New York State Legislature is expected to vote next week to try to override Gov. Mario Cuomo's seventh consective death-penalty veto. Are some criminals so evil that death is their only just punishment? Some say the case of a professional gambler from Central New York makes that point obvious. Herbert Coddington, one of the smartest graduates of Central Square's Paul V. Moore High School on 1976, is on death row in California.

As an insecure prodigy in Brewerton, he used to have this dream. He's in his bedroom, making out with a girl from his high school in Central Square. In walks his mother, making him feel angry and ashamed.

He is 30 now and has another recurring dream. He walks into a crowded room, and everyone turns to look at him.

Again, he feels ashamed. They know he is Herbert Coddington.

They know he strangled two women and wrapped their bodies in trash bags. They know he molested two girls and is sentenced to die in California's gas chamber.

"Probably the most normal thing about me,'' he says, "are my dreams.''

He is remembered as one of the smartest graduates of the 1976 class at Paul V. Moore High School. Smart, but odd. When he hung out with anyone, he hung out with the kids who didn't fit in anywhere else in Brewerton and Central Square. His was a clique of nerds and loners.

He embraced the image. While other students wore faded jeans and T-shirts, Coddington wore crisp shirts and pants with precise creases. In the third grade, he carried his briefcase to school, unsnapped it and began selling Creepy Crawler toys he had made. He grew up in a neat home at 9449 Woodlawn Drive in Brewerton.

His father is an electrical engineer at General Electric. G. Herbert Coddington works on a secret defense contract there. He used to be on the school board.

His mother, Genevieve, worked part time as a dental technician. She's a frequent volunteer at St. Agnes Church. For a while, they lived in two other states. Now they live in Baldwinsville.

Above all, Coddington was smart. A psychologist who examined him measured his IQ at more than 140. He has a keen ability to remember numbers. He recalls the first time he slept with a woman -- June 23, 1975. He remembers his SAT scores -- 640 verbal, 670 math.

"I was thinking of being a lawyer or a journalist, but at that time they were projecting a glut of lawyers and journalists,'' Coddington said. ``I could have graduated earlier but they had no accelerated programs. High school had me prepared for zero. I got a job slinging burgers at Burger King across from Penn Can Mall. I worked at the Sears stockroom. I sold cars at Sam Dell Dodge, I sold shoes at Baker Shoes in Penn Can Mall.''

No one suspected what would happen.

"We have kids where we think, boy if they don't straighten out, he's going to be in trouble,'' said Hadwin Coughlin, a gym teacher at the high school. "Not Herb. He was a good kid.

"I was always for the death penalty, and I respect people who are against it. But in some cases the death penalty is appropriate. This situation hasn't changed my mind.''

On May 18, 1987, during his interrogation by police in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Coddington admitted killing the two elderly women. He said he was trying to make a statement, that too many people smoke cigarettes and laws against drunken driving are too lax. The jury voted for the death penalty partly because Coddington showed no remorse.

He is in San Quentin Prison on death row. His home is a solitary cell. He has grown a beard and let his hair grow a few inches longer than it was in high school.

"They'll spend millions prosecuting me,'' he said. "God, if they had spent a few thousand helping me, this wouldn't have happened. There are people who should have seen that I needed help. I was really under a lot of pressure.''

Two hundred miles away in Reno, Nev., Jim Whiting has moved into the house where his mother lived before Coddington strangled her with an electrician's tool.

"How would I punish him? Just give me four to six months alone with the guy,'' Whiting said. "You have to stop those sort of genes from being spread. But whether it's in his genes or in the soul, I don't know.''

When Coddington awoke on the morning of Saturday, May 16, 1987, he was ready to get to work. The fake business cards were in his wallet; the soundproof chamber was in his trailer's guest room. He had the Hefty Cinch Sack garbage bags and the Flex-cuffs, plastic ties that electricians use to bind bunches of wire.

For years, the idea of imprisoning a young girl had drifted in and out of his mind. He really liked "Sweet Hostage,'' the 1975 television movie. Martin Sheen plays a smart mental patient who kidnaps Linda Blair. They fall in love.

Would it work out like that for Coddington?

He'd tried the Marines and drifted between dead-end jobs for years before moving to the gambling cities of Nevada.

At the blackjack tables, Coddington used a memory system to account for every card that had been played. He won $200,000 in five years. More than once he flew to Europe to gamble.

By 1986, he was beginning to lose his mind. He began to interpret insignificant motions by the dealer as messages. A succession of face cards, or just the sight of certain cards, provided other signs. That year, his parents lent him $300.

"When he switched to this kind of thinking, he lost $150,000 in a year and a half,'' said Dr. Mark Mills, a psychiatrist and president of the Forensic Sciences Medical Group in California. Mills was hired by Coddington's lawyers to examine him and testify about Coddington's delusions.

"The rational response might have been to drop this system,'' Mills said. ``Herb persevered. He was already delusional.''

Coddington looked for other signals when making decisions about shopping, women, friendships, whatever. Traffic signals, he said, became signs from God.

"He really believed that as he was going along his daily activity, if he got a red, that meant he shouldn't do what he was planning to do,'' Mills said. ``A yellow meant he should proceed cautiously. A green meant he was to go ahead.

"He had been sexually frustrated for a long time. Part of his immaturity, or part of his illness, or both, was that he felt he was entitled to more. One day, when he was thinking it would be great to be with a young girl, he hit a series of green lights. Then he said, maybe I should kidnap a girl and show her my needs, and he unfortunately hit another series of green lights.''

"I was not questioning the messages, because you do not question God. I thought that I was supposed to have a baby with these girls, someone to carry on,'' Coddington said.

"I can't stand cigarette smoke. It makes me sick. My parents smoked. When I was a kid, I'd be in the back seat of the car, and the windows would be up because my mother didn't want to mess her hairdo -- you remember the hairdos in the '60s -- and I'd be dying.

"In my family, sex was something you didn't talk about. There was no emotion. After a certain age, I was not allowed to cry. I believe that all these pressures eventually snapped me. It weighed on me too much. It warped my mind. I was always a very intense person. The only time I opened up to anyone was with like a steady girlfriend. So if I didn't have anyone to open up to, I had no outlet.''

For Mabs Martin, May 16 was a busy day. Once the two girls from her modeling agency arrived at her home in Reno, Nev., she had to go pick up her friend Dorothy ``Dotty'' Walsh, 67. Then they had to drive to South Lake Tahoe, about an hour away. Martin, 69, was hoping to leave by 7:45 a.m. and be back by about 12:30 p.m.

She was excited about this trip to Tahoe. She was taking the girls to meet a producer from Georgia, who was making a commercial against drug use. Two days earlier he had come to her studio and selected the girls he wanted to use: Alecia, 14, and Monica, 12.

Martin was eager to help. It was a good opportunity for her models. She hated drug abuse and was a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

On Friday, the day before she left for Tahoe, Mabs Martin worked in her flower garden with her son, Jim Whiting. As she raked and Jim weeded, she admonished him to always beware of other people and their motives. He remembers the message well:

"Let me tell you something, there are a lot of kooks out there,'' she said. "You have to be careful.''

Whiting had heard her say this many times.

The producer told Martin he would meet her and the girls at the Nugget, the first casino she would see as Highway 50 brought them into South Lake Tahoe.

The trip took longer than expected. The curves of Highway 50 as it climbs through the Sierras made Monica carsick. Martin stopped her Chrysler Fifth Avenue so Monica could hang her head out the window.

At the Nugget, the girls waited in the casino's restaurant with Walsh while Martin went to look for ``Marc,'' the producer. She found him in the parking lot, and all five herded into Martin's car.

First, they would freshen up at a mobile home across the state line in California, the producer said. Then they would shoot the commercial in a nearby park.

The producer got into the back seat with Alecia and Monica. At the audition, Marc had been neatly dressed in a suit and tie. In the car he wore a shirt and sweatpants. A sheen of sweat covered his face. Alecia thought he smelled bad.

Martin parked the car under a carport in the Tahoe Verde trailer park. Then they all went through a side entrance.

The producer motioned his visitors into what he said was a room in which the girls could change their clothes. The producer followed.

For weeks Herb Cottington had been hauling plywood and sheets of carpet to the guest room, where he built his sound-proof sex chamber.

Martin, Walsh, Alecia and Monica had never seen a dressing room quite like it. They looked at him, expecting an explanation.

Herb Coddington punched Alecia in the jaw.

Then he started punching Martin and Walsh. He pummeled them around their torsos and pushed them down. He'd been working out on a punching bag.

Coddington tied up the girls and threw their jackets over their heads so they couldn't see.

But Alecia could see part of what was happening. Martin was on her knees as Coddington tied her arms and legs behind her. Then he cinched something around her neck.

"Marc, please, it's too tight,'' Martin said. "I can hardly breathe.''

Alecia heard her gag and cough as she fell onto her side. Those were the last sounds heard from Mabs Martin.

Walsh clutched her purse as the man approached again.

"Please don't kill me, let me live,'' she pleaded. "I have a heart problem.''

Coddington grabbed the purse, but she wouldn't let go. He hit her again and again on her head. Blood fell, staining the shag rug and soaking the plywood wall of the makeshift room. He left the room for a few moments, and she vomited.

He returned with an electrician's flexcuff. He tightened it around her neck until it was as narrow as a wrist.

"I had never learned how to study. School was too easy for me. When I got to college (Oswego State) it was so hard, I didn't know how to do anything. One of my roommates was a bad influence on me. He would cut classes. I would have never thought of that. So I cut classes.

"At Oswego, had I been able to find a steady girlfriend there I would have been all right. But, it didn't work out. I was too much of an angry young man. By the time I got to college I had enough problems. It didn't work out with girls.

"My mother always dragged me to church. Dragged me here. Dragged me there. I never was trusted with any responsibility. My parents wouldn't let me do anything on my own initiative.''

As a kid, one of Coddington's closest friends was Joanne Garner, who works now at Deluxe Checkprinters in Liverpool. They spent summers at Oneida Lake, where Garner lived near Herb's grandparents.

As children, they swam, played cards, croquet and board games and talked about important things, like the Vietnam War and how comical the hippies in the anti-war movement seemed. In high school, they went steady. It lasted only a few weeks. Herb wanted something more from the relationship than Garner wanted, she said.

Garner has thought back to her childhood, trying to think of something that might have revealed the violent streak that runs deep in Herb Coddington. Each time, she comes up with nothing.

"Up until this, I was an absolute supporter of the death penalty,'' she said. ``I am at this point unsure of what I feel. It seems like a waste to take someone with his kind of intelligence. There are still things he can contribute. He can teach in prison.''

Coddington did have a few girlfriends. In Las Vegas, he lived with a girl named Kelly Cluff. She told a police investigator that Herb was rather peculiar in their relationship. She used the word pervert. She told Las Veagas Detective Robert Leonard that Coddington liked to shave off her pubic hair and tell her she looked like a 10-year-old. Sometimes he called her a bad little girl, spanked her, and then consoled her.

"Just lay still,'' he said. "Herbie won't hurt you.''

The detective asked Kelly about the time in August 1981 when she told Herb they couldn't have sex anymore. Days later, a 12-year-old girl named Sheila Keister was raped and strangled in Las Vegas. In 1987, a medical examiner concluded the bite marks on one of her nipples were made by Herb Coddington.

"I never knew her or saw her,'' Coddington said. He has been accused in the death, but has yet to stand trial.

"Herb didn't have much luck as far as relationships with adult women,'' said Gene Hawkins, the senior investigator for the district attorney's office in El Dorado County, which includes the California portion of South Lake Tahoe.

Hawkins examined a number of notes Coddington jotted down to himself.

"Young chicks smell, taste, feel better, even if not quite as built,'' he wrote. Another note said he ``needed to find out if young chicks are what I need.''

Coddington charted the number of times he masturbated -- as many as 36 times a day, said Hawkins.

"The death penalty in this instance is appropriate,'' Hawkins said. ``I'm afraid of what Herbie has done in the past. It's a mystery to me. If there were other victims of Herb Coddington, it would not surprise me. If Herbert did get out, there could be other victims again.''

Since he moved to Las Vegas at the age of 21, Coddington has returned to Central New York to visit relatives during several summers.

Late Saturday morning, Coddington wrapped the old ladies' bodies in garbage bags and dragged them into the master bedroom.

Her left the house to move Martin's car to a shopping plaza. When he returned to the soundproof room he asked the girls if they were OK.

"He kept asking us if our feet and hands were OK because he didn't want us going home without any fingers or any toes,'' Alecia said. He went out into the living room, and the girls heard music. Coddington was watching MTV.

When he returned, he brought a .45-caliber handgun that had a 12-inch silencer and a laser scope that projected a beam to indicate where a bullet would hit.

"If I wanted to kill you,'' he said, "I could have done it already because I have this silencer on it.''

At dinner time, he brought in grapefruits, raisins and a jug of water. Eventually, the girls fell asleep.

When they awoke, they thought it was morning because they could hear cars rolling by outside. They also heard grunts and groans coming from the living room. Coddington was working out. They called out to him, and he came to the door of the room. It had two eyeholes cut in it. He told them they could work out soon, too.

When he came back in their room he wore a red ski cap and a turtleneck shirt pulled up over his nose and mouth to conceal his face. A few strands of hair peeked out from under the hat. They were orange. Coddington was coloring his hair to change his looks. 

He let the girls come out, and they worked out to the Jane Fonda exercise tape. Then he put them back in the chamber and tied pillow cases over their heads. He told them they were going to act in a sex video he was making for European distribution. He said he had abducted a little boy who would act with them.

"We asked if he was going to rape us,'' Alecia said. "He said `No, of course not. If he hurts you, I'll hurt him.' ''

Coddington went out into the living room again and talked in a deep voice. He was pretending there was a director out there cautioning a young boy. Coddington ran a tape recorder.

"Now, everything's cool, all right? You don't say a word, you understand me? You don't say a word. Now, pull the bed out into the middle of the room. Clean up the area. All right. Now, you make sure these girls are comfortable. You are not going to hurt them, you understand? You are not going to rape them, even though you couldn't get it up, we know. Cause you're too (expletive) scared yourself, you little piece of . . . . You just give 'em a massage and relax 'em.''

The girls said they felt hands massaging them. Then they were molested. At one point, Alecia started crying. ``Please don't kill me,'' she sobbed.

Coddington answered in the voice of a little boy.

"I'm not going to kill you. I have to do this. I'm sorry.''

"I don't have a certain feeling on the sentence he got,'' Monica wrote in a letter to the court. "I guess I do feel sorry for him because that was such a waste of a life. I am just going to let the authorities sit back and do what they have to do.''

Detective Steve O'Brien's phone rang on Sunday morning. Get in to work, his boss told him. Four people are missing. The FBI is already involved.

They had one good clue: Another model had seen Coddington walk to his car the day of the audition. She thought his license plate said "TV TEEN.'' The police worked that plate, but it turned up nothing. Then someone theorized that maybe the plate had said TVETEN, the name of a used car dealer in South Lake Tahoe who put those promotional plates on cars he sold. Joe Tveten, it turned out, had loaned Coddington a plate to use on his BMW.

At 11:30 a.m. Monday, the FBI and police showed Tveten a composite drawing of the man they were looking for. Yes, that's my friend, he said. He told them where Coddington lived.

The FBI, unsure of what was happening inside, decided to send two agents to the door, to interview Coddington. As they approached, dozens of officers surrounded the house. O'Brien was among them.

As the agents neared the door, the lights in the house went out. The agents nervously retreated.

Baker called Coddington on the phone at 9:19 p.m. As they talked, agents and police stormed in. Coddington was in the hallway near the kitchen. He got down on the ground as ordered. In the house, police found three handguns and two rifles.

"I'm sick,'' he yelled. "I don't want to go to jail. I'm sick.''

The agents tried to calm the girls, who were scared and frantic. The police peeled back part of the plastic bags in the master bedroom. They had found the chaperones.

Just after the siege, Coddington was scared and crying, O'Brien said.

"I'm sick,'' he repeated. "I didn't hurt the girls. I had to kill the women. I put them in bags so they didn't make messies.''

Coddington himself had wanted to join the FBI. After the semester at Oswego State, he joined the Marines, hoping to serve a hitch and then move to the FBI or the CIA -- some kind of intelligence work. After he finished boot camp at Parris Island, they gave him a menial job at a typewriter. He was so angry he returned home, AWOL. The Marines decided he was mentally unfit and gave him an honorable discharge.

During the ride to the police station, he seemed excited at being the center of attention, O'Brien said. He was eager to tell the police all the details.

He said he killed the women because they were making too much noise and were too hard to control. He said he planned the crime as a protest of problems like too many people smoking cigarettes and laws against drunken driving being too lenient.

One day last week, O'Brien returned to Coddington's trailer. It hasn't been rented since the raid, and several of Coddington's belongings were inside. On a dresser in the bedroom was a Boy Scout pin given for two years of membership. A few inches away was a gambling chip.

"I'd like to see the guy meet his sentence,'' O'Brien said. "I saw what he did. It was a diabolical plan. If there was ever a reason for the death penalty, it's Herbert Coddington.''

After his arrest, Coddington wrote a letter to his family.

"I've been crazy off and on for a long time, but I always had the good in me to stop,'' he wrote. "This time I was too depressed and snapped. I just want to get mental help and be better and someday lead a normal life . . .

"Pray for me as I pray for you. I'm very sorry my life has been such a mess. I was only trying to fix what was wrong with the world. I was only doing what God told me to do, but the Devil talked to me too, I guess . . .

"I haven't lost faith. You must not lose faith. Don't let this ruin your lives, please.''

Coddington's case attracted so much attention that Judge Terrence Finney agreed to hold the trial about 60 miles away, in Placerville, where potential jurors weren't as familiar with the crime.

Placerville is a town that sprang up during the gold rush of 1849. The logging industry helped it survive beyond the gold rush years, but the people of Placerville still cling to the town's colorful past, which included a tradition of vigilante justice. A number of businesses in town still bear the town's 19th century name -- "Hangtown.''

There were three phases to the trial. One was held to determine Coddington's guilt or innocence. The jury found he had committed the crime. The second was to determine his sanity. The jurors agreed Coddington had known what he was doing and knew it was wrong. And partly because of the fact he had planned out every last detail, they voted for the death penalty on Sept. 21, 1988.

In San Quentin, Coddington's days are tedious and frightening. He told the woman who wrote up his probation report that he would rather be put to death soon than to wait years.

No date has been set for his execution. Every capital case requires an appeal. "It's very lonely, very frustrating, a lot of boredom. I spend a lot of time thinking,'' he said. "It's not any country club, that's a myth. You always have to watch your back. I'm in a yard where everybody in there will kill you for a dollar. There was somebody stabbed in front of me the first hour I was here.''

As a matter of morality, he is against the death penalty. There was a time when he was for it.

"When I was a younger man, I would have said yes. Now that I've been through it all, I realize there are some innocent people here. Life without parole is bad for innocent people, too.

"When you look at the huge number of people on death row you see how many have been beaten as kids.

"I have figured this was coming a long time ago. As far as life, I'd be missing nothing if they killed me right now. It's a wearing thing just to hang on in here. It's a very easy thing to think of -- just trying to have one of the guntower guys take a shot at you. Or, I could be stabbed tomorrow.

"I was made a scapegoat because I got caught with something really big. I'm not so much different than a lot of people. There's a lot of people out there that have done a lot of things. I'm not saying what I did was right, and I'm not saying it was justified. I hope I haven't given you that impression. But I was trying. I was fighting the right struggle. I was a guy that tried too hard, and it snapped me.''

A few months after the death verdict was announced, Judge Finney was required to confirm whether he thought the death penalty was appropriate for Coddington's crime.

Coddington's parents wrote to the judge, pleading for leniency. His mother's letter was the most emotional.

"I feel now that his mental disease is what made Las Vegas and gambling attractive to him,'' she wrote. ``I've prayed and prayed that Herb might be able to get some mental help, but as I understand it, there is little at San Quentin. If Herb is allowed to live, he could perhaps help other inmates to learn to read or write. He could do anything he felt was a worthy cause because anything he believes in, he is so intense to see it materialize. God put us all on earth for a purpose, and I do not feel Herb has finished doing what God intended for him to do . . .

"God should decide when man's life on earth should end. Herb may still be able to be helpful to his fellow man.''

Finney said the letters from Coddington's parents caused him "great emotional turmoil.''

"They're wonderful, fine, decent people, and I know they believe he was mentally ill,'' he said.

"He's a tremendously egocentric individual who rejected his parents' religion, who was completely and totally self-centered,'' Finney said. ``When he made his confession to police and talked to the detectives, no mention of God or any mental aberration was made. That wasn't until later.

"I have to think that Mr. Coddington's conduct in this case is probably the most evil . . . that I have ever been involved in.''



Seven men and a woman have been convicted of murder in Onondaga County since 1987. Thirteen other killers have been convicted of first-degree manslaughter. Four have been convicted of second-degree manslaughter; six of criminally negligent homicide. Two pleaded to burglary charges to dispose of murder cases. Six were acquitted. Another had a murder case dismissed for lack of evidence. One defendant entered a plea of not responsible because of mental disease or defect. Charges from another homicide were disposed of in Family Court. Here are the convicted murderers:

WILLIAM R. "BILLY'' BLAKE JR. Born: Oct. 16, 1963.

Former address: 211 Holland St.

Crime: Convicted June 29, 1987, of first-degree murder and other charges.

Victim: Onondaga County Sheriff's Department jail deputy David R. Clark, 33, of Lyncourt. He was shot once in the chest with his partner's service revolver during an escape attempt outside DeWitt Town Court the evening of Feb. 10, 1987. Clark died the next day.

Punishment: Sentenced July 10, 1987, by County Court Judge J. Kevin Mulroy to serve 57 1/2 years to life in prison. An additional 20 to 40 years was later added on by visiting County Court Judge Wallace Van C. Auser for drug and robbery convictions.

Prison: Shawangunk Correctional Facility, Ulster County.

Parole: Eligible Aug. 4, 2064.


QUENTION BROWN JR. Born: June 16, 1965.

Former address: 4025 Onondaga Blvd.

Crime: Convicted Oct. 15, 1987, of second-degree murder.

Victim: Tammy McCaffrey, 21, of 109 Onondaga Ave. She was beaten with a tire iron and left to die in a wooded area off Holmes Road in the town of Onondaga on Jan. 19, 1987.

Punishment: Sentenced Nov. 20, 1987, by visiting state Supreme Court Justice Lee Clary to 25 years to life.

Prison: Auburn Correctional Facility.

Parole: Eligible Feb. 22, 2012.


DONALD W. HOGLEN Born: Dec. 13, 1966.

Former address: 509 Ash St.

Crime: Convicted Dec. 3, 1987, of second-degree murder and other charges.

Victim: Dorothy Day Golly, 71, of 200 Spring St., Fayetteville. She was choked from behind and left bound and gagged during a robbery in her apartment on May 15, 1987.

Punishment: Sentenced Jan. 6, 1988, by County Court Judge William J. Burke to 25 years to life.

Prison: Auburn Correctional Facility.

Parole: Eligible May 10, 2012.


LOUISE A. PITCHER Born: Feb. 23, 1957.

Address: 155 Fitch St.

Crime: Pleaded guilty Sept. 28, 1987, to second-degree murder.

Victim: Dorothy Day Golly, 71, of 200 Spring St., Fayetteville.

Punishment: Sentenced Oct. 26, 1987, by County Court Judge William J. Burke to 15 years to life.

Prison: Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.

Parole: Eligible May 7, 2002.   (rehearing March 2008)


JAMES A. MATTESON JR. Born: July 7, 1963.

Former address: 308 W. Second St., Oswego.

Crime: Convicted Sept. 15, 1988, of second-degree murder.

Victim: Onondaga Community College student John L. Fortino, 19, of 149 Lilac St. He was stabbed four times on Feb. 28, 1988, during a burglary at his girlfriend's home at 3108 Cold Springs Road in Lysander.

Punishment: Sentenced Nov. 4, 1988, by County Court Judge Patrick J. Cunningham to 25 years to life.

Prison: Committed suicide in Attica Correctional Facility on June 13, 1989.


RONNIE A. MITCHELL Born: June 3, 1966.

Former address: 709 E. Fayette St.

Crime: Convicted Feb. 26, 1987, of second-degree murder.

Victim: Bryant & Stratton Business Institute student Christopher Millhouse, 19, of 118 McAllister Ave. He was stabbed once in the heart May 11, 1986.

Punishment: Sentenced April 23, 1987, by County Court Judge William J. Burke to 18 years to life.

Prison: Elmira Correctional Facility.

Parole: Eligible May 9, 2004. (rehearing Feb. 2010)


JAMIE BRUCE MORTON Born: May 25, 1958.

Former address: 3215 James St.

Crime: Convicted April 8, 1988, of second-degree murder.

Victim: Syracuse University graduate student Linda Ruth Akers, 24, of 3215 James St. She was stabbed in the chest with a butcher knife on Aug. 31, 1987.

Punishment: Sentenced May 25, 1988, by County Court Judge J. Kevin Mulroy to serve 25 years to life.

Prison: Clinton Correctional Facility.

Parole: Eligible Aug. 25, 2012.


WILLIAM ST. GERMAIN Born: Dec. 5, 1963.

Former address: 418 Shonnard St.

Crime: Pleaded guilty Sept. 13, 1988, to second-degree murder and first-degree rape.

Victim: Kara Schoff, 3, of 514 Kirkpatrick St. She was raped and her throat was slashed before she was left floating in a bathtub of water in her home on March 18, 1988.

Punishment: Sentenced Oct. 12, 1988, by County Court Judge J. Kevin Mulroy to serve 23 years to life.

Prison: Clinton Correctional Facility.

Parole: Eligible March 13, 2011.



MO: Rape-slayer of female victims

DISPOSITION: Condemned in Calif., 1987


Herbert James Coddington


Chaperones Maybelle Martin, left, and Dottie Walsh were strangled and their bodies stuffed into plastic garbage bags.



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