During a recent interview I was asked a question. The interviewer wanted to know if I possessed a certain amount of empathy for the subjects of my blogs & books due to my criminal background. Caught somewhere between disbelief and apprehension, I regained my wits I responded, (in the most cynical tone that I could muster) “no, why would I.” I went on to inform the young lady that it is due to my criminal past that I know for a fact that violence in any capacity is senseless and above all evil. Regardless of whether I was attempting to become the “Nino Brown,’ of Chicago or trying to become the Black Frank Abagnale, Jr.; violence was never part of my modus operandi.
The following day I was having lunch with 2 Chicago Police officers that actually had thwarted my criminal endeavors back in my “hay day”; now that I’ve gone straight, we’re buddies….yay. Anyway, I told them about the interview and we had a big laugh. However, as we continued to talk, a melancholy presence fell upon our table. We began to talk about senseless violence and the names of Alton Coleman and Debra Brown came up.
The term “senseless violence,” does not begin to describe the death & destruction carried out by these two. Born in 1955, Alton Coleman resided in Waukegan, Illinois. A middle school drop out that earned the name, “Pissy”, as a youth due to his tendency to wet his pants, Coleman first came to the notice of police as a teenager when he was picked up for breaking windows in his Waukegan housing project. As a teenager Coleman had acquired a reputation for his strong sex drive among his peers. Neighborhood acquaintances reported that he was bisexual and willing to engage in sex any time, any place with anyone. As Coleman approached adulthood he developed an insatiable taste for deviant manners of sexual gratification.
In 1973 Coleman & an accomplice raped and robbed an elderly woman. However, during the trial, the woman refused to testify against Coleman regarding the rape. Found guilty of robbery, Coleman was sentenced to 2 years in prison. From 1973 to 1983 Alton Coleman would be charged in a total of 6 sex crimes, (one involving the rape of his own niece). Of the six charges; two were dismissed, in two he was found guilty of lesser charges and in two he would be acquitted. Unfortunately, the worst was yet to come. In a span of less than three months, he and Debra Brown would commit; 8 murders, 7 rapes, 3 kidnappings, and 14 armed robberies in 6 different states.
Debra Brown was born in 1962. One of eleven children, Brown suffered head trauma as a child and was deemed borderline mentally retarded. Later in life a psychiatrist would diagnose Brown as having dependent personality disorder. Until the age of 21, Brown led a mostly mundane and uneventful life. That would all change in 1983 when she met Alton Coleman. Despite being engaged to be married to another man, Brown detached from her family and accompanied Coleman.
In early 1984 Coleman had been indicted for a rape and murder of a 14 year old girl he had committed the previous year. Once Coleman found out about his “wanted” status he and Brown embarked one of the most prolific crime sprees in American history. In early May of 1984, the couple went north to Kenosha, WI where they met and befriended Juanita Wheat, her 7 year old son and her 9 year old daughter Vernita. On May 29, Wheat gave permission for Vernita to go with Coleman to his apartment to pick up stereo equipment. The couple abducted young Vernita and transported her back to Waukegan. On June 19th the body of Vernita Wheat was found in an abandoned building in Waukegan, four blocks from Coleman’s grandmother’s apartment. The body was badly decomposed and the cause of death was ligature strangulation. Police also found a fingerprint at the scene which was matched to Coleman. After befriending Robert Carpenter in Waukegan the pair stole his car and headed to Indiana.
In June of 1984 the two were in Gary, IN and crossed paths with 9-year-old Annie and 7 year old Tamika Turks who were walking home from a nearby candy store. Coleman & Brown convinced the two children to accompany them into the woods under the pretense of playing a game. Both children were then bound and gagged with strips of cloth torn from Tamika’s shirt. Annie was then forced to have sex with both adults. Annoyed by Tamika’s crying, Brown held his hand over her nose and mouth while Coleman stomped on her chest, then strangled her to death with elastic from a bed sheet. Annie survived the torment; unfortunately Tamika’s partially decomposed body was discovered on June 19, 1984. The cause of death was ligature strangulation. The two children resided with their grandmother who, stricken with grief over the ordeal and unable to deal with her loss, took her own life.
The very same day, Donna Williams and her car came up missing. The 25 year old Gary resident had met the couple only a few days prior to her disappearance. On July 11, 1984, Williams’ badly decomposed body was discovered in Detroit, MI about a half-mile from where her car was found. The cause of death was again ligature strangulation. On June 28, 1984, while in Michigan; Coleman and Brown committed a home invasion upon the Dearborn Heights, Michigan residence of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer Jones. Palmer was handcuffed by Coleman and then badly beaten. Mrs. Jones was also attacked. Coleman ripped the Jones’ phone from the wall and stole their money and car.
In July 5th of 1984 the pair turned up in Ohio, Toledo to be exact. Virginia Temple, the mother of several children, met and befriended Coleman and Brown. During their acquaintance the two became especially interested in Virginia’s 9 year old daughter Rachelle. Virginia’s family became concerned when she had not been heard from over a period of time. Troubled by the lack of contact, family members were shocked when they entered her home to find her children unsupervised. The bodies of Virginia and Rachelle were found in a crawl space, they both had been strangled to death. Frank and Dorothy Duvendack of Toledo had the misfortune of meeting Coleman & Brown. On the same day of the Temple murders the two entered the Duvendack home, bound them in phone cord and took their money and car. Later that evening the pair met Reverend and Mrs. Millard Gay of Dayton, Ohio. They stayed with them in Dayton and then accompanied them to Lockwood, Ohio, on July 9, to a religious service. On July 10, the Gays dropped off Coleman and Brown in downtown Cincinnati.
During their stay in Cincinnati, Brown & Coleman met 15 year old Tonnie Storey. After failing to return home from school, Storey’s parents reported her missing on July 11, 1984. Eight days later her body was found in an abandoned building. She had been strangled to death. During the investigation, one of Tonnie’s classmates testified that she saw Coleman talking to Tonnie the day she disappeared. A fingerprint at the crime scene was also linked to Coleman
On July 13, 1984, Coleman and Brown bicycled to Norwood, Ohio. Under the pretense of being interested in a travel trailer, they arrived at the home of a local couple, Harry and Marlene Walters. Once inside the Walter’s home, Coleman picked up a wooden candlestick and, after admiring it, struck Harry Walters on the back of the head. The attack was so vicious that the candlestick broke and lodged a chunk of bone against Mr. Walters’ brain. Coleman and Brown proceeded to strike Mrs. Walters up to 25 times about the face and head. The two also mutilated her face and scalp with a pair of vice grips. The two lay dying in a bloody mess until about 3:45 pm. Sheri Walters was horrified when she arrived home from work to find her parents bound with ligatures around their hands & necks. Mr. Walters, survived the attack, but suffered brain damage. Mrs. Walters however, succumbed to injuries that left her face unrecognizable and a skull so smashed that pieces of it and her brain was missing Coleman and Brown stole the couple’s car which was found two days later in Lexington, Kentucky.
In Williamsburg, Kentucky, Coleman and Brown kidnapped college professor Oline Carmichael, Jr., forced him into the trunk of his car, and then drove it to Dayton, Ohio. Authorities found the car and Carmichael still alive in the trunk.
While in Dayton, Coleman and Brown revisited the Gays. Rev. Gay recognized Coleman who by now had been nationally televised as a wanted and dangerous fugitive. 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 kills them where we go.” Coleman and Brown took their car and headed back toward Evanston. On the way back home, they took time to steal another car, killing the 77-year-old man who owned it.
It was in Evanston that the couple’s crime spree ended. While crossing an intersection on July 20, 1984, Coleman was recognized by someone from his old neighborhood. The unsuspecting pair crossed the street and when the red light changed the witness drove north to the nearest gas station to alert authorities. Police officers caught up with Coleman and Brown at a nearby park. When confronted, Coleman, who possessed no identification tried to deny that he was Alton Coleman. During this time Brown attempted to separate herself from Coleman but was met by two approaching officers. During a custodial search, Brown was found to be in possession of a handgun; the two were immediately taken into custody without incident.
A week following the arrest, law enforcement officials from Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio met to determine the most effective manner of prosecution against Alton Coleman and Debra Brown. Michigan, who does not have capital punishment, was quickly ruled out as the place to begin. Ohio was given the first opportunity to bring the murderous pair to justice. In Ohio both Coleman & Brown were sentenced to death for the murders of Tonnie Storey, and Marlene Walters. The two were also sentenced to die in Indiana for killing Tamika Turks, 7, of Gary, Ind. In Illinois, Coleman received the death sentence for slaying Vernita Wheat, 9, of Kenosha, Wis. Vernita’s body was found in Waukegan. Alton Coleman was the only person at the time to have death sentences in three different states.
Despite numerous appeals, on April 26, 2002, Alton Coleman was executed by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. Debra Brown, however, had her Ohio death sentence commuted to life without parole by Ohio governor Richard Celeste. This outraged Ohio residents due to Brown’s unrepentant attitude. 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.” Governor Celeste, a known opponent of the death penalty, cited her low IQ scores, non-violent history prior to meeting Coleman and her dependent personality as his reasons for the commutation of her sentence. Debra Brown is currently housed at Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction in Marysville, Ohio. Brown still has a death sentence in Indiana which may be exercised at the state’s discretion.
As we concluded our meal, a frightening thought came to mind. Most criminals, regardless of their crime, are not caught for every crime that they’ve committed. I, myself, know that I’ve not been caught for every infraction of the law that I’ve done. Hell, I ran a red light, (it was yellow/red actually) and a stop sign on the way to the lunch meeting. So the numbers of victims given to these serial murderers as they are convicted may only be a fraction of the actual amount of carnage they’ve caused and the lives they have ruined.