Alton Coleman and Debra Brown had committed at least eight murders, seven rapes, three kidnappings and 14 armed robberies by the time they were arrested on July 20, 1984. For two months, Coleman and Brown terrorized the American Midwest, from the elderly to children. Coleman was so dangerous that the FBI added an “eleventh” slot on its Ten Most Wanted List for fugitives like him. He had a long criminal record even before he met Brown in 1983.
Born on November 6, 1955, in Waukegan, Illinois, Coleman, a middle-school dropout, was involved in petty crimes before getting into other violent crimes. He was sentenced to prison after abducting and raping a woman in Waukegan, Illinois. According to psychiatrists, Coleman was a “pansexual willing to have intercourse with any object, women, men, children, whatever.”
He was “obsessed” with tying up girls for violent sex. That notwithstanding, he was released and later acquitted of subsequent rape charges in 1976 and 1980, according to History. He would then begin his killing and raping spree with his girlfriend Brown, who had no history of violence. They started their spree on May 29, 1984, when they abducted nine-year-old Vernita Wheat on a ride in Kenosha, Wisconsin and killed her. Her body was found three weeks later — July 29 — in an abandoned building in Illinois.
At the time, the FBI had begun pursuing Coleman and Brown. But the two had already escaped to Gary, Indiana where they abducted two young girls, ages seven and nine. They raped and beat them, but one was able to escape while the other was choked to death. Coleman and Brown then killed 25-year-old Donna Williams, whose body was found in July 1984 in an abandoned building in Detroit, Michigan.
The infamous couple then started stealing cars while in Detroit. But they began murdering people again. On July 7, the police found the body of a woman named Virginia Temple and her 10-year-old daughter in her home in Toledo, Ohio. Coleman and Brown then murdered a 15-year-old girl in Ohio before killing another woman for her car on July 13 and fleeing to Kentucky. In Lexington, Kentucky, they abducted two men but did not kill them. Their last known victim was 77-year-old Eugene Scott of Indianapolis. They killed him on July 18 to get his car.
How they were caught
Police on July 20, 1984, arrested Coleman and Brown in Evanston, Illinois, after a childhood friend of Coleman recognized him. The two were caught in a park and were both sentenced to death. Coleman was executed in Ohio in 2002, but Brown’s sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in Ohio in 1991. Officials said this decision was taken based on Brown’s low IQ and her “master-slave relationship” with Coleman.
But Brown faced another death sentence in Indiana. Authorities wiped out that sentence in 2019 based on evidence that Brown likely is intellectually disabled, reports said. The decision angered families of victims who believed that Brown should share Coleman’s punishment.
It is still unknown why the deadly duo committed such heinous crimes. What is however known is that most of their victims were African American. Many have since wondered if the killings were racially motivated or if the couple decided to select victims in communities where they could not be easily seen.
The truth has gone to the grave as Coleman, who could give the answer to the above, is no more. Curiously, he seemed not bothered with the death penalty during his final trial in Illinois in 1987. “I’m dead already,” he reportedly told the court.