Timothy Coggins was in love with a white woman. He knew that it was dangerous and he’d had been warned many times by his friends and family, but he didn’t care. Tim was African American and even in 1983, his home of Spalding County was not exactly friendly to interracial relationships.
Not only had Tim ignored these warnings, he openly bragged to others about the “beautiful white woman” he was dating at the time. It was this unabashed love that ultimately spelled doom for Tim Coggins and left his family without closure or justice for nearly 40 years…
One Charming Fellow
When he was alive, Timothy Coggins had been a fun-loving, family-oriented man. He was a gregarious fellow, talkative, charming, and a great dancer. Unfortunately, Tim’s formerly secret dalliance with a local white woman was beginning to gain unwanted attention. Charming as Tim was, not everyone was impressed with him.
Timothy Coggins disappeared in 1983 and the only clues to where he had gone, were the grisly ones delivered to the members of his family at the time. Tim’s family had awakened to find a bloody white shirt, a brick with a note attached, and a dog’s headless body outside their door. The Coggins family took these items to be warnings; be quiet or you’re next…
On October 9th, 1983, the Spalding County police discovered the 23-year-old’s body on a grassy stretch of land just off Highway 19, below a clutch of high tension power lines. Whoever had murdered Tim had done so brutally, stabbing him in his chest and back. There was also evidence that he’d been dragged behind a truck prior to this as well.
No matter what anyone said, it was clear that Tim Coggins was murdered because he was a black man who dared to socialize with a white woman. This theory was backed up by Spalding County Sheriff Darrell Dix, who recalled the presence of the Ku Klux Klan in the area at the time, as well as the racist mindset of many in Spalding County…
Unfortunately, the evidence-gathering methods of the 1980s were not the same as those used by police today. There also seemed to be no witnesses to this brutal murder or, if there were, none of them felt particularly compelled to speak up about what they had seen. Whoever had killed Tim Coggins had been careful.
Searching for Justice
Despite this, Tim’s family held out hope for justice. Weeks turned to months, which turned into years, and no arrests were made. The police had no discernable leads to follow and no suspects. In time, the case ran cold and lay dormant for the next 30 plus years. Besides a brief period where it gained some attention in 2007 and 2010, remained unsolved as well…
Years on Ice
In that time though, investigators from both Spalding County and the Georgia Bureau of Investigations continued to try and find new leads. Each time the case resurfaced, they came up empty. Then, in late 2017, the GBI reopened the investigation again and something remarkable happened.
It was March of 2018 when the GBI finally received a working piece of new information. This piece fit neatly into the puzzle and the case suddenly caught fire once more. There were secrets hiding in every corner of Coggins’ suburban neighborhood and many who lived in that quiet community southeast of Atlanta had been harboring them for nearly four decades…
New from Afar
Heather Coggins, Tim’s niece, and her family were on vacation when Sheriff Darrell Dix contacted them with some rather spectacular news. He told them that he had updates and leads in Tim’s case and that they should come down to the sheriff’s office to discuss it. Thirteen Coggins family members, including Tim’s four surviving siblings, showed up to the office.
Tips Come In
The Coggins family thought about it and decided, with the help of police and their attorneys, to go public with the case once more. Within days, tips began to pour into the sheriff’s office. Sheriff Dix received calls from many locals saying that they’d been “keeping this secret for 34 years now…” People in Spalding County apparently knew more than they’d initially let on…
Other tips alleged that they had lived in Griffin in the 1980s and that they needed to unburden themselves of something that had been gnawing at them for decades. Between 60 and 70 people called in. Whoever had killed Tim Coggins had apparently been confident enough to divulge certain details back then.
The GBI and Sheriff’s office began conducting interviews, some of which were quite vivid. In the end, the agencies ended up paring down the suspects to a chosen few. Once enough evidence had been collected, law enforcement made five arrests, among those were a detention officer from Spalding County and a police officer from the town of Milner, to name a few…
Thirty-four years and four days after his murder, Tim Coggins was on his way to receiving justice. 59-year-old Frankie Gebhardt and 58-year-old Bill Moore Sr. were under arrest, charged with a combination of murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, and concealing a body.
The Spalding County Sheriff’s Office also charged Milner Police Officer Lamar Bunn, his mother Sandra Bunn, and Spalding County Detention Officer Gregory Huffman with obstruction. Unfortunately, 34 years was a long time and the murder had taken place nearly a decade before DNA evidence was even collected. A good deal of evidence had been lost at that time…
This loss of evidence was not the only burden the state would need to overcome. The other problems involved the fact that much of what led police to these defendants was based on hearsay. That said, there was proof that Gebhardt, one of the defendants, was seen arguing with Coggins in public prior to the killing.
Admissions Over Time
Not only had Gebhardt been seen arguing with Tim Coggins, but he’d also apparently admitted the murder to several people; people who only felt brave enough to come clean after many decades had elapsed. These admissions included details about the crime scene that had not been released to the public…
At his trial, Gebhart’s defense attorneys made sure to instruct the jury to pay attention to all of the people the prosecution brought up to testify, but especially to convicted felon Christopher Vaughn. Vaughn was one of the folks who agreed to come forward to speak against Gebhart, whom he said had confessed his part in the Coggins murder some time ago.
Only Once Incarcerated
Though this alleged confession happened over 22 years prior, Vaughn never came forward to tell his prison guards or the police what he’d heard. Instead, he kept the information secret until the case went public again. Perhaps he is hoping to leverage his testimony in exchange for less prison time…
Tensions were understandably high in the courtroom and Judge Sams, the presiding judge, expressed a desire for those involved to remain civil. He cautioned supporters on either side to hold back any outbursts or undo facial expressions that might influence jurors. Meanwhile, Heather Coggins and her family are just happy to see things finally finding a resolution.
Journey’s Ending and Beginnings
“We have endured grief for the past 34 years,” Heather explained at a news conference. “Our journey is coming to an end; their journey is just beginning…We have always wanted justice, held out for justice, and knew that we would have justice…”