Timothy Coggins was a 23-year-old Black man who was brutally murdered, in part, because he was “socializing” with a white woman. Frankie Gebhardt Jr. and Bill Moore Sr. were convicted in the 1983 murder 35 years later.
Coggins’ grisly death haunted his family, along with the fact that his case went cold with no justice served for decades. Several of his family members died awaiting justice. Some of the details of his racially motivated murder are disturbing.
His body was found in a field in rural Griffin, Georgia about 36 hours after he died. At the time, authorities collected evidence from the crime scene, but did not know who he was, according to a 1983 article from the Griffin Daily News. The story of Coggins’ murder is airing on ABC 20/20 in a two-hour special, “In the Cold, Dark Night,” at 9/8C Friday, July 17, 2020.
Here’s what you need to know:
Frankie Gebhardt Bragged About the Murder Over the Years, According to Trial Testimony
Timothy Coggins died a brutal death when he was only 23 years old, and his killer, Frankie Gebhardt Jr., bragged about the murder beginning just a few hours after the young man was found dead in Griffin, Georgia. Coggins was lured into a truck by Gebhardt and Moore outside a club October 9, 2013, where he had been dancing with a white woman, according to History. Coggins was badly disfigured in the murder, and investigators worked to identify him. Gebhardt’s confessions continued throughout the years to family, friends and jail mates. Several of those who heard the story from Gebhardt testified at his trial, where he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years.
One of those who testified against Gebhardt was Willard Sanders, who was a hunter who found Coggins’ body.
“He brought up, did we find the body on the power line? I said ‘yeah,”‘ Sanders told jurors, according to the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. “And he said he and Bill put him there. He said Bill killed him, and he tied chains to his feet and drug him on the power line.”
Another man, Jonathan Bennett, heard the stories even though he was not yet born when Coggins died. He told jurors that years later, he overheard Gebhardt telling his father that he had killed Coggins.
“He said that William Moore stabbed him 38 times, and then he tied him to the back of the truck and drug him down the road,” Bennett said.
Officials testified Coggins was taken to a field in Sunny Side, about 30 miles south of Atlanta, and stabbed more than 30 times. Both of his lungs were punctured and his genitals were mutilated. He was tied up with a logging chain to the back of a truck, and dragged up and down a field along a rural road, according to CNN.
Witnesses testified Coggins was killed because he had been dancing with a white woman at a club on the night he was murdered, according to the Pike County Journal-Reporter. The murder case was closed just two months after he was murdered.
Special Agent Jared Coleman and Capt. Mike Morris with the Spalding Sheriff’s Office reopened the case in December 2016, conducting hundreds of interviews and digging up new forensic evidence on Gebhardt’s property, where he threw a knife, chain and clothing into a well. By 2016, part of Gebhardt’s property sat over the well. Chris DeMarco was the GBI supervisor over the case.
“There were a lot of man hours that went into getting convictions on this case. We had strong circumstantial evidence but we needed strong witnesses and through all of our interviews, we were able to find new witnesses as well,” he told the Pike County Journal-Reporter. “We had a District Attorney’s office and sheriff’s office that were fully on board with working on this case and it was a total team effort. The main thing is, at the end of the day, the Coggins family got some closure. There was a lot that went into making sure justice was finally served.”
A 1983 Autopsy Indicated Timothy Coggins Died of Multiple Stab Wounds to the Back, Puncturing Both Lungs
— Eliott C. McLaughlin (@ByEliott) October 19, 2017
Hunters in rural Griffin, Georgia made a startling discovery on Sunday, October 9, 1983 when they found the body of 23-year-old Timothy Coggins. An autopsy report, completed shortly after Coggins died, indicated his cause of death was multiple stab wounds to the back, which punctured both of his lungs, according to a 1983 article from the Griffin Daily News.
He also had defensive wounds to his arms, where he had tried to shield his body from the knife, Investigator Larry Campbell told a Griffin Daily News journalist at the time.
“He had been worked over with a knife pretty well,” he said.
Former Spalding County sheriff’s deputy Oscar Jordan elaborated on the details of the murder in an interview with ABC News.
“He had seven stab wounds to the front of his chest,” Jordan said. “And then he had a cross cut across the chest. And then, [on his] back, it was the same way. I was later told that it represented the Confederate flag… The worst part about it [is] they didn’t kill him. [The] autopsy showed he bled out. Thrown behind a pile of wood. Left to die.”