Greenlight for Murder: He said he was a documentary filmmaker who needed two teen models for a location shoot. His real intentions were far more sinister.
Dark Obsession: When a young girl goes missing in broad daylight, suspicion soon falls on the unlikeliest of suspects – her beloved uncle.
The Dreadful Truth: The doctor had a gambling problem. His way out was to hand over his beautiful, young wife to a pair of killers.
Death at the Hilton: Three friends embark on the trip of a lifetime. It ends with a bloodbath inside a hotel room.
The Devil’s Work: Two teenaged girls on an ill-advised late night hitchhiking trip; two miscreants roaming the streets; a tragedy about to unfold.
Game of Death: An obsessive online gamer falls for a young woman he met in a chat room. How far will he go to win her heart? As far as murder?
The Widow and the Doctor: The menfolk of the Sparling clan are dropping like flies. Does it have anything to do with the new doctor who has arrived in town?
Say Goodbye: Theresa was determined to keep her children away from her estranged husband. If it meant that they all had to die, then so be it.
Murder Most Vile Volume 31
Greenlight for Murder
After graduating high school, Herbert Coddington could have achieved just about anything he set his mind to. Instead, he dropped out of Oswego College after just one semester and ended up flipping burgers at a local Burger King. He then graduated to working in a shoe store and then to hawking used cars. A stint in the Marines also ended badly. Coddington had seen this as a potential pathway into a career with the CIA or FBI. But he went AWOL soon after basic training and was later discharged as unfit for duty. Over the next few years, he drifted from one dead-end job to another, eventually ending up in Reno, Nevada. There, he discovered that he had a talent for blackjack or, more specifically, for counting cards.
Coddington’s mathematically inclined brain made him good at this swindle, so good in fact that he accumulated more than $200,000 at the tables in the five years between 1981 and 1986. He even took his show on the road during this period, traveling to the gambling capitals of Europe, where his well-honed system was just as effective. But by now, Coddington had begun to unravel. He had started seeing signs in every little motion made by the dealers and patterns in the cards he was dealt. Playing these hunches proved rather less profitable than his card counting system. Within the space of just 18 months, he was down $150,000 and living off loans from his parents.
And Coddington’s paranoia was not only restricted to his gambling activities. It had begun to influence his everyday life, affecting decisions about things as mundane as what he ate for breakfast. He attached particular significance to traffic lights, which he began to think of as signs from God. If he was stopped by a red light while driving, he’d take that as a sign that he should abandon plans for whatever preoccupied his mind at that time; yellow meant he should proceed cautiously; green was divine permission for him to go ahead. On a day in May 1987, Coddington was thinking about abducting a young girl and holding her as a sex slave, an idea he’d first hatched after watching a movie called “Sweet Hostage.” On this particular day, it appeared that every light he approached instantly turned to green.
Maybelle “Mabs” Martin was 69 years old and ran the Showcase Finishing and Modeling School in Reno, Nevada. Her charges were all teen and pre-teen girls, and Mabs was very protective of them, personally chaperoning every shoot they were hired for. The prospective client who attended her studio on May 14, however, did not seem like anyone she had to worry about. He was a producer of advertising clips from Georgia, a well-dressed and well-spoken young man named Marc, who said that he needed two young girls to appear in an anti-drugs video, to be shot in South Lake Tahoe, California, two days hence. Mabs, who had strong opinions on substance abuse and was a member of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, was only too happy to help. After auditioning a number of girls, Marc eventually selected 14-year-old Alecia Thomas and 12-year-old Monica Berge. A deal was then struck for Mabs to bring the girls to the Nugget Casino, near South Lake Tahoe, on Saturday, May 16. Marc would meet them there and bring them to the shooting locale.
At around 7:45 on that morning, Mabs Martin set off from Reno with her two young models and an additional chaperone, 67-year-old Dorothy “Dotty” Walsh. She was anticipating an easy drive and a relatively quick turnaround. In fact, she’d told the girls’ parents that she’d have them home by early afternoon. But the journey took longer than expected. Monica became carsick on the twisty road across the Sierras and they had to pull over several times. They arrived late at the agreed meeting place.
But that did not seem to bother Marc. He told Mabs that he’d have to drive along with her, since the friend who’d dropped him off at the casino had already left. He then squeezed into the back seat between Alecia and Monica and directed Mabs to drive to a mobile home just across the California state line. They could freshen up there, he said, and then go on to the shooting location, which was beside a nearby lake. Following his directions, Mabs was shortly pulling the car to a halt under a carport in the Tahoe Verde trailer park. Then they all got out and entered the home, where Marc directed them to the “dressing room.” It was on entering that room that Mabs first realized something was wrong. With thick plywood nailed to the walls, floor, and ceiling, the room looked like an isolation cell. Mabs turned to protest, and it was then that Marc, a.k.a. Herbert Coddington, punched her in the face.
A vicious but one-sided battle now ensued, with Coddington beating all of his victims into submission and then tying them up. He then threw jackets over the heads of the girls and turned his attention to the older victims, cinching cable ties around their necks and pulling them so tight that the women were soon gasping for breath. The girls, lying terrified under the jackets, heard Mabs complain that she couldn’t breathe; they heard Dotty begging for her life and saying that she had a heart problem. Then all was silent for a while before they heard the sound of something heavy being dragged across the floor. Coddington was moving the bodies into the master bedroom. He then returned to hustle the girls into the boarded-up room, showing them a gun with a silencer and warning them that he could kill them if he wanted to. “As long as you co-operate, you won’t be harmed,” he told them before locking them inside. Later, he’d return with a grapefruit, a bag of raisins and a jug of water. Eventually, the girls fell asleep.
The following morning, Alecia and Monica were woken by the sound of grunts and groans from the living room. Then they picked up music that they recognized and gathered that Coddington was working out to an exercise video. A short time later, he appeared at the door wearing a red ski mask and ordered them out of the room. He then pressed play on the VCR and instructed them to follow the routines on the Jane Fonda exercise tape while he watched. Eventually, he placed pillow cases over their heads and forced them back into the room. It was then that he revealed to them why they had been brought there. What he told them was terrifying. According to Coddington, they were to perform in a sex video that he was making for underground European distribution.
“Are you going to rape us?” Alecia asked fearfully.
“Of course not,” Coddington replied. “I wouldn’t do that to you.” He then explained that he had abducted a young boy who would perform with them, as though that somehow made it better.
Now followed one of the most bizarre interludes in this already convoluted series of events. After Coddington departed, the girls could hear two voices from the living room. One was that of the director, instructing the boy what he had to do and warning him to “be gentle.” The other was of their young co-star, sounding scared but compliant. Except that it was obvious to the girls that both voices were Coddington. Then he was opening the door, still providing instructions, telling the boy not to hurt them, to massage them, to relax them. Soon Monica and Alecia felt hands on their bodies and then they were being touched inappropriately, probed, molested. “Please don't kill me,” Monica sobbed. To this, Coddington replied in the voice of the boy. “I'm not going to kill you. I have to do this. I’m sorry.”
The disappearances had, of course, been reported by now, and since it appeared kidnapping was involved, the FBI had already been called into the investigation. On Sunday morning, the Reno Police Department assigned Detective Steve O’Brien to the case, and O’Brien soon unearthed a valuable lead. On the day that ‘Marc’ had met with Mabs Martin, one of the agency’s models had seen him walking to his BMW. She remembered the plate, she said, because it was unusual. It said: “TV TEEN.”
O’Brien immediately got to work on this lead. Frustratingly for him, it turned up nothing; the state database had no record of such a license plate. Then someone suggested that maybe the plate had said “TVETEN” rather than “TV TEEN.” Joe Tveten was a well-known used car dealer in South Lake Tahoe. He sometimes put those promotional plates on cars that he sold. Questioned by O’Brien, Tveten admitted that he had loaned a set of plates to a friend of his, Herb Coddington.
“Is this him?” O’ Brien asked, showing a composite of the suspect.
“Yeah, that’s Herbie,” Tveten responded. He then provided the officer with Coddington’s address.
Herbert James Coddington was arrested by agents of the FBI at his Tahoe Verde trailer on Monday, May 18, 1987. Despite having three handguns and two rifles in the home, he surrendered without a fight. Indeed, he appeared terrified, crying and shaking and telling the agents that he was sick and didn’t want to go to jail. Monica and Alecia were found alive but clearly traumatized. Mabs Martin and Dotty Walsh were not so lucky. Their battered corpses were found wrapped in garbage bags and stowed in Coddington’s master bedroom. “I had to kill them,” Coddington told the arresting officers. Then, reverting to his little boy voice, “I put them in bags so they didn’t make messies.”
Herb Coddington clearly had mental issues, and this was a theme that his defense counsel would rely heavily on at the trial. But did his illness meet the legal definition of insanity? The jury didn’t think so and, with clear evidence of pre-meditation, found him guilty of first-degree murder, making him eligible for the death penalty. Judge Terrence Finney made it official when he handed down that sanction on January 20, 1989.
And so, Coddington was shipped off to await what many consider his well-deserved execution at San Quentin State Prison in California. During his time on death row, he has been linked to another murder, the 1981 slaying of 12-year-old Sheila Jo Keister in Las Vegas, Nevada. A composite sketch of the suspect, issued at the time the girl’s body was discovered, bears a remarkable likeness to Coddington. In addition, bite marks on the victim’s body have been conclusively matched to him. Coddington was subsequently charged with the murder. Given that he has already been condemned to death, it seems unlikely that he will ever be tried.
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