On May 16, 1987, Herbert James Coddington lured Alecia Thoma, 14, and Monica Berge, 12, , to a mobile home in South Lake Tahoe, California. Coddington had told them they would be used as actresses for an ant-drug film, but it was a ruse. He killed their chaperones and sexually assaulted the girls. After Coddington was arrested, police discovered he was responsible for the murder of Sheila Jo Keister, a 12-year-old, who had been murdered in 1981.
Using the alias, Mark Bloomfield, Coddington called multiple modeling agencies and requested female models to act in an ant-drug film.
On May 13, 1987, Coddington called the Avalon Agency and asked where the agency was located and asked about female models for an anti-drug film he was shooting at Lake Tahoe.
In May 1987, Coddington had also contacted a woman named Candice Smith. Candice was familiar with Coddington from work; he often played blackjack at a table where she was a dealer. Coddington called Candice at 3:00 a.m. and introduced himself as John Parrot. He explained he was calling from a company stationed in Atlanta, Georgia, who was looking for a woman to be in a beer commercial. According to court documents, during the call, Coddington mentioned Candice’s daughter. Candice declined the offer and hung up. At 9:00 a.m. Coddington called back and told Candice that the call was legitimate and offered to put his partner on the phone, who Candice believed was the same person. Coddington then asked Candice to lunch; she hung up.
On May 14, 1987, Coddington contacted the Barbizon Modeling School and Agency and told the person who answered the phone his name was Mark Bloomfield, and he was with a communications company in Georgia. The following day, Coddington went in person to the modeling agency and had a business card that said the word “Parrot” on it (for Parrot Communications). The owner of the modeling agency believed that he “was nervous and in disguise” and refused to give him any models.
On the same day, Maybelle “Mabs” Martin, 69, owner of Showcase Models took Coddington on as a client and set up an audition for him at her modeling agency. Coddington showed up to the audition, using the Mark Bloomfield alias, wearing a dark pinstripe suit with glasses. Alecia and Monica, along with several other young females, auditioned for what they believed was an anti-drug commercial. The girls would read lines from cue cards as an audition.
The following day, on May 15, 1987, Coddington had another audition set up at the Barbizon Modeling School. Later in the evening, he auditioned another model from the prior agency, Showcase Models, Jennifer. Jennifer was older and already driving. She had driven herself to the audition and once, speaking with Coddington about the part, wanted to drive herself to the location of where the commercial would be filmed. Coddington had told her he wanted to drive to Tahoe with everyone and had arranged for Jennifer to meet him at the Golden Nugget. Later that night, Coddington called Jennifer and told her that his photographer decided she was too old. He would also call Monica and Alecia to tell them they were chosen for the parts and would receive $50 an hour.
On May 16, 1987, Mabs told her son she was driving with the girls and a friend, Dottie Walsh, 67. Mabs picked up the girls, picked up Dottie, and then drove to the Golden Nugget to meet Coddington. Coddington took the group of 4 to the trailer in South Lake Tahoe, California.
Upon arriving at the trailer, Coddington instructed Alecia and Monica to go in the trailer, so they could change into shorts and fix their makeup. Mabs and Dottie entered the house with Monica and Alecia and were led to a room reinforced with plywood with a bed in it. According to court documents, as the group entered, Coddington “rammed” into Mabs and Dottie as he closed the door behind him and hit Alecia in the face with a rectangular object. He continued to hit Mabs and Dottie in their face and chest.
Coddington instructed Mabs and Dottie to lie on the floor or he would kill the girls. He then used “FLEX-CUFs” to bind their hands behind their backs and bind their feet. According to court documents, Dottie begged not to be killed and Mabs offered herself and her money for the girl’s safety. Coddington then placed a pillowcase over Mabs head and put a FLEX-CUFF around her neck. Mabs asked Coddington to loosen it. Within minutes Mabs was gagging from not being able to breathe, fell on her side, and died. Coddington murdered Dottie the same way.
The court document states that Coddington then made Alecia and Monica lay over the legs of their chaperones and used more FLEX-CUFs to bind their hands behind their backs and their feet together. Coddington then put a jacket over Alecia’s face and placed her on the bed. He put a pair of shorts over Monica’s face and put her on the floor next to the bed.
According to court documents, Alecia then heard Dottie make a “throwing up” sound. Monica recalled hearing a gargling noise. Both girls then heard what sounded like bodies being dragged and rustling plastic. Monica believed Mabs and Dottie were taken out of the room.
Coddington returned to the room where Alecia and Monica were being held and unbound, their wrists from behind their backs. Using belts, Coddington retied their hands in front of them. He put a ski-mask over Alecia’s eyes and tied a rope around her neck to secure it. Alecia could see Coddington cleaning up a red stain on the floor and asked him what he was doing. Coddington told her he spilled Kool-Aid and was cleaning it. Monica was also able to see Coddington clean what she described to be a dark brown stain on the carpet.
Coddington eventually allowed Alecia and Monica to take off their masks and bindings. He told them he may hold them for a ransom. Monica asked if he had planned to kill them. In response, Coddington brandished a pistol with a silencer and stated that if he wanted to kill them, he could have already. He then gave them some water and put pillowcases on their hands. Coddington would bring them fruit and would bring them magazines. Alecia noticed a mailing address on the magazine and would rip it off and save it. The girls would spend the night in the trailer.
In the morning, Coddington made Alecia and Monica take vitamins and feed them eggs and strawberries. Both girls recalled Coddington was wearing something over his face and seen orange hair sticking out. The girls were allowed to watch TV in the living room for a bit. After some time, Coddington told them he was going to workout and told them to go into the other room to change clothes, so they could work out too.
Coddington exercised in the next room and then took a shower. He then played an exercise video and forced the girls to workout. Afterwards, Coddington told the girls they could shower, which they declined.
Coddington then told Alecia and Monica a fabricated story. He said they would have to make a sexual tape with an 18-year-old boy that his friends had kidnapped. Coddington did not have friends over and there was not a kidnapped boy.
He blindfolded them and told them they would have to take their clothes. Alecia asked Coddington if he was going to rape them, to which he said no. He added that he would hurt the boy if he hurt them. Both girls were put on the bed. According to court documents, they would hold hands.
Coddington told the fake-kidnapped boy to be gentle. He would then pretend to be the kidnapped boy and use a fake voice to sounds like a younger male. Coddington climbed on top of Monica and started whispering in her ear as the kidnapped boy and told her he was scared. He also said there were people were who had guns in the house. Coddington sexually assaulted Monica for approximately 30 minutes before asking him to stop and to get dressed.
Coddington turned his attention to Alecia. He would use the fake voice and pretended to be a kidnapped boy who was being forced to sexually assault. According to court documents, he would kiss her entire body for about 20 minutes. Alecia asked him to stop, which he did.
He let both girls get dressed and go into the living room. Coddington told the girls they would have to make another video since the one they made was “not worth two cents”. He told the girls he would release them after another 10 minutes and forced them to go back into the bedroom.
Once in the bedroom, he blindfolded them, put Monica on the bed, and Alecia on the floor. The girls continued to hold hands. Coddington would pretend to be a British man and spoke using a British accent. He stated that the video was no good and another one would have to be made.
Coddington would remove Monica’s clothing again and penetrated her vagina with his finger. He would continue to sexually assault and rape her. According to court documents, Alecia stated it was extremely painful, so Coddington stopped using his penis and used his finger again to penetrate her. Alecia had noticed a red light coming from the corner, which she believed was a camera.
Alecia and Monica asked to call their parents. Coddington did not let them, but told them he would allow them to record a message for them. The girls watched TV later that night and would eventually fall asleep.
In the morning, Coddington told the girls he was going to bring them near a payphone so they could call the police. He told them when they spoke to the police, they were to say they had been kidnapped and taken to Sacramento, where they were held in a 2-story blue house. Coddington threatened the girls’ families if they did not stick to the story. Coddington had never released the girls.
Alecia’s father had reported his daughter missing to the police. He had broken into Mab’s studio and was led to Jennifer K., the teenager who Coddington deemed too old for his film. Jennifer relayed the license plate she remembered to Alecia’s stepfather. The license plate did not read “TVTEEN” as Jennifer remembered, but “TEVEN”, which was a car dealership in South Lake Tahoe.
Detectives located the Teven dealership and learned the owner had given a friend a license plate to use on his BMW until he got it registered. He confirmed his friend was Herb Coddington by a sketch shown to him and provided authorities with the address he knew Coddington to occupy. Teven, the owner of the dealership, had called Coddington to inform him that he had sold his car for him (a business deal they had made prior). He had also informed him there was a picture of him in the post office. Teven asked if he had been involved in the kidnapping. Coddington replied “that he had done much worse”.
Detectives put surveillance on the trailer and followed Coddington to the post office. They watched him as he looked at the board where the wanted poster was posted. Coddington returned to the trailer at 9:00 p.m. At 9:03 a man who identified themselves as Coddington called the FBI and acknowledged that he was wanted by the FBI. The agent took the caller’s name, number, and address.
While in the trailer, Coddington told the girls he had been found and was attempting to wash off evidence from the girls’ clothing. FBI agents knocked on the door and asked to speak to Coddington. Coddington stated he wanted to speak over the phone and not in person and turned the lights out. The FBI called the trailer and told Coddington to do as they instructed and open the door for the agents at the door. Coddington told the FBI agent over the phone that the girls were in his trailer, and he wanted to go to the hospital.
Agents entered the trailer by force through the door. An agent outside broke a window and ordered Coddington to lie on the floor until other agents entered and took him into custody. While being searched, he told agents the girls were , but he was sick. He added that Mabs and Dottie were in the back room and he had placed them in baggies because he did not want any “messies” While being transported, he stated he killed both women and he was sick.
Investigators found both women with their hands bound, wrapped in plastic garbage bags in a back room of the trailer. The medical examiner determined Mabs and Dottie both died from “ligature neck compression” was the cause of death.
Physical examinations of Alecia determined she had been sexually assaulted. There was “bluish bruising in the vaginal area and torn necrotic tissue hanging from the hymen”. Monica also showed evidence of a sexual assault.
Herb Coddington was born in 1959.
In the early 1980s, Coddington would frequent the casinos in Las Vegas. He was able to count cards, which allowed him to make a living gambling. Coddington had authored two books about gambling and card counting.
According to court documents, Coddington was “against smoking, drinking, taking drugs, or eating junk food.”
Charges & Trial
Coddington told investigators he committed the crimes because “there were too many bad things in the world, too much smoking in the casinos, and too many drunk drivers.” He was charged with two counts of murder, forcible rape, oral copulation, and forcible digital penetration.
The case gained a lot of public attention, so a judge ordered the trial to take place in Placerville, California.
Coddington entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. After the trial concluded, the jury found Coddington to be sane at the time of the murders and sexual assaults; they found him guilty on 6 counts.
The jury recommended the death penalty be carried out. In January 1989, Coddington was sentenced to death.
Sheila Jo Keister
After being arrested for murdering Mabs and Dottie and for sexually assaulting Alecia and Monica, investigators looked into Coddington’s history to see if they could link him to any other crimes. During their search, they came across the murder of Shelia Jo Keister.
Shelia Jo Keister, 12, was born on July 8, 1969, to Auguesta Harrison and William Keister. Shelia had a twin sister, Sheba, and a younger brother, Stevie.
On August 18, 1981, Shelia had wanted to use her younger brother’s bike, but he would not let her. Instead, she decided to go hang out with a friend who lived in a different section of the trailer park. Auguesta told reporters at the Reno Gazette-Journal that she had heated her daughter up a can of corn to eat, as they did not have much food in the house, but Sheila asked her mom to save her food; she wanted to go play. Shelia left home around 1:30 p.m.
When Shelia did not return home within a few hours, her mother called the police. By the time Shelia’s mom reported her missing, target shooters had discovered her body in a desert area near the city. She had been raped and strangled. Investigators also noted there were bite marks on her breasts.
Police assumed that Shelia had been hitchhiking, though her mother and sister were adamant that she was not. They believed she was coerced into getting into a vehicle or abducted. Shelia’s case remained unsolved for 6 years until the bite marks on Shelia were connected to Coddington.
A warrant for charges of abduction, rape, and murder was served to Coddington while he was in jail in July 1987.
It is unclear if Coddington was ever convicted and sentenced for Shelia’s murder.
Coddington was sentenced to death for the murders and sexual assaults. He has been serving his time in San Quentin prison. He has appealed his death conviction multiple times; all have been denied. The last time California carried out an execution was in 2006; over 600 inmates are currently on death-row in California.