Bethany is a mom to 4 + the host of Milk and Murder, a crime podcast designed with busy parents in mind. When she's not reading about murder, she's busy drinking coffee and helping her clients out on Instagram.
September 16, 2020
This episode is really safe this week! Just a few notes for the very sensitive listener:
Domestic violence murder statistics, no gruesome details – time: 14:34-14:50
Polyamory and open marriages, not that anything is WRONG but in case you don’t feel like getting into it with your kid today – 15:40-16:05
Body discovered, coroner report, no gruesome details mentioned – 20:05-20:40
Cheryl – Mom, sister, grandma, beloved friend. The victim in this week’s episode.
Bill – Cheryl’s soon-to-be ex-Husband
M – Cheryl and Bill’s Daughter
(One way that I am able to continue producing content is through the use of affiliate links for tried and true products that I can vouch for. If you decide to take action after clicking that link- like if you were to buy a book or subscribe to something voluntarily- it would help support the podcast at no extra cost to you <3 )
I took last week off sort of unexpectedly, I’ve mentioned on here before that my youngest daughter has a lot of stomach issues and last week was WOOF! Extra hard. She spent most of every afternoon crying inconsolably so I decided not to push it with any extras. Have any of you been through this before?
This is my fussiest baby so far and it’s been a serious challenge. I’m just curious, do you have any advice? I’d love to hear what helped you get through the long days with a fussy infant. Will you send me a message on Instagram and tell me your tried and true tips?
At any rate, it’s back to crime this week and speaking of making contact, I have to say a special thank you to BFFs Carol and Ashley for sending my this case. I have a feeling that if it’s going to be solved, it will probably be solved pretty quickly and I really just wanted to get this story out there. If you have a case you’d like to send me, you can e-mail it to me at email@example.com – I read every e-mail and add every case to my list of potentials to cover, so I’d really like to read yours.
Last Tuesday, on September 8th, 2020, a funeral was taking place in Riverside, Ohio at Saint Helen’s Catholic Church. Saint Helen was known for using her power, money, and status as the mother of Constantine to help the poor. She built churches all over Rome and the Holy Land, and this church in the United States was named in her honor.
That morning, the decedent’s family did what they’ve spent the last two years knowing in their hearts they might never get to do. They are giving a woman they love a proper burial for her faith, a Mass of Christian Burial. It was a busy day- there was a public visitation, the St. Helen’s funeral, and then Cheryl Coker’s family joined together in a funeral procession to Dayton, Ohio’s 200-acre cemetery, Calvary Cemetery.
Four rows in from St. Michael Drive (the streets are named in this vast and sprawling cemetery,) Cheryl was laid to rest underneath the shade of three large trees.
I used to be married to a preacher and the only thing I liked about the job of being a young preacher’s wife was working in bereavement. The cemeteries were beautiful, and in fact, the apartment we lived in overlooked an old, turn-of-the-century cemetery.
But I have never seen anything like the cemetery where beloved mom Cheryl was buried. They have a natural preservation with acreage dedicated to those who seek earth-friendly burial, a mausoleum, and double-depth burial crypts. “The Spirit of the Living Water” gazebo with two waterfalls, trees to attract songbirds, and a BUTTERFLY GARDEN??
They make sure to note ** that you ought to call for pricing if you want your loved one to have these fancy amenities. You may reserve these spaces, like Paul and Donna, born in 1947 and 1956, respectively, who were yet to pass as of the promotional picture of their marker space on the gazebo.
The eleven-minute trip from Cheryl’s funeral service to her graveside service at this premier cemetery will likely be her last… unless for some reason her remains were exhumed and since the prime suspect in her murder has yet to be arrested, it could happen.
At the end of September, 2018, Cheryl Coker’s attorney filed her divorce papers from her husband Bill Coker and now she is waiting for him to be served. Her husband is gearing up to leave with their daughter (I’m not going to name her since she’s a minor and this case is still ongoing, so we’ll just call her M.) Cheryl knows her husband has a girlfriend, and there’s no reconciling at this point. In fact, Cheryl has met someone that she is kind of digging so the split seems to come at a natural time.
She reports to neighbors that she’s caught between relief that it’s over and a sense of loss over the last 19 years she has spent starting a small family with Bill. It’s likely what most of us would feel in this situation, it’s such a bittersweet life experience.
I’ve done this (from the preacher, remember??) and it’s truly one of the most internally polarizing feelings I’ve ever experienced- the thrill of getting the ball rolling and the weight of knowing you may soon have to deal with anger from the other party.
Bill and Cheryl had a teenage daughter together who lived at home, and Cheryl’s oldest daughter from a previous marriage had recently made her a grandma!
Bill was served with papers on September 24th, three days after Cheryl filed. He is served at their home on Christy Avenue with the divorce petition which included a temporary restraining order, requests for full custody of their daughter, child support, and spousal support.
Not much is on the record about Bill’s in person reaction but there are two texts of note. One of them is from him to Cheryl that says, “Thanks for putting the final nail in my coffin,” and then one to her co-workers which seems like it was maybe meant as a joke: “I will be in tomorrow if I’m not dead.”
I’m unsure of the living situation at this point, except that Cheryl definitely still lived in the home and that it definitely seemed like Bill still lived there ar the time as well. There wasn’t much time for them to really get into, however, because Bill has a trip out of town and Cheryl is planning on attending her niece’s wedding there Ohio.
On this note, I’m also not sure how the restraining order plays in here- I saw it on the court filings but I don’t know if it’s just kind of an automatic thing that people in that county included with their divorces, or if it had specific provisions for how they could communicate, or if Bill was living somewhere else?
Bottom line: I know it was filed, but I don’t know if it was as a result of anything Bill did or was doing at that time.
So Bill takes their daughter M, and Cheryl expresses on Facebook on October 1st that her baby is about to get back and she is SO ready for it. This post takes place shortly before Cheryl disappears on October 2nd and is never seen alive again.
Here’s the timeline straight from a press conference held by the police:
7:15 – Cheryl drops her daughter M off at school
7:35 – she arrives back at home
7:40-7:45 – she makes several facebook posts
7:35-7:51 – her phone pings several times at the Christy Avenue home before a three hour gap in activity.
10:52 – her phone pings near Kroger, and her Toyota Highlander enters the store’s surveillance footage. So this means that her phone is starting to ping again as it approaches the store in her vehicle.
The driver of the vehicle PARKS and exits, but it’s NOT Cheryl. It’s subject (looks like a man, I’ll just be calling the subject him/he) dressed all in black, and he walks across the parking lot the main street that Kroger’s toward Christy’s house.
A 911 caller reports a suspicious-looking white man walking around in all black with his hood up in their neighborhood a short distance from the Coker’s home, he’s afraid that the man is “up to something.”
At first I thought, oh brother. Here’s another one of those weirdos who sees someone walking down his street and thinks he has to call the police. I chewed on this for a few days before I saw all of the surveillance footage and I had to eat some humble pie. This is actually incredibly scary.
The 911 Caller sees the man, dressed all in black with a hoodie walking through his neighborhood. When the man makes eye contact with the 911 caller, he covers his face so he can’t be identified.
During the 911 call, the caller sees the man a second time and he is walking up Spring Garden Place up Christy Avenue. This is unnerving because the Man in Black-
(Hello PRINCESS BRIDE fans!)
-is now walking behind Spinning Hills Middle School. The man is seen on school surveillance, covering his face once again, around 11:13 am. I don’t know what pops into your head at this point, but I for SURE don’t want anyone walking around my kids’ school while they are trying to hide their face from being seen.
The thought of that made my stomach drop a little.
A second witness confirms these sightings and says that what really stuck out to them was that the person was wearing thick and heavy clothes but the weather was actually hot that day. During the time that Cheryl’s Highlander was parked to the time that the Man in Black is seen on the Middle School Cameras, the weather archives shows that it was a hot 74* outside.
AKA, no one would reasonably be that dressed up that much on such a hot day. This brings me back to my first-ever Criminal Justice course in college, Criminal Justice 101 where I learned about something called the “15 Guilt-Laden Facts.” These are things that a person could do that are a bit unusual and might merit raised suspicion.
Some of these are: loitering, having a visible injury, being in the wrong place at the wrong time and- in this case- wearing unseasonably warm clothing.
(Please note that I am not saying that any of these are a valid reason to call the police, in fact it’s a personal belief of mine that the police are often brought into situations they shouldn’t be- this is just a theory about what things LOOK LIKE criminal activity. The Man in Black checks a few of these boxes.)
Not much activity happens that day in terms of activity and searching for Cheryl except that Cheryl is not answering phone calls from her daughter, M, and her family says that would NEVER happen and that she doesn’t go anywhere without her phone.
Parking lot, middle school, and Kroger surveillance footage.
At 8:08 PM on the evening of the 2nd, Bill enters the Kroger’s where Cheryl’s car is parked, makes a small purchase, and is out of the store by 8:11 PM. A three minute timespan.
The surveillance of this small purchase will end up raising some alarm bells because- perhaps guilty, perhaps unlucky- Bill is seen wearing dark shoes, a black pair of shorts, and a black shirt.
As I mentioned, Cheryl’s daughter is alarmed that she cannot reach her mom and this prompts her to reach out to Cheryl’s sisters. M uses the find iPhone feature and it leads her to find the phone in the Highlander in the Kroger’s parking lot. Cheryl’s family is alarmed at this discovery and her sister reports her missing shortly after midnight on October 3rd.
Searches for Cheryl begin but nothing of note is found for almost 18 months. The members of her family go to bed with a sick feeling in their stomaches each and every night with the exception of, perhaps, Bill Coker. He seems disinterested in the whole situation.
Naturally, the police questioned Bill extensively. The husband is always a suspect because in approximately 40% of all women who are murdered are killed by their partners (hence my social media username itwasthehusband,) whereas only 7% of men are murdered by their partners.
By and large, cis men are doing the murdering.
Beyond that, the couple JUST filed for divorce and that doesn’t make things look good for Bill either. Initially, Bill is incredibly cooperative though the police do want to note that he is not interested in taking a polygraph, more commonly known as a lie detector test. While this is always mentioned as a sign that someone must OBVIOUSLY be guilty, polygraphs aren’t incredibly accurate.
For this reason, they are rarely admissible in court and most lawyers advise against them.
(Cool/weird sidenote here- the inventor of the Lie Detector Test was William Marston. He also created the character Wonder Woman, and was a huge part of developing the DISC personality assessment. The Lie Detector is still lacking so much that I just like to refer to Marston as the ultimate Jack of all Trades, Master of None.)
Marston was also engaged in something that was extremely scandalous for his time- polyamory. This helps us come full circle back to the Coker case because Bill, during the questioning claims that he and Cheryl were in an open relationship.
I’m not saying this to dog open relationships, but in this case I smell a bit of, uh, BS? My brothers and I used to call BS Beluga Squirrel so our parents wouldn’t know what we meant. I know my mom listens to this podcast, so sorry mom.
This feels a bit like Beluga Squirrel because he uses this information to casually suggest that Cheryl randomly ran off with another man.
But what about Bill’s alibi? Well, yikes. He CLAIMS he was at home during the time between Cheryl’s last Facebook posts and the time when her car was dropped off at Kroger’s.
Uh, what? Okay. So hang on. Let’s go back to that Man in Black.
Let’s just say we give Bill the benefit of the doubt and say sure, okay buddy, you were at home during this time. So you didn’t notice Cheryl leave? And you didn’t notice an entire Man dressed in Black coming and going from your house?
On this note, what are YOU, listener, thinking about that 8 PM Kroger trip?
I mean…okay maybe he didn’t notice Cheryl’s car parked in the parking lot. But assuming his daughter M is hyped and worried about her mom not being around, does she just not saying anything to Bill?
I feel like if my kids were like, “HEY, we can’t get ahold of dad!!” then maaaaybe I’d be on high alert and it would be kind of hard to miss the fact that my ex-partner’s car was at the store I was popping in to.
I can always notice my ex-husband’s car because he lets the kids put stickers all over the window and it’s like, “OH LOOK, there’s the black care with the STICKERS ALL OVER THE WINDOW!”
It’s hard to imagine he’d be so stupid as to THEN return to the store around 8 PM that same night, right? Unless he was returning to check on the car and didn’t want to be seen on surveillance circling the parking lot for no reason and this is why the store trip took all of three minutes.
I know this is all speculation but things get even weirder.
Police also interview Bill’s girlfriend and she tells the police that on August 28th, over a month before Cheryl disappears, she received a text from Cheryl asking if she were to die or if she wasn’t in the picture, would she (the girlfriend) pursue a permanent relationship with Bill? However, the police aren’t convinced that Cheryl did send that text…I’m not sure if they mean that they think that the text was sent but that, perhaps, it wasn’t sent by Cheryl or if they mean that no text like this was ever sent at all.
After this, Bill rarely checks in on the case and doesn’t conduct any media interviews. One rare time that the media were able to catch up with Bill, he is quoted as saying, “I have never in my life hurt anyone.”
He goes on to say about Cheryl that she was “engaging in really risky behavior” and he didn’t want to speak out about it to “protect his daughter.” Okay, fair if this is TRUE. However, the police make it public at this time, in February 2019, that they have one suspect and that suspect is Bill Coker.
The timeline given by police and naming William Coker their prime suspect.
This is the press conference where the surveillance footage is released, where the timeline is given for the disappearance, and where they say they are now leveling this investigation up to a homicide instead of just a Missing Persons case. They are asked if M, Cheryl’s daughter, is in any danger and they state that they won’t comment on her.
I do wonder about this move, strategically. Do they think they are closing in on Bill? Are they using this press conference to apply pressure to Bill or for some other reason? M still has to go to school, how does this affect her with literally everyone knowing and thinking that her dad killed her mom?
They state that they do have new information and they are really just missing that body to tie up loose ends.
14 months later, Cheryl makes herself known to a man in a bright orange shirt who hunting for mushrooms off of Waynesville-Jamestown road, about 15 miles from Cheryl’s home on Christy Avenue, where he called the police. There, they found Cheryl’s bones.
Body cam footage of the discovery of Cheryl’s remains, NOTHING graphic is shown- this just gives an idea of the location.
The coroner’s report states:
“Due to the condition of the remains, near complete skeletonization, the precise cause of death could not be determined,” the coroner’s report read. “However, the circumstances surrounding the disappearance as developed by law enforcement investigators, and death, as the post mortem changes are consistent with the time period and clothing is reported to be what was worn at the time of the disappearance, suggest the cause of death is related to foul play and as such a common term used to certify the cause of death is homicidal violence of unknown etiology.”
Etiology means the cause of a condition, in this case, death.
In the press conference about Cheryl’s remains, the sheriff offers his condolences to her family but does not include or mention Bill. And that’s sort of where this case leaves off. Cheryl’s friends and families feel strongly that Bill did it, but he still hasn’t been arrested and he is still living his life as M’s dad. We don’t know where the evidence is pointing now, and whether or not it’s looking more or less like he was the one who did it.
I’m going to leave you with two thoughts before I close this podcast out. I need to give you an action step before I do that:
Check out Texas Equusearch– they are an organization that searched for Cheryl 14 times. They do amazing work- they are a non-profit organization that works with families of the missing to do extensive searches at no cost.
Here is an excerpt from Cheryl’s obituary:
Cheryl was a devoted daughter who valued her time with her mother. Cheryl spoke to her mother daily. They vacationed many times together. The most memorable vacation was to NYC with her mother and sister, where they were able to “see the sights” and catch a Broadway show. Cheryl loved life and entertaining family and friends at her home, she never missed a holiday with her family. Cheryl will be remembered as a fun-loving person with an infectious laugh and a love for country music, especially Brad Paisley. Cheryl was a very sweet person, her love and kindness will forever leave a mark in our hearts, her untimely death leaves us heartbroken.
Since Cheryl was a big fan of Brad Paisley, I found these lyrics by Brad Paisley and Cheryl- I wanted to dedicate these words to you.
So much pain and so much darkness
In this world we stumble through
All these questions I can’t answer
So much work to do
But when I get where I’m going
And I see my Maker’s face
I’ll stand forever in the light
Of His amazing grace
Oh when I get where I’m going
There’ll be only happy tears
I will love and have no fear
When I get where I’m going
Issues Mentioned in This Episode: