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On This Day in True Crime: Cynthia Coffman

Cynthia Coffman in 1990 (L) and now

Cynthia Coffman was the first woman to receive a death sentence in California since the reinstatement of the death penalty in California in 1977. She is currently sitting on Death Row in the Central California Women’s Facility

Coffman was born on January 19th, 1962 to an affluent and devoutly Catholic family. At seventeen, she became pregnant, and quickly married the father of her child. She remained in this loveless, violent relationship for five years until she fled west. Ending up in Page, AZ, she fell into a relationship with a low-level drug dealer.

After their car was stopped for running a red light in Barstow, CA, police discovered a loaded handgun and methamphetamine in Coffman’s purse. She was released and the charges were later dismissed, but her boyfriend ended up spending six weeks in the local jail. Here, she would meet a man that would change her life forever: James Gregory Marlow, her boyfriend’s cellmate.

James G. Marlow

James Gregory Marlow was serving time for stealing his sixth wife’s car. Having spent 3 years in Folsom prison, he was known as ‘The Folsom Wolf,’ a name he received based on his violent allegiance to the neo-Nazi group the Aryan Brotherhood. Marlow and Coffman fell in love almost immediately, and they left together when Marlow completed his sentence.

They traveled the country together, committing petty burglaries and also armed robberies. In Tennessee, they married, with Coffman getting “I belong to the Folsom Wolf” tattooed on her butt to mark the occasion.

Marlow and Coffman would kill four times over the next couple of months. First, in Costa Mesa, CA, they would kidnap, rape and strangle 32-year-old Sandra Neary. Traveling next to Bullhead City, AZ, 35yo Pamela Simmons was abducted while withdrawing money from an ATM.

Sandra Neary

Ten days after Pamela Simmons’ murder, the pair traveled back to California, and 20-year-old Corinna Novis was kidnapped while also drawing money from an ATM. Five days later, Lynel Murray was kidnapped from a shopping mall parking lot in broad daylight. Her body, which showed signs of rape and strangulation, was found two days later in a Huntington Beach motel room.

Crime scene of Lynel Murray
Lynel Murrary, as found in the motel room.

With no initial leads, the case eventually blew open due to Coffman and Marlow’s sloppiness. Corinna Novis’ checkbook was found in a dumpter inside of a fast food bag that had papers with both Coffman’s and Marlow’s names. Their names were also then tied to multiple motels around the state, coinciding with local murders. A BOLO was issued for the pair, and their pictures were released to news outlets.

Corinna Novis
Corinna Novis
Corinna Novis body
The scene where Corinna Novis’ body was found

On November 14th, 1986, the owner of a lodge in Big Bear, CA contacted police, citing Marlow and Coffman as guests. A 100-man team investigated the lodge, but found the pair hiking nearby on a local mountain road. They were both immediately arrested and taken into custody. They were wearing outfits from the dry cleaners where Lynel Murray had worked, and within hours, Coffman led police to where she and Marlow had left Corinna Novis’ sodomized and strangled body.

The pair’s trail in San Bernardino County started on July 18, 1989. Both were convicted of all charges brought against them and sentenced to death on August 30. Cynthia’s defense of “battered woman’s syndrome” had not won over the jurors.

Cynthia Coffman and James G. Marlow

Coffman became the first woman sentenced to die in California since CA restored capital punishment in 1977. She is currently sitting on Death Row in the Central California Women’s Facility

***Many graphic details were intentionally kept from this post. If you want to learn the full story, many articles are available, including an Oxygen podcast episode devoted to the case.

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