Bond denied in Wilson murder/rape case

Coleman was arrested in 44-year-old cold case in October

FAIRFIELD COUNTY – Saying he represented a threat to the community, Judge Brian Gibbons denied bond to Charles Ugvine Coleman on Tuesday, who was arrested in October in connection with a 44-year-old cold case murder.

Coleman

The charges relate to the 1976 rape and murder of Chester’s Elizabeth Ann Howell Wilson, who disappeared while working a night shift at the Eureka Mill. Her dead, barely-clothed body was found in Fairfield County several hours after she never reported back to her station after a break.

Sixth Circuit Assistant Solicitor Riley Maxwell presented the state’s case during a short bond hearing at the Fairfield County Courthouse. He recounted the day of Wilson’s disappearance from work at 4 a.m. on March 20. A witness had seen an unidentified black male in the parking lot that night and the car belonging to a plant manager was reported missing around the same time that Wilson disappeared. Within two hours of Wilson and the car disappearing, a vehicle with a body lying beside it was spotted by a passerby near the intersection of Ashford Ferry Road and Dave Jenkins Road in Blair. The body, later identified as being Wilson, was wearing only stockings and a top. There was an indication that she’d been raped and “brutally beaten to death,” Maxwell said. No arrest was ever made but her stockings and a towel in the car were taken as evidence and remained there until 2012. At that point, then-Chester County Sheriff Richard Smith began taking a look at some unsolved murders in Chester County, including that of Wilson. In the department evidence room there was some DNA evidence in the form of semen collected from the stockings and towel.

“But DNA evidence wasn’t even a thing back then when it happened,” Smith said in October. “With modern technology, though, you’ve got a lot of new ways of solving stuff.”

Smith said he had no idea why the items relative to the Wilson case continued to sit in the evidence room for 36 years. He submitted everything he found to the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) in hopes for “a hit.” At the time he did so, he discussed his decision with a member of Wilson’s family.

According to his arrest record, Coleman was arrested in April of 2020 by the Union County Sheriff’s Office and charged with pointing and presenting a firearm and use of a firearm under the influence. A swab was taken and uploaded into the CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) national DNA database maintained by the FBI and the DNA came back with a match with evidence from this crime from 1976. Maxwell said the chance of the DNA belonging to anyone but Coleman was approximately one in 21 quintillion.

Maxwell said the most recent arrest was far from being the only trouble Coleman had gotten into in his life. In 1977 he was arrested and eventually convicted of assault and battery with intent to kill for an incident in which he grabbed a woman standing alone talking on a payphone and tried to force her into a car. That was eerily similar to what happened to Wilson just a year before, Maxwell said.

Ann Wilson

A full SLED background check details incidents dating back 45 years.

In 1975, Coleman was arrested by the Chester County Sheriff’s Office on charges of driving under the influence and operating a motor vehicle without a license. He was assessed a fine of $150. On September 24, 1976 (just six months after the murder of Wilson), he was charged with driving under suspension third offense and operating a motor vehicle while uninsured. He was convicted on both counts and was fined a total of $200. Charges of public drunk and disorderly conduct followed, but in 1977 came the assault and battery with intent to kill charges for which he was sentenced to 12 years in prison, but he was arrested again just four years later for DUI and leaving the scene of an accident. There is no indication he went to trial on those charges. In the years that followed he was charged with being drunk and disorderly on multiple occasions, resisting arrest, DUI, public drunk, multiple counts of public multiple instances of public disorderly conduct and shoplifting.

 Maxwell said there were a few other incidents that were either unresolved or had not led to conviction, including threatening a woman and allegedly assaulting two women at the Chester Motor Lodge.

“It’s not like there was this incident in 1976 and he lived a pristine life since then,” Maxwell said. “He’s been a danger to the community since then.”

It was also mentioned that at the time of Wilson’s murder, Coleman lived only about a mile away from where her body was found.

Coleman’s attorney, Robert Fitzsimons, said his client is 65-years-old which would have made him 20 or 21 at the time of Wilson’s murder. It will take many months for the state to find possible witnesses, many of whom are either dead or have moved by now. Coleman does not have a lot of money, so his attorney asked for a low bond and said he was “entitled to be in the community.”

“He’s on probation now and will be monitored…the case is  not going anywhere and he’s not going anywhere.”

Surviving members of Wilson’s family asked to speak in court. Duke McWaters was married to Wilson’s daughter Pam for 42 years. He was a city police officer at the time and heard radio calls about a missing person. He went home to learn from his wife that it was her mother who was missing. He left to go back to the police department and was met by someone at the door who told him he needed to go to Fairfield County. When he got there, he was asked to identify his mother-in-law’s body. Even during a long law enforcement career in which he saw some jarring sights, he said he never saw anything like what was done to his mother-in-law.

“It was one of the most heartless things I’ve ever seen,” he said.

His family was left to live in fear and he was left without an answer to the daily question he wife asked him, “Who killed her?”

The person responsible for killing Wilson has been out and living life for 44 years, he said, and he hoped that Gibbons would see fit to keep Coleman in jail until his trial.

Ralph Mobley is still married to one of Wilson’s daughters (Sherri). He said the family had no idea the damage that had been done to her and that Wilson’s funeral was a closed-casket affair. He said he didn’t want his wife to have to worry for so long as she did in the wake of her mother’s death and begged Gibbons to deny bond. Sherri spoke as well, talking about how good a person her mother was and how much she did for others.

“They took that away,” she said.

She said she had prayed to God for 44 years that whoever was responsible would be found.

Gibbons said the details of the case were horrific. He reminded all that this was not a determination of Coleman’s guilt or innocence, only a decision on whether or not he was entitled to a bond. A person is presumed innocent until proven guilty at trial he said. His determination was simply down to whether Coleman was a flight risk and whether or not he was a threat to the community. He judged him not to be a flight risk but said he did regard him as a threat.

“Bond is respectfully denied,” he said.

When he does go to trial, Coleman will be facing charges of rape and murder.

Travis Jenkins is the Editor of the Chester News & Reporter.