The Ultimate Betrayal: The Coleman Family Murders
Christopher Coleman was born in 1977 to two Christian pastors, Ron and Connie. He and his two brothers were raised in their parents' non-denominational Christian church and learned conservative values and teachings of the Bible. The children were noted to often speak in tongues in fact. Those who knew young Chris described him as mild tempered and even sensitive. His father said the first time Chris was present when they butchered a rabbit, the boy was distraught.
When Chris was in high school, a recruiter from the United States Marine Corp came to his school. Chris was impressed and inspired, so he signed up for the Marine Corp. He entered the military right out of high school and did very well in the Marines. According to his father, he would have stayed in the Marine Corp for his entire career except “Bill Clinton and Monica and all that was a disappointment” (Cooperman, 2011). While Chris was still in the Marines, however, he met another member of the US Military, Sheri Wiess.
Sheri Wiess was born in 1977 and was raised in Cook County, Illinois. Sheri was a member of the United States Air Force. In August of 1997, Chris came to visit his parents in Chester, Illinois. He brought Sheri with him. He introduced Sheri to his parents, but they were not overly impressed. Ron Coleman said, “she was a worldly little girl, little short shorts, tattoo on her leg, not the person we thought he’d be with” (Cooperman, 2011).
Quickly afterwards, the couple married to the surprise of Chris’s parents. They eloped in private, but according to Chris’s parents he immediately had regrets. “My gosh, he was raised in the church! He was repentant and broken over it” Ron Coleman said (Cooperman, 2011). The Colemans soon learned that Chris and Sheri were expecting a baby.
Chris and Sherri welcome their first son April 30th, 1998, son Garett Dominic Eugene Coleman. They welcome another son in 2000, Gavin Christopher Coleman. The couple settled in Columbia, Illinois, a small town just over the Mississippi River from Missouri. Both boys loved sports and played for the Columbia Blue Jays football team. Sheri was a homemaker and Chris worked for Joyce Meyer Ministries across the river in St. Louis, Missouri.
Chris and Sheri (right) did not have a perfect marriage. In fact, they fought about a lot of things. First, Chris’s job with Joyce Meyer Ministries. Joyce Meyer, a televangelist, frequently traveled for speaking engagements. As her personal bodyguard, Chris accompanied her on these trips and traveled more than he was home. This was hard on Sheri and the boys. The boys kept a countdown calendar on the refrigerator in anticipation for when their father would return home.
A second point of contention was money. Chris made a good salary, over $100,000 per year, but Sheri spent money quickly. She enjoyed shopping, going on mission trips, and donating to charities. Chris would sometimes get upset with her spending habits and they occasional fought about this. A third issue in the marriage was a lack of displays of affection. Chris was not a very affectionate person and those who knew the couple said they rarely saw him hug or kiss Sheri or his sons. In fact, friends of Sheri said that she confided in them that Chris was never affectionate with her, not even during sex.
The couple seemed to have different ideas on family as well. Chris’s conservative family never quite accepted Sheri. Sheri was affectionate and loving as a mother. She was fun loving, and her children were her entire life. Chris was more of the strict disciplinarian father. He had expectations of excellence from his children in all things from manners to sports performance. Despite turmoil in the marriage, Sheri was committed to working things out with Chris. She told her friends that she just loved him too much to give up on the marriage.
In November of 2008, things in the marriage got much worse. Chris told a friend he planned to divorce Sheri but was going to wait until after the holidays to talk to her. Meanwhile, Sheri told a friend that she suspected Chris was having an affair. She had introduced Chris to a friend of hers and now suspected the two were romantically involved. Despite all of this, Sheri remained hell bent to make the marriage work. Chris had reservations about divorce as well, as it may compromise his position with Joyce Meyer Ministries.
The couple had other things to worry about anyway. Chris had started receiving death threats through Joyce Meyer Ministries. The televangelist made massive amounts of money through her speaking engagements and ministry and some people believed she misused those funds. It was not uncommon for some nasty emails and letters to come through, but now these letters seemed to be directed at Chris Coleman.
The death threats accused Joyce Meyer of “preaching bullshit” and threatened Chris Coleman’s family, saying “I will kill them all while they sleep”. The emails and letters came to Chris’s work email and straight to the Coleman house. They kept coming, getting progressively more threatening. Chris had sent them to local law enforcement who had been keeping an extra eye on the house while Chris was on business trips. His neighbor, an officer with the Columbia Police Department, had a camera pointing at the house just in case. The final letter arrived in April of 2009 and said, “THIS IS MY LAST WARNING! YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN!” (Cooperman, 2011).
On the morning of May 5th, 2009, Chris Coleman left his home at 5:45 am. He drove across the river to St. Louis to complete his morning workout. He said he called Sheri just a few minutes after he left the house to make sure she was up. He said he called and texted her several more times that morning but did not get a response. When he was on his way home, he called his neighbor, the Columbia Illinois police officer, and asked him to check on Sheri and the boys. He said he was on the JB Bridge, about five minutes from home.
Another officer meets detective Barlow, the Coleman’s neighbor, at the Coleman home. The two quickly discover a window with the screen out in the back of the house. The two called for backup but then entered the home. They both described an overwhelming scent of spray paint as they came in the house. Unsure if anyone was still in the house, they were cautious with guns drawn. Spray painted on the walls were the following sayings “Punished”, “I am always watching”, and “U have paid” (Cooperman, 2011).
At 6:56 am Chris Coleman arrived home. Knowing this was probably not going to end well, the officer asked him to stay outside while they went upstairs. It was quickly noted that Chris took thirteen minutes to complete what should have been a five-minute drive. Authorities went upstairs and found the deceased bodies of Garett, Gavin, and Sheri Coleman.
The police chaplain informed Chris Coleman that his family was dead. He dropped to the ground and started sobbing. His father and Joyce Meyer arrived shortly after to comfort Chris. Chris was sitting inside an ambulance with the chaplain comforting him. The chaplain said Chris looked down at his knuckles and there were red marks. The chaplain asked him about the marks and Chris began to punch the gurney over and over.
Chris was brought into the Columbia Police Department for an initial interview. He explained that he spent the day before playing with his children and then watching television. He and Sheri put the boys to bed and then cuddled. Chris said she fell asleep in his arms. He told them how he got up early to work out and tried calling Sheri several times through out the workout to make sure she was up. He said when she didn’t answer, he got very worried and asked his neighbor to go check on the family in light of the recent threats they had been receiving.
One thing the authorities found interesting is that Chris never mentioned his own security system, which may have caught the intruder on tape. Authorities had to prompt him. Neither his nor the neighbors security tapes showed anyone coming or going from the house other than Chris Coleman. They asked Chris about marital problems, which he mostly denied. He does tell them he has a close friend, Tara Lintz, but denies a sexual relationship or an affair. Tara Lintz was a friend of Sheri’s from high school. She had introduced Tara to her husband in November the year before.
Tara Lintz was being interrogated down in Florida already. Tara explained that she and Chris were indeed having an affair. In fact, they had exchanged promise rings. The two had planned to marry in January 2010. Chris failed to mention that he had already cancelled the family’s trip to Disney World and instead booked a cruise to the Virgin Islands for Tara and himself. According to Tara, Chris was going to serve Sheri with divorce papers the day of the murders. She had began registering for wedding gifts, looking for a home in St. Louis for the family, and discussing baby names.
(Right: Chris & Tara)
As the investigation continued, neighbors and friends were appalled to learn that Chris had dismantled a memorial for his wife and children from their front yard. He also moved out several boxes of their belongings by mid-May. Chris’s behavior and lies about his affair certainly painted him in a bad light, but did it mean he was a murderer?
When DNA testing came in from under Sheri’s nails, it was consistent with Chris Coleman but was not a definitive match. Pieces of the paint from the walls, lap top computers, blackberry, and other items were also sent to be examined.
The cybercrimes unit investigated the threatening emails, which came from an address firstname.lastname@example.org. They were able to determine the IP address in which the emails originated was Chris Coleman’s own laptop. Someone had used his own laptop to create and send the threatening emails. They also realized that the letters had several misspellings in common with known writings from Chris Coleman.
The autopsies determined that Sheri, Garett, and Gavin were all killed by strangulation. The medical examiner put the time of death before five am, when Chris Coleman was still in the home. According to the examiner, Sheri’s body showed signed of rigor mortis which was crucial in determining the time of death.
Finally, the writings on the walls and spray paint were examined. The handwriting of the messages was consisted with known writings from Chris Coleman according to a forensic handwriting specialist. The spray paint was determined to a specific brand and the color was candy apple red. Upon examining Chris’s bank statements, they found a purchase from a small hardware store in St. Louis from a few months prior to the murders. The store kept very good records and shocked authorities by confirming Chris had purchased a can of candy apple red spray paint.
In May of 2009, Chris Coleman was arrested and charged with three counts of first-degree murder. Soon after, Sheri’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Chris. This would prevent him from liquidating any assets including selling the family home (Suhr, 2009). Chris Coleman awaited trial as friends of Sheri’s came forward. One friend claimed that Chris told Sheri he wanted a divorce, but Sheri refused to give him one. “She told me he was tired of her keeping him from God’s destiny for his life” said Meegan Turnbeaugh, a friend of Sheri’s (Associated Press, 2010).
Christopher Coleman went to trial at the end of April 2011. The star witness was Tara Lintz, Chris’s mistress and Sheri’s high school friend. Tara testified about the two exchanging promise rings, their future wedding plans, and testified about provocative photos that she sent to Chris and similar photos that he had sent to her. Dr. Raj Naduri, the pathologist, testified that she could not pinpoint the time of death, but based of liver temperature she believed it to be between 3 am and 5 am (St. Louis Post Dispatch, 2011). Dr. Michael Baden, a world-famous pathologist, testified that his analysis put the time of death at around 3 am. Even Joyce Meyer was called to testify, stating that Chris would have likely lost his job had she known of the affair or had he divorced his wife.
The prosecution’s theory was clear: Christopher Coleman was carrying on an affair with a vivacious Tara Lintz. He regretted his quick marriage to Sheri and wanted to build a new life with Tara. He started sending himself threatening messages shortly after his affair with Tara began. He told Tara that he was serving Sheri with divorce papers on the very day Sheri and the boys were murdered. He bought the spray paint in advance and planned the murders for months. In the very early morning hours of May 5th, 2009, he strangled his wife and both of his sons while they slept. He then spray painted the messages on the walls, staged the window to make it look like an intruder, and went to work out. He began calling Sheri only minutes after leaving the house to “wake her up” which authorities believe was actually to set his alibi. He purposely took extra time driving home to ensure police would discover the bodies before he arrived. When someone noticed marks on his knuckles, he began punching a gurney to explain the injuries away.
The former Marine and pastor’s son was found guilty on all three counts of first-degree murder two years after the crimes, in May 2011. Chris was spared the death penalty and sentenced to three life sentences without the possibility of parole. The judge cited the abolition of the death penalty in Illinois in 2011 as a key factor in his decision as it was set to be abolished July 1st of that year.
Ron and Connie Coleman were never convinced of their son’s guilt. In fact, they defended him at every turn. When faced with the fact that their son had an affair, Ron said “She (Sheri) told Chris all the time that he was moody and he wasn’t affectionate enough. She never did compliment him. That’s why he was so attracted to Tara” (Cooperman, 2011). He also reportedly told media outlets that Chris had an affair because Sheri failed to fulfil her wifely duties.
As of 2020, all of Christopher Coleman’s appeals have been denied. Chris Coleman will likely never be free, but that will not bring back Sheri, Garett, and Gavin. In one of the most horrific crimes ever committed in Southern Illinois, one innocent woman and two young boys were robbed of their entire future by the person they trusted the most. This is a case of ultimate betrayal.
Suhr, J. (2009) Wrongful-death lawsuit filed in killing; Southern Illinoisan; 27 May 2009
Associated Press (2010) Strangling victim’s friends say she feared her husband; Herald and Review; 30 Dec 2010
Pistor, N. (2011) Ex-lover describes affair; St. Louis Post Dispatch; 29 Apr 2011
Associated Press (2011) Former Marine convicted of killing family; Herald and Review; 6 May 2011
Muslic, H. (2020) Judge dismisses convicted murderer Chris Coleman’s petition for new trial; Belleville News-Democrat; Retrieved at: IL judge denies Chris Coleman new murder trial | Belleville News-Democrat (bnd.com)
Smith, Ryan (2009) Chris Coleman charged with strangling wife, two kids; CBS news; Retrieved at: Chris Coleman Charged With Strangling Wife, Two Kids - CBS News
People V. Coleman (2014) People of Illinois V. Christopher Coleman; Retrieved at: PEOPLE v. COLEMAN | FindLaw
Cooperman, J. (2011) A family erased: The Chris Coleman story; St. Louis Magazine; retrieved at: A Family Erased: The Chris Coleman Story (stlmag.com)