Killer Couple: James Marlow & Cynthia Coffman — Serial Murder & BDSM In California

BARSTOW, CA — In early 1986, career criminal James Gregory Marlow, 29, got stuck with a short jail stint for stealing his sixth wife’s car. It was an easy stretch for Marlow, especially compared to his from a previous time in the state penitentiary, when he ran with the Aryan Brotherhood gang and emerged with the nickname “The Folsom Wolf.”

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For several weeks, Marlow shared a cell with Doug Huntley, a local goofball who got popped for drugs. During the two cons’ time together, Huntley bragged nonstop about the fiery lust and “anything goes” fearlessness of his girlfriend, 24-year-old Cynthia Coffman, who lived in the area near the jail. So, upon getting sprung from lock-up that May, Marlow sped over Cynthia Coffman’s house. By the time he left, Coffman wasn’t Huntley’s girlfriend any longer.

James Marlow mug shot [San Quentin State Prison]

That July, Marlow and Coffman hit the road together. They committed break-ins and impromptu robberies en route to getting married in Tennessee. After the ceremony, Marlow tattooed Coffman’s buttocks with the words: “Property of the Folsom Wolf.” It said a lot about their relationship.

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Born in 1956, Marlow grew up under the outlaw tutelage of his teenage prostitute mother. She turned him on to marijuana, LSD, and harder drugs early on, and reportedly introduced him to sex. By 16, his routine criminal activities allegedly escalated to rape.

Cynthia Coffman came of age in St. Louis. After an early childhood marked by violent clashes, Coffman’s father ditched the family, prompting her mother to subsequently attempt to “give away” Cynthia and her two brothers.

By 18, Coffman had a husband and a baby of her own, both of whom she quickly abandoned prior to hightailing it out west in search of adventure. She found it, horribly, by way of James Marlow.

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In addition to reckless drug consumption, Marlow and Coffman shared a passion for sadomasochistic sex. He, for sure, served as the dominant master while she embodied the role of the submissive servant.

One of the couple’s kinky sex games culminated with Marlow holding a pair of scissors to Coffman’s face, informing her she could choose: He would use them to gouge out her eye or cut off all her hair. She went for the latter, then explained her bald look as a result of having “chiggers.”

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After exhausting the generosity of friends and family, Marlow and Coffman scoped out automatic-teller machines, a relative novelty in 1986, as prime spots to hit victims. Marlow and Hoffman first struck an ATM on October 11, 1986. They kidnapped and fatally strangled Sandra Neary, 32, in Costa Mesa, California, ditching her body along a hiking trail.

Two weeks later, Pamela Simmons, 35, fell prey to the pair in Bullhead, Arizona. Corinna Novis, 20, followed suit on November 7 in Redlands, California, getting snatched from a shopping mall in broad daylight. Before they disappeared, both had told others they would be stopping by an ATM.

Police caught their first break on November 12, after a Taco Bell manager discovered Corinna Novis’s check book and driver’s license tossed in the restaurant’s dumpster. Alongside them were papers bearing the names James Marlow and Cythina Coffman.

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That same day, Marlow and Coffman drove Lynel Murray, 19, to a mountain lodge in Big Bear City, California, where they raped, tortured, and strangled her. The following morning, a maid discovered the victim’s naked body.

Lynel Murray’s lifeless head lay submerged in a half-filled bathtub. Torn strips of towels were tied around her throat. Nearby, a blotter contained practice signatures where Coffman had attempted to imitate Murray’s handwriting.

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The hotel manager instantly identified Marlow and Coffman. At the same time, the couple used their victims’ credit cards to pay for meals and purchase vacation items such as swimsuits and sunglasses.

Cynthia Coffman mug shot [California Department of Corrections]

A 100-member manhunt stormed the local woods and came upon Marlow and Coffman hiking. They were clad in clothing pilfered from Murray’s dry cleaner. The pair surrendered without struggle.

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Cynthia Coffman caved fast, confessing to everything. She attempted a “battered woman” defense, claiming that Marlow beat, starved, and brainwashed her into committing crimes under threats of killing her if she didn’t obey.

Marlow, in turn, blamed everything on Coffman.

In 1989, nearly three years following their arrests, a jury found both Marlow and Coffman guilty in the murder of Corinna Novis and sentenced them to be executed. As such, Coffman became the first woman California sent to Death Row since the state reinstituted capital punishment in 1977.

Marlow and Coffman, in 1992, were each further convicted of murdering Lynel Murder, adding a life sentence atop their death penalties. While locked up, they’re both still alive.

Watch the all-new series premiere of Kiss of Death on Thursday, August 24 at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery!

Read more:
History
Los Angeles Times
New York Daily News
Murderpedia

Killer Couple: James Marlow & Cynthia Coffman — Serial Murder & BDSM In California

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