by John C. Tucker
Previous - Chapter III: March 10, 1981
March 10, 1981 was a Tuesday, so Brad had to work. Wanda disliked
being alone at night, but Brad was assigned to the swing shift,
three to eleven p.m. At least his work was safe and clean. At
least he didn't work underground.
In March the weather in Grundy is unpredictable. Further south
in the valley between the Appalachians and the Blue Ridge you
can count on some nice spring days with the forsythia blooming
and dogwood starting to bud, but up in the mountains it's likely
to be raw and cold, with a possibility of snow and the creeks
muddy and swollen with water cascading off the upper slopes. The
previous Thursday it had rained almost an inch, swelling Slate
creek even more than usual, but by Tuesday the creek was almost
back to normal. That morning Brad and Wanda stayed home. Wanda
sewed and watched television. Brad read the newspaper and puttered
around the house. Mid-forties is a common high for early March
in Grundy, and it was 42 when Brad left the house about 2:15 p.m.
to run some errands and go to work.
The next day was garbage collection day in Longbottom, and Brad
may have taken the garbage out to the curb when he left, though
he's not sure. It was years later before it occurred to anyone
that who took out the garbage that day, and when, could be important.
|Roger Coleman married Trish Thompson, Wanda's
sister Aug. 8, 1980. (Photo Courtesy
Brad's shift at work was routine. United Coal Company's Shop
No. 1 supplies parts and repairs machinery and equipment for coal
mines in the Grundy area. Brad's job mostly involved waiting around
for someone to come in for spare parts for one of the mines, or
to deliver parts from a supplier. The job only became hectic if
there was a major breakdown which required locating crucial replacement
parts or equipment and getting them delivered as quickly as possible.
A mine shutdown because of an accident or equipment failure could
cost the company thousands of dollars a day. Breakdowns were not
infrequent, but none occurred on March 10, and Brad was able to
take his regular dinner break to eat the food Wanda had fixed
and packed in his lunch bucket. At nine o'clock he got a coffee
break, and as he did whenever possible, Brad called Wanda to make
sure she was alright - and to break up the loneliness of her evening.
Wanda answered the phone and they talked for almost fifteen minutes
- about how the day was going, how they would spend a tax refund
check they were expecting to receive, and what Wanda was watching
on television - "B.J. and the Bear". When she hung up,
Wanda returned to her t.v. program, sitting on the sofa in the
parlor, protected from the chill draft by a hand made afghan.
She drank a coke, and left the empty bottle on the coffee table.
The television set was still on when her husband arrived home.
Brad's shift at work ended at eleven. A year later he said he
thought he left work about 11:05 and got home about 11:15, although
timing things backwards from his father's call to the Sheriff
it seems more likely Brad pulled up to his house just after 11:05
p.m. In any event, he left work after his shift ended and drove
straight home. At that hour there was no traffic. Once he crossed
the bridge over Slate Creek and drove the block up to Oak Street,
Brad would have seen anyone coming out his front door, the only
door in the house.
|The house where Wanda was murdered. Up the
hill, the house of the neighbor who was later alleged to confess
to the murder. (Photo Courtesy John
Built on a hillside with a half basement and a single story of
living space, Brad and Wanda's house had a living room and kitchen
area in front, with two small bedrooms divided by a bath in back.
The front door opens into the living room from a small porch about
ten steps above street level. When Brad reached home he checked
around the outside of the house to make sure everything was alright,
and to see if dogs had gotten into the garbage. He noticed the
porch light was off. Wanda usually left it on for him, and Brad
wondered if the bulb needed changing. He climbed the steps to
the porch and knocked on the door, but no one came. Peeking through
a peep-hole he had scratched in paint covering the glass door
pane when he and Wanda first moved in, Brad saw his wife's afghan
lying on the couch, but he could not see Wanda. He wondered if
she was hiding from him to play a trick. He opened the door with
his key, entered the parlor, and lifted the afghan, thinking Wanda
might be hiding under it. She was not. He saw that the coffee
table in front of the couch had been shoved out of line, and an
empty coke bottle was lying on the floor, as if it had fallen
off when the table was moved.
Brad McCoy began to sense something was wrong. He put his lunch
bucket down on the floor. A light was on in the spare bedroom.
Perhaps Wanda was doing something in there, he thought, and walked
a few steps to the bedroom door.
Wanda McCoy was lying on her back on the floor, naked from her
chest down except for her blue striped socks. Her sweater and
bra were pushed up around her neck, revealing her breasts. A pair
of blue jeans lay on the bed, and dark blue satin panties were
hooked around her left ankle.
A large pool of blood surrounded Wanda McCoy's head, and Brad
could see that she had been stabbed twice in the chest. Blood
still oozed onto the floor from somewhere under her sweater.
Brad McCoy knew his wife was dead, and he knew she hadn't been
dead for long. The pool of blood around her head, still growing,
told him both things. He did not try to feel Wanda's pulse or
touch her in any way. Instead, he quickly looked around the small
house to see if the killers were still there, and then called
his father from the phone in the parlor. "Daddy, come over,
come quick" he stammered, "Wanda's been raped or killed."
Still fearful that a killer was hiding in the house, Brad turned
on the porch light and went outside to wait for his father. Growing
more and more frightened and agitated, after a few minutes he
could not stay on the porch any longer and took off down the hill
toward his father's house. As Brad reached the house, Hezzie was
pulling his car out of the garage. Brad was crying. He sobbed
over and over, "Why would anyone do this, why would they
do this to me." Hezzie decided to go back inside for a gun,
and when he realized that Brad had not done so, he called the
sheriff. Hezzie later estimated that ten minutes elapsed between
Brad's call to him and his call to the Sheriff. Hezzie's call
to the Sheriff was logged in at 11:21 p.m.
The two men got into Hezzie's car and drove back up the hill to
Brad and Wanda's. When they reached the house and went inside,
Hezzie McCoy took one look at Wanda and told his son she was dead.
Brad and Hezzie went back onto the front porch just as deputy
Sheriffs Steve Coleman and Mike Shell arrived at the house. It
was 11:25 p.m.
When Steve Coleman entered the house he went immediately to the
bedroom where Wanda lay on the floor. Her heavy sweater was still
pulled up around her neck. Coleman knelt beside her, lifted a
fold of the sweater, and reached beneath it to feel for a pulse.
His fingers, searching for the artery in her neck, found a gaping
hole. A knife had slashed her throat so deeply that Wanda McCoy's
head was nearly severed from her body.
Coleman stood up. Trying to keep from vomiting, he walked outside
where several more deputy sheriffs, state troopers and town police
were arriving, among them Grundy police chief Randall Jackson.
Randy Jackson had been Chief of Police for two years. He was 28
Coleman told the new arrivals that a woman was dead in the bedroom,
and instructed Brad and Hezzie McCoy to go back to Hezzie's house
and wait. As Randy Jackson entered the house the television was
still on. Passing through the living room, he heard Ed McMahon
say: "Heeeere's Johnny!" It was 11:31.
When Jackson reached the bedroom where Wanda McCoy's body lay,
he could see fresh blood still emerging from under her sweater.
He thought the crime had been committed so recently that, like
Brad, he wondered if a killer might still be in the house. After
feeling briefly for a pulse on Wanda's left wrist, and finding
none, Jackson instructed the men who were with him to secure the
house and let no one in. Two men were dispatched to search the
basement, and Jackson himself searched the living area again.
Finding no one, Jackson sent patrolman Owens to pick up Dr. Thomas
McDonald, a family physician and licensed medical examiner who
lived a few blocks away. Next he called the home of Special Agent
Jack Davidson of the Virginia State Police, the investigator assigned
to provide assistance to local police departments in major cases.
Davidson agreed to come at once from his home in Vansant, just
east of Grundy.
A few minutes later Patrolman Owens returned with Dr. McDonald.
Jackson told Owens to go down to Hezzie McCoy's house and stay
there with Hezzie and Brad, and to ask some questions. As in any
murder case, Wanda's husband was a suspect.
Jackson entered the house again, this time with Dr. McDonald,
and McDonald quickly declared Wanda dead. It was between 11:40
and 11:45 p.m. Dr. McDonald told Randy Jackson that Wanda McCoy
had not been dead long - "about a half hour." Dr. McDonald
returned home. Jackson and the others secured the house and went
outside to await the arrival of Jack Davidson. Randy Jackson hoped
to pass responsibility for the investigation to Davidson. Jack
Davidson fully intended to take it.
Inside the house Wanda finally stopped bleeding, and her body
began to stiffen. Wanda Fay McCoy was nineteen years old.
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