Here’s a reposted book review from May 6, 2016. It appears here as/is.
It’s been a long time since my last fresh book review. That’s because I’ve spent weeks reading a very long true crime book by the late Jack Olsen. Originally published in 1984, Son: A Psychopath and His Victims has been made available once again to true crime fans. At over 500 pages, this book was not a quick read. I’m happy to be finished with it, although I must admit Olsen spins a compelling tale.
In this case, Olsen is writing about Fred Harlan Coe, otherwise known as Kevin Coe as well as “the South Hill rapist”, back in the late 1970s and early 80s. Coe was a clean cut guy who lived in Spokane, Washington and had an unusually enmeshed relationship with his parents, especially his mother. From 1978 until 1981, Coe victimized women who lived in Spokane. He was a classic stranger who jumped out of the bushes and caught women unaware, stuffing his hand down their throats, threatening them with knives, and sexually assaulting them. Fred Harlan Coe had women terrified and police baffled until he was finally captured. In 1982, he legally changed his name to Kevin Coe.
Kevin Coe’s story is very convoluted. He had been married to a woman named Jenifer who was alcoholic. After divorcing Jenifer, who had her own stories about life with Coe, he became involved with his girlfriend, Gini. Gini was completely unaware of her boyfriend’s proclivities toward rape, though she must have been aware of his poor showing as a working man. An unsuccessful disc jockey in Las Vegas, Coe moved back to Spokane, where he became an unsuccessful realtor who sometimes used his position to try to gain access to his victims.
Coe had a special fondness for slight women with long, brown hair and pretty eyes. Most of his victims met that physical standard, though they ranged in age from their early teens to their early fifties. Coe would often strike while he was jogging. Surprisingly enough, he wore the same type of clothes most of the time, which gave police some clues as to who he was. He also often failed to “get it up” when he committed rape.
Somehow, he would convince friends, family, and lovers to lie for him. While Olsen’s description of Coe makes me think of him as not very likable, he had a charisma that influenced otherwise good people to do bad things. Moreover, because Coe is a sociopath, he believed he was smarter than the police. That erroneous belief eventually led to his downfall.
What really makes this story even more compelling, though, is the fact that Coe’s mother, Ruth, was arrested three months after her son was convicted of multiple rapes. Ruth suffered from bipolar disorder and would occasionally get so angry that she’d make threats. She was so crazed by the idea that her son was headed to prison that she tried to hire a hitman to murder the judge and prosecutor. Instead of finding a “legit” hitman, she tried to hire a police officer. Ruth Coe was sentenced to twenty years in prison, all suspended, ten years parole, and one year in the jail of her choice.
Coe’s case was eventually retried because many of his victims had been hypnotized before they identified him. He was freed on bail for a year preceding the new trial. In 1985, Coe was convicted again and sentenced to life plus 55 years in prison.
As recently as 2008, Coe was still a suspect in dozens of unsolved rapes in the Spokane area. He has been diagnosed with personality disorder not otherwise specified with narcissistic and antisocial traits and was committed indefinitely to the Special Commitment Center at McNeil Island in Washington state.
I think Jack Olsen did a very thorough job covering this case, although the book took a very long time to read. I have read several of Olsen’s books and most of them have been a bit of a struggle for me, though he was a very well regarded true crime author. I don’t think he has quite the gift for storytelling as, say, Ann Rule or Kathryn Casey. Or maybe he’s not as consistent to me as Rule and Casey have been. I notice that I liked Olsen’s writing better in the book, Give the Boy a Gun.
Nevertheless, Son: A Psychopath and His Victims is definitely a bizarre story. Some readers will be thrilled by this book and, according to Amazon.com, many people obviously were. Count me among those who felt this book was far too long. I felt like I’d never finish it, even though Coe’s story was one worth writing.
I think I’d give it 3.5 stars on a five star scale. I read this on Kindle. It includes photos at the end of the book.
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