Profile of Serial Killer Debra Brown

'I had fun out of it.'

Black knife sticking out of a tree trunk.


In 1984, at age 21, Debra Brown became involved in an enslaver-enslaved woman connection with the serial rapist and killer Alton Coleman. For two months, during the summer of 1984, the couple left victims across several Midwestern states, including Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio.

Alton Coleman and Debra Brown Meet

Prior to meeting Alton Coleman, Brown showed no violent tendencies and had no history of being in trouble with the law. Described as being intellectually disabled, possibly due to a head trauma suffered as a child, Brown quickly came under Coleman's spell and the enslaver-enslaved woman connection began.

Brown ended a marriage engagement, left her family and moved in with 28-year-old Alton Coleman. At the time, Coleman was facing trial on sexual assault charges of a 14-year-old girl. Fearing that he would likely go to prison, he and Brown decided to take their chances and hit the road.

Blended Into Local Communities

Coleman was a good con man and a smooth talker. Rather than target victims outside of their race, where their chances of being noticed were greater, Coleman and Brown stayed close to predominately African American neighborhoods. There, they found it easier to befriend strangers, then assault and sometimes rape and murder their victims, including children and the elderly.

Vernita Wheat was the 9-year-old daughter of Juanita Wheat from Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the first known victim of Coleman and Brown. On May 29, 1984, Coleman abducted Juanita in Kenosha and took her 20 miles away to Waukegan, Illinois. Her body was discovered three weeks later in an abandoned building located close to where Coleman was living with his elderly grandmother. Juanita had been raped and strangled to death.

After conning their way through Illinois, they headed to Gary, Indiana, where on June 17, 1984, they approached 9-year-old Annie Turks and her 7-year-old niece Tamika Turks. The girls were headed home after visiting a candy store. Coleman asked the girls if they wanted free clothing, to which they answered yes. He told them to follow Brown, who led them to a secluded, wooded area. The couple removed the younger child's shirt and Brown ripped it into strips and used it to tie up the girls. When Tamika began to cry, Brown held the child's mouth and nose. Coleman stomped on her stomach and chest, then threw her lifeless body into a weeded area.

Next, both Coleman and Brown sexually assaulted Annie, threatening to kill her if she did not do as they instructed. Afterward, they choked Annie until she lost consciousness. When she awoke, she discovered her attackers were gone. She managed to walk back to a road, where she found help. Tamika's body was recovered the following day. She had not survived the attack.

As the authorities were uncovering Tamika's body, Coleman and Brown struck again. Donna Williams, 25, of Gary, Indiana, was reported as missing. Almost a month later, on July 11, Williams' decomposing body was found in Detroit, along with her car parked a half a mile away. She had been raped and the cause of death was ligature strangulation.

The couple's next known stop was on June 28, in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, where they walked into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer Jones. Mr. Palmer was handcuffed and severely beaten and Mrs. Palmer was also attacked. The couple was fortunate to survive. After robbing them, Coleman and Brown took off in the Palmers' car.

The couple's next attack happened after their arrival in Toledo, Ohio on the holiday weekend of July 5. Coleman managed to worm his way into the home of Virginia Temple, who was the mother of a household of small children. Her oldest was her 9-year-old daughter Rachelle.

The police were called to Virginia's home to do a welfare check after her relatives became concerned after they did not see her and she did not answer her phone calls. Inside the home, the police found Virginia and Rachelle's bodies, who had both been strangled to death. The other younger children were unharmed but frightened from being left alone. It was also determined that a bracelet was missing.

Following the Temple murders, Coleman and Brown did another home invasion in Toledo, Ohio. Frank and Dorothy Duvendack were tied up and robbed of their money, watches, and their car. Unlike others, the couple was fortunately left alive.

On July 12, after being dropped off in Cincinnati by the Reverend and Mrs. Millard Gay of Dayton, Ohio, Coleman and Brown raped and murdered Tonnie Storey of Over-the-Rhine (a working-class neighborhood of Cincinnati). Storey's body was discovered eight days later. Underneath it was the bracelet that was missing from the Temple home. Storey had been raped and strangled to death.

FBI Ten Most Wanted

On July 12, 1984, Alton Coleman was added to the FBI Ten Most Wanted list as a special addition. A major national manhunt was launched to capture Coleman and Brown.

More Attacks

Being on the most wanted FBI list did not seem to slow down the couple's murder spree. On July 13, Coleman and Brown went from Dayton to Norwood, Ohio on a bicycle. Not long after arriving, they managed to get inside the home of Harry and Marlene Walters on the ruse that they were interested in buying a trailer that Harry Walters was selling.

Once inside the home, Coleman struck Harry Walters over the head with a candlestick, rendering him unconscious. The couple then viscously raped and beat Marlene Walters to death. It was later determined that Marlene Walters had been beaten on the head at least 25 times and Vise-Grips had been used to lacerate her face and scalp. After the attack, the couple robbed the home of money and jewelry and stole the family car.

Kidnapping in Kentucky

The couple then fled to Kentucky in the Walters' car and kidnapped a Williamsburg college professor, Oline Carmical, Jr. They placed him in the trunk of the car and drove to Dayton. There, they left the stolen car with Carmical inside the trunk. He was later rescued.

Next, the couple returned to the home of Reverend and Mrs. Millard Gay. They threatened the couple with guns, but left them unharmed. Coleman and Brown stole their car and headed back close to where they started their killing spree in Evanston, Illinois. Before their arrival, they carjacked and murdered 75-year-old Eugene Scott in Indianapolis.


On July 20, Coleman and Brown were arrested without incident in Evanston. A multi-state coalition of police formed to strategize on how to best prosecute the couple. Wanting the pair to face the death penalty, authorities selected Ohio as the first state to begin prosecuting them both.

No Remorse

In Ohio, Coleman and Brown were sentenced to death in each case of the aggravated murders of Marlene Walters and Tonnie Storey. During the sentencing phase of the trial, Brown sent the judge a note which read, in part, "I killed the bitch and I don't give a damn. I had fun out of it."

In separate trials in Indiana, both were found guilty of murder, rape, and attempted murder. Both received the death penalty. Coleman also received 100 additional years and Brown received an additional 40 years on charges of kidnapping and child molesting.

Alton Coleman was executed on April 26, 2002, by lethal injection at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio.

Brown's death sentence in Ohio was later commuted to life because of her low IQ scores, her non-violent history prior to meeting Coleman, and her dependent personality that made her susceptible to Coleman's control.

Currently in the Ohio Reformatory for Women, Brown still faces the death penalty in Indiana.

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Your Citation
Montaldo, Charles. "Profile of Serial Killer Debra Brown." ThoughtCo, Jul. 30, 2021, Montaldo, Charles. (2021, July 30). Profile of Serial Killer Debra Brown. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "Profile of Serial Killer Debra Brown." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).