OLYMPIA – Kevin Coe is back on McNeil Island, behind the locked gates and razor wire of the state’s home for sex predators.
In more than a quarter century of confinement, the notorious Spokane rapist largely kept his silence. He granted few interviews, complained bitterly about the publicity surrounding his case, and fired off angry rebukes to friends who talked publicly about him.
But in his cell, Coe was for years quietly churning out a large archive, much of which he clearly never intended to become public.
Through a public-records request to state prison officials, The Spokesman-Review has obtained thousands of pages of Coe’s writings from prison and before. They include notes, prison complaints, legal work, even a self-published pornographic novel. The writings suggest a smart, arrogant, sex-obsessed man convinced he could write his way out of prison.
They also show a manipulative inmate who wrote dozens of manic love letters to a Hanford secretary who eventually married him in prison. He soon had her sending him money, pitching his book proposals to publishers and bringing him expensive food for their monthly conjugal visits in a trailer on the prison grounds.
“I can understand your reluctance to borrow from Granny,” he wrote the woman, Shawn O’Brien, in 1986. “Maybe only $500 would be enough.”
But most of his writing consisted of legal arguments and the outlines for two huge books that were intended to exonerate him, restore the family name – and make Coe rich.
“The true story of the Coe cases can make some of the best reading ever in the big-selling crime docudrama genre,” he wrote in 1988, already seven years into his 25-year prison sentence. “The book and film potential is tremendous.”
‘You’ve crushed people’s lives’
Coe was arrested in 1981, suspected of being the South Hill rapist who had terrorized Spokane for two years.
In long letters to friends on the eve of his first trial, Coe laid out the case for his innocence. He was such a “male feminist,” he said, that his girlfriend, Ginny Perham, jokingly called him Alan Alda.
“They couldn’t have found a less likely candidate for a rapist,” he wrote in one letter.
That winter, from prison, he wrote a several-thousand-word letter to a longtime friend named Jason, who’d blasted Coe in a letter.
“Your matter of guilt was obvious to everyone,” Jason wrote. “… You’ve crushed people’s lives.”
Coe responded in the grandiose language that marks much of his writing. Crime, he said, is “the tool of brutes and the unintellectual. … I resent your error in finding me capable of rape. … I consider you a Judas!”
He went on to boast about his “voluminous ‘fan’ mail,” particularly from women.
“You wouldn’t believe the mail I get and from all over the country!” Coe wrote. “Kinky, suggestive, lewd, libertine, call it as you wish!”
In a handwritten note written around the same time – the purpose is unclear – Coe again denied being a rapist, but said that many women fantasize about it.
“I don’t think women fear being raped as long as it’s not too violent,” he wrote. And in a note to a prison friend, he joked about gifts from “the SHR Christmas Catalog,” including the rapist’s gloves, oven mitts and bus route maps. The acronym stands for South Hill rapist.
A startling admission
Coe’s jailers gave him good reviews for his first couple of years in prison. A typical record from 1983 described him as a cooperative, low-profile inmate whose family was supportive. He exercised intensely – 200 pushups and 100 chin-ups daily – and spent hours each day at a typewriter. He told prison officials that he hoped to be freed soon and go to live with family in Las Vegas or France.
“In many ways prison is a trip,” Coe wrote to a friend in 1982. “It ain’t no biggie. And, in fact, it’s a fascinating subculture.”
In letters and legal documents, he continued to maintain his innocence, pointing to other felons as more likely to be the real South Hill rapist. “There is a high probability that a staggering injustice has taken place,” he wrote.
Yet he did acknowledge in an early 1980s document that he had been “obsessed with the notion of committing a rape.”
Upon arrival at the state prison in Shelton, Coe wrote a brief statement for the Board of Prison Terms and Paroles.
He said he was intrigued by the South Hill rapist cases and had embarked on his own investigation.
“I devoted a good deal of time to the SHR clue search,” he wrote. “At some point the reason is unclear to me, other than a sort of temporary insanity, I became obsessed with the notion of committing a rape. I did so in an SHR copycat fashion.
“The act completely turned me off,” Coe wrote. “I was unable to complete the essentially 2nd degree assault, and subsequently lost all fascination with the act of rape.”
But contrary to what prosecutors said, Coe wrote, that admission doesn’t indicate that he was the South Hill rapist. And instead of prison, he wrote, “I would like sexual psychopathy treatment at Western State Hospital so I can understand why I committed this act.”
Prison officials turned the document over to the prosecutor’s office. And Coe stayed in prison.
Vulgar letters and tapes
In 1985 Coe struck up a pen-pal correspondence with a former Spokane woman.
“Case is comin’ fine, darlin’,” he wrote. “I will be free in about 15 months.”
The woman got married and moved to Idaho. Coe kept sending her letters.
“It is I who will teach you the meaning of pleasure,” Coe wrote, urging her to send photos of herself.
Shortly after that, Coe mailed her a cassette tape of himself working himself up with extremely explicit talk and masturbating.
The woman called police, saying she’d tried telling Coe to stop writing her but that he wouldn’t. The letters were vulgar “and the tape even more so,” she complained. The items were turned over to Spokane detectives.
That same summer, Shawn O’Brien, a 25-year-old Hanford secretary, wrote to Coe. She’d read author Jack Olsen’s book, “Son: A Psychopath and His Victims,” about the Coe case.
“Unusual name for a female,” Coe wrote back, telling her about his book plan and his efforts to prove he was innocent.
“Meantime, stay as you are a sensitive and inquisitive young woman,” he told her. “… And thank you for the photo of yourself.”
That summer note soon led to a flurry of correspondence from Coe. By fall, he was proposing marriage.
“Hi, wife,” he wrote four months after O’Brien’s first letter. He told her he “will not take no for an answer.”
He told O’Brien that he would soon sell an 850-page book about his mother’s case, titled “Entrapment.” It would make them both rich, he said, and he’d buy her a Cadillac.
Coe’s letters were full of endearments and manic expressions of love, often in capital letters and exclamation points. He called O’Brien “Wifey-poo” or “Duckling.” He was “Huz-buns.” Still, he sometimes sounded more calculating than love-smitten.
“Right now, marriage would help me a great deal, in numerous ways, as you know, including the trailers,” he wrote in April.
Coe’s letters were also full of sexual references. One included semen. On another, he traced his penis.
Coe eventually gave O’Brien an ultimatum: Marry him in prison and he’d always owe her a great debt. Marry him later and he’d owe her nothing, including fidelity.
Months before their October 1986 wedding, Coe began sending O’Brien credit card applications.
“These credit cards can be enormously valuable,” he said. “You should have as many as possible and apply while your credit is A-1.”
He soon urged her to ask for higher credit limits. And he kept careful track of her pay, noting when she was getting raises. By late 1986, O’Brien was pulling out hundreds of dollars in cash advances on a credit card to send to Coe.
‘A highly profitable commodity’
In addition to their regular visits, the two qualified for overnight stays together in one of the prison’s trailers. O’Brien could bring groceries for the couple, and Coe wrote her shopping lists that grew more detailed over time. O’Brien, who was living on less than $1,400 a month, was struggling with finances and loneliness. She vowed to stand by him.
In letters apparently written by Coe, she pitched his manuscript to agents in Hollywood and New York.
“We truly believe ours is the greatest UNTOLD and UNSOLD story in existence today,” read one letter. “… The story of the Coe cases and Kevin himself can be a highly profitable commodity, promoted correctly.”
But by May 1988, O’Brien had had enough. Coe responded to her request for a divorce with a polite but distant farewell, suggesting Nevada for a quiet divorce filing and asking her to ship all his files to his parents. “And please take good care of yourself,” he wrote, “… because we may need to call you as a witness someday.”
He vowed to someday pay O’Brien back the $8,000 he owed her.
One thing that’s obvious from Coe’s files is that he was a big fan of himself.
“Happy Birthday to me!” he wrote in a two-sentence letter to his wife in 1987. A year earlier, he’d urged her to tell her family about the relationship, suggesting this line: “He is gorgeous and so youthful.”
In 1987, Coe formally complained to prison officials after a strip search messed up his hair before a TV interview. He complained again when guards mocked his “red fashion underwear.”
In another letter, he described turning 29 in Las Vegas, “working at one of the world’s most glamorous and celebrity-filled discos. … I was inundated with gorgeous women.”
Still, he said, he returned to Spokane to live his dream of investing in real estate and opening a disco.
“Spokane, however, was resistant to disco,” he wrote.
‘Your whole life spread out in front of you’
Since 2006, Coe has spent most of his time at the state’s Special Commitment Center, the state’s high-security home for sex predators who’ve served their prison terms but are deemed too dangerous to release. He was said to be struggling with depression as the state successfully asked a jury to order him involuntarily committed, perhaps for life, to the remote facility.
“He was just like anybody facing trial,” said sex predator Richard Scott, who eats meals with Coe at the facility. “It’s a situation that none of us want to face: your whole life spread out in front of you. But he took the pressure well.”
Awaiting trial, Scott said, Coe did what most of the other residents do: watch TV, walk around the exercise area, and eat meals.
Now back on McNeil Island after his trial, Coe was under observation in the facility’s “intensive management unit” last week, Scott said. Scott, who said he has spent time in the unit, described it as a “prisonlike” room in a basement, with other residents frequently yelling.
“So he’s down there in this torture chamber,” Scott said, “to see if he’s depressed.”