Ruth Coe, whose life was described as “a Greek tragedy” by a judge who sent her to jail in 1982, is dead at 75.
The mother of convicted “South Hill rapist” Kevin Coe died last week in Henderson, Nev., where she was living with her husband. She had been suffering from emphysema and other illnesses for the past few years.
The couple moved to the Las Vegas suburb shortly after she had been convicted of trying to hire a hit man to kill the Spokane County judge and prosecutor who had handled the 1981 case against her son.
Kevin Coe was convicted of four counts of first-degree rape after a three-year series of more than 30 assaults had panicked the community.
Three of those convictions later were overturned. Coe, who is serving a 25-year sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, is scheduled for release in 2006. He did not ask to attend his mother’s funeral, a prison spokeswoman said.
“Ruth Coe was a very dutiful and loving mother,” said Spokane attorney Carl Maxey, who defended Coe in the murder-for-hire trial. “I am real sorry to hear of her passing.”
George Conrad, who was an intern for Maxey during the Coe case, said he remembers the tireless way Ruth Coe defended her family and her son.
“It was hard for her - devastated her - to watch what was happening, what her son was being convicted of,” said Conrad, now a Coeur d’Alene attorney. “It broke her.”
Born in Spokane, Coe worked in free-lance fashion and modeling and taught girls’ grooming in high schools and colleges across the Northwest.
As the wife of Gordon Coe, managing editor of the Spokane Chronicle, she also was involved in charity and church events, Maxey said.
But in 1973, Ruth Coe was diagnosed as a manic-depressive. She started taking lithium carbonate and other drugs, which served as her defense when she was arrested nearly a year after her son had been sent to prison.
Police said Ruth Coe agreed to pay an undercover officer $4,000 to murder then-Superior Court Judge George Shields and then-Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Donald Brockett, both of whom had handled the South Hill rapist case.
She paid a $500 deposit for the killings, which she said would “help humanity.”
Most of the yearlong sentence she received was served on work-release.
“It was a fairly minimal type of sentence as far as I’m concerned,” Shields said Monday. He said he hadn’t “kept track” of the Coe family since Ruth Coe’s conviction and was surprised by her death.
“These are the kind of things you’d just as soon see fade away,” the retired judge said.
Attempts to reach Brockett were unsuccessful Monday.
During the rape trial, Ruth Coe offered several different alibis for the man she simply called “son.”
She said Kevin Coe had been with her when three of the alleged assaults had taken place, and she disputed a claim that her son owned a pair of chewed-up gloves.
The South Hill rapist typically had shoved a gloved hand down his victims’ throats to stop them from screaming.
“I have never in his adult life seen him in gloves or a hat,” she said in court in 1981.
With her jet-black hair and careful makeup, Ruth Coe was packed with poise. Like her son, she never lost her composure in public.
“We’re down but not out,” she said after Kevin Coe’s guilty verdicts were announced.
But the loss of her son and the relentless publicity that surrounded the case destroyed Ruth Coe, Maxey said. He asked a Snohomish County judge who presided over her trial for mercy, saying Ruth Coe was mentally ill and had “gone through hell.”
Judge Robert Bibb agreed, saying Coe’s life was like a play built around “a catastrophe, a vengeance and a judgment of the avenger.”
What’s more, its characters were flawed “by human emotions - anger, hate and the desire for revenge,” Bibb said.
Jack Olsen, who wrote a book about the South Hill rapist titled “Son,” said Ruth Coe was a theatrical, homicidal woman who never received the help she needed.
When told of her death Monday, Olsen sighed and said, “She was a pathetic creature, the very definition of a mixed-up human being.
“But of the dead speak only good.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
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