Crime & Courts

Cold case no more: S.C. woman’s son charged with killing her

More than five years after 71-year-old Linda Clark was found dead in her Anderson apartment, her son, John Wesley Coker, has been charged with killing her.

Anderson County court records show Coker, now 52, was indicted on a murder charge Feb. 21, less than seven weeks ago. Clark was killed in late July 2011.

The case did not come together easily or quickly, and may still have "some twists and turns to come," Sgt. Todd Owens, the detective who chased it for years, said Saturday.

"One of the most important things for me was to be able to give the rest of her family some closure," Owens said. "The wheels of justice grind slow, but they do grind true."

Clark lived in North Gate, an apartment complex near Liberty Highway and S.C. 28 Bypass.

According to 2011 accounts of the case from investigators, Coker is the one who called 911. He told police he found his mother's body when he returned to her apartment at about 3 a.m. July 22, 2011.

An autopsy determined Clark was strangled, Anderson County Deputy Coroner Don McCown said at the time. Clark also suffered blunt-force trauma to her face, McCown said.

From the beginning, the Anderson County Sheriff's Office investigated Clark's death as a homicide. Deputies said they believed her death was an isolated case and that the person responsible would not seek other victims. But as the case went unsolved, that information provided little solace to Clark's neighbors, many of whom were elderly.

Owens inherited the case when it was about a year old and considered cold. He is now a leader in the Sheriff's Office training center.

But as a detective, he was regularly brought in on difficult and high-profile cases. In August 2010, he helped investigate a case in which a 17-month-old girl was stomped and burned, but survived. The girl's mother was sentenced to prison.

Owens' work was key to gaining critical information about the killing of Anderson businessman Chandrakant “C.J.” Patel in 2012.

He said Saturday that the Sheriff's Office had to wait almost three years after Clark's death for the analysis of forensic evidence to come back from the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. He declined to discuss the nature of the evidence or what the analysis revealed. But he was quick to say that whatever was there wasn't enough to close the case.

Former Sheriff John Skipper said Saturday one of the difficulties of the case was related to fingerprints, because Coker and Clark were related and finding his fingerprints in her home was not enough solve it.

"It's always hard when a case involves family members," said Skipper, who was in office at the time of the killing. "You just want to be able to solve it, but it's harder on everyone when the evidence points to a victim's family member."

Many months after Clark's death, Owens tracked Coker down in a Georgia prison. Owens said Saturday he couldn't remember which facility it was, but said he traveled there and spoke with Coker. Owens declined to say whether Coker confessed to him.

After talking with Coker, Owens spent months "going over the case from top to bottom," he said. He had to talk to everyone again to be able to poke holes in faulty alibis, he said.

"It wasn't just one thing that turned this case," Owens said. "It was a picture that began to make sense."

Eventually, the case was presented to the 10th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office, and charges were filed in September 2016. The indictment followed.

Sheriff Chad McBride, who took office in January, was a spokesman under Skipper at the time of Clark's death.

"I remember saying then that what happened to her was despicable and I still believe that," McBride said Saturday. "I'm glad justice finally came her way."

Besides Coker, Clark's survivors include three other sons, a daughter, and more than a dozen grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her family could not immediately be reached Saturday.

Coker is in the Anderson County Detention Center without bail.

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