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Police: Murder Suspect Had Scouted Modeling Agencies

May 20, 1987

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) _ Police believe a man suspected of holding two young models captive and killing their chaperones had posed as a filmmaker and canvassed modeling agencies for girls.

Herbert James Coddington, 28, was booked for investigation of murder and kidnapping after the bodies of two women chaperones were found in plastic garbage bags in the adjoining master bedroom, the FBI said Tuesday.

FBI agents late Monday smashed their way into Coddington’s rented mobile home to rescue the two terrified models, ages 12 and 14, from a bedroom.

Coddington had lured the girls and the women to the trailer by claiming to be making an anti-drug video, said Terry Knowles, head of the FBI’s Sacramento office.

Coddington is believed to have canvassed at least four other modeling agencies last week using four aliases, said Reno, Nev., police Sgt. Greg Dion.

Gaynel Wadsworth, a makeup artist at Reno’s Aviance Profile, said her firm, Reno’s biggest modeling agency, turned him down.

″He was not the kind of person we wanted to do business with. He was very shady, shaky and sweaty. He smelled bad. He never looked me in the face,″ she said.

She said that the man told her he wanted two teen-age girls and that he became nervous when told the agency always sends models’ parents with them.

An FBI official who spoke on condition of anonymity said investigators are looking into Coddington’s background to try to determine a motive ″and see what makes this guy tick.″

FBI spokesmen declined to comment on reports that forensic experts had been called in to check possible mounds under the mobile home and that one room had been padded for soundproofing.

Knowles said Alecia Thoma, 14, of Reno, and Monica Berge, 12, of Sparks, Nev., were found apparently unharmed but ″scared to death″ in Coddington’s mobile home, which he has rented since January after living for about five years in Las Vegas.

The FBI agent said ″it was a fair assumption″ the girls were present when chaperones Maybelle ″Mabs″ Martin, 69, the operator of Showcase Finishing & Modeling School of Reno, and Dorothy ″Dottie″ Walsh, 67, of Reno, were slain.

Authorities declined to give the cause of death.

The girls had traveled 60 miles from Reno to Lake Tahoe with Ms. Martin and Ms. Walsh on Saturday for what they thought was a videotaping session, authorities said.

The four were reported missing by their families after they failed to return Saturday night. About 50 officers took part in the search.

Knowles said teen-agers had told investigators a man believed to have been Coddington had approached them through modeling agencies during the last two weeks to interview them for a video on drug rehabilitation.

The girls’ description of the man’s expensive imported car with cardboard license plates reading ″TV Teen″ led FBI agents to the mobile home, Knowles said.

There apparently was no demand for ransom for the two young models, authorities said. Neither Knowles nor Police Chief Dean Shelton would say whether any of the victims had been sexually abused.

Neighbors said Coddington kept to himself and had little contact with those living nearby. Authorities said they didn’t know what Coddington’s occupation was, and that he apparently was unemployed for several years.

Several weapons were found in the mobile home but Knowles declined to describe them.

Miss Thoma was on her first modeling job, according to her stepfather, Steven Hess of Reno. He said a man had screened the two girls at Ms. Martin’s Showcase school.

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