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FBI Arrests Man They Say Held Teen Models, Killed Chaperones

May 20, 1987

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) _ FBI agents smashed through the door of a mobile home to rescue two terrified teen-age models and arrest a man who had allegedly kidnapped them and killed their female chaperones, authorities said Tuesday.

Herbert James Coddington, 28, who had allegedly lured the girls on the pretext of filming an anti-drug video, was arrested late Monday and booked for investigation of murder and kidnapping, agent Terry Knowles told a news conference.

He said the two girls were found apparently unharmed but ″scared to death″ in one bedroom. The two bodies were in green plastic bags on the floor of the adjoining master bedroom.

Models Alecia Thoma, 14, of Reno, and Monica Berge, 12, of Sparks, were not bound, and ″it was a fair assumption″ that they were present when the slayings took place, Knowles said.

The girls vanished on Saturday in the company of Maybelle ″Mabs″ Martin, 69, the operator of Showcase Finishing & Modeling School of Reno, and her friend, Dorothy ″Dottie″ Walsh, 67, of Reno.

The El Dorado County sheriff’s department confirmed that the two women were the murder victims. An autopsy was completed, but authorities did not release the cause of death.

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

Neighbors said Coddington kept to himself and had little social contact with people living around him. Authorities said they did not know what Coddington’s occupation was, saying he apparently was unemployed for several years.

Neighbor Beatrice JeuDeVin said she heard screams about an hour before the raid on the mobile home. ″When I took my dogs out, I heard some screams,″ she said. ″It sounded like women.″

The two girls and their chaperones were reported missing by their families after they failed to return home to Reno, which is 60 miles away, Saturday night. The search involving as many as 50 officers centered on the Lake Tahoe area where eight law enforcement agencies assisted the FBI.

Knowles, in charge of the Sacramento FBI office, said other teen-agers told investigators a man believed to have been Coddington had approached them over the last two weeks, interviewing them for a video on drug rehabilitation.

He said their description of the man’s car led agents to the mobile home, where officers knocked on the door and identified themselves, then burst in when the lights went out.

Knowles said the first person they encountered was Coddington, who was overpowered immediately. He declined to say whether Coddington was armed, but said weapons were found in the mobile home. He said no shots were fired and declined to say what kind of weapons were confiscated.

Knowles said Coddington had moved to South Lake Tahoe in January after living about five years in Las Vegas.

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

It was believed the same man canvassed at least four other modeling agencies last week, using four aliases, according to Reno police Sgt. Greg Dion.

Gaynel Wadsworth, a makeup artist at Reno’s Aviance Profile, said her firm 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 the man told her he wanted two teen-age girls and said he became nervous when told the agency always sends models’ parents with them.

South Lake Tahoe police chief Dean Shelton said charges of two counts of murder and four of kidnapping were pending. Coddington also was expected to be arraigned on four federal kidnapping charges.

Neither Shelton nor Knowles would say whether any additional charges were pending, nor would they comment on whether any of the victims had been sexually abused.

Knowles said he did not think anyone else was directly involved in the crime, although the case remains under investigation.

Officers continued to question Coddington while others investigated his vehicle in a mobile home park, which has been sealed off by police.

The girls were reunited with their parents but were to stay in the Tahoe area until officers could complete their questioning.

Update hourly