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Man Posing As Filmmaker Charged With Murder, Sexual Attack

May 21, 1987

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) _ A man accused of posing as a filmmaker to lure two young models to his trailer was charged Wednesday with murdering their adult chaperones and sexually assaulting the girls.

Herbert James Coddington, 28, was ordered held without bail at the El Dorado County Jail.

Coddington was arrested late Monday after FBI agents burst into his mobile home and freed the terrified girls. The bodies of their chaperones were found in plastic garbage bags in an adjoining master bedroom.

Police said the four had gone to Coddington’s trailer thinking the girls were going to take part in the making of an anti-drug video.

Coddington, appearing in court in manacles, was arraigned on two counts of murder, several sexual offenses, including one count of rape, and a special allegation of multiple murder, which carries the death penalty.

Federal kidnapping charges may be filed later, said District Attorney Ron Tepper. A preliminary hearing was set for June 4.

The chaperones, Maybelle ″Mabs″ Martin, 69, operator of a Reno modeling school, and her companion Dorothy ″Dottie″ Walsh, 67, apparently were strangled Sunday, one day after they disappeared, said investigators who asked not to be identified.

FBI agent Terry Knowles said ″it was a fair assumption″ that the models, Alecia Thoma, 14, of Reno, and Monica Berge, 12, of Sparks, were present when the women were slain.

After the arrest, officers dug into mounds underneath Coddington’s mobile home but found no evidence of human remains, Tepper said.

The girls were found ″scared to death″ in one bedroom of the mobile home Coddington rented in January after living for about five years in Las Vegas, Nev., Knowles said.

They and the chaperones were last seen Saturday driving 60 miles from Reno to Lake Tahoe for what they thought was a videotaping session for an anti-drug video.

The four were reported missing by their families after they failed to return that night.

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

Knowles, from the FBI’s Sacramento 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 expensive imported car, which had a license plate insert naming a Tahoe auto dealer, led agents to the mobile home. Officers knocked on the door of the mobile home and identified themselves, then burst in a few minutes later when the lights went out.

Several guns were found inside but Knowles declined to describe them. He said no shots were fired.

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

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

Update hourly