Nearly 34 years after his racially charged murder, Timothy Coggins’ grave finally bears his name.
The Coggins family unveiled the new headstone Saturday, Dec. 30, at their home church in Zebulon, Ga., about 50 miles outside of Atlanta, the Associated Press reported. The long-awaited unveiling comes just months after two white men were charged in Coggins’ 1983 murder.
“This has been a very dark cloud on our family,” Tyrone Coggins, a brother of the slain man, said during an emotional 90-minute memorial service at the Fuller’s Chapel United Methodist Church this past weekend. “But today we can see the sun will shine again.”
Coggins’ body was found abandoned on a power line in Sunnyside, Ga. on the morning of Oct. 9, 1983, with authorities at the time saying the 23–year–old had been “brutally murdered” and showed visible signs of trauma on his body. Out of fear that the unknown killer might return to vandalize the well–marked burial site, Coggins’ niece, Heather, said the family held a held a rushed funeral service and left the grave unadorned — until now.
Coggins’ tragic case went cold for decades, however, it was new evidence that prompted police to re-examine and re-open the case last summer. In October, the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrests of Frankie Gebhardt, 59, and Bill Moore Sr., 58, in connection to the young man’s death. Lamar Bunn, a police officer with the Milner Police Department, and his mom, Sandra Bunn, were also charged with obstruction in the case, along with Gregory Huffman, a detention officer with the Spalding County Sheriff’s Office.
A probable cause hearing early last month revealed that Gebhardt and Moore had bragged about the crime for years to friends, children and even acquaintances. The duo is accused of stabbing Coggins nearly 30 times then chaining his body to the back of a pick-up truck and dragging it “five to seven times” up and down the road.
Their motive? Investigators believe Gebhardt and Moore were upset after they saw Coggins socializing with a white woman.
Coggins niece said the family had long suspected that their relative’s death was racially-motivated. After his assailants were charged and arrested, she told AP that members of their family chipped in to purchase the new headstone.
“As his legacy, we feel as though we were robbed,” said Jennifer Stevenson, a relative of Coggins who said she was just a baby when her cousin was slain. “Our family is amazing, and we are confident he would have been proud of us.”
Other members of Coggins’ extended family packed the church house as they celebrated the life of their loved one, sporting t-shirts that read “At Last … Resting in Peace.”