'I Think They Always Knew': A Lynching Is Revived, 34 Years Later

Timothy Coggins was dragged to his death in 1983. But where was justice?
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2020 1:50 PM CDT

Timothy Coggins was said to be funny and exuberant, with a captivating smile. Tragically, the young Black man was lynched in October 1983—a crime that went unsolved until law enforcement took up the cold case and showed it to a jury 34 years later, GQ reports. "I think they always knew who did it," says Coggins' sister Telisa. "But because it was a white man who killed a Black man, they didn't care. They never really tried." She last saw Timothy alive on the night he left a Black dance club in rural Georgia, where they lived, to meet with white men waiting for him outside. Two days later, sheriff's deputies appeared with a photo of the 23-year-old's body, stabbed dozens of times with a Confederate-style "X" carved into his stomach. But a sheriff's probe turned up nothing.

Reviving the case in 2016, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found people who said two locals—Frankie Gebhardt and his brother-in-law, Bill Moore—had boasted about killing Coggins for allegedly sleeping with Gebhardt's "old lady" and bilking him in a drug deal. Investigators soon dug up a shredded T-shirt and an old knife blade on Gebhardt's property, and Gebhardt got life in prison; Moore, 20 years. "The death of Mr. Coggins was very clearly a lynching," says the GBI agent in charge. The Equal Justice Initiative says thousands of Blacks were lynched—that is, killed in a premeditated mob execution, by hanging or otherwise—between the Civil War and World War II, and while public spectacles faded, white vigilante justice continued. See the full GQ article or a new documentary about the case. (More lynching stories.)

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