Gordon Coe; Newspaper Editor Had Son Linked to Serial Rapes

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Gordon H. Coe, whose 43-year newspaper career ended when his son was prosecuted in a notorious serial rape case, has died of complications from a stroke. He was 82.

Coe died Saturday in Edmonds, Wash., where he lived in a nursing home.

As managing editor of the Spokane Chronicle, Coe led the paper's coverage of the so-called South Hill rapist, who was accused of more than 40 attacks. Coe personally answered many of the calls to the paper's anonymous tips line.

His son, Fred, who later changed his name to Kevin, was arrested in 1981 and charged with six of the rapes. Gordon Coe, then 65, retired from the Chronicle and remained supportive of his son and wife through several trials and the convictions of both.

Kevin Coe, now 51, is scheduled for release from prison in 2006. He was convicted of four of the rapes and sentenced to life plus 75 years. After the convictions were overturned on appeal, he was convicted on three counts in a 1985 retrial and sentenced to life and 55 years in prison. Two counts were later vacated and he was left with a 25-year sentence.

Gordon Coe's wife, Ruth, who died in 1996, was charged in 1982 with paying a man $500 as a down payment for killing the judge and prosecutor in her son's rape trial. The former charm school teacher was convicted on one count of soliciting two murders and served one year in a work-release program plus probation.

The family's tangled trials were the subject of a book by Jack Olsen, which was made into a television movie, "Son: A Psychopath and His Victims," published in 1984. Gordon Coe and his wife, as staunchly as they maintained the innocence of their son, protested publication of the book and tried to discredit it.

"We knew Olsen couldn't write a book truthfully and sell it," Gordon Coe told The Times in 1984, "because we knew what a dull family we were."

Born in Spokane on Sept. 16, 1916, Coe went to work for the Spokane Chronicle as a reporter in 1938. He served for 25 years as city editor and became managing editor in 1975. The newspaper ceased publication in 1992.

In addition to his son, Coe is survived by a daughter, Kathleen.

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