Cheryl Coker disappeared in October 2018 after filing for divorce from her husband

By Jeff Truesdell
April 28, 2020 06:45 PM
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Courtesy Coker Family

The discovery of human remains in the case of missing Ohio mom-of-two Cheryl Coker confirmed what police had thought for months — she’d likely been murdered.

But by whom?

“Right now we have one suspect, and it’s Bill Coker,” who was Cheryl’s husband of nearly 19 years at the time she vanished in October 2018, Riverside police Det. Travis Abney told PEOPLE in January.

On Tuesday, as authorities discussed the recovery of skeletal remains found in the woods on Saturday and connected them to Cheryl’s case, Riverside police Chief Frank Robinson did not elaborate on the status of Cheryl’s husband. To date, Bill has never been charged.

“I’ve never in my life hurt anyone,” Bill told Dayton TV station WHIO in February 2019, when police said they were pursuing a homicide investigation and publicly named Bill as a suspect. He previously has declined repeated requests by PEOPLE for comment.

Here are 5 things to know about the ongoing mystery:

1. A Mismatched Marriage?

Cheryl’s 1988 marriage to Bill was her second, after a short-lived first union that produced a daughter, Marisa. Cheryl and Bill together had another daughter, Mikayla, and then welcomed a granddaughter born to Marisa.

Bill and Cheryl Coker
Facebook

Friends and relatives say the couple appeared ill-suited from the outside. Cheryl was bubbly and quick to laugh, an “open book” who was always checking in with others, while Bill appeared quiet and reserved. But they also said Cheryl welcomed the stability Bill offered her in the wake of her troubled first marriage, and the couple were visible fixtures at their daughters’ athletic competitions at home and on the road.

“Cheryl loved Bill,” her friend Shelly Appelhans told PEOPLE late last year. “Their main attraction to each other was the family.”

2. Allegations of Cheating

About 13 years ago, the marriage took a hit when Cheryl suspected Bill of infidelity.

“She did say, ‘You better stop seeing her,'” says another of Cheryl’s friends, Tina Wilson. “He instantly did.”

The bump seemed to pass. But years after that, Cheryl revealed to her closest friends that she and Bill had become “swingers,” engaging in sex with others outside of their marriage.

“It wasn’t like she did it just for Bill,” said Appelhans. “She did it willingly as well. The sex life in her marriage was better, she said.”

Cheryl Coker
Cheryl Coker Missing October 2nd 2018 Riverside, OH/Facebook

3. Hurt Feelings Lead to Divorce

When Cheryl saw that Bill was focusing his attentions on one other woman, she confessed a growing dismay to those close friends, telling them Bill had a “girlfriend.”

Cheryl was “heartbroken” about the other woman, Appelhans told PEOPLE. In a separate conversation during the summer of 2018, Wilson said Cheryl told her “she was fearful‚ not of [Bill], but of losing him.” Cheryl wanted Bill to give up the other woman, but he refused, they said.

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He didn’t want a divorce, Cheryl told them; he wanted to keep up appearances until their youngest daughter, then 15, finished high school, Cheryl told her friends.

On Sept. 21, 2018, Cheryl filed for divorce anyway.

Six days later, Cheryl stayed behind in Ohio to attend a family wedding while Bill and the couple’s then 15-year-old youngest daughter went ahead with a planned trip to Orlando — accompanied, unbeknownst to Cheryl ahead of time, by Bill’s alleged girlfriend.

On the Oct. 2, 2018 morning after they returned from Florida, according to police, Cheryl vanished.

4. Abandoned Car Raises Suspicions

After dropping the younger daughter off at school that morning, Cheryl returned to the home she and Bill still shared, where police say she was logged onto Facebook until about 7:45 a.m., when her active social media presence stopped.

About three hours later, surveillance video showed Cheryl’s SUV entering the parking lot of a strip mall with a restaurant and grocery about a mile away. Worried when they didn’t hear from her as the day wore on, family members — not including Bill — used a find-my-phone app that tracked Cheryl’s cell to her locked car parked in the same lot.

“There was a lot of personal items inside her SUV,” police detective Travis Abney told PEOPLE. “We found her purse and her credit cards. That’s not normal. No one is going to leave their ID, their money, their credit cards, their cell phone especially.”

Friends and others said Cheryl never would have abandoned her mother Mary Carroll, who is living with a cancer diagnosis, nor her two daughters or granddaughter. And they universally said she is never without the phone she used to stay in constant touch with them.

“It started becoming more and more bizarre to me at that point,” Abney said.

5. Mystery Man in Black

After being called to the scene, Bill quickly referenced the couple’s open marriage, according to the detective.

“She was engaging in risky behavior before she disappeared,” Bill told TV station WHIO in brief comments.

Police chief Robinson told PEOPLE late last year that investigators “haven’t found anything to link that to her being missing.”

But they found other clues. The surveillance cameras that captured Cheryl’s car entering the parking lot — but not who was driving — also subsequently caught a man dressed all in black and wearing a hood walking away from the lot. A 911 caller then reported a similarly dressed man walking on foot soon after in Cheryl and Bill’s neighborhood; still another video caught the subject walking along a fence line toward their house.

Video from a grocery later in the day shows Bill, in dark-colored shirt, shorts and shoes, with “some sort of gash on the back arm above his elbow,” said Abney. Bill explained the injury to police, who didn’t want to say any more about it, according to the detective.

Although Bill met “several times” with detectives in the early stages, “he hasn’t shown a lot of interest at all in what steps we’re taking to try to find his missing wife,” Abney told PEOPLE when the investigation was more than a year old.

The human remains — a skull and several bones — were found in a remote wooded area about a 15-minute drive from Cheryl’s home, and discovered by a mushroom hunter, Greene County Sheriff Gene Fischer said in a news conference.

“We’ve never given up on this case,” Robinson said at the event. “We’ve never wavered from what we needed to do, to follow all the evidence we’ve collected and all the evidence anyone has collected for us.”

The investigation and a forensic autopsy are ongoing.