Timothy Coggins, 23, was found dead near a power line in Sunnyside, Ga., on Oct. 9, 1983

By Christine Pelisek
July 17, 2020 10:00 AM
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Timothy Coggins, who was just 23, was found dead near a power line in Sunnyside, Ga., on Oct. 9, 1983.

The details of his death were brutal: He had been stabbed multiple times, tortured, chained and dragged behind a truck in a field.

“He had seven stab wounds to the front of his chest,” former Spalding County sheriff’s deputy Oscar Jordan told ABC News. “And then he had a cross cut across the chest. And then, [on his] back, it was the same way. I was later told that it represented the Confederate flag… The worst part about it [is] they didn't kill him. [The] autopsy showed he bled out. Thrown behind a pile of wood. Left to die.”

Before his death, Coggins, who was Black, had been dating a white woman — and the connection between racism, the killing, and the long-cold case is the focus of Friday's episode of ABC's 20/20, airing 9 to 11 EST.

Timothy Coggins
Spalding County Sheriff's Office

Police investigated but no arrests were made.

“It was something that really devastated us all,” Tim’s brother Ramon Coggins said, “because we never knew what happened or how it happened … it was just a mystery.”

Coggins’ murder remained cold for nearly 35 years until 2016 when the Georgia Bureau of Investigation reopened the case. A year later, Frankie Gebhardt and William Moore, Sr. were charged with murder.

Prosecutor Marie G. Broder said Coggins was killed because he was selling marijuana in white neighborhoods and had been dating white women.

Frankie Gebhardt
Spalding County Sheriff's Office

“Timothy Coggins was a young Black man in 1983 who refused to follow societal norms. He was not following the rules of 1983, if you will,” Broder told ABC. “And if you were a Klan member or a racist, any of those things would infuriate you and anger you to the point where Timothy Coggins became a target … that needed to be eliminated, and a message that needed to be sent.”

William Moore, Sr.
Spalding County Sheriff's Office

In 2018, Gebhardt was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for Coggins’ murder and Moore pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and concealing the death of another. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Friday's 20/20 special features exclusive interviews and footage from the courtroom. The filmmakers were also provided access to evidence, which included a diary by a police officer who went undercover in the KKK and learned that the group claimed to have members in local police departments.

20/20: In the Cold Dark Night airs on Friday, July 17 (9 to 11 EST) on ABC.