Suspect identified in River North homicide

Telegraph staffMarch 19, 2012 

A woman convicted in her mother’s 1996 poisoning death is a suspect in the slaying of a Henry County businessman who was found dead Sunday night under her back porch in Jones County’s River North subdivision.

An arrest warrant was issued Monday for 54-year-old Pamela Moss in the killing of Doug Coker, of McDonough, a recent business associate of hers, authorities said.

Coker, 67, was reported missing last week. He was last seen March 13 at the McDonald’s on Bass Road in north Bibb County.

Two Bibb County sheriff’s investigators were sent to Moss’ house at 149 Old Ridge Road at 11:30 p.m. Sunday. They went at the request of Henry County police to speak with Moss, said Jones sheriff’s Capt. Earl Humphries, but she was not there.

He said Moss had been “a person of interest from the outset” of Coker’s disappearance.

Authorities think Moss was one of the last people to see him alive, Humphries said.

Sunday night, the Bibb deputies smelled a strange odor at the house and found a man’s body under the back porch, Humphries said.

“We strongly feel that the body out there is Mr. Coker’s,” he said. An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday morning.

Humphries said there were signs of apparent injury on the body, but he declined to elaborate. He said the victim appeared to have been dead for a while.

Neighbors said they smelled natural gas outside Moss’ house during the day Sunday and that authorities had told them a fireplace valve had been left open inside.

Coker’s family and friends searched for him last week after learning that his cell phone had “pinged” on a cell tower in south Monroe County, family spokesman Buddy Welch said.

Searchers also distributed pamphlets and posters with Coker’s picture on them.

A Monday search was called off after family members were informed that Coker was dead, Welch said.

Welch described Coker as a respected man in the Henry County business community where he worked in real estate.

“He was an all-around good guy,” Welch said.

Jones County deputies interviewed Moss last week, Macon attorney Franklin J. Hogue said.

Plans were being made Monday for Moss to turn herself in, Hogue said.

“There are lots of people looking for her,” he said.

Hogue represented Moss -- who was then Pamela Frye -- when she was accused of fatally poisoning her mother, 64-year-old Barbara Sherman Frye, in February 1996. Barbara Frye, a member of Vineville United Methodist Church, had been a secretary for Fickling & Walker and also for Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival.

An investigation was launched several days after Frye was buried in Riverside Cemetery, after authorities got anonymous phone calls urging them to consider the possibility of foul play. Frye’s body was exhumed, and an autopsy revealed concentrations an anti-depressant drug.

Moss pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter on the eve of her trial in November 1997 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Prior to the plea, prosecutors had planned to show that Moss poisoned her mother so she could collect on her mother’s $500,000 life insurance policy.

“Of all the cases I’ve tried here, this is the most bizarre, factually,’’ Howard Simms, then an assistant Bibb district attorney, said after the 1997 guilty plea.

Hogue remembers the case as one that had the potential for a “courtroom-packing trial.”

“It was probably the biggest, most complex case I’d had in my young career at that point,” Hogue said. “There were all kinds of twists and turns.”

Moss was released from prison in the summer of 2005.

According to her LinkedIn listing, Moss went to Wesleyan College and is the owner of Preferred Resource Development. She describes her “primary job” as writing grants, “though public relations, marketing and local fundraising are also part of the services offered.”

Jones Sheriff Butch Reece said Moss and Coker had “business dealings.”

“There was a nonprofit I believe they were, at one point, trying to open” that involved building houses for charity, the sheriff said. “He had paid her some money to do some work on the grant. ... I think he was wanting some money back.”

The house where Coker’s body was found sits a little less than a mile northeast of the Ocmulgee River in the gated River North community. Moss and her late husband, Urban Eugene Moss, were renting the beige, Federal-style house, which has a screened-in back porch.

Eugene Moss, a Georgia Tech graduate who worked in the construction industry, died of a heart attack in late October. He was 71.

Reached by phone Monday evening, his daughter, who lives in metro Atlanta, had no comment on the pending arrest of her father’s widow.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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