WARNER ROBINS — Warner Robins police say a cold case of a missing person has been solved.
Valerie Coates, then 22, of Warner Robins, was reported missing April 9, 1988. Police now believe she was murdered in a wooded area in Pulaski County, Warner Robins police Capt. Chris Rooks said.
Coates was last seen the day before she was reported missing at what was once the Houston Mall on North Houston Road in Warner Robins, Rooks said. Coates was part of what was then a cadet program offered through Warner Robins police, Rooks said.
Rooks credited Warner Robins police detective Karen Stokes with solving the case. Rooks said Stokes had only the incident report to go on. Stokes conducted exhaustive interviews and followed leads, including interviewing the suspected killer several times at a Georgia Department of Corrections facility, Rooks said.
Stokes was able to “uncover enough information” to tie the inmate to the slaying, Rooks said. He declined to elaborate, noting that the case had been turned over to Pulaski County authorities. Rooks also declined to identify the suspect — noting that no charges have been filed yet and whether charges will be filed is up to Pulaski County authorities.
Hawkinsville Assistant Police Chief Robert McGriff identified the suspect as Terrence Mobley, who is incarcerated in Washington County State Prison in Sandersville. He is currently is serving a life sentence for a murder not related to the cold case investigation, McGriff said. McGriff said he and Stokes talked with Mobley at the prison.
Mobley actually filed the missing persons report with Warner Robins police in 1988, McGriff said. Mobley reported Coates missing from the Houston Mall. He later said she came back to the Hawkinsville house that she and Mobley once shared and that is when she was killed, McGriff said. McGriff did not elaborate on the alleged slaying.
Mobley told authorities that an ex-girlfriend committed the murder but that he buried Coates, McGriff said.
The wooded area where Mobley told authorities that Coates was buried is located off Industrial Boulevard in the city of Hawkinsville, McGriff said.
Authorities have been unable to locate the body, having dug in the area for a period of four or five days, McGriff said.
McGriff said he expects charges will be placed. He said the case has been turned over to the Eastman office of the GBI. Greg Harvey, special agent in charge of the Eastman office, could not be reached for comment.
Tim Vaughn, Pulaski County assistant district attorney, said the case remains under investigation and a determination has not yet been made on whether any charges will be brought. He confirmed that the suspect in the Coates case was Mobley.
Mobley, 45, pleaded guilty Feb. 8, 1993, in Bleckley County Superior Court to the murder of a Pulaski County man on Nov. 5, 1991, Vaughn said. The slaying happened in Pulaski County but the court venue was moved to Bleckley County, Vaughn said.
Vaughn said Mobley shot a man in the leg because of a woman Mobley was dating at the time. The gun jammed, and Mobley left the man lying in the yard while he walked to a neighbor’s house, got a butter knife and unjammed the gun, Vaughn said. Mobley then shot the man multiple times and killed him, Vaughn said.
Vaughn said a decision on whether to prosecute Mobley in the Coates case will likely be made in the next few months. The next grand jury convenes in April.
The Coates case is the second cold case Warner Robins police detectives have recently solved, said Tabitha Pugh, public information officer for Warner Robins police.
DNA evidence was used to identify, arrest and charge Ronald Free, 44, of Byron, in the 1995 murder of Carol Johnson, 34, of Warner Robins, Rooks said. That case is pending trial. Free was arrested on murder and related charges Nov. 16, 2007.
Johnson was stabbed to death in her North Avenue home two days before Christmas 1995 when she encountered an intruder. Free was indicted by a Houston County grand jury on charges of murder, aggravated assault, burglary and possession of a knife during a crime in the stabbing death of Johnson. Free was being held Thursday in the Houston County jail.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.