Devotion, Lust & Pure Evil | Cynthia Coffman & James Marlow | Partners In Crime (Sixth Instalment) Graphic Content

 (Cynthia Coffman & James Marlow. Picture credits: Wikipedia & Murderpedia)

We are nearly at the end of my Partners In Crime series, just one more to go and then I will be moving on to some other types of cases. I chose to cover this story because not many people know about it and the names Cynthia Coffman and James Marlow are not names that just jump out at you when you think of infamous criminal duos. This case, is a tale as old as time with a toxic couple who thought they were a modern day 'Bonnie & Clyde' but in the end turned on each other and blamed one another for the crimes. 

This case also ruffled feathers because the murderess of the duo tried to play the part of the victim, claiming that she had been beaten and was frightened for her life so she had no choice but to take part in her partners crimes. We were to learn however, that she was every bit as responsible and every bit as evil as he was. 

As I've mentioned before in previous posts, back in the day it was very difficult for some people to believe that a woman could be just as (and in some cases much worse) evil and calculating as some men can be. Women were mostly seen as fragile, mothering types who's role was to be a nurturer but as the 1980s rolled around, people were beginning to see that, that wasn't always the case. 

I've talked about such dangerous women such as Myra Hindley and Rose West and how they both had partaken in very sickening crimes and had been the mastermind behind some of the evil doings themselves. Both Myra and Rose would take the same stance as Cynthia Coffman and claim to be just naive women who were led astray by evil, controlling men. 

Cynthia Coffman was in her early 20s when she began killing with her husband, career criminal, James Marlow and how they met was quite a story in itself. Cynthia was from a comfortable background, born in 1962, she came into the world full of promise as the daughter of a businessman. As well as being set up financially, she grew up in a strict catholic household. It should have all gone well for Cynthia you would think, coming into a steady home life but she was bored and rebelled. She found herself dating a boy she knew her parents wouldn't have approved of and as predicted, all hell broke loose and she found herself pregnant at the tender age of 17. 

Being in the situation that she found herself in, she had to continue on with the pregnancy and marry her boyfriend who ended up abusing her. She ended up leaving him and things just got even worse when she started a relationship with another guy who was into drugs. The pair would take drugs together regularly and Cynthia abandoned her son, leaving him to the care of her family. Her life was going downhill fast and it all came to a head when she and her boyfriend, Doug were involved in an altercation at a store. The pair had their car searched where the cops found a loaded gun and a stash of drugs. They were promptly arrested and placed in custody. Cynthia got off lightly, having spent just 5 days being locked up but Doug got the full punishment and was put away for longer. 

Cynthia aimed to stand by Doug and wait for him to be released but a strange turn of events happened when she went to visit her boyfriend in prison. She learned that he was sharing a cell with a guy called James Marlow. This James character had quite the reputation and was no stranger to a prison cell. James had been involved in a number of petty crimes in the past, he was known to be a white supremacist so obviously liked to attract trouble as well as earning himself the nickname 'The Folsom Wolf' (his nickname from a previous prison stint where he ruled the wing that he was on). 

James became this exciting figure for Cynthia and when the pair finally met, there was an instant attraction. For James the attraction was obvious, Cynthia was quite a beautiful looking and well dressed woman despite the drug habit. For her, one can only assume it was the bad boy image that she liked. 

Her taste in men left a lot to be desired, James was even worse than the others but that didn't stop her growing more and more fond of him. The pair tried to keep their attraction under wraps and didn't act on anything until the time had come for Doug to be released from prison with James following him shortly afterwards. James met up with the couple and the three of them would spend time together until Doug ended up in trouble again and back behind bars. 

With Doug out of the picture, James and Cynthia lived out their full blown affair and eventually Doug was informed and that was that. 

James and Cynthia enjoyed taking drugs together, getting into trouble and having wild sex. They got married and as a gift to James, Cynthia had 'I Belong To The Folsom Wolf' tattooed on her bottom. 

Not surprisingly, James came from a totally different background to Cynthia. He was born in 1956 and had a very difficult childhood. His mother who was a sex worker, got him hooked on drugs from a young age and they would also have sex. James had a very unhealthy relationship with his mother and this set him on the path to crime. He started stealing from a young age and continued to do so up until he met Cynthia and afterwards. 

In need of some money, the pair travelled to visit James's relatives and would basically live off of these people, staying at their homes, eating their food and stealing items to pawn for drug money. When the relatives caught on to what they were doing, they were asked to leave. James and Cynthia continued to visit other relatives and sponge off of them until word got around about the pair and they soon found themselves with nowhere to go. 

There was only one thing for it in James's mind, they'd have to rob people in the street but the plan became more sinister and deeper than that because they targeted young women at ATM machines, not content with just the money, these poor women were subjected to a horrendous rape and then murdered.

On the evening of October 11th 1986, a 32 year old woman by the name of Sandra Neary had been spotted by the evil pair, she was at a cash machine withdrawing some money before heading back to her car. The pair descended upon Sandra and she was attacked, robbed and murdered. She had been strangled and her remains were found by hikers two weeks later. 

Their second 'known' victim was 35 year old Pamela Simmons, again in similar circumstances. Pamela had been withdrawing cash from an ATM before the pair struck. Pamela was subjected to the same evil treatment that Sandra had suffered. 

Twenty year old Corinna Novis was reportedly was abducted next, in broad daylight after attending an ATM machine. Just days after this, another girl, Lynel Murray had disappeared and the alarm was raised after her car was still parked outside of her place of work, which was a dry cleaners. It was soon realised that 19 year old Lynel had sadly suffered the same fate as the other women. 

In another strange turn of events in this case, the careless killers, no doubt high on drugs or too focused on getting their next fix, ended up giving the police a stack of evidence that they didn't think through. Corinna's ID had been found in a trash bin inside a fast food bag but that wasn't the only items in there. Papers were found that contained the names of both Cynthia and James. Investigators were then led to a motel room that the couple had reportedly stayed at, they had fled earlier but the police found papers in the room which looked like the pair had been practicing their victim's signatures. 

The police launched a search and soon Cynthia and James's faces were splashed all over the newspapers and news reports. The owner of mountain lodge in Big Bear City saw the reports and recognised that the duo were actually guests at his establishment, he got on the phone straight away and contacted police. 

The police arrived and looked for Cynthia and James but their room was empty. They were soon spotted coming back from a hike wearing clothes that they had stolen from the dry cleaners. Surprisingly there was no drama, they didn't resist or put up a fight and went along with the police. 

Cynthia cooperated with the police and led them to where Corinna's body was. They were both charged with Corinna's murder on the 17th of November. The cops found their fingerprints all over Corinna's car as well as a typewriter that had belonged to Corinna and had been recently sold at a pawn shop. 

(Cynthia Coffman. Picture credits: Murderpedia

It took nearly 3 years before the pair stood trial and both of them blamed each other. Cynthia claimed that she had been a victim of James and pleaded the 'battered wife' card. James claimed that all he wanted to do was get the money and the cars but it was Cynthia who wanted to do everything else including the murders. He claimed that she was the brains behind it all. 

No matter their version of events, they were both found guilty and sentenced to death on the 30th of August 1989. They would try to appeal but it was always thrown out. The death penalty was reinstated in California in 1977 just in time for Cynthia to face that sentence and be officially declared as the the first woman to be sentenced to death.

Fast forward to February 2023 and the pair are still alive in prison, on death row. Cynthia is now the longest serving female prisoner on death row. She is now 61 years old. James is 66. With they ever see capital punishment? who knows? Some people support the death penalty, some don't. That is a whole intense discussion by itself. 

(James Marlow. Picture credit: Murderpedia)

The other difficulty about this case has been the lack of photographs of the victims. I have sadly only been able to find two to include here but that doesn't take away from the fact that our thoughts and hearts go out to the victims and their families. 

(Sandra Neary & Corinna Novis. Picture credits: FindAGrave)

RIP to the known victims of Cynthia Coffman and James Marlow:

Sandra Neary
Pamela Simmons
Corinna Novis
Lynel Murray 

Further Reading & Sources:

In this series, I have covered (adopted) cousins who have killed: The Hillside Stranglers, Couples who have killed: Fred and Rose West. The Ken and Barbie Killers, Cynthia and James who I've covered in this post as well as the evil crimes of The Moors Murderers & of course the sickening crimes of former prison pals: The Tool Box Killers

In my final post in this series, which will be my seventh, I wonder if you can guess who will be featuring in my next instalment? I won't give the game away but it is a very infamous case which many a book, TV movie and documentary has covered. I first learned of this particular case as a child - from a TV movie! I'm actually really interested in getting stuck into my seventh case because it has always fascinated me and like a lot of these cases, I go into my research thinking that I know the case details and I end up learning more facts and sometimes I am able to uncover details that nobody has heard of before. 

I'm lucky with my next particular case because I have books upon books, interviews and court documents to research. My approach to studying these cases (as you may know) is very old school. I also want to add in here that I am working on a podcast, I've been asked many times and I'm just letting you know that it is in the works but I will still be publishing here on my blog as I know some of you like to read my writing too. 

I do love it when people tell me that they like to curl up with a cup of tea and my blog posts, as a writer it means a lot. I appreciate all of my readers. It makes me feel like a kid who's had their painting hung up on the classroom wall by the teacher or been given one of those pretty gold star or smiley face stickers on their homework! That probably sounds crazy but you've read a lot worse on this blog I'm sure. 

There will be a little delay by about a week, on my seventh instalment (I'm having some work done on my house - the joys of being an adult) but I hope to see you on my Socials, I update my personal Twitter every day so keep your eyes peeled on there for when the last instalment is published. 

I'm also heartbroken that it's been officially announced that there is no way that a Season 3 of Mindhunter is going to be made because Netflix won't foot the bill. We do live in hope though that maybe the Gods will shine down on us and the show will be picked up by another streaming service or Netflix will have a change of heart. That show was everything and this scene!!! I still gets chills every time I see it. 

Take care of yourselves and I hope you will join me in my next post x 


  1. Good evening Jo,

    My feelings are with the families. RIP to the victims of these two evil monsters.

    The debate around death penality can go on and on but once the Court decides that it’s the appropriate sentence, Convicted murderers on death row should eventually be executed. Justice has prevailed. Maybe one day, the families will have some sort of closure knowing that these two will get what they have been convicted for. I am usually against death penality but one the verdict have been ruled, I think that the legal system must be quicker.

    Thank you for your fascinated “Partners in Crime” series Jo. I can’t wait to read your 7 instalment !

    Have a wonderful evening Jo Xx

  2. Amazing writing and investigation Jo. You always detail the facts while employing such a sincere and personal touch. Such style and integrity.