Charles Thurman Sinclair
The Coin Shop Killer
Charles Thurman Sinclair
Rare and antique coins can fetch a hefty price from dealers, with some coins much sough after for their value amongst collectors. Over the period of a decade, from 1980 to 1990, a vicious and unscrupulous killer targeted coin shops throughout the Western states of America, shooting to death coin dealers and shop owners, and stealing thousands of dollars worth of rare coins. These unsolved murders were being investigated by each state as separate incidents, until a survivor was able to give a description of the killer, which offered enough of a link between the crimes, leading to other investigators connecting them to one individual. The co-operation of various state law enforcement detectives meant the hunt for the “Coin Shop Killer” had become a multi-agency investigation. Through dogged and determined investigative work, the killer was eventually caught and his involvement was suspected in numerous unsolved crimes.
Numismatics is the study and collection of coins, banknotes as well as medals, and has become popular with both hobbyists and private collectors, whilst many shops and specialist stores are dedicated to the sale and exchange of coins, tokens, paper money and other forms of currency. The buying and selling of coins can be a very lucrative investment and business venture, and there are two distinct groups of numismatists who are part of the coin collecting world. The first are those who derive the simple pleasure of ownership and study of rare and antique coins, as either private collectors or amateur enthusiasts. The second are those who deal in coins and currency, and who are often known as the professional numismatists because they are able to authenticate coins for commercial sale through consulting experts such as archaeologists, historians and museum curators. It was this last group who were targeted by a cold-blooded killer who robbed and murdered coin dealers across the Western states of America during a decades long crime spree.
It was suspected the same killer was responsible for the murder of David Sutton of Everett, Washington, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the head on January 27, 1980, and his antique store robbed of $80,000 in silver dollars. This crime was similar to that of Thomas Rohr of Mishawaka, Indiana, who was killed during a robbery of the coin shop he managed on August 28, 1985, as well as the murder of Ruben “Lucky” Williams, of Vacaville, California. He was killed on November 5, 1986, with a gunshot wound to the head, and his coin shop, the Golden Hills Coin Exchange, was robbed. These murders stretched back across ten years, and all the victims were coin dealers who had been robbed.
Spokane detectives called again to say that another shop owner had recognised a customer from the previous April, named J.C. Weir. They were able to locate a Washington state listed silver Pontiac registered to a J.C. Weir. Det. Sgt. Archer said “Spokane let me know this man’s driver’s license in Washington had been surrendered in Wyoming.”, so Billings detectives contacted Wyoming officials in Jackson Hole, the Wyoming address listed on the new license. This would turn out to be a dead end, with Sheriff’s deputies there relaying that the address was phoney. However they did find a silver Pontiac at the local airport, and inside was a .22-caliber handgun, a silencer and coin wrappings from the Sparboe robbery.
At the same time, Deputy Sheriff Pete Piccini in Jefferson County, Washington, was the lead investigator working the unsolved case of the disappearance of Robert and Dagmar Linton. The couple, from Stockton, California, went missing from their trailer while camping at a Washington State campground on the Olympic Peninsula on August 22, 1986. During the Summer of 1986, the Linton’s headed towards the northwest with the intention of reaching Vancouver to see the World’s Fair. During their first month of travel, as they made their way northwards, they frequently contacted relatives back home.
However, when they reached Washington State, the telephone calls abruptly stopped. The red and white trailer they had been travelling in was found by a campground staff member empty at a campground in Washington. On 23 August 1986, their pick-up truck was discovered abandoned at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Inside the mostly clean vehicle was found small amounts of blood in the wooden ceiling material of the camper shell, which included three distinct blood types, those of Robert, Dagmar and a third from an unknown individual. The trailer showed signs of a struggle, and despite their bodies not being discovered, investigators concluded the Linton’s had been murdered.
Archer along with another Billings detective and several Alaska state troopers made an arrest there on August 13, 1990. They were greeted by a burley outdoorsman, and Archer noticed the man had a gap in his front teeth and a scar on his right hand. Inside his pocket was one of Kelly Finnegan’s antique pocket watches and his son was found to be wearing a Rolex watch that was previously owned by the co-owner of Legacy Rare Coins. The man was eventually identified as 44-year-old Charles Thurman Sinclair, who used a variety of alias including J.C. Weir and Jim Stockton, and was suspected in as many as eight murders and one attempted murder. Piccini also suspected Sinclair of involvement in Linton disappearances in August 1986, as well as the rape of a real estate agent that same month, and the November 1987 kidnapping and murders of a vacationing Canadian couple, including the rape of the woman.
Piccini obtained a search warrant to sift through the family’s belongings kept in storage units in Washington, and there officers found numerous items linking Sinclair to the Spokane and Vacaville murders. There were instruments for the creation of false identifications, piles of maps, C-4 explosives, claymore land mines and various valuable and rare coins. “And we came up with the clarinet”, said Piccini, purchased with the Linton credit card, he added.
Under the weight of this evidence, along with the scars on Sinclair’s right hand which matched the description of the man with his hand bandaged, Sinclair was held in prison on a $500,000 bond in Palmer, Alaska while Montana authorities were seeking extradition. Montana authorities charged Sinclair with the murders of Charles Sparboe and Catharine Newstrom and requested his extradition to stand trial. Utah authorities added charges of attempted criminal homicide and aggravated robbery for the attack on Kelly Finnegan at Legacy Rare Coins. Meanwhile detectives set about trying to find out all they could of the mysterious Charles Thurman Sinclair.
Many Hobbs residents who remember Sinclair said they were shocked to learn that he could have been a killer. One friend said, “It’s like a puzzle, but you can’t see the picture because half the pieces are missing.” Sinclair’s death left associated cases without the closure of convictions or further information required. “We all felt (Sinclair) was a serial killer of the same stature of Ted Bundy,” said Piccini. FBI special agent Ken Marischen said, “We are still working on known and unknown crimes. There’s a lot of unanswered questions. The only one we know knew the whole story took it to the grave with him.”