Crime of the Century: The Black Widow murder case
The murder of Doug Boggs ushered in a new era in the newsroom
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs and Routt County have experienced a regrettable number of violent crimes over the last 135 years, but for sensation and heinous murder, nothing comes close to the Black Widow Murder that ended the life of mild-mannered hardware store owner Gerry Boggs.
Boggs, who was murdered by his estranged wife, Jill Coit, and her paramour, was a quiet, lifelong hardware store owner. Brother Doug was his partner.
Coit was a middle-aged woman with dark eyes, a pleasant smile and well-kept dark bangs who could turn on the charm. Perhaps it was those bangs that hid what she was really thinking. In her younger years, she had been named “Miss Eskimo Pie.”
Behind the charm, Coit was a serial bigamist and con artist who had run through so many men she hit double digits.
Coit hopped from one marriage to another, typically without bothering to get a divorce. It could have been said she was a predator; law officials in other states have suspected Coit did-in other boyfriends and husbands with the willing help of new boyfriends.
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Boggs, a 51-year-old bachelor, and Coit became an “item” around the time she arrived in Steamboat with her sons in 1991. That’s when they began the work of renovating a cluster of vintage tourist cottages at the intersection of Oak and Seventh streets in downtown Steamboat.
Boggs Hardware, which is no longer in business, was a classic independent western hardware store with merchandise like wooden snowshoes hanging from the ceilings.
The cottages were around the corner from the hardware store on Lincoln Avenue where Vaqueros restaurant and the Bucking Rainbow Orvis fishing store are today. Coit purchased hardware at Boggs for her remodeling project at Boggs, and it must have seemed natural for her to become friendly with the bachelor merchant.
The couple married later in 1991 and became a familiar sight at significant social events in Steamboat, like the Ski Ball benefitting the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. But the groom was unaware he’d become Coit’s eighth husband.
Sniffing around the money
It was Doug, who first became suspicious of the motives of his brother’s wife. Concerned over the interest Coit showed in his brother’s finances, he hired a private investigator who revealed Coit for who she was. That was enough for Jerry Boggs to annul his marriage after seven months.
As was her way, Coit quickly entered her ninth marriage but soon dumped the fellow and began another relationship with a man named Michael Backus. They did not marry, but Backus would later become the last victim lured into the web of the “Black Widow.”
In October 1993, the two hatched a plan to murder Boggs. Wearing disguises, including a fake mustache, they broke into Boggs’ home on Oct. 22. They beat him, shocked him with a stun gun and ended his life using a .22 caliber pistol.
Coit was reckless enough to call one of her sons and say, “It’s over baby. And it was messy.”
Steamboat Pilot & Today reporter John Brennan wrote on Nov. 25, 1993, that Coit and Backus were arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder and were being held on a $5 million bond. Steamboat Police Captain J.D. Hays had learned the previous day that the two were in the Greeley area, and District Court Judge Richard Doucette signed arrest warrants for the pair.
The flow of news was relatively quiet until mid-December when the Houston Chronicle caught up to the story with an indepth piece. The wire services picked it up, and news outlets across the country wanted to know more about the potentially sensational story.
Veteran Pilot reporter Joanna Dodder described the tidal wave that was about to come ashore on Lincoln Avenue.
“TV stations and news bureaus from around the country were calling to beat the band,” Dodder wrote in a staff column.
But that was just a beginning.
In that era, the major national television networks didn’t have the 24-hours-a-day coverage that CNN, Fox and MSNBC have made the norm, but the ’90s gave birth to the so-called broadcast news magazines. Those new outlets were hot for sensational reporting, and “Inside Edition” jumped all over the Black Widow story.
That’s when the story made life more difficult for the staff of the Steamboat Pilot. News outlets from near and far wanted in on the story and began by calling the local newspaper. And we didn’t have e-mail to help us fulfill the requests for information.
I can recall receiving phone calls from news outlets in both Italy and Japan while working late in the newsroom one evening. Out of desperation, I tried to feed the hungry press by making photocopies of our stories and press releases and putting them into pocket folders to send out to the press corps. I asked the callers to provide their FedEx account numbers and sent off their folders.
Coit Backus trial moved to Hot Sulfur Springs
When the Coit case reached the trial stage, we faced another challenge; attorneys for Coit and Backus were granted a change of venue, and the trial was shifted from Steamboat to Hot Sulphur Springs 66 miles to the east.
There was no doubt we were going to cover the trial, but the change of venue was a logistical problem. Sure a reporter could call in a short story from the courthouse at the end of the day but commuting back and from Hot Sulphur wasn’t realistic.
We caught a big break that fixed almost everything. Steamboat Today Editor Keith Kramer’s staff included reporter Phil Ellsworth, whose girlfriend saved the day. She lived in either Granby or Winter Park, and Castle was perfectly happy to go home to his girlfriend after a long day in court.
Ultimately, Coit and Backus were both sentenced to life in prison without a chance for parole.
And Dodder, again, summed things up for our readers:
“People in Steamboat will always have something that sets them apart from others who hear of this case…,” Dodder wrote. “We can’t help but grieve for a good family that never deserved this. With the murder of Gerry Boggs, all of us lost another piece of this community’s innocence.”
Tom Ross retired from the Steamboat Pilot & Today in 2018 after 36 years in the newspaper business. He continues to write a regular column for the paper.
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