Killer Candidate

Would-be legislator Dan Coleman wants to talk issues. But his past is just so much more interesting

The beginning, perhaps, is when Coleman first came to Arizona. He was 8. His family summered here, he says, and later, after his parents divorced, his mother moved to Cochise County from Pittsburgh, 15-year-old Dan in tow.

He wasn't sold on the West immediately. He went back to Pittsburgh for boarding school, and farther east, to Rutgers, for college. After college, he started a contracting company in New Jersey, but says it went bankrupt in 1995.

So his stepfather sent him a few grand and told him to come home. He was 24 years old.

Dan Coleman's stepfather, Glenn Boyer, made his name in Cochise County — but vows never to return because of his stepson's experience.
Doug Hoeschler
Dan Coleman's stepfather, Glenn Boyer, made his name in Cochise County — but vows never to return because of his stepson's experience.
Coleman's mug shot, taken in April 2003.
courtesy of Cochise County Sheriff's Office
Coleman's mug shot, taken in April 2003.

The West quickly became Coleman's true spiritual home. It's evident in how he dresses — bola ties and cowboy hats — and how he thinks of himself. It's why he recently bought a place in New Mexico, in addition to his home in suburban Laveen. It also explains his politics: He has a Westerner's distaste for political correctness, to the point where he approvingly quotes Ann Coulter's infamous line about invading Muslim countries and converting everybody to Christianity — and this in spite of being not exactly religious himself.

Coleman worked a few years for the Cochise County engineer, then, at 27, started a computer consulting business in Phoenix. (Boyer was vice president.) In his telling, every government agency from the U.S. Postal Service to the state Department of Economic Security signed on as clients.

Even as business grew, though, and after he enrolled as an MBA student at Thunderbird, Coleman made a habit of flying down to his mother's ranch on the weekends.

At 3,723 square feet, not counting the guest quarters, the ranch house is one of the biggest places in town. It's nothing fancy, though, just a series of additions sprawling in every direction.

But it's serene. Nestled against the Chiricahua Mountains to the west, and the New Mexico state line and the smaller Peloncillo range to the east, it's only a few miles off Highway 80, but it feels adrift in a sea of mesquite, untouched by civilization.

The area's appeal is hampered only by its isolation. Nearly half the local traffic seems to be Border Patrol vehicles. The only amenities are just across the New Mexico border in Rodeo, population 200.

They're about as minimal as it gets: a bar, a cafe, a vintage-looking gas station, and a little historic plaque to commemorate the fact that a train used to pass through town.

"That's the only thing there is in this town: one bar," says Coleman's friend Hagerty, who's lived in Rodeo part-time for the past decade. "Other than that, you have to stay home and watch TV."

Perhaps because of that, local affairs can be inordinately contentious. After all, if there's only one bar, you can't avoid the people you don't like, not if you want a drink.

And a lot of people just didn't like Coleman.

"The world will forgive you everything but success," his stepfather, Boyer, concludes. "And he's a great success."

But the town's reaction to Coleman was more complicated than just jealousy.

Coleman's stepfather, Boyer, had made a number of enemies, and not all of them in Cochise County. Many were writers and academics who argued that his much-vaunted research was shoddy ("I Varied Wyatt Earp," Tony Ortega, March 4, 1999).

After New Times aired the case against Boyer, the University of Arizona stopped publishing his best-selling book — a situation that Boyer claims was his choice, but that Boyer's critics believe inflamed both Boyer and his stepson.

Allen Barra, a writer and historian who led the charge to discredit Boyer's book, says he was subjected to a steady stream of nasty e-mails from Dan Coleman, years after he and Boyer clashed.

"I was still getting them at this time last year," Barra says. "I had to stop my daughter from looking at the computer because you'd just never know what would be there."

Coleman could be his own worst enemy. After getting in a fight with one local couple, Coleman sent them an e-mail vowing to "make it my personal mission to see that this year is nothing but hell for you." (Coleman says he doesn't remember the e-mail.)

His arrogance could be galling. Linda Runion, a Michigan native, purchased the Rodeo RV and Country Store soon after moving to town. The first time she met Coleman, she recalls him asking if she needed to borrow money. When she declined, Coleman's friend laughed.

"You might as well," he told her. "Everybody else in town owes him money."

"We live in an area where a portion of the people are not very affluent," says Portal real estate agent Randy Norrick, who owned a small firearms dealership with Coleman and considers him a friend. "Dan was pretty affluent. And there is a certain amount of people who are jealous if you're obviously and openly extravagant.

"He wasn't extravagant by Phoenix standards. But this is a very conservative, rural county. And by comparison . . ."

And so it's no wonder that after the shooting, stories about Coleman's bad behavior were passed around town like baseball cards.

Robert Bernard, who ran the Rodeo Tavern, would later explain the situation.

"You know, he always carries a gun. . . . He would always let it be known and, over time, that was his trump card to everything," Bernard concluded in an interview with sheriff's deputies. "You know, he knew the buttons to push to get somebody angry, and then it was always . . . you know, the gun thing would come up."

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