Killer Candidate

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

Bill Cavaliere, who served as the sheriff of New Mexico's Hidalgo County from 1998 to 2002, says his deputies were summoned one night to the tavern. Angry at Coleman, one local man had threatened to go after his truck with a baseball bat.

And that, Cavaliere says, is when Coleman pulled out his gun.

"Since the guy was threatening to damage his vehicle, the D.A. said, 'Let's call it even,'" Cavaliere recalls.

Gail Chalker moved into the ranch owned by Coleman's mother and stepfather after moving to Rodeo.
Sarah Fenske
Gail Chalker moved into the ranch owned by Coleman's mother and stepfather after moving to Rodeo.
Carol Chalker, like her parents and most of her siblings, believes Dan Coleman needs to be charged, again, for her sister's death.
Peter Scanlon
Carol Chalker, like her parents and most of her siblings, believes Dan Coleman needs to be charged, again, for her sister's death.

"But then after he killed the Chalker girl, everyone came out of the woodwork, telling me that Coleman had pulled guns on them."

Gail was the first Chalker sister to arrive in Rodeo.

At 29, the Michigan native was looking for a change. After Linda Runion, an old family friend, moved to town, Gail followed suit in the fall of 2002.

People in Rodeo remember Gail as petite and pretty, but she was far from prissy. Like three of her four siblings, she'd followed her father into the drywalling business, and that's what she was doing in Rodeo — drywalling, painting, finishing.

Then she met Dan Coleman. And in pretty short order, she moved into his family's ranch, rent-free. When he came down on the weekends, he'd stay with her.

He was in love. At some point, he even proposed.

But Gail wasn't sure. She wavered, and other guys expressed interest. Coleman appeared to be tortured by her indecision.

In a flurry of e-mail messages to Chalker, which the sheriffs seized as part of their investigation, Coleman begged, pleaded and cajoled. "A beautiful gal like you should not be stuck with a fat drunk like me but I know that I want you," he e-mailed in March 2003. "And the way things are going I am pretty convinced that you don't want me."

Coleman even asked Gail to meet with his stepfather to discuss the situation, which her sisters found odd. But Gail agreed. Boyer tried to convince her to "take her chances," as he wrote in a follow-up e-mail, also seized as part of the investigation.

"I think Daniel needs you," Boyer wrote.

But unbeknownst to everyone, Gail's time in Rodeo was rapidly coming to an end — almost as soon as it had begun.

In February 2003, Gail's older sister Annette moved to Rodeo, her two little boys and her fiancé in tow.

Gail could be moody and shy, with a tendency to have panic attacks in times of stress. Annette, her friends say, was more mellow. She loved animals, especially horses. She liked to drink and liked a good joke.

Annette had gotten divorced as a young woman, then never married the father of her sons. Her friends and family members say that, at the time, the guy wasn't there for his kids, who now are 8 and 7.

But Annette never got too worked up.

"She was just a happy, positive person," says Linda Runion. "She liked to have fun. She'd talk to anybody. It didn't matter who they were."

Annette and Gail had worked together in Michigan for their brother's drywalling company. They'd planned to work together, again, in Rodeo.

But the sisters' relationship, once so easy, began to sour. The Chalkers didn't trust Annette's fiancé, Colby Rawson. And when Annette began flaking on work, Gail concluded that she must be on drugs. In the past she'd used cocaine; Gail thought maybe she was at it again.

Gail called their father to discuss her concerns, and soon after that, the oldest of the five Chalker siblings, Carol, was dispatched to Cochise County to check out the situation.

But the night all three sisters reunited, at the Rodeo Tavern, everything went wrong. When Carol pulled Annette aside to ask about the drugs, Annette didn't just deny it, she got angry — and confronted Gail.

And then they started arguing about the air compressor.

Gail had fronted Annette $500 for work that she hadn't gotten around to doing. And Gail was getting fed up.

So when Annette asked to borrow the heavy power tool to do some drywalling, Gail refused. Not until Annette made up the work she owed.

Everybody's recollections of the night get a little blurry at this point. (Everybody, after all, was drinking.) Colby Rawson says he and Annette were supposed to stop by Coleman's house that night to get the compressor. But others, including Gail, say that they only agreed to talk about it the next day.

What's undisputed is that Gail and Coleman left the bar for bed, tucking in Carol, Gail's older sister, who had passed out from the evening's festivities.

Then, less than an hour later, Annette and her fiancé packed up her kids in the pickup truck and drove to Coleman's ranch.

As Rawson would later recount to the sheriff's deputies, Annette knocked on the door. When there was no answer, she started walking back to the truck.

And then, Rawson said, the light came on.

"She waved at me and turned around and walked back," Rawson would recall. "I thought she was waving at me to get out of the truck. Well, I got out of one side and the little boy got out of the other side. . . . So I ran around and said, 'Kyle, hey, get back in the truck.' You know, 'I'm just going to help your mom load the compressor.'"

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