Longform

Killer Candidate

Page 3 of 8

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."

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.

"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.

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Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske