Murder charges allege an Alton man strangled and dismembered his girlfriend, then dumped her remains off a bridge in Greene County.
Courtney Coats, 30, was last seen on Nov. 23 in Alton, where she lived with her boyfriend, Patrick Chase. She was reported missing two days later, and police began searching for her amid an online flurry of friends and family posting her image and asking for information about her whereabouts.
Now police believe she was murdered the day she was last seen, as her dismembered body was found by a bridge near Hardin.
Chase, 28, and his friend Brandon Chittum, 30, of Collinsville have both been charged with first-degree murder, dismembering a human body and concealment of a homicidal death.
"She is believed to have been killed in the apartment she shared with Patrick Chase," said Madison County State's Attorney Tom Gibbons.
Gibbons said Coats was strangled, her throat slit, and then she was dismembered, severing her arms, legs and head. Her body was then dumped off a bridge across the Illinois River near Hardin.
"(Police) have been working this since she disappeared, and the longer someone is gone without an explanation ... the more suspicious it becomes," Gibbons said. "Over the last 24 to 48 hours, they began to get the information they needed."
Gibbons would not specify which "very detailed information" led police to the Hardin bridge on Friday morning, but there they located "quite a bit of evidence," including Coats' remains, he said.
Gibbons called the murder "gruesome," and said that if Illinois still had the death penalty, this case might warrant it.
"You look at this and the very nature of the allegations, so gruesome and horrible... This is one we would have looked at very closely," he said.
He would not say whether either man had cooperated with police or which man they believe did the actual killing. "They both appear to be very much directly involved," Gibbons said.
Coats' Facebook page indicates she was employed at Jimmy the Greek's Tavern and had studied at Lewis & Clark Community College. She was a motorcycle enthusiast, and was wearing her Harley-Davidson jacket the day she disappeared.
"She had a lot of friends and family looking for her," Gibbons said. "It's a very sad time for a lot of people who are now faced with the reality I'm sure they feared."
Chase and Chittum are both in custody at the Madison County Jail, held on bail set at $1 million each.
Gibbons said the murder charge alone carries a sentence of 20 to 60 years in prison, but could be extended due to the "brutal and heinous" nature of the crime. They would have to serve 100 percent of the sentence. The dismemberment charge carries 6-30 years in prison and the concealment charge carries 2-5 years, which must be served consecutive to the murder charge. If convicted, each man could serve 100 years in prison or a virtual life sentence, Gibbons said.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at email@example.com or 239-2507.