ST. LOUIS – It took nearly two decades for authorities to apprehend Danny Coleman’s killer. The case took a shocking turn when it was revealed that his wife had led a double life and hired two hitmen to murder him. Last year, the Oxygen TV show “Snapped” featured an episode about Karen Coleman.

Oxygen’s true-crime series, “Snapped,” focuses on cases involving women accused of murder. They also aired an episode about April Quick on October 2 of the previous year. This installment of the documentary series delves into the mysterious death of Karen’s husband, Danny Coleman, in St. Louis, Missouri, and how the case was eventually solved 18 years later.

Karen Coleman grew up in south St. Louis. She and Danny connected through their shared love for the outdoors, hunting, and fishing. Danny and Karen met after Danny’s military career was cut short due to a motorcycle injury that needed surgery and a metal pin in his right leg.

Karen and Danny tied the knot in January 1973, and they welcomed their son, Joby, a year later. Danny worked as a mechanical engineer at a beverage dispenser company and ran a flooring business on the side. Karen held a secretary position at a printing company.

Danny had life insurance policies through his employer and credit life insurance. In the event of his death, the money would cover their mortgage, with Karen named as the beneficiary on both policies, totaling $25,000.

According to Snapped, Karen and those who knew the Colemans as a couple said that they had a healthy relationship.

However, shortly after 9 p.m. on October 22, 1992, a driver on I-44 north of Stanton, Missouri, stumbled upon a burning truck in a field. When firefighters arrived to extinguish the flames, they made a horrifying discovery.

Authorities discovered the charred remains of Danny, inside his burned pickup truck. The intense fire had nearly consumed the victim’s body, but a subsequent autopsy revealed that he died from severe blunt force trauma to the head and face, along with gunshot wounds.

The Investigation:

Identification of the body and the vehicle was made through the vehicle’s VIN number, a gold watch, a belt buckle, and a metal rod from a previous leg operation. This led the police to the Colemans’ residence, where Karen and her 18-year-old son Joby answered the door.

They claimed not to know Danny’s whereabouts and expressed concern for his safety. Karen told the police that their marriage was normal and loving, with no known enemies. However, conversations with Danny’s friends revealed allegations about Karen’s extramarital affairs.

Danny’s friends also alleged that Karen was involved with methamphetamine, which Danny was aware of and disapproved of.

Detectives interviewed individuals rumored to have had affairs with Karen but found no suspects in Danny’s death, eliminating suspicions of Karen’s involvement. Despite diligent efforts from 1993 to 1998, the case remained unsolved due to a lack of sufficient evidence for an arrest.

The breakthrough came in 1999 when prison inmate Mike Kempker informed the FBI that his former cellmate, Larry Nolan, had allegedly confessed to being part of Danny Coleman’s murder, as detailed in court documents. Unfortunately, Nolan had passed away in prison in 1997 due to hepatitis.

The Murder:

In the 1990s, Karen confided in her longtime friend Michelle Nolan about her desire to kill her husband. Michelle directed Karen to consult her husband, Larry Nolan, who was incarcerated at the time. Larry has since passed away.

Karen and Michelle visited Larry in prison, where he inquired about Danny’s life insurance. Larry agreed to arrange Danny’s murder in exchange for a share of the insurance money.

Larry contacted James Kornhardt, a close friend and a firefighter with the Mehlville Fire District in St. Louis County, Missouri, to carry out the killing. Larry orchestrated a meeting between Karen and Kornhardt in Forest Park, where Karen provided $2,000 as payment. They discussed the murder, and Karen agreed to pay $15,000 to Kornhardt, along with some to Larry, for her husband’s murder.

Larry also contacted fellow inmate Mike Kempker to obtain the tools necessary for the murder. Kempker offered to make a silencer for $1,000, to which Larry agreed.

Kornhardt acquired the silencer from Kempker and enlisted his long-time friend, Steven Mueller, to assist in the murder. Kornhardt promised Mueller a sum of money for his involvement.

On October 22, 1992, Kornhardt, Mueller, and another man known as “Dozer” carried out the murder around 5 p.m. in a house on Michigan Avenue in south St. Louis city. Subsequently, they placed Danny Coleman’s body in his own pickup truck, drove it to an isolated field near Interstate 44 in Franklin County, and set the truck ablaze.

Later that evening, authorities discovered Danny Coleman’s remains inside the burned truck. A search of the field the following day uncovered a matchbox with fingerprints, a nearby coupon, loose matches, and other evidence near the charred pickup. Investigators later identified two separate fingerprints on the matchbox, eventually matching one to Kornhardt several years later.

The Aftermath:

On August 31, 2010, U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw sentenced Karen Coleman, aged 55, to 20 years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and an additional 20 years for murder-for-hire. These sentences would be served concurrently.

James Kornhardt and Steven Mueller received life sentences on September 23, 2010, marking the ultimate resolution of a murder-for-hire case that originated in 1992.

Karen passed away in prison on November 23, 2022, at the age of 68.