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Philly police arrest man suspected in Craigslist killing

Thomas Coffee, 23, posed as someone selling a vehicle, then shot the potential buyer in the face

By Sulaiman Abdur-Rahman
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — The alleged killer of a South Jersey man who had traveled to Philadelphia late Friday night in response to a Craigslist ad for an all-terrain vehicle has an extensive arrest history for alleged unlawful gun possession and violent crime, according to court records.

Police have charged Thomas Coffee, 23, of Willow Grove, with murder and weapons offenses in the death of Daniel Cooke, 27, of Williamstown, Gloucester County.

Cooke went to West Oak Lane about 11 p.m. with two friends to see the advertised ATV, police said. Coffee identified himself to Cooke as the seller of the vehicle and directed him to walk down the 1400 block of East Walnut Lane to inspect it, police said. As Cooke did so, Coffee shot him, police said.

Cooke was pronounced dead at the scene at 11:23 p.m. Police said he had been shot in the left side of the face, but they did not disclose the type of gun used.

On Victory Avenue, a quiet street in a woodsy area of Williamstown with pickup trucks parked in gravel driveways and a lake at the end of the road, a woman who answered the door at the home of Cooke's parents Sunday afternoon said his mother "was a wreck right now."

Cooke "always had a smile for everyone," said the woman, who identified herself as a family friend and did not give her name.

"Danny," she said, was a "goofball" who enjoyed doing mechanic work and car racing with his father -- "his devotion with his dad," she said.

His mother "was his best friend," she said. "He was beautiful, in every sense of the word. . . . He will be truly, truly missed."
Neighbor Jim Grierson said Cooke worked for Core Mechanical, a heating and air-conditioning company in Pennsauken. Representatives of the company could not be reached.

Court records show Coffee's life has been one of repeated run-ins with law enforcement.

He pleaded guilty in August 2009 to providing false identification to a police officer and criminal conspiracy theft in connection with a November 2008 burglary in Montgomery County, according to court records. He was sentenced to 23 days to 23 months in jail and placed on probation for a year, according to records. They say Coffee was paroled from the bench.

In February 2009, Coffee was arrested on burglary charges for a 2006 incident in Philadelphia. According to court records, those charges were withdrawn. So were charges of armed robbery and simple assault that Philadelphia police brought against him in May 2009, records state.

In July 2010, Coffee was arrested again in Philadelphia on charges of armed robbery and simple assault. The matter is closed, according to records that provide no details on that disposition.

In January 2011, Coffee was sentenced to a minimum of 168 days in prison, court records show. Details regarding that imprisonment were not immediately available.

At the time of his latest arrest, Coffee was living on the 1900 block of Lukens Avenue in Willow Grove and was known to own an ATV, one neighbor said. The woman, who did not want her name published out of concern for her safety, said a SWAT team descended on the usually quiet street about 10 a.m. Saturday to take Coffee into custody and tow away two vehicles.

"It was scary to see the SWAT team with rifles drawn and the protection vests," she said. "I am still shaking."

Law enforcement officials warn that criminals are increasingly using online marketing schemes to lure victims and then attack those would-be buyers.

Officials from Craigslist, based in San Francisco, did not respond to requests for comment.

Copyright 2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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