Coates scene witness canvass

On Friday, November 22, 2013, at approximately 5:45 p.m., Diane Coates collapsed in front of numerous witnesses in the Yocona Room at the Yoknapatawpha County Conference Center, where the Barksdale Literature Conference was holding a reception. The following interview descriptions, provided in summary and not verbatim, are some of the most typical or relevant to the investigation and are representative of all interviews conducted.

Common observations

  1. Several witnesses reported hearing an argument between Diane Coates and the Barksdale Literature Conference organizer Sandra Moss.
  2. Several witnesses reported seeing Ms. Coates get a drink from the bartender after the argument she had with Ms. Moss.

Karla Bledsoe, 1351 Harrison Avenue, Butte, Montana
Nicholas McCollum, 3743 N 11th Street, Phoenix, Arizona

Both witnesses said Ms. Coates asked if a seat at their table was taken.

Ms. Bledsoe said she saw Coates take at least one sip of her drink, which appeared to Bledsoe to be something containing orange juice.

Nicholas McCollum said that Coates was possibly trying to play "footsies" with him ("possibly to get in with a writer"). Both Bledsoe and McCollum said they heard Coates muttering and complaining about Ms. Moss.


Leigh Bishop, 316 S Pear Orchard Road, Ridgeland, Mississippi

Ms. Bishop said she saw Ms. Coates holding a napkin to her mouth, looking as if she were nauseated just before she collapsed, but Bishop said it was too noisy to hear anything that Coates may have said.


Bernadette Guthrie, 112 Longest Road, Oxford, Mississippi

Ms. Guthrie said she gave Ms. Coates a hug minutes before she collapsed. Guthrie was then advised by her attorney discontinue talking to investigators about the subject.


Kate Sugarman, 161 Andrieux Street, Sonoma, California
Edgar Harper, 347 Manitou Avenue, Manitou Springs, Colorado
Derek Wyeth, 230 Forest Glen Drive, Oxford, Mississippi
Paul Newell, 2121 Springside Lane, Decatur, Georgia

Ms. Sugarman said she saw Derek Wyeth's leg possibly stretch to trip Ms. Coates, but that it could have also been Edgar Harper's leg pushing Wyeth's leg out.

Wyeth denied being even close to Coates or Edgar Harper at any time before Coates's collapse.

Paul Newell confirmed Wyeth's assertion, saying he was with Wyeth throughout the reception and they were on the opposite side of the room from the bar and from where Coates collapsed.

Sugarman also noted that William Tappert gave Coates some peanuts and that Sandra Moss relayed to Sugarman that Coates was allergic to peanuts.

Sugarman did not know whether Tappert was aware of Coates's allergy.

Once Sugarman discovered that investigators were canvassing the witnesses, she said, "Oh, I'm not supposed to be talking about this."


Clint Webber, 7845 Fairfield Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada

Mr. Webber said he didn't see the action directly because he was sitting near the windows at a table.

"I looked away, and when I turned back, she was on the ground," he said. "I guess when they say 'name your poison' at the bar, they really mean it."


Lila Heller, 411 Farrow Avenue, Kansas City, Kansas

Ms. Heller said she was sitting at the concierge desk near the door talking to her sister, Lola, and facing the wall near the entrance to the main room. Heller said she didn't realize anything unusual was happening until the room became very quiet. Heller said she really didn't see or hear anything.


Lola Heller, 1209 Rosehill Circle, Jackson, Mississippi

Ms. Heller said she and her sister were facing each other, talking. Heller said didn't know anything was wrong until she heard someone say, "Call an ambulance." Heller said she peeked around the corner that was blocking her view of the room.

After the woman collapsed, Heller said she heard Sandra Moss say, "She's a bitch" and that Moss did not appear sorry or concerned that the woman had collapsed.


Charlotte Leggett, 401 Bickerstaff, #14, Oxford, Mississippi

Ms. Leggett said she is a writer who also works for Sandra Moss.

Leggett said she heard an argument between Sandra Moss and Diane Coates about the food at the reception during which Coates complained that Moss was "pathetic" and Moss called Coates "incompetent." Leggett said Coates then went to the bar to get a drink, started to sit down, and collapsed on the floor.


William Tappert, 8466 Oak Bough Cove, Memphis, Tennessee

Mr. Tappert said he didn't know who the woman that collapsed was, but said he heard her say she wasn't happy with the food being served at the reception.


Milo Moss, 1110 Washington Avenue, Oxford, Mississippi

Mr. Moss said he was standing at the bar chatting with Gavin, the bartender, when he heard raised voices. Moss said he turned to look and was surprised to see what appeared to be an antagonistic confrontation between his daughter, Sandra Moss, and a woman who worked for her, Diane Coates. Suddenly, all conversation in the room stopped, and then Coates turned and stalked to the bar where she ordered a drink.

Moss said saw Coates take the drink from the bartender and carry it to a table, but didn't see her actually drink any of it.

Moss said Coates turned and walked to a nearby table. Moss said he looked away for a moment, and when he turned back, Coates was collapsed on the floor, seemingly unconscious.

Because he has medical training, Moss checked and found Ms. Coates was breathing and had a pulse, which he described as "weak and thready."


Gavin Crandall, 120 Shiloh Drive, Oxford, Mississippi

Mr. Crandall said he is a YCCC employee and was assigned to bartend at the Barksdale Literature Conference event that night.

Crandall said he was not aware of anything unusual happening until the woman came to the bar and ordered a cranberry and vodka. Crandall said when she learned there was no cranberry available, she ordered a screwdriver, which he mixed and served to her. Crandall said the woman seemed "pissed" when she walked up to the bar, but didn't raise her voice at him.


Franklin Westwood, 3518 Morgan River Drive, Beaufort, South Carolina

Mr. Westwood said he was aware of an "adversarial altercation" between Sandra Moss and some woman he didn't know. Westwood said he didn't hear what was said, but heard raised voices. He said he saw the woman who eventually collapsed go to the bar near where he was standing and heard her order "vodka."


Peter Froberg, 301 4th Street SE, Minot, North Dakota

Mr. Froberg said he saw and heard nothing unusual until the woman went down and didn't get up again.


Joel Benton, 8790 W Colfax Avenue, Lakewood, Colorado

Mr. Benton said he heard the person who collapsed tear into Sandra Moss and say Moss was "incompetent." Benton admitted that Moss seemed angry too, had raised her voice, and at some point called the woman "a bitch."

Benton said he was certain that Moss had nothing to do with the woman's collapse because he knew Moss and described her as a "sweet, kind lady."

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