Unmasking ‘The Coin Shop Killer’: How Charles Sinclair Kept His Dark Secrets From Family
“It just seemed like an adventure,” Pam Jacobs recalls of unknowingly growing up on the lam with her suspected serial killer father.
Pam Jacobs recalls she had a good childhood — but her world was shattered when she learned her father, Charles Sinclair, was a suspected serial killer and fugitive on the run during those seemingly happy years.
“I really wanted to make myself separate from my dad in a lot of ways, so I don’t talk about it a lot,” Pam Jacobs explains of now coming forward with her story.
According to Jacobs, until she was 11 years old, everything was “extremely normal.” She lived with her brother, mother and father in Hobbs, New Mexico. “Some of the best times of my life were those years,” she says.
One day her dad’s sporting goods store burnt down under suspicious circumstances. Around a month later, Sinclair suddenly uprooted his family and they went to Montana and later to Washington. “It just seemed like an adventure,” Jacobs explains. “There was a sense of being on the move, but I didn’t know that as a kid.”
The family’s nomadic lifestyle continued, and Sinclair further isolated his wife and children, including from close relatives, who were searching for them. One day, he said they were going to start going by the last name Weir because of the “store situation” in New Mexico. “He made the police seem mad, like they were trying to frame him for something,” Jacobs says.
Now known as the Weirs, the family eventually settled down in Washington and life appeared to be returning to normal. “As time went on, there was less and less reference to things in our past,” she says.
Still, Jacobs was warned to keep their history in New Mexico a secret. But Jacobs had questions about their new life, including why her father never seemed to work like her other friends’ parents did. On other occasions, she wondered where her father would go for weeks on end and why he would come back cleanshaven or with a new hairstyle.
Time passed, but one day in 1989, Sinclair again suddenly uprooted Jacobs, who had just finished her freshman year in high school, her brother and mother and they moved to Alaska. “I think things weren’t right and that there was a lot more to the story,” Jacobs says. “I feel like something was kind of forcing him to do that or maybe he felt unsafe for some reason. I feel like he was looking for a place to hide, like there’s probably something he was running from.”
Jacobs learned the terrible truth about her father one morning in August 1990 when an FBI SWAT team stormed the family’s home shortly after Sinclair received a phone call and left in a rush. “Nothing stops you in the tracks like a person with a machine gun pointed at you,” Jacobs says.
She initially thought the raid had something to do with the fire years before in New Mexico. Agents questioned Jacobs and told her that her father was in custody — not for arson but because he was a suspect in a double homicide. “They said that my dad had been arrested for the murders of two people in Montana at a coin shop,” the owner and an employee, Jacobs recalls, adding, “I felt for sure they had the wrong person.”
They didn’t, and Jacobs learned the truth: her father, Sinclair, was accused of being a ruthless serial killer known as “The Coin Shop Killer.” According to investigators, Sinclair would go to shops posing as a buyer or seller and then rob the store and kill the employees.
Police got a break when one of Sinclair’s victims in Utah survived and gave police a description of the man who shot him. Detectives began to connect the dots and determine the robberies of multiple shops throughout the West were likely connected.
A witness in the Montana double homicide then helped identify Sinclair as the killer after reporting seeing a man who exited the coin shop in Billings following the murders there and got into a silver car. The vehicle was located at an airport days later, and receipts and other items in it led detectives to Sinclair in Alaska.
The alleged serial killer was charged with two murders and suspected of committing at least 10 more, but he never faced justice. After 77 days in custody in an Anchorage pre-trial facility, Sinclair, 43, died of an apparent heart attack.
For more on this case, stream Evil Lives Here: “Our Secret Identity” on Max.