How a Woman Escaped Near-Certain Death After Encounter with Cook Brothers Serial Killers

In her own words, Cheryl Bartlett Fann describes how she escaped the infamous Cook brothers

Cheryl Bartlett Fann, Bud Coates and their son, Eric Coates
Cheryl Bartlett Fann, Bud Coates and their son, Eric Coates

Just after midnight on Jan. 27, 1981, Cheryl Bartlett Fann, then 18, surprised her fiancé, Bud Coates, 22, by meeting him after his shift at the Toledo, Ohio, grocery store where he worked as a meat cutter. 

As they walked home, the young couple was ambushed by two brothers — Anthony and Nathaniel Cook — who raped her before shooting her in the back.

Woozy from the blood she was quickly losing, all she could think about was their 15-month-old son, Eric, and what would happen to him if she died. She had no idea she was one of many victims of the notorious Cook brothers, who went on a terrifying killing spree in Ohio in the early 1970s and 1980s.

Though Fann provided details of what her attackers looked like, she was dismayed that authorities were unable to use her description to convict Anthony and Nathaniel.

"I was furious and I felt let down," she tells PEOPLE.

But in 1982, Anthony was found guilty of killing businessman Peter Sawicki and sentenced to life in prison. Nathaniel was arrested in 1998 for the murder of Thomas Gordon. The prosecutor at the time offered both brothers a plea deal in Gordon’s death — something Fann didn't want.

Under the terms of the agreement, Anthony would remain in prison, but Nathaniel would be eligible for parole in 20 years if both confessed to all of their rapes and slayings. Anthony confessed to eight murders between 1971 and 1983 and Nathaniel confessed to three. (Anthony was already in prison for killing his ninth victim.)

In 2018, Nathaniel was released from prison on parole.

Now 61, Fann – who appears on a new episode of People Magazine Investigates: Surviving a Serial Killer on Sunday, June 9 at 9/8c on ID and streaming on Max tells PEOPLE in her own words how she managed to escape death when so many others did not. (An exclusive clip of the episode is shown below.)

In January of 1981, Bud and I moved into our own apartment in Toledo. It was on the other side of town from my parents. We were only living in our apartment, I think maybe a week or two when this happened.

On Jan. 27, 1981, Bud’s brother Donnie, cut my hair and did my makeup and I thought, ‘I'll walk up there to the store where Bud worked and surprise him.’

When I first walked through the door, Bud was mad at me because I walked up there by myself. Then he calmed down and it was about 1 a.m. by the time we were walking home. We were chatting about our wedding and about having another baby.

All of a sudden my body started shaking like something bad was going to happen. I started freaking out.

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A week before this, I dreamt I got shot. The night before I dreamt I got raped and shot. But I couldn't make out the faces of who was doing it.

I told my mom about it and my mom said, ‘I need you to stay in the house. Don’t go out.’ But I was 18 years old, and I'm thinking, ‘Oh, I can take care of myself.’

After I was freaking out I saw a man — who I later learned was Anthony — kitty corner from where we were, coming across the street.

Related: 'People Magazine Investigates' : Inside the Mother-Daughter Murders at Horseshoe Lake – 24 Years Apart

I said, ‘Bud, something's not right.’ And he kind of yelled, ‘You need to calm down. Nothing’s going to happen. I will protect you.’ I hate those words to this day.

I started freaking out more because of the dream than anything. It was like, ‘The dream's coming true.’

I wanted to run off but I didn't know exactly where I was because we just moved there.

Anthony came up to us and I offered him my gold diamond engagement and wedding ring set so he could let us go. Bud gave him his wallet.

<p>Lucas County Sheriff's Office (2)</p> Nathaniel Cook; Anthony Cook

Lucas County Sheriff's Office (2)

Nathaniel Cook; Anthony Cook

Anthony threw ski masks at us and told us to cover our faces. I kept pulling mine up and saw what he looked like. Anthony yelled at me to put the mask back on. Then he made us go down an alley.

Right before we got to the garage where it happened, I saw another guy coming down the other side of the street. He made us go into the garage.

I was scared. I thought for sure I was going to be dead. I thought I was never going to see Eric again. I thought, ‘Who’s going to raise him? I'm going to miss him going to school, his graduation, getting married, having kids, all that.’

I also thought I should have listened to my mom. I kept hearing my mom's words in my head, and my dad pleading with me, ‘Don't go out,’ and here I was, thinking I'm not going to make it out of this.

'Then they shot me in the back'

When they were done violating me, they made me stand up, get dressed and told Bud to hold me tight. Then they shot me in the back.

I heard the gun click. It didn't have any more bullets.

If they had any more bullets, we would've been dead right there until somebody found us.

They ran off and I just started screaming and I heard one call to the other, ‘Let's go, Tony.’

I didn't know I was shot because I didn't feel the bullet go in.

Bud grabbed me and we ran around the front of the house and when we stopped, he said, ‘You've been hit,’ because I had blood down my back.

That made it even worse because I started really hyperventilating. I was thinking, ‘I'm dead for sure now because I've been shot.’

We went to two houses where the people didn’t want to help us. We went to a third house where the guy said I could come in, but also said, ‘I don't want you getting blood all over everything.’

Bud took off to the apartment to let Donnie know what happened because they stole his wallet. They had to hurry up and get Eric out of there in case they came to our apartment. Bud and Donnie took Eric to the neighbors we knew, who kept him.

I was at the stranger's house and the next thing I knew, I passed out. The rescue squad came and  took me to the Ohio Medical Career College.

I was in the hospital for three and a half weeks. I have had more than 20 surgeries since then because of the bullet, which broke apart when I was shot.

Ripple effects of traumatic event

Afterward doctors had to sedate Bud because he lost his mind over it.

I figured there was nothing I could do about anything, because it already happened. I had to live my life and I had to take care of my child.

But Bud was upset that he couldn’t protect me and he left us because of me being raped.

I was so in love with him and I had a rough period after Bud left us. I started taking my anger out on men. They would fall in love with me. Then I would think, ‘No, it's time to push him away’ and leave them.

Meeting and marrying her 'hero'

I got married three times and had three sons before I met my husband Danny (Fann) when I was 26. I met him when I moved to Tennessee to get away from everything in Ohio. We have been together for almost 37 years. I’ve spent over half my life with him. He is my hero.

I started seeing a therapist after the attack then stopped. Now my best therapy is my husband, Danny. He will listen. He doesn't sit there and say, you shouldn't have been out. He doesn't criticize.

One of the things that still bothers me to this day is that I never got my rings back. The police told me that robbing people wasn't Anthony and Nathaniel's M.O. but how do they know that because most of the other people are dead. But I would like the rings back. I would love to give them to my son, Eric, especially since his father died in 2009. Maybe someone knows what happened to the rings. Oh my goodness.

Jelly Roll's song Save Me is one of my favorite songs because it reminds me of my past life - how I went through hell and how I rose above everything. That song is me.

Now I'm just a person trying to live day by day and trying to put things behind me. If I could help somebody else, that would be nice. I've always wondered: what was my purpose in life? Now I know what it is.

People Magazine Investigates: Surviving a Serial Killer airs on Sunday, June 9 at 9/8c on ID and streams on Max.

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