Cooper Murder

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The Petersburg Observer, March, 1921, Vol. 47 No. 10



Evidence Of Cooper Children, Cooper Held to Grand Jury

Menard County had its first murder for many years Monday morning, when James S. Cooper of Pekin stabbed his wife Maud Cooper to death at the home of her mother, Mrs. Charles R. Bell, three miles east of Petersburg. Mrs. Cooper, who was about 29 years old, had for four weeks been confined to a hospital in Springfield and had submitted to an operation for appendicitis. She had been out of the hospital a week, and had been staying at her mother's home until she gained back sufficient strength to go back to her home in Pekin, and care for her family. Cooper, who is owner of a broom factory in Pekin drove down in his car Saturday afternoon, bringing their two sons, fourteen and twelve years old and Ora Daniels, a boy who works for him, along. He came with the expectation of taking Mrs. Cooper back with him.

About six o'clock Monday morning, Cooper went to the room where his wife and ten year old daughter Loraine were sleeping and asked Mrs. Cooper if she was going home with him. She replied "I don't know." Cooper then went to another room and after being gone only a few moments, came back, again asked her if she would accompany him home, and upon receiving the same reply, drew a knife and stabbed her through the right breast, the knife penetrating the lung, and causing her death in a few minutes. He is said to have struck two or three blows at the little daughter, but she was unhurt.

After striking his wife, Cooper turned upon her brother Walter Sewell, and attacked him with the knife, inflicting eight wounds before he was overpowered by a step-brother Jesse Bell, who came to Walter Sewell's assistance. None of Sewell's wounds are thought to be serious, but he was taken to a hospital so that he might be given proper care. Cooper was tied and the Sheriff and Dr. H. P. Moulton summoned. Mrs. Cooper was dead when Dr. Moulton arrived, and Sheriff Granstaff brought Cooper to this city, where he was lodged in the County jail until Tuesday morning, when the inquest was held. The following extracts from the testimony at the inquest give a clear account of the entire affair.

Loraine Cooper's Testimony

Loraine Cooper, the little 10 year old daughter of the Cooper's was the first witness. She stated that she was in bed with her mother, when her father came to the room and after asking if Mrs. Cooper would accompany him to Pekin and after receiving her answer, left, returning in a moment and after repeating his question, stabbed first at her (Loraine) three times, and then stabbed her mother. The little girl jumped from the bed and screamed for help. She was asked if she understood the nature of an oath, and if she believed that it was wrong to tell a lie. She replied that she did and that if she lied, she "wouldn't go to Heaven."

Dr. Moulton's Testimony

Dr. H. P. Moulton was called to the stand and testified that he was called to the home of Charles Bell, and found Maude Cooper dead. That her death was the result of a knife wound in the right breast, and that the knife penetrated the right lung, causing internal hemorrhage. He also treated Walter Sewell and found that he had eight cuts, one in the scalp above left ear, deep cut in left arm, two on left side of head, one on shoulder, two in left chest and one in the back. He stated that the wound that enused Mrs. Cooper's death was four or five inches deep and identified a knife as being the one shown him when he arrived upon the scene.

Virgil Cooper's Testimony

Virgil Cooper, the fourteen year old son of the Coopers, testified that he came to his grandparent's home from Pekin Saturday afternoon, with his father and brother and Ora Daniels. He stated that they stopped in Greenview, and his father said something about buying a revolver, and later told him that if "anything happens to Mamma and me, you boys sell the place in Cass County and the factory and divide the money." He did not see his father strike his mother, but Cooper came into the room where he and some other boys were sleeping on the morning in question and opened a dresser drawer, looked through it and then said something about killing the whole family. He identified the knife as being the property of his father.

Ora Daniel's Testimony

Ora Daniels, 14 years old who works for Cooper, testified that he came with Cooper Saturday night, because Cooper asked him to, in the belief that he might be able to influence his (Cooper's) wife to go back to Pekin with them. He stated that he heard Cooper sharpening a knife Friday evening before they came to Petersburg from Pekin, but did not see him, because of a curtain between the two rooms. At this time, Cooper who was present at the inquest broke in and said "That's right, Ora. Tell the truth, I sharpened it."

Jesse Bell's Testimony

Jesse Bell, step brother to Mrs. Cooper stated that Cooper came to his bedroom early Monday morning, while he was in bed, and seemed to be angry. He (Cooper) said that there was going to be trouble around there, and Bell told him that he didn't want trouble but that if any started he (Bell) "would finish it." Cooper then left the room, and next Bell heard the little girl scream and ran to the other room, where he saw Cooper and Walter Sewell struggling. He grabbed at Cooper and Sewell told him to be careful, that Cooper had a knife. Cooper struck at him with the knife, and he struck Cooper with his fist and knocked him down. He then took him outside and tied him up and watched him until the Sheriff came. He didn't know until after the fight was over that Mrs. Cooper had been killed.

The testimony of Charles Bell, step father of Mrs. Cooper, James Bell, a cousin and Harry??? Grandstaff, Sheriff simply corroborated the testimony of the other witnesses as did that of Walter Sewell. Mr. Sewell's testimony was written and was presented to the jury.

Cooper Denies Knowledge

Cooper was then given a chance to testify and stated that he had no remembrance of stabbing his wife, or of fighting with Walter Sewell. He remembered sharpening the knife, and said that he whetted it as the edge of a crack, thinking he might need it around the car. To the direct question "Did you kill your wife?" he replied "No." Before the inquest he told Sheriff Grandstaff that he had been ill during the night before the murder but drank a portion of a bottle of liniment, and that his memory had since been blank.

After being set about ten minutes, the coroner's jury returned a verdict finding that Maude Cooper came to her death at the hands of her husband James S. Cooper, and advised that he be held in the county jail without bail.

Funeral services for Mrs. Cooper were held Wednesday morning, March 9, at 11 o'clock from the Christian Church here. Elder E.C. Smoot officiated, assisted by Rev. J.N. Grisso. Interment was made in Rose Hill Cemetery.

Transcribed & Submitted by: Kristin Vaughn.