Mystery shrouds the tragic tale of murder and suicide that happened 60 years ago in Augusta's downtown business district. Some residents still remember the chilling violence on State Street that late October night.
"I was away at college at the time, but my parents told me about it. It shocked the community," said Cletus Kappelmann, retired Cooper Drug Store owner and pharmacist.
It was Oct. 29, 1952 and newly weds Bill and Betty Cooper had recently moved to the apartment at 509 1/2 State, right above the drug store owned at that time by Bill's pharmacist father, John Cooper. John and Eunice Cooper and their adopted son, Bill, were well-known in the community. The Augusta Daily Gazette included news of Bill when he had seen active duty in the European Theater of Operations during World War II years before.
Bill Cooper and Betty Barton were married on April 22, 1952 in Newkirk, Okla. Betty was from El Dorado.
Perhaps in respect to the Cooper family, the Gazette ran only one article pertaining to the incident. Official obituaries weren't even published.
A six-man coroner's jury was empaneled very quickly - within hours - by Dr. Overholser and Sheriff Gill, with County Attorney Morris Moon. Evidence was heard the next morning at Dunsford Funeral Home. They immediately returned the verdict of murder of Betty Cooper by her husband, Bill Cooper, who then took his own life around 11:40 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 29th.
Betty, clad in only a bathrobe, died at the bottom of the stairs and Bill, inside their apartment.
Investigating officers believed from bullet marks and other evidence, that the trouble started in either the bathroom or adjacent bedroom, with Betty running through the kitchen toward the hall door, either before or immediately after the first two "wild" shots were fired.
An operator at Southwestern Bell reported to police that around 11:40 p.m. the signal from the Cooper apartment telephone flashed on and off two to three times. A bullet was found imbedded in the electric socket near the phone and another on the other side of the door. Investigators surmised that Cooper had fired the two shots at his wife as she attempted to call someone. They believed that she placed the receiver down, ran from the room after the two shots were fired, with Cooper following her.
Two men, D.R. Burns and Jim Boren, who were across the street from the drug store and apartment, reported hearing Betty scream. When they first saw her in the stairway, she was facing the street, but spun around - either by Cooper himself or by the impact of a bullet. The men heard three shots as they were fired into her body. She fell to the sidewalk and a series of five more shots were heard, as they were being pumped into her body as she lay in the doorway with her right foot on the first step and her left foot on the second. She lay on her back with her arm over her face in a protective position.
Page 2 of 3 - The article states that Burns and Boren started across the street after the first three shots, but stopped in the middle of the street when the second burst of gunfire started, but continued to the scene after the shooting ceased. It was dark in the hallway and the two men told the coroner's jury that they did not see Bill Cooper in the stairway, or after he went back upstairs.
A bystander ran to Lehr's Coffee Shop, which was across the street, and reported "a shooting." Off-duty police patrolman Jim Hannon rushed to the scene and examined Betty, found a faint pulse and heard her murmur incoherently. Hannon reported that while he held the woman, a light flashed on the officer from the head of the stairs, a distance of about 20 feet.
Hannon informed the man holding the light that he was a police officer and that he needed to come down. Cooper had no intention of coming down and he turned and started back toward the apartment. Officer Hannon went up the stairs after him.
In the mean time other police officers arrived and some were dispatched to the rear of the building to insure that no one left by a back exit.
When Hannon reached the apartment door, he found it locked. He told the jury that he heard what he thought to be a shell being injected into a gun's chamber while he attempted to engage Cooper in a conversation through the locked door, but did not hear a shot when it was fired.
With the arrival of Bill's father, John Cooper, entrance was made to the apartment. Hannon and John Cooper found Bill in the bedroom, across the foot of the bed, a pool of blood on the floor and a .22 caliber Remington rifle nearby. He had shot himself just below the right temple, near the cheekbone, the bullet exiting the other side.
He was fully clothed and Betty's clothing was on a chair beside the bed. The top covers of the bed were turned down and disarranged.
Upon examination of the bodies, it was concluded that Betty suffered nine bullet wounds, with one fatal shot to her head. Counting one bullet for suicide and the two wild shots, that amounted to a dozen shots in total being fired.
A private graveside service was held for the couple the next day at Elmwood Cemetery.
No one could give a clue as to the events leading up to the tragedy. Bill had recently begun treatments with a medical doctor in Wichita. The article doesn't mention what the treatments were for. Perhaps with today's medical diagnosis, it would be found that he suffered from post traumatic stress caused by the war. There were also rumors about alcoholism and arguments over money. Sadly, questions remain, never to be answered.
Page 3 of 3 - Hear the Cooper story along with other Augusta haunting tales at the Weird and Unusual Sidewalk Tours this Friday night as part of the Grasshopper Festival activities.