Video: Sister, friends recall slain mother

By Clint Van Zandt
msnbc.com
updated 7/17/2008 9:50:25 PM ET 2008-07-18T01:50:25
COMMENTARY

North Carolinians have recently witnessed a number of high-profile murders, to include three women in the military, all of whom were pregnant. In the case of murdered Megan Touma, someone left a symbol scrawled in the victim’s motel room, a circle with a cross through it like one previously used by an unidentified California serial in the late 1960’s, a man known only as "Zodiac." A local newspaper subsequent received and published a letter in which the writer claimed responsibility for Touma’s murder. The letter contained the same chilling symbol and the anonymous writer claimed to be a serial killer who was patterning himself after “Zodiac.” 

Before the good people of North Carolina were even able to catch their breath, they were advised that another young mom was missing under mysterious circumstances. Nancy Cooper, the 34-year-old athletic mother of two young girls, was in the middle of a challenging marriage. She had allegedly asked her husband, Brad, to move out of their residence but he refused. 

Mr. and Mrs. Cooper are both from Canada, moving to the U.S. because of Brad’s job. Nancy was a runner who once had hopes of participating in the Olympics. A bad knee quashed that dream, but she continued to run in marathons and other races. No one other than Brad Cooper is known to have come forward to say they saw Nancy after she left a Friday night neighborhood party that she attended alone, although a friend spoke to her on the phone at 10:30 p.m. that same evening.

Brad says she arose before 7 a.m. Saturday morning and left for a run with a friend. "No," says her husband, "she didn’t take a cell phone or any form of identity with her." She also appears to have broken her tradition of taking her car to a coffee house to meet her running partner.  This experienced runner training for a half-marathon evidently broke her normal routing and appears not to have traveled along one of her normal running paths. 

In fact, police have yet to confirm that she actually left her home that morning at 7:00 a.m. as her husband stated. Where are the witnesses, independent of her husband, who saw her leave, or enter another car, or simply walk down the street that Saturday morning?  Her husband says that she was to meet a friend later that day, but it was Nancy’s regular running partner and not this other woman, or Nancy’s husband, who was worried enough after six to eight hours to report Nancy missing to the police.

Method of murder not made public
The usual search was mounted for the missing jogger.  Could she have ran away to avoid a challenging marriage? "Not without her children," her friends would say. Within days the body of Nancy Cooper would be found three miles from her home in an area some distance from her usual jogging route. Cause of death: murder. Method of death, withheld by police. Now unconfirmed reports are circulating that Brad may have purchased bleach as early as 4:00 a.m. the day Nancy was reported missing, and the victim’s father and twin sister have filed for custody of Nancy and Brad’s two daughters, ages 4 and 2, seeking to take them back to Canada with them. In their petition, they indicate that Brad had been involved in an extramarital affair and had yelled at and abused Nancy. They further suggest that Brad is emotionally unstable and that he poses a danger to the children. In court documents, Nancy Cooper's family indicates that Brad Cooper has attempted suicide on multiple occasions, as long ago as when he was a teenager and as recently as last winter.

Community is safe, police say
Investigators have said that Nancy’s murder is not believed to be a random act of violence, but an isolated incident not connected to other ongoing cases. Police also say that the local community is safe and that there is no danger to other female joggers. Question: How do you say this with such confidence unless you think you know the identity of the killer and you have the murderer under constant surveillance? Interestingly enough, Brad Cooper and his daughters are believed to be staying with friends and a police officer is now his constant companion.  What the police appear to be saying is that at the least no one mimicking the Zodiac killer, as suggested in the death of Megan Touma, is stalking local residents.

Murder investigations demand that the husband must first be eliminated in such cases so investigators can move onto other potential suspects. Evidence shows that the police executed middle-of-the-night search warrants on the Cooper home, their two cars, and the person of Brad Cooper. Obviously police must consider the family home, like the two family cars, potential crime scenes. Luminal will be used to look for blood spatter and other evidence could be found in the home or one of the cars. Police will take hair, fingerprints and DNA from Brad to compare against other evidence they may find at any potential crime scene, including the body disposal site.

They will also look for and photograph any cuts, scratches, or other marks on the hands and body of Mr. Cooper. Remember, the Coopers were married and shared the same home and cars, therefore any linking physical evidence that might be related to a crime must first be explained past the common family setting. 

Most recall that in 2007, Ohio police officer Bobby Cutts, Jr. murdered his 9-month pregnant girlfriend, Jessie Davis, in the presence of their young son. Cutts allegedly attempted to destroy forensic evidence at the murder scene by the use of bleach, something that many criminals have used in the past to similarly destroy evidence. In a previous article entitled "The Real World vs. the CSI syndrome ," I discuss how television provides tips for criminals. This was confirmed by Tammy Klein, senior criminalist for the LA County SO, who indicated that because of television shows like CSI, "it is not unusual in a planned homicide for the killer to use bleach to clean up a bloody mess." 

Bags of evidence removed
We do not know, of course, if Nancy Cooper’s husband actually bought bleach and if so, whether or not there was any nefarious intent on his part. The police did take boxes and bags of evidence out of the Cooper home, all needing to be processed to see if such evidence has any relevance to Nancy Cooper’s death.

Brad Cooper is now represented by two attorneys who will work to insure that his rights are protected while the search for Nancy Cooper’s killer continues. While parts of this tragedy seem to echo past cases like Bobby Cutts/Jessie Davis, or Mark Hacking and Lori Hacking — the latter of whom was shot to death by her husband who told authorities his believed pregnant wife had went out for a jog and never returned, or Scott Peterson, who was convicted of killing his wife, Lacy, after telling police she had left for a walk and never returned. 

While there should be no rush to judgment concerning the possible involvement of Brad Cooper in the murder of his wife, there are enough twists and turns to their relationship and his story to demand that he be considered a potential suspect, this while police ponder the possibility of some other unidentified killer in what police describe as a very safe community. If, like in so many other similar cases, the husband is somehow involved in his wife’s death, such news should come out.

Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI agent, behavioral profiler and hostage negotiator as well as an MSNBC analyst. His Web site, www.LiveSecure.org, provides readers with security-related information.

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