Friday, October 21, 2011

Fitch D. Cooper
Nunica farmer shot his his wife to death then himself

    On September 11, 1908 farmer Fitch Dewey Cooper shot his wife to death at their farmhouse near Nunica, Michigan, then turned the gun on himself. Differences in religion and a feud over property was believed to be the cause of the tragedy.

    Fitch D. Cooper and his wife Emma are buried in the same plot in the Nunica Cemetery in Crockery Township, Michigan.

    Fitch Dewey Cooper was born in Cass County, Michigan on April 21, 1852. He was one of four children born to Jacob and Mary Halsted-Cooper, who were the first settlers north of Coopersville.  The Coopers and other early settlers formed the Cooper School District, one of the first directors being Luther Cooper, a brother to Fitch.
    Fitch D. Cooper was a farmer by trade. On November 17, 1875 Cooper married 18-year-old Minnie C. Easterly in Spring Lake and the couple settled in Crockery Township to start a family. Fitch and Minnie had three children: a son Frank R, Cooper born on June 30, 1877, a daughter Mary Cooper born on June 18, 1879, and daughter Farney Cooper born on June 10, 1881.
    Minnie Cooper died after suffering from tuberculosis on January 20, 1883 at the age of 24.
    Fitch remarried on August 6, 1888 taking Emeline (Carpenter) Hoard, a widow, as his second wife. He and Emeline, better known as Emma, had four children: daughter Minnie Mae born on November 30, 1889, son Herbert Dewey Cooper born on March 23, 1893, son Earl Cooper born on November 9, 1895, and daughter Velma Cooper born on February 5, 1898.
    On the morning of September 11, 1908 Emma Cooper sent the children off to school as usual all except one son, Earl who went out to work in the pickle patch a short distance away. Sometime before Earl went back to the house to get something he met his father. Fitch Cooper called Earl to him, kissed him affectionately and said, “Goodbye, Earl. Be a good boy.” At the same time Earl thought recalled later his father mentioned something about somebody trying to take away everything that he owned. Earl watched his father walk away and imagined he was going into town. It was about 10:00 o’clock.
    Earl barely returned to pickle patch when he heard shots ring out. Frightened, Earl ran back to the house. There he found his mother dead in the kitchen from two shotgun wounds. Fired at close range, one shot tore away Emma Cooper’s arm, perhaps raising it to defend herself, the other shot entered her breast. She had been preparing potatoes for a meal.
    Earl followed bloody boot tracks to an older second house on the property and discovered his father dead from a single gaping self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
    “He leaned forward over the muzzle of the gun and with a stick pressed the trigger,” the Grand Haven Tribune reported.
    It was discovered Fitch Cooper had purchased five cartridges for his shotgun the previous night and planned his wife’s death. The day before the shootings Cooper had been at Grand Haven to settle several financial affairs, deeded his property to his sons and disposed of his pickle contract with an area cannery.  Fitch had assumed his wife had recently visited an attorney in Grand Rapids and was about to re-engage divorce proceedings.
    The Grand Haven Tribune published an article published an exposé on the couple after their death detailing conflicts that existed between Fitch and Minnie Cooper.
    “Fitch Cooper was an industrious man and a good farmer. He is very well known about Nunica where he has lived many years. There seems to be nothing serious against his previous actions or his general character,” the Tribune wrote. “For some time quarrels between them have been frequent and it was understood by neighbors that they did not agree at all. They were not a congenial pair.”
    The Tribune reported that the property, owned by Fitch Cooper, became part of the family feud and that religion might have played a factor.
    “One of the causes is alleged to have been religious differences between them. Mrs. Cooper was a free Methodist. Cooper was inclined toward spiritualism. The wife would like family prayers and it is said Cooper did not always agree with her,” the Tribune wrote. “At one time she has filed for divorce with Ottawa Circuit court, but it was discontinued and the case dropped. If the wife and he quarreled it was usually their quarrel and they troubled few others with it. Folks (neighbors) also would take sides on who was most to blame.”
    Sheriff Jesse Woodby of Grand Haven determined the case to be a murder/suicide and coroner James A. Mabbs agreed. No inquest was made into the deaths and the remains were turned over to family for burial.
    After Fitch and Minnie Cooper were buried together in one grave in the Nunica Cemetery, the Cooper children were involved in several lawsuits in a battle over who would inherit the family farm. Apparently, the Cooper farmhouse property had become a family feud before and then after the shootings.

Graphics: Portrait of a young Fitch Cooper. Article published in September 1908 about the Cooper deaths. Reproduction of Fitch D. Cooper's death certificate. Photo of the Cooper's headstone in Nunica Cemetery, Crockery Township, Michigan. OTTAWA COUNTY MURDERERS ONLINE is a historical series produced in conjunction with the STRANGE GRAND HAVEN book series written by Kevin Scott Collier, Grand Haven, Michigan.