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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Stone Gardens: The heinous murder of Lois Cooper on December 23, 1948 in rural Benton County

Thursday, December 23, 1948 was far from being a spectacular day in the annals of history, although there were some events on that day that impacted the world political and technological scene.

Hideki Tojo

In Japan, former Japanese premier Hideki Tojo and six other Japanese war leaders were executed in Tokyo having been found guilty of crimes against humanity.

Three Bell Laboratory scientists -- John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley--created a small semi-conductor transistor device that was the forerunner of the CPUs that drive our computers today. They were later named the winner s of a Nobel Prize in Physics for their work.

"Wake of the Red Witch", a seafaring movie starring John Wayne and Gail Russel l was number one at the box office.

And in a remote area of Benton County, a 38-year-old radio repair shop owner killed his wife by driving an oversized hydraulic pressure gauge into her brain after staging an automobile accident to try and cover up her murder.

It's a story that you haven't likely heard over the years.

While George Cooper was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife Lois two days before Christmas 1948, and later lost an appeal in that case that captured a lot of regional headlines at the time, the aftermath of the event and the information available on it leaves a lot to be desired.

George Cooper owned a radio repair shop in Gravette. According information from the trial transcript, he and his wife were unloading trash at a local dump site when the pickup truck he was driving overturned. Cooper later tld officials that an oversized hydraulic gauge that was attached to a metal drum in the bed of the truck came through the back window and pierced his wife's skull just beyond her left ear.

Lois Cooper,36, never regained consciousness. George Cooper, who was also injured in the "accident" attended the coroner's inquest on a stretcher and was later arrested for his wife's murder when medical officials said the injury that Lois sustained could not have occurred in the way Cooper stated.

Things weren't going well already for Cooper in his trial when Benton County coroner W.F. Burns testified in Circuit Court on April 7, 1949 that Cooper had offered him a $5,000 bribe to "sign the death certificate and get me out of this mess".

In addition to trying to bribe the coroner, whose wife said Cooper actually offered her $10,000 he expected to receive as double indemnity on life insurance policy if she would influence her husband, Cooper had apparently made numerous inquiries in the months leading up to his wife's death on the payout circumstances on his wife's life insurance policy.

Parents of Lois Cooper testified in the trial to alleged cruelties by George to her over the years, her younger brother Paul testified at the age of 17 he and Cooper had burned a car collecting the insurance on it. That act was committed at the same dump where his wife's body was later found.

The autopsy report said the metal valve stem was found embedded in Mrs Cooper skull and it partly penetrated penetrated her brain lobe causing the brain hemorrhage and death.

Dr. Stewart Wilson, who examined in Cooper briefly after the accident claimed no blood or injuries were found on Cooper's hands. However, there was conflicting testimony on how long after the accident occurred that Cooper flagged down a passing motorist on an adjacent road.

Judge Maupin Cummings

On April 13, 1949 Cooper was convicted of the murder and immediately sought an appeal bond which was granted to the tune of $10,000. Six days later Judge Maupin Cummings of the Benton County Circuit Court denied Cooper a new trial, revoked his bond, and sent him to the state penal farm to begin his sentence.

That's where the trail goes dark. Despite numerous inquiries to the Arkansas Department of Corrections including two Formal Freedom of Information Act requests, the DOC was unable (or unwilling) to provide any details of whether or not Cooper actually served out his life sentence, was paroled, or actually died in prison.

For all we know, he could have been part of the "roots" that were coughed up so may years ago wearing "gingham shirts and boots"

Lois Cooper was laid to rest in the Hillcrest Cemetery in Gravette a few days after her death.

She is buried between and shares a tombstone with her mother and father both who outlived their precious daughter.

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