return to newspaper index

Lieut. Ira L. Cooper Dead

Copied from The Mexico Weekly Ledger
Thursday Feb. 23, 1939 p3 cols 1,2,3 & 4

Lieut. Ira Luther Cooper, of the St. Louis police department, one of the highest ranking colored police officers in the United States, an international figure in the investigation of crime and a former Mexico boy, died late Wednesday afternoon at his home in St. Louis. His death is considered a serious handicap in the hoped for solution of the mysterious murder of Mrs. A.S. Mortimer in this city Thanksgiving eve, 1937.

Lieut. Cooper, at the request of Prosecuting Attorney Latney Barnes of Audrain County, had been loaned (to) the local authorities by the St. Louis police department, within a few days after the murder. He spent several days here on the case clearing up several angles of the crime. Though off the case officially, Lieut. Cooper was still active in investigating various features of the crime. Not over a month ago he told a Ledger representative he had developed further leads and hoped to give them attention and take them up with local authorities shortly. He always said he felt that sooner or later the murderer would be apprehended.

While an international figure in police circles, he never lost interest in Mexico and his home county. When Sheriff Chal Blum was murdered by Jim Crump (colored) on Feb. 19, 1924 in this city, the defendant was rushed to St. Louis for safekeeping. Senator Frank Hollingsworth was prosecuting attorney of Audrain County then, and had only time for a few questions before Crump was rushed away. He wired Lieut. Cooper asking that he secure a confession of the crime from Crump if the suspected man was guilty. Within an hour a wire came from St. Louis saying the confession had been made and signed. Crump was later hanged in Montgomery City where the case had been taken on change of venue from Audrain.

Time and again Lieut. Cooper cooperated with local officers in solving local crimes. He seldom appeared in these cases preferring to work behind the scenes. He was one of the twelve police officers in the world, one of only four in the United States and the only member of his race to have been given the "Scotland Yard card." This recognition was presented by the famous English police department only to crime investigators whose records were of such outstanding importance to merit such recognition.

One year he won the St. Louis medal offered for the outstanding deed of bravery of the year. When Li Hung Chang, Chinese Ambassador to the United States, attended the St. Louis World’s Fair, some pickpocket stole his watch, a valued heirloom. Lieut. Cooper succeeded in securing the return of the highly prized watch. In appreciation of this success, regardless of a substantial reward, Lieut. Cooper has received each year a large carton of rare tea from the Ambassador and after his death, from his family.

Lieut. Cooper’s life was more interesting than any piece of detective fiction you can buy. Not so many years ago with a cringing criminal white man, sought by a mob, hiding behind him, Lieut. Cooper alone held off a big crowd seeking to lynch the white criminal, until police reserves came to his relief.

Besides his aged father, E.J. Cooper, of this city, he leaves a wife, a daughter, who has her A.B. and Master’s degrees from Minnesota University, and is a Juvenile Court probation officer and a son, who won his A.B., Master’s and PhD degrees at Minnesota and is a high ranking faculty member at Howard University, Washington, D.C., known as the Negro Harvard. He is Dean of the School of Pharmacy there.

Lieut. Cooper had many close friends here among both races as he had in St. Louis and his death will be deeply regretted by all who knew this remarkable man. His love for his home community was only exceeded by his devotion to duty. Mexico was always proud of Luther Cooper, as we knew him. We join in extending sympathy to the bereaved family.

In speaking of Lieut. Cooper’s death a front page story Thursday morning’s Globe-Democrat had the following to say:

His ability to lend a sympathetic ear to gossipy confidences of his own race and his quiet, unassuming manner enabled Cooper to pick up information on important cases, which subsequently earned him the reputation as one of the leading detectives on the force.

In such a manner, he learned that Pearl Abernathy, Negro real estate dealer, was the father of Charles Abernathy, who kidnapped Adolphus Busch Orthwein, 13, son of Mr. and Mrs Percy Orthwein and the grandson of the late August A. Busch, New Year’s Eve in 1930.

Because county authorities were in charge of the investigation, Cooper’s role in the case was never made public, but officers last night recalled it was Cooper who went to the elder Abernathy and persuaded him to telephone the Orthweins and promise to return the Orthwein boy. Later, Charles Abernathy was captured in Kansas City and was convicted.

However, Cooper’s work in breaking up a band of kidnapers who preyed on bookmakers in the city was his most outstanding achievement.

Again, it was a "tip" from a member of his own race that was responsible for the rescue of Jacob Hoffman, bookmaker, who was held for ransom in a house in Luxemburg, and the subsequent arrest of three of the kidnapers in 1930.

This accomplishment, which wrote finish to the bookmaker abductors, led to Cooper’s promotion as a lieutenant, the first Negro ever to attain such a rank in a Missouri Police Department.

Most of the successes of his 32 years of service were cases involving Negro criminals, but occasionally, as in the kidnapping cases, one of his sources whispered a "tip" that led him afield.

He was particularly proud of his work in solving the $15,000 jewelry robbery of Mrs. W. Arthur Stickney by two Negro highwaymen in 1934 on the St. Louis Country Club grounds. He shared in a $3000 reward for this achievement.

He also was credited with the direction of the investigation which resulted in the conviction in 1917 of 13 Negroes in Federal Court of looting freight cars of $50,000 worth of merchandise. He also solved the $30,000 robbery ot the Mercantile Trust company in 1924 and the $4200 robbery of the Bank of Chesterfield, in St. Louis County, the same year.

Lieut. Cooper saved the Public Service Company a considerable amount of money by breaking up at least five accident rings started by Negroes in recent years.

end of article


Additional information:

1880 Federal Census, Montgomery county, Town of  New Florence
Cooper, Elijah  male - mulatto age 30 b. MO. parents b. MD occupation Barber
Cooper, Rachel female black age 22 b. MO parents b. VA
Ira L. male black age 3
Carrie B. female age 2


1900 Federal census, St. Louis, Ward 14, page 113 on  Chestnut Street, Census sheet has Chestnut, Jefferson, Beaumont, Market St and back to Chestnut, so  the location would be in that square block bounded by these streets.

 2110 A  225 Head of Household
Spencer, Rose (B)
Cooper, Ira L. (B) (m) Boarder age 27 b. May 1877 marital status  S

1910 Federal census, St. Louis, 14th  Ward, District 227, SD: # 10, ED 227, Sheet 1B, 9269
2616 XX 15  Nebraska and  and Victor Street  25 April 1910
*Cooper, Ira L  sex (m) color or Race (M = mulatto) marriage 2, age 32 b. MO. parents b. MO., occupation Detective-city
Cooper, Mattie S. age 28 (f) (M) b. LA., parents b. LA. marriage # 1. mother of 2 children
Cooper, Chauncy age 4 (m) (M)
Cooper, Louanna age 1 (f) (M) 8/12

In 1920 Living with Ira L and wife Mattie, their children Chauncy and Louanna ( no others listed) was his father
Cooper, Elijah age 66 (m) (B)

His son referenced above was the Dean  at Howard University Wash. D.C. and has a hall named for him.It is named Chauncey I. Cooper Hall (CCH) after Dr. Cooper, the first African American who served as Dean from 1938 to 1972.

This may not be the correct Chauncey Cooper,  but the time line and location is the only that fits the profile of Chauncey I Cooper from the SSDI files.

CHAUNCEY COOPER 31 May 1906 Sep 1983 20815 (Chevy Chase, Montgomery, MD) (none specified) 578-44-6842 District of Columbia