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Unsolved: The Murder of LaDonna Cooper

On March 4th, 1987, LaDonna Cooper was working her shift at the Bonanza Restaurant in Marion, Illinois. Her husband and children came to Bonanza and the family ate together as a family at the restaurant. Her husband and children will forever cherish that meal, as it would be their last as a complete family and the beginning of a decades long search to find the person responsible for tearing their family apart.



LaDonna Lynn Trip was born June 26th, 1954, in Marion, Illinois. She married Bobby Cooper and together they had three children: Kelli, Jodi, and Ryan. The children were still very young when they shared their final meal with LaDonna at the Bonanza in Marion in 1987. That night at approximately 11:45 pm, LaDonna called her husband from the restaurant to let him know she was finishing up and would be home soon. She never arrived.

Bobby called the restaurant back but didn’t get any answers. When his wife failed to show up by 12:15 am, he went to check on her. When he arrived at Bonanza his heart sank. His wife’s car was not in the parking lot. However, the door to the restaurant was wide open and there were signs of a struggle including blood found inside. He called the police and the search for LaDonna Cooper began.

The very next day, LaDonna’s car was found on 6th Street in Herrin, IL, about ten minutes away. It was found abandoned in a residential neighborhood. LaDonna was not inside, but her blood was. They later found her wallet and purse in a dumpster near Bonanza. LaDonna was an assistant manager and was in charge of taking the money from the restaurant to the night drop box each night. Police suspected someone kidnapped her in the process of a robbery.

The following day, the remains of LaDonna Cooper were found in a field at Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. She had been stabbed repeatedly and died of acute blood loss. Her body showed defensive wounds, indicating she fought her attacker or attackers hard. LaDonna Cooper was thirty-one years old at the time of her death. She left behind her husband and three children, all under the age of twelve.

“When you’re 10, it’s confusing. The next morning you wake up and you expect your mom to come get you for school, and it doesn’t happen” Kelli said in a 2005 interview (Hahn, 2005). She described the fear her family lived in following the murder of her mother. LaDonna’s keys were missing and there was fear something could use them to enter her home and harm her family. Kids at school shared what they heard the adults say about the crime, inadvertently causing more pain for the Cooper kids.

Despite collecting over 150 pieces of evidence and investigating numerous leads and twenty suspects, there was never enough evidence to move forward with prosecution. The murder of LaDonna Cooper went cold and stayed cold for many years. In 2005, the cold case unit in Marion expressed hope that advancements in DNA technology could uncover a clue that would solve the murder. After all, the cold case of Susan Schumake’s murder had recently been solved using this technology. But the years kept passing without answers.

In 2012, Bill Marks of the Williamson County Cold Case Unit said “We have suspects. We can see the end of the tunnel; it’s just going to be awhile before we get there” (Malkovich, 2012). “Cold case squad special investigators have developed significant and critical information as a result of interviews of numerous individuals in regards to Cooper’s case” he also said (Malkovich, 2012). He urged anyone with information to come forward in that article in 2012. Despite those leads, the case remained cold.

In 2020, The Southern Illinoisan, a local newspaper, filed a lawsuit in Williamson County Court against the City of Marion, Williamson County Sherriff’s Office, Illinois State Police, and Williamson County Coroner’s Office claiming the entities were withholding information requested under the Freedom of Information Act (Anglin, 2020). According to the paper, requests for records were either ignored or denied as the case was still considered an open investigation. “I wanted my mother’s story to be written and told” her daughter Jodi said in 2020 (Anglin, 2020). She went on to say that even as the victim’s daughter, she has been denied information on her mother’s case.

The Cooper children, now grown adults with their own families, continue to fight for answers and justice for their mother. The Bonanza Restaurant has now closed and in its place is Tequilas Mexican Restaurant. The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office says that LaDonna’s case is still an open and active investigation. If you have any information that would assist in this investigation, please contact the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office at 618-997-6541.


References

Anglin, S. (2020) The Southern files lawsuit over public records in homicide; Southern Illinoisan; 29 Aug 2020

Obituary (1987) LaDonna Cooper; Evansville Courier and Press; 08 Mar 1987

Hahn, A. (2005) Searching for justice; The Southern Illinoisan; 05 Mar 2005

Malkovich, B. (2012) Cold case squad refuses to forget; The Southern Illinoisan; 04 Mar 2012

Koplowitz, H.B. (1987) Woman found slain after abduction; St. Louis Post-Dispatch; 07 Mar 1987

FindAGrave (2021) Ladonna Lynn Tripp Cooper; Retrieved at: LaDonna Lynn Tripp Cooper (1954-1987) - Find a Grave Memorial

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