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C.D. Cooper


In October 1919, movie theater operator and theater union representative C.D. Cooper had decided to move out west from Birmingham, Alabama, seeking a drier climate after his recent diagnosis with tuberculosis. As he wrapped up his business affairs prior to the move, Cooper traveled to Atlanta to close a final film deal. His usual taxi driver in Birmingham, Nick Dulico, was also in Atlanta at that time. Dulico was en route to New York, where he was planning to catch a boat to Greece to visit family. Cooper and Dulico agreed that Cooper would ride part way with him, getting dropped off in Columbia, South Carolina, to visit his family there before he moved west. Dulico ended up staying in Columbia for three days, spending time with Cooper and his extended family there.
 
When Dulico headed off for New York on October 24, 1919, Cooper said they made promises to keep in touch, with Cooper giving Dulico an envelope listing Cooper’s Birmingham address, which would soon be forwarding to his new address out west. The same day, Cooper took a train back to Birmingham to spend time with a few friends before his move. His next two weeks were spent with his friend G.F. Johnson and Johnson’s family. He then stopped in Jackson, Mississippi, and Big Spring, Texas, before finally landing in California. Several weeks later, Cooper received a letter from his brother in Columbia informing him that Nick Dulico had been murdered.
 
Dulico’s decomposing body was found alongside a road, about a hundred miles from Columbia, on November 14, 1919. Dulico’s head had been smashed in and examiners believed he had been dead approximately three weeks. The letter from Cooper’s brother said that the envelope with Cooper’s name on it was found in Dulico’s pocket, and that envelope, combined with Cooper’s immediate move out west, had many people interested in speaking with Cooper about the murder. Wanting to make sure his name was clear, Cooper took a train back to Columbia. Upon his arrival, he spoke with a few police officers, all of whom advised him to leave the situation alone since no official inquiry was being directed his way. Cooper did that, moving to Asheville, North Carolina, and opening a popular watermelon stand. However, in September 1920, a local police officer showed up with a warrant for Cooper’s arrest for the murder of Nick Dulico.
 
Cooper waived extradition and was held in jail until his trial in Marlboro County, South Carolina, in March of 1921. The case against Cooper was completely circumstantial, and he sought to show that he was four hundred miles away from the murder site at the time of the murder. The State’s theory was that Cooper had murdered Dulico in order to steal his car. Cooper provided the Johnson family and other people he had encountered in Mississippi as alibi witnesses. The only testimony that called Cooper’s alibi into question was that of his brother’s ex-wife, Mrs. Troy V. Cooper, who claimed to have seen C.D. Cooper in Richmond, Virginia, shortly after the time of the murder. After much deliberation, the jury remained deadlocked and a mistrial was declared.
 
In July 1921, Cooper had his second trial. He no longer had enough money to pay for his alibi witnesses to travel to Marlboro County a second time. The prosecution focused on Mrs. Troy V. Cooper’s claims regarding Cooper’s presence in Richmond. Cooper was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The judgment was affirmed by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
 
In April 1923, Mrs. Troy V. Cooper signed a sworn affidavit stating that she had been paid $125.00 plus all travel expenses by the prosecutor in Cooper’s case in exchange for her testimony. She stated that her testimony that Cooper had been in Richmond, Virginia, shortly after the murder had been “mainly based on hearsay evidence.” She also stated that following Cooper’s conviction, she had learned information that led her to believe he was innocent.
 
Cooper was struggling in prison, where he claimed he and other prisoners were subjected to torture. Cooper wrote several letters to this effect and soon thereafter, the General Assembly began an investigation into conditions in the prison. According to Cooper, fear of retaliation by the head prison guard prompted Cooper to attempt an escape from prison, which he managed to succeed in doing on April 17, 1925. Upon his escape, Cooper began using the name Ben Jones and quickly made his way back to California.
 
In California, Cooper found work in movie production and fell in love with a woman he met there – Irene Taylor. He and Taylor were married in 1931. In September 1933, a co-worker approached Cooper with a copy of “True Detective” magazine, which featured a profile on Cooper. He decided to surrender to authorities and turned himself in. Officers quickly returned him to South Carolina.
 
Back in prison in South Carolina, Cooper received a great deal of support from the public and many petitions were signed requesting that he be pardoned. On August 13, 1934, South Carolina Governor Ibra C. Blackwood stated that because Cooper had been convicted on purely circumstantial evidence, most of which had been proven unreliable, he would be released with a complete pardon to be forthcoming. The governor granted this full pardon on December 19, 1934.
 
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
State:SC
County:Marlboro
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1919
Convicted:1921
Exonerated:1934
Sentence:Life
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:33
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation