Where the hell is Cooper?

OutsideImageWBROne of my hobbies a few years ago was researching the adventures of “Wild” Bill Cooper, which resulted in an article for Minnesota Monthly that focused on his criminal history and purported demise.

Filmmaker Mike Scholtz picked up where I left off, and is producing a feature-length documentary that tells the whole Wild Bill story. In addition to the trailer above, there’s a Wild Bill’s Run website and Twitter feed. You’ll have to wait a few more months to see the final product, though. Watch for updates.

8 Comments

markryan

about 9 years ago

This is great, Paul. I filmed Cooper's departure from Willow River in 1971 for WDIO-TV. Even then there were rumbles of his not being on the up and up. I've always wondered what happened to him. If my memory is correct, Cooper's name was also somehow connected to the 1976 Willow River murders committed by Donald Larson, one of the Piper kidnapping suspects. Larson shot and killed five people including his estranged wife, her lover, and three kids. Larson was already serving several life sentences in prison when he was on trial for the Piper case.

Paul Lundgren

about 9 years ago

There are so many spinoff Bill Copper stories that it's kind of mind boggling. It's pretty unlikely he was involved at all in the Donald Larson murders, and I think Larson always said he never met Cooper. Here is part of a timeline I put together that includes the Larson angle.

July 27, 1972 | Orono, Minn., socialite Virginia Piper, wife of Piper, Jaffray and Hopwood, Inc., chairman Harry Piper, Jr., is snatched from her home by two men. 

July 29, 1972 | A ransom of $1 million in used $20 bills is paid for Mrs. Piper's safe return. It is reported as the largest ransom in U. S. history and the third largest in the world. Piper is found unharmed, chained to a tree in Jay Cooke State Park. The FBI launches an extensive investigation, employing as many as 250 agents to explore leads. Kenneth Callahan and Donald Larson are investigated, but discounted as suspects.

1974 | Larson buys a farm in Willow River.

April 1976 | Larson kills five people at his Willow River farm after a breakup with his wife, Ruth. The dead are: Ruth Larson, James Falch (34, Ruth's lover), Jimmy Falch (James' 12-year old son), Mark Larson (Donald and Ruth's 5-year-old son) and Scott Powell (Ruth's 12-year-old son from a prior marriage).

April, 1977 | Cooper is subpoenaed and questioned by a federal grand jury about the kidnapping of Virginia Piper. He is not indicted. 

July 11, 1977 | Sixteen days before the statute of limitations on the Virginia Piper abduction expires, original suspects Larson and Callahan are indicted.

Oct. 11, 1977 | Larson and Callahan's trial begins.

Nov. 4, 1977 | A jury finds Larson and Callahan guilty of abducting Virginia Piper. They are both sentenced to life in prison. 

June 12, 1978 | Larson and Callahan submit an appeal of their convictions.

Jan. 26, 1979 | Larson and Callahan's convictions are overturned on appeal. The Virginia Piper kidnapping case would remain unsolved. Some of the ransom money turns up in ensuing years, but the entire cache is never found.

I believe Mr. Larson is still alive, in his 80s, and locked up in Faribault on the murder conviction.

Paul Lundgren

about 9 years ago

Oh, and I did interview WDIO's venerable Dennis Anderson about Cooper, but he didn't remember much.

"I had breakfast with (Cooper) the day they left (on the snowmobile expedition)," Anderson told me. "It was the one and only time I met him. It was quite a deal. Half the town was turned out. He had quite a name for himself."

What do you remember of the sendoff, Mark?

markryan

about 9 years ago

That's really interesting. Denny and I would have been there together but until you mentioned it, I had forgotten who I was there with. And Denny saying he met and had breakfast with Cooper has re-ignited some very, very vague memory of eating in a crowded bar. I don't remember meeting Cooper. Actually, my strongest memory is the large turnout (as Denny said) and filming the expedition as they headed out of town. I remember it was cold (or at least I was). I wish my memory was clearer concerning this. It'd be cool to search through the WDIO film vaults to see what was shot that day.

jessige

about 9 years ago

Not to hijack, but did the Piper case inspire the story in "Fargo"?  Sounds like the Lundegard kidnapping!

Prowler needs a jump.

farglebargle

about 9 years ago

Whoa! Juicy chapter of history I had no clue about. I go to Willow River sometimes on business and it's beautiful but also kind of spooky.

markryan

about 9 years ago

Here's an interesting side-note tidbit. At the invitation of one of KSTP's reporters, I attended a day of Larson's and Callahan's retrial in St. Paul. One of the witnesses on the stand that day recounted how, on the day of the kidnapping, she had seen two guys and a woman standing next to a car in a gravel pit near Moose Lake smoking cigarettes. It didn't appear to her that the woman was in any kind of danger. Later that day while watching the local news and seeing a photo of Virginia Piper the witness said she realized it was the same woman she had seen earlier at the gravel pit. She reported what she saw to the police and restated her claim while on the stand but it didn't seem like anything further was ever made of it after that. Virginia Piper told police the kidnappers never stopped the car until they got to Jay Cooke State Park where she was later found chained to a tree. 

This fits in well with a long-held conspiracy theory that the kidnapping was nothing but a sham to get money (the million dollar ransom) into the coffers of the Committee to Re-elect the President (Nixon). Kenneth Dahlberg, whose name appeared on a $25,000 check cashed by one of the Watergate burglers, was Piper's neighbor. He just passed away last month.

professor55812

about 8 years ago

Larson died on June 21, 2008.  Good riddance.

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