Paula Cooper found dead: Paula Cooper Dies
Published: May 28, 2015
Paula Cooper found dead: Paula Cooper Dies, The campaign to save the life of Paula Cooper, who at 16 became the youngest Death Row inmate in Indiana, attracted international attention after she pleaded guilty to murder in 1986.
Her successful appeal eventually led to her June 2013 release after serving 27 years in prison.
But on Tuesday, Cooper’s story came to a somber end in Indianapolis. Police say she was found dead, apparently by her own hand.
Cooper, 45, died just after 7:15 a.m. from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in the 9500 block of Angola Court, according to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police. Marion County coroner’s office on Wednesday ruled her death a suicide.
A police report said the responding officer “located the victim lying next to a tree on the west lawn area of the ITT parking lot.” A Bryco .380-caliber handgun was in the victim’s lap and a black Toyota Corolla registered to Cooper was parked nearby.
“It’s an unusual ending to a tragic case,” said Indianapolis attorney Jack Crawford, who was the Lake County prosecutor when Cooper was charged. “I’ve been involved in a lot of cases in my life, and nothing compared to this case.”
Cooper became infamous in 1985 when at 15 she was charged with murder in the stabbing of 78-year-old Ruth Pelke during a robbery. Law enforcement identified Cooper as the ringleader in the slaying. She and three friends went to Pelke’s Gary home armed with a 12-inch butcher knife.
An investigation showed Pelke allowed the teens into her home after they said they were interested in Bible study lessons. But the scene turned grisly when they knocked Pelke to the ground and Cooper climbed on top of her.
“Paula Cooper got on top of her and kept saying to her, and this is her own admission, ‘Where’s the money, bitch?'” Crawford told The Indianapolis Star during a 2013 interview. He said Cooper began slicing Pelke with the butcher knife. The woman’s last words were the Lord’s Prayer.
The other teens involved were sentenced to lengthy prison terms on robbery or murder charges: 25, 35 and 60 years. But when Cooper was sentenced, the judge invoked capital punishment.
The decision led to an immediate shift in public outrage. Cooper was among only a handful of women in Indiana to receive the death penalty, and she was the youngest in the state’s history. At the time of her sentencing, she was also the youngest Death Row inmate in the United States.
The 30th anniversary of the murder was just two weeks ago.
Bill Pelke, a grandson of the slain Bible teacher, told The Star on Tuesday that he forgave Cooper, who said she had been abused as a child. He said he visited her in prison 14 times. They exchanged emails almost weekly the last two years of her incarceration.
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