MARION — As March 4, 1987 was drawing to a close, LaDonna Cooper was no doubt in a rush to get home to her family after putting in her shift as assistant manager of the Bonanza Restaurant in Marion.
A young wife and mother of three, Cooper used the restaurant’s phone at 11:45 p.m. to call her husband to let him know she was running late and would be home as soon as she made a bank deposit.
When she wasn’t home by 12:15 a.m., her concerned husband began calling the restaurant. His alarm only grew a few minutes later when he drove to the restaurant near Interstate 57 and found an empty parking lot — and no sign of his wife.
Marion police quickly opened a missing person’s case and began a search for the 31-year-old woman.
Her abandoned car was later located on Sixth Street in Herrin, and a day after that, her body was dis-covered in a marsh area just west of the observation tower on Illinois 148 in the Crab Orchard Wildlife Refuge.
LaDonna Cooper died as a result of stab wounds. The person, or persons, responsible for inflicting those wounds has not yet been held accountable.
‘We all remember’
“She fought pretty hard. She was a little scrapper. Any time we work cases, we dig into the victim’s past, too. This gal, she was a good mother, a good wife, a good friend, a hard worker, a church-goer. I don’t think there was a police department in Southern Illinois that didn’t work on this case, looking for her car, looking for her. We all remember her murder,” Bill Marks of the Williamson County Cold Case Squad said. “She is not forgotten; in 25 years, we’ve not forgotten.”
The unsolved murder of LaDonna Cooper is one of several “not forgotten” cases under investigation by Marks and 11 other members of the squad, formed in 2010 by Sheriff Bennie Vick.
The squad is made up of retired investigators, detectives and other criminal experts who volunteer their time to work on unsolved cases.
The squad has put in some 5,000 man-hours on the Cooper case in the past two years, studying case files, talking to investigators, interviewing witnesses, going over evidence and chasing leads.
‘We have suspects’
“We have suspects. We can see the end of the tunnel; it’s just going to be awhile before we get there,” Marks said.
While they have their “own ideas” about who committed the crime, investigators are looking for “that one piece of information” that could help close the case.
“Our goal is to get everyone to read about this case, to hear about it and to talk about it. We feel there are people out there who have significant information about this and we want them to call us,” squad member Monica Joost said.
Making an arrest in the case would help bring closure for Cooper's family and friends, Vick said. He urged the public to come forward with any information that can help make that happen.
"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,” Vick said. “We are convinced, as a result of this information, that there are individuals out there that can fill in the blanks in this case and help to bring about arrests and convictions of those responsible for the death of LaDonna Cooper."
On Twitter: @beckymalkovich