http://www.casperstartribune.net/articles/2006/02/24/news/wyoming/685da0c0ec750ce28725711f00068d75.txt Police reopen old homicide case By GIL BRADY Special to the Star-Tribune Friday, February 24, 2006 JACKSON -- Homicide detectives have reopened the 20-year-old case of a man whose remains were found by hikers near Signal Mountain, about 45 miles north of here. On Aug. 14, 1986, Eric James Coopers skull was found near a shallow, forested grave by a couple hiking near Signal Mountain Summit Road and the Teton Park Road junction. Police say dental records confirmed his identity. Investigators also unearthed a pair of sneakers, some partially skeletonized remains -- rope-bound and wrapped in plastic -- and not much more. Except that in the back of Coopers skull was a bullet hole. Inside the victims head: a shattered .22 slug. Earlier this month, Sgt.Detective Todd Smith of the Jackson Police Department theorized that animals had dug up Coopers body, explaining why his remains were found scattered and incomplete. "Some of the evidence suggests that (Cooper) was shot here in town, then wrapped up and driven 45 miles out to Signal Mountain," Smith said. According to the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigations Web site, on Oct. 14, 1983, a car belonging to Eric James Cooper, age 23, was found abandoned outside The Virginian Saloon liquor store in Jackson. On Oct. 21, 1983, Eric Cooper was reported missing. Smith said witnesses recalled last seeing Cooper leaving The Virginian Saloon on or about Oct. 14, 1983. Under what Smith called suspicious circumstances, Coopers case was reopened last summer after authorities obtained new evidence that Smith said could be related to Cooper's death. In August, Jackson police recovered a gun left in a safety deposit box of a local bank that had recently changed ownership. After a record check indicated it had been undisturbed for decades, the box was drilled open, Smith said. Smith said that whoever rented the safety deposit box did so after Coopers killing but in the same era as his death. The gun, a .22 caliber, had been kept dry, and other evidence on it, including residue, prompted detectives to investigate whether the weapon was connected to Coopers homicide. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms traced the gun to a Florida pawnshop, now out of business, Smith added. Ballistic testing is being done at the FBI, said Smith, who is eagerly awaiting the results. Smith theorized that the gun in the safety deposit box might have served as an insurance policy to protect an informant or possible witness to Coopers killing. Many times over the years Jackson police have come close to solving the homicide. Most recently, before last summers acquisition of the mysterious gun, Smith said a frightened informant confessed that he knew Coopers killer and that the murderer had threatened to kill him if he talked about the crime. Unfortunately, Smith said, the informants long history of drug use damaged his credibility. But this tantalizing setback hardly discourages Smith. We believe in the Cooper case, Smith said, that there are people who reside in Teton County that could have information that could lead to an arrest. Rumored to be a player in western Wyomings then-bustling narcotics trade, Cooper was being investigated for illegal drug activity at the time of his disappearance, Smith said. Within eight months of Coopers disappearance, two other violent, execution-style homicides occurred that have frustrated authorities from Teton to Sublette County. Authorities are investigating whether similar circumstances exist among all three. According to the Wyoming DCI Web site, on May 12, 1984, Jon William Rice, age 26, was found in his apartment at the Twinberry Condominiums on Highway 390 in Teton County. Rice was bound and had a single gunshot wound to the head. There were no signs of forced entry to his residence. On June 21, 1984, Lisa Miles Ehlers, age 27, was found next to her car at a turnout beside the river on Route 189 between Hoback Junction and Pinedale in Sublette County. She had been shot twice with a handgun, once in the head and chest. Personal items and money were left at the scene. Her car was in park, and the engine was left running. Ehlers, a Jackson resident who ran a local restaurant with her spouse, was on her way to Florida. Solving (Coopers) case would make my whole career, Smith said, adding that he strongly believes that Coopers killer is alive and well and walking among the living, right here in Jackson. Can you help? Anyone with information regarding the homicide cases of Eric James Cooper, Jon William Rice and Lisa Miles Ehlers is asked to call the Jackson Police Department at (307) 733-1431, the Teton County Sheriffs Office at (307) 733-4052, Crime Stoppers at (307) 577-8477, or the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation at (307) 777-7181.