3 May 1875, Frank Cooper murders Bill Williams after love triangle problem.
DID YOU KNOW
Frank Cooper, arrested in Lichtenburg nearly two weeks after fatally shooting William “Bill” Williams, was brought back to Kimberley and into the prison when the gallows for the execution of Constable Pieter Sam were being erected, the gallows “…being in pleasing harmony with the terrible fortification of Fort Grimmer, the Police barracks and the tronk (jail).” The gallows “…afforded a very cheerful welcome to Frank Cooper on his return from the Transvaal, and his first sight of it had a lively effect on him, as it would indeed on any person similarly placed, no matter how innocent he might be….”
Frederick Hamman of Kimberley, who was selling wares in the Lichtenburg region, traveled with Sub Inspector McKenna during the search for Cooper, as Hamman knew the suspect well. It was Hamman who saw the suspect first and had approached him with the words: “Frank Cooper, you are my prisoner!” The group then returned to Kimberley.
The tale of love that went horribly wrong began on Friday 30th April 1875.
A coloured woman named Rosa had lived with Frank Cooper (alias Frank Gaum) as his common law wife for three years until that fateful Friday, when she moved into a communal tent with William (Bill) Williams. Also living in the tent were Bill Clark and another woman, known only as Ellen. William “Bill” Williams, aged 47 years, was a native of Carnarvonshire, Wales, and had been a sailor most of his life. He had decided to try his luck on the diamond diggings, like so many others in those heady days, and had arrived in Kimberley in July 1874. He had been busy working his claim while supplementing his finds by making and selling tents to other diggers.
Cooper, most unhappy about Rosa’s defection to another, made his way to Williams’ tent together with a friend, William Loewenberg. Perhaps if Bill Williams had been aware of Cooper’s criminal record he may not have even glanced in Rosa’s direction, let alone induced her to leave a three-year relationship. Cooper had already served a sentence in Natal for manslaughter, and had also been jailed in the Cape Colony for a variety of lesser crimes. He was a hardened criminal.
It was late that Friday night when Cooper arrived at Williams’ tent, situated near Gibson’s canteen on North Circular Road, shouting for his common-law wife Rosa to get out of the tent and demanding she come back to him. “Bill, I want my wife,” yelled Cooper. Loewenberg, who was arrested as an accomplice but released after the court case, told Cooper to break down the door of the tent. Williams, no doubt a little concerned, shouted: “Frank, you shan’t come into my house,” and as Cooper kicked down the door, Williams threw a bottle at him which shattered into pieces upon hitting a pole. Cooper, once again outside the tent, cried out: “You shan’t throw another bottle at me.” Loewenberg was then heard by witnesses to remonstrate with Cooper, saying, “Cooper, don’t. Come away. Come away.” But the protestation was to no avail, as there was a sudden bright light and a shot was fired into the tent. The bullet struck Williams, who was sitting on the edge of the bed under which Rosa was hiding, and he fell onto the floor. The bullet had hit him through the left lobe of the liver and made a quite considerable wound. Cooper was taken aback, suddenly realizing that he had shot Williams. “Bill”, he said, “…why didn’t you tell me I had shot you.” He then ran out the tent and escaped into the darkness. The Resident Magistrate, Mr D’Arcy, together with the Doctors Grimmer and Matthews, were called to the tent and examined Williams, who at that stage was in great pain. Both doctors declared the wound to be mortal and that Williams would die within a few days. This was true enough as the doomed man started vomiting on Saturday morning and died at 5.30am on Monday 3 May 1875. The police were called in virtually immediately and arrested Loewenberg before concentrating the search for Cooper.
After Cooper’s subsequent capture, the trial was short and the court case was all over by 19 August, the jury retiring for less than 40 minutes before coming to a unanimous decision. They found Cooper guilty of wilful murder. On being asked by the Judge whether he had anything to say before sentence was passed, Cooper replied: “I don’t think the jury has acted fairly by me.”
The decision had been made though, but immediately before the ultimate in sentences was passed on Cooper the Judge said to him: “Let me exhort you to make peace with your Maker and seek forgiveness…I have no alternative but to pass the sentence the law decrees.” The Judge then placed his black cap on his head and sentenced Cooper to death by hanging. Cooper would not hang, however, and his sentence was shortly afterwards commuted to life imprisonment, but Cooper was not staying for the rest of his life in jail and shortly thereafter escaped from the Kimberley prison.
Despite an intensive search, Cooper was never re-captured. He was believed to be living near Pretoria, having been seen by several persons coming from that district to the diamond fields. The case had excited a vast amount of public interest and Cooper had evoked deep sympathy with people who did not know him. They blamed Rosa, and Bill Williams himself. The public also believed that Cooper had not meant to kill, or even shoot Williams, and was just trying to get back the woman he considered to be “his woman.” Yet, he had killed two people, one in Natal, and another in Kimberley and in time, he would have to answer for his crimes, but not in Kimberley and not on this earth.
At the time it was said of Cooper, the one who got away, that he had “…raised murder into a fine art.”