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John Hollenhorst ReportingOne of the bloodiest crimes in Utah history will be the subject of a history lecture this week. The historian is an amateur, but he's well qualified to write about it because he was there when it happened, 60 years ago this summer, in Ogden.
Ed Cooper vividly remembers the night Austin Cox went berserk.
"He turns and he shoots the woman. Kills her outright. Shoots the man but he survives."
It was the beginning of a 45-minute explosion of violence that Cooper has documented with newspaper clippings and photographs. He decided he was the one to write a history of that infamous Pioneer Day Eve, 60 years ago when five people died.
Ed Cooper, Amateur Historian: "I thought, I'm probably one of the last of the Mohicans that, you know, was there."
Austin Cox was an angry, violent man, furious over alimony payments. On July 23rd, 1943 he went to 23rd and Lincoln in Ogden to hunt down his ex-wife. After shooting an innocent couple he encountered on the sidewalk, he barged into a house, the wrong house with another innocent family.
"And Cox shoots the husband, the wife, and the wife's mother."
A little girl survived by hiding behind the washing machine. On his way out, Cox encountered a curious neighbor.
"He hollers over to Cox, 'What the hell's going on?' and Cox says 'Oh, you want some too?' Bammmm!"
Then Cox drove to the home of his divorce judge. That's where Ed Cooper himself enters the story. He was 9-years old then, sleeping a few feet away next door at his grandmother's house. He heard a shotgun blast.
"Yeah, I thought somebody was just celebrating." Q: Celebrating pioneer day?" A: Yeah."
Cox fired once through the judge's rear window. Then called out to the judge from the front lawn.
"And he stuck his head out the window to see what the guy wanted. And the guy's standing right down below him with a 12 gauge shotgun."
Cox killed the judge and moved on to Ogden's police headquarters. Cox got the drop on a cop, a dispatcher and two military policemen.
"He lines them up against the wall. And he's ready to gun them down."
But disaster was averted here when two more cops showed up because of all the commotion. And they distracted Cox just long enough.
"The two military policemen pulled out their billyclubs and worked him over." Q: "And that was the end of the crime spree?" A: "That was the end of it."
Cooper says there was quick justice in that time. Austin Cox was executed a year later, with no appeals.
"Well I think that's the way it ought to be today." It's a dramatic, chilling story. Cooper says he can't remember his emotions 60 years later, but he remembers every detail.
Ed Cooper has been invited to speak about the Cox murders at the annual meeting of the Utah State Historical Society. It's one of about a dozen presentations this Friday at the Salt Lake City Library.