This past Monday, February 13, The Oprah Winfrey Show aired a story called Casanova Conman. It profiled Eric Cooper of the Houston, Texas area, who allegedly married or became engaged to nine women in 10 years. Five of the women appeared on the show.
Between 1994 and 2004, Cooper married Melissa, Kimberly, April, Paula, another April, Jennifer and Krystal. All the marriages happened quickly, and at least two were allegedly bigamous. He also became engaged to Brandy and Tonya. He has three daughters, and a child on the way, all with different women.
So how did Cooper convince so many women to say “yes”? He told them he was in the Navy, or a Navy pilot, or a Navy SEAL, and showed up for dates wearing his dress whites. He was a smooth talker, and romanced each woman with, “You’re everything I want in a woman.” Or, “You’re the only one who really knows me and can understand me.” Or—drum roll, please—”You complete me.”
Cooper played on their sympathy. He told them his mother died when he was only two years old, he was raised in a foster home, and his foster father abused him. Melissa, his first wife, said on the show that he told her “he wanted a baby so bad,” and “he wanted to be the father that he never had.”
Once the couples married, however, everything changed. “One day he would be sweet and loving, then all of a sudden he’d blow up,” Melissa said. And according to Krystal, “The night we got married, for no reason, he switched and said, ‘That’s it. We’re getting a divorce.'”
Then money started disappearing. April, Cooper’s fifth wife, alleged that he stole four checks from her great-grandmother. Tonya said Cooper took her debit card. And Cooper allegedly transferred money out of Krystal’s parents’ bank accounts.
Finally, he was physically abusive. Brandy said pulled a gun on her, and then turned the gun towards himself. Krystal said when Cooper lost his temper, he blamed it on the military. Except there was one problem—Cooper wasn’t in the military.
Cooper, who was in jail for tampering with a government document when the show was taped, would not do an on-camera interview. But he denied all wrongdoing to the Houston Chronicle, claiming to be the victim of scorned women.
The newspaper article pointed out that while Cooper’s mother did die while he was young, he was never in foster care. Cooper also had a history of conning people besides the women on the show.
So what is it about Eric Cooper? He lied profusely and brazenly. He pretended to be in the Navy when he wasn’t. He had a series of casual relationships, even though they were marriages. He made ultimate use of the pity play. He stole money. He was violent. And he blamed others for his problems.
In my opinion, the guy is a classic sociopath.
The expert view
Did Oprah Winfrey ever mention that the guy was a sociopath? No. All she said was that people need to listen to the voice inside them that’s whispering, “something’s not right.”
Dr. Robin Smith, the psychologist who appeared on the show, also voiced no opinion about Cooper. In fact, Dr. Robin, as she is called, came very close to blaming the victims for what happened to them.
“It is not uncommon for women to be seduced by lies and fantasies,” Dr. Robin said. “A piece of it is how needy and how desperate we are, as women, to feel good, to feel worthy, to feel pretty.
“People can sniff out when we’re weak, and they come in like vultures,” she continued. “Now we can blame them—and there is some blame that needs to be put there—but the other piece of it is, as a woman, I want to learn that I don’t want to be so needy and weak and vulnerable that you can sniff when to come in and swoop down and destroy my life.”
Did you get the reference to Cooper? “There is some blame that needs to be put there.” That’s all she said.
Vultures and vulnerabilities
Now, Dr. Robin later stated that women are conditioned to feel insufficient unless they have a man. I agree with that—society puts incredible pressure on women to get “hooked up.” Consequently, it’s rare for a single woman to be happy while alone, which means most single women have vulnerability around this issue.
The key is that not all men are going to “sniff out when we’re weak ” and propose marriage within a few weeks of meeting. But a sociopath will.
And a sociopath will not let up. Cooper wooed these women relentlessly. Heck, he even wooed their parents. Brandy said that on Christmas Eve, Cooper got down on his knee before her entire family and proposed. Krystal said he took her—and her parents—shopping for houses. Normal guys don’t do that unless they’re serious.
Education is the answer
So how do you protect yourself from being conned? The answer is education. You need to understand what a sociopath is, how many of them are out there, and how to spot the symptoms. If you have an awareness that these predators exist, at least when you hear that voice inside saying something is wrong, you’ll know what it’s talking about. Analyzing your vulnerabilities can come later.
In my opinion, more than “some” of the blame needs to be placed on Cooper. And instead of focusing on the women’s “vulnerabilities”—hey, they were all young and single—The Oprah Winfrey Show could have educated millions of people about the danger of sociopaths. Sadly, it was a missed opportunity.