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Death row inmate Kevin Cooper in 2006

COOPER, Kevin (b. 1958), death row inmate convicted of the 1983 hatchet, knife and ice-pick murders of Chino Hills family, Douglas and Peggy Ryen, their 10-year-old daughter Jessica, and family friend, 11-year-old Christopher Hughes. Cooper was serving a 4-year sentence at the California Institution for Men in Chino when he escaped on Jule 2, 1983 by climbing through a hole in the prison fence. Cooper hid out in a house next to that of the Ryens. The murders were committed on June 5, 1983. Cooper hitch hiked to the Mexican border and in Ensenada got a job aboard a sailboat headed north.

Cooper befriended an American couple, Owen and Angelica Handy, who were cruising the Baja and Southern California coasts. Using the name Angel Jackson, Cooper asked for work. Handy offered defendant some food and a place to stay if he would help paint their boat, the Illa Tika. He agreed. After working on the boat for two days, the Handys and Cooper set sail for San Francisco. They made several stops, then eventually went to Pelican Bay, Santa Cruz Island, where they stayed for four or five days.

At Pelican Bay, Cooper raped a woman on board a boat anchored next to the Illa Tika. The woman was ultimately able to radio the Coast Guard and Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department to report the attack by "Angel Jackson". On July 31, 1983, after seven weeks on the run, Cooper was arrested by the Coast Guard at Pelican Bay after he dove off the Illa Tika, swam to a dinghy, and started to row for shore.

It was at the Santa Barbara police station that the woman saw Cooper's photo on a Most Wanted poster and made the identification. Cooper is currently being held at San Quentin prison pending execution.

In the News~

August 1, 1983 [NYT]: “SAN BERNARDINO, Calif., July 31— A suspect in the hatchet slayings of four people was captured Saturday after eluding a two- month manhunt by staying aboard a sailboat, the authorities said today. The suspect, Kevin Cooper, was arrested Saturday morning after a rape was reported on an anchored sailboat near Santa Cruz Island. Officials said the rape victim identified him as Mr. Cooper after seeing a wanted poster issued in connection with the killings. A fugitive warrant charges Mr. Cooper, who is 25 years old, with the slayings June 5 of F. Douglas Ryen and his wife, Peggy, both 42; their daughter, Jessica, 10, and an overnight guest, Christopher Hughes, 12, all of Chino Hills. The throat of the Ryens' son, Joshua, 8, was slashed, but he survived. Mr. Cooper escaped June 2 from the California Institute for Men in Chino, where he mistakenly had been placed in a minimum-security unit to serve a four-year sentence for two burglaries in Los Angeles in January. Prison officials had not been informed that Mr. Cooper was wanted in Pennsylvania for an October 1982 rape- kidnapping, four burglaries and escaping from a state mental hospital. Deckhand on Sailboat Sheriff Floyd Tidwell of San Bernardino County said Mr. Cooper had eluded the search by staying aboard a 32-foot sailboat owned by Owen and Angelica Handy of Humboldt County in northern California. The Handys hired Mr. Cooper as a deckhand June 10, five days after the Chino Hills killings, upon meeting him in Ensenada, a resort town in Baja California. Mr. Tidwell said the Handys told the authorities they did not know about the slayings. The Handys and Mr. Cooper had been anchored for a month off Santa Cruz Island, about 25 miles south of Santa Barbara. The couple apparently avoided docking their boat, the sheriff said, because Mrs. Handy, a Costa Rican national, is not a United States citizen. The rape occurred on a 26-foot sailboat anchored nearby. Its owners were identified only as a couple from North Hollywood who had invited the Handys and Mr. Cooper to a fish fry on their boat Friday night. Sheriff Tidwell said Mr. Cooper returned about 4:30 A.M., raped the woman at knifepoint, threatened to kill her husband and then went back to the Handys' boat. 'That Is the Man!' Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies and Coast Guard personnel plucked the suspect from the ocean as he tried to swim ashore. The woman was treated at Goleta Valley Hospital and released. Saturday, she alerted authorities that the man arrested after the sailboat attack was Mr. Cooper. The sheriff said the 26-year-old woman was in the detectives' office and she saw the flier of Kevin Cooper wanted for murder, and said, 'That is the man!' Mr. Cooper had identified himself as Angel Jackson, but fingerprint checks confirmed his identity, officials said. Sheriff Tidwell said deputies hoped to search the Handys' boat for anything that belonged to the Ryens.”