Police Insisted It Was Suicide : 32-Hammer-Blow Death Finally Ruled a Homicide

Associated Press

The case of a man who died from 32 hammer blows to the head was reopened Wednesday after a prosecutor announced what the coroner had argued all along: He could not have committed suicide and must have been murdered.

That conclusion by Lake County Prosecutor Jack F. Crawford, reached after reviewing state police evidence, was a victory for county Coroner Daniel Thomas, who has insisted that Hobart police were wrong about the death of 52-year-old James A. Cooley.

“Since April, 1985, I have been saying that Cooley was murdered and that our verdict was a homicide,” Thomas said.

He said that Cooley could not have remained conscious long enough to hit himself on the head 32 times.


When asked why Hobart police would hold to their suicide theory despite his findings, the coroner replied: “You’ve got me. I cannot answer it. Unless . . . I just can’t even answer it. They lack experience. That’s it. Period.

“We investigate 111 homicides a year in this office. If they get two in 30 years, that’s something.”

City police maintained that Cooley, despondent over a painful form of cancer, battered himself to death with a hammer on April 6, 1985, in his basement darkroom.

Police said there was no evidence of a struggle and that blood spatters around the darkroom indicated that no one else was in the room when the hammer blows were struck.


But a partial palm print on the hammer, found near the body, did not match Cooley’s or anyone associated with him.

Police Chief Larry Juzwicki said Wednesday that, because of Crawford’s opinion, the investigation would be reopened and reclassified from suicide to homicide. He refused further comment.