03 September 2020

SLC Police Try Optography To Solve the Murder of Olivia Cooper in 1915

Franklin Confectionary shop in 1917,
268 S Main SLC. From UDSH.
In 1915, SLC Police tried photographing the eye of a murder victim in the hopes of seeing her last image- that of her killer. It didn’t work.

The body of Mrs. Olivia Cooper, 54 years old, was found lying in a pool of blood on the floor of the JHR Franklin confectionary shop at 268 S. Main St (now the Market on Main). She was killed around 4am of Jan 27 1915.

She was killed by a blow to the right side of the head, which nearly severed her ear. The blood ran under the front door, about 50 feet across the floor from where the cash register was situated. It was the blood under the door that alerted the two janitors of the adjacent theater who then called police.

Mrs. Cooper was a scrubwoman who opened the shop early to clean the floors. She was trying to earn some extra income while her husband was away to India on an LDS mission.

Police thought a burglar followed her in through the front door and she was killed in a struggle with the person rifling the cash register; only $5 ($128 in 2020 dollars) was missing from the register.

Inspector of Police Carl A. Carlson took charge of the case. After many dead ends in the case the Inspector turned to optography: photographing the eye with the belief that the last image seen before death is “recorded” on the retina. Carlson wrongly believed that this (debunked) forensic technique had been successful in Europe and had been used by police in the East.

Carlson had Mrs. Cooper’s eyes photographed with a high-powered lens; a strong light was shown into the eyes and an exposure of several minutes was made. This was the first (and only?) trial of optography in Utah. No image of the killer was produced, just an image of an eye.

Even after a reward of $500 was offered the police never solved the murder of Mrs. Cooper.

Sources: Deseret News 1915-01-27, SL Telegram 1915-01-28

Inside the Franklin Store 1906. 268 S Main SLC. From UDSH.

Inside the Franklin Store 1906. 268 S Main SLC. From UDSH.

Olivia Cooper, from Deseret News Jan 27 1915

Police Inspector Carl A. Carlson, 1917. From UDSH.

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