In just a decade, Eric Cooper allegedly was married to or engaged to nine different women. Records show he said his first "I do" with Melissa in 1994. They had a daughter and split up in 1996.
In July of 1998, Eric married Kimberly, and their marriage lasted a year. Before divorcing Kimberly, he married April. Eric and April divorced in January 2000.
By March 2000, Eric was married again, this time to Paula. They divorced in January 2002. According to Texas marriage records, Eric Cooper then married another woman named April before he divorced Paula. This April filed bigamy charges against Eric.
It turned out that while married to both Paula and April, Eric was engaged to Brandy, who gave birth to another of Eric's daughters.
He then married Jennifer in 2004. Later that year, Eric married Krystal in Las Vegas. Krystal soon discovered that he was a fraud and threw him out. On that same day, he landed on Tonya's doorstep. He proposed to her a few weeks later.
According to all of these womens' stories, Eric's technique was to wow a woman with his false résumé—which often included references to him being a Navy SEAL or a pilot, including a crisp, white Navy uniform, and being orphaned and raised by abusive foster parents. He would then ingratiate himself to the women's families and propose marriage within weeks of dating.
Melissa, Eric's first wife, knew him for three months before they were married. Melissa and Eric have a daughter, Tracy, but their marriage only lasted eight months.
"He would tell me he wanted a baby," Melissa says. "He said his mom died when he was young and his dad was never there for him. He wanted to be the father that he never had."
Like many of the women, Melissa says Eric displayed a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" split personality. "One day he would just be so sweet and loving and then, like, the next day, all of a sudden, he would blow up. He'd be throwing stuff around and push you around," she says.
Krystal—the eighth of nine women involved with Eric—says though his stories were fantastical, he made them seem plausible. "He told me he had inherited money from his mother, who had died when he was 2 years old, " she says. "He pretended like he had money, but I never actually saw it. He played it really well. I mean, he had a story for everything."
A part of Eric's modus operandi, these women claim, was to lie about his own finances and steal from them.
"He stole four checks from my great-grandmother, wrote one, made it out to me for $4,000, forged my name to the back of it and deposited it into my checking account," April, Eric's fifth wife alleges. "He also wrote three other checks to pay off some credit cards."
Many of his alleged victims say Eric was physically and mentally abusive. Brandy, who was the sixth woman engaged to Eric, says she knew him as "Tyler Lee" and that she is the mother of one of Eric's daughters. She recalls two terrifying experiences in which she allegedly witnessed his violent nature.
"When I was four months pregnant with my daughter, he grabbed me by my neck and put me on the ground," Brandy says. "Later, when she was born, he broke a family portrait over our head. That same night, he pulled a gun on me, telling me and my daughter we were worthless. ... After I got our daughter calmed down and got her to sleep, he came in [our bedroom] with a Taser [an electric-shock gun] and shocked me while I was trying to sleep."
Eric would try to explain his abuse, Krystal says, using his "military background" as an excuse.
Krystal actually found out about Eric's deception after her mother, Lynn, became concerned. At first, Lynn believed that Eric was a nice guy, but just two weeks into her daughter's marriage, she wasn't so sure. Lynn says her father was a pilot and thought Eric's Navy stories didn't add up. "My dad was like, 'That guy is either one heck of a good catch or he is the biggest conman you and I will ever meet,'" Lynn says.
After money supposedly started disappearing from checking accounts and seemingly shady transactions were uncovered, Lynn says she checked into her new son-in-law's background.
Lynn began to easily see through Eric's phony stories. She says she found records of several marriages and divorces, a criminal record and prison time. Additionally, Eric had told Krystal and her family that he had recently moved to Texas from California, when, in fact, he'd lived at eight or nine different addresses in north Houston.
When her mother came to her with this information, Krystal was not surprised and ready for action. "I said, 'What do we do?'" she says. "I knew that he wasn't who he said he was. I knew that there was something behind him that wasn't real."
The Oprah Winfrey Show tracked down Eric through his lawyer, who informed us that Eric has been charged with tampering with a government document and is in a Houston County jail awaiting his hearing.
Our producer met with Eric at the jail, but his attorney would not allow him to talk with us on camera. Eric did, however, tell the Houston Chronicle that the allegations against him are done out of spite.
April says that in trusting Eric she actively did not "listen to my gut instinct when it was telling me something wasn't right."
"My lesson for everybody all the time is the same lesson that Glinda the Good Witch told Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz: You've always had it. You've always had the power," Oprah says. "If you'd said, 'No, I never saw a sign, I never heard a thing, I never felt [Eric was bad news],' it means that you're deadened inside yourself and you weren't able to hear it."
Dr. Robin Smith says it's not uncommon for women to be seduced by lies and fantasy. She was particularly struck by the extremely short courtship between Eric and all nine of his victims. Anyone can find themselves susceptible to romantic notions; however, "if it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true," she says.
All of these women were made vulnerable by their emotional neediness, Dr. Robin says, and Eric was able to "sniff out" that they were weak and vulnerable. These women believed that they were insufficient on their own, so his con was sure to work on them. The goal for these and all women is to repair their spirits and eliminate this feeling.
"[Women are] looking for Prince Charming. I'm always telling people he's not coming! He's the one who sweeps you off your feet, but the person who sweeps you off your feet sweeps you away from your life," Dr. Robin says. "He takes you away from your soul and your spirit. You don't want somebody sweeping you off your feet. Instead, find a way to feel good about yourself. If you want to be rescued and swept off your feet, you're in trouble already."
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