Texas survivors fighting to keep killer in prison

February 14, 1991|By Fort Worth Star-Telegram

WEATHERFORD, Texas -- Maxine Cooper spends her days in her one-bedroom duplex crocheting, quilting and trying to keep John Robert Whirty in prison.

Mrs. Cooper, 66, hopes to impress the Texas parole board with enough correspondence to keep it from releasing the man convicted of murdering and raping her 15-year-old daughter in March 1967. She said that Whirty was sentenced to life imprisonment and that he should serve the full sentence.

"He should not be paroled. He was on parole when he killed Rose Marie," Mrs. Cooper said recently.

A tall, thin woman, Mrs. Cooper is a survivor. She said another daughter was killed at the age of 4 on Christmas Day in 1948 when a Roman candle blew up in her hands.

Mrs. Cooper has had cancer, but it was detected early and she survived. Daughter Mona Surginer said her mother had lived a hard life, working as a waitress and a cook in cafes to support her remaining four children.

"This is nothing against my dad, but he just never could get settled. He had a hard time keeping work. Mama had to work to feed us," Ms. Surginer said. Maxine Martin later divorced Ms. Surginer's father and remarried.

According to the family and newspaper accounts from July 1967, Whirty was sentenced to life in prison after "he quietly admitted to the strangulation murder of Rose Marie Martin."

Whirty was 22 when he took Rose Marie to a wooded area near White Rock Lake in Dallas, where the family was then living, and killed her, said Patty Benton, another of Mrs. Cooper's daughters.

Mrs. Cooper and her daughters, both of Weatherford, have contacted anybody and everybody they can to write the parole board -- family, friends, church groups, schools and strangers. They said they had been told that was the only way to keep Whirty in prison.

Ms. Benton said she got a telephone call Dec. 28 from a Massachusetts State Police officer, who warned her that Whirty was soon to be released from prison in Texas. She said the officer called Whirty, formerly of Massachusetts, a monster and urged her to "flood Austin with letters."

"We figure they've gotten between 600 and 1,200 letters so far," Ms. Benton said. "But I don't think they can get too many. I've written Gov. Ann Richards. All we heard during the campaign, besides mudslinging, was how she wanted to keep murderers in prison. Well, here's her chance."

Ms. Surginer said she saved all the newspaper accounts of the tragedy to show her daughters when they were in their teens. She said she hoped the articles would teach them to stay away from strangers and to be alert. But she said that the pain was too great and that when her girls got to the right age, she just couldn't dredge up the past.

She never told them Rose's story, she said, until the phone call in late December. "This has brought it all back, but we can take it if we can get his parole blocked," she said.

Though Ms. Benton said her family was told they should be notified if Whirty were released, she said she learned only in December when the Massachusetts officer told her that Whirty had been paroled by the Texas prison system in 1984.

She said it was during that period that Whirty violated his parole by leaving Texas and returning to his native Massachusetts. State officials said Whirty was returned to prison in 1985 for parole violation.

On Jan. 8, Mrs. Cooper received a letter from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Pardons and Paroles Division acknowledging her protest of Whirty's release. The letter said Whirty's case "is in the review process and due to be presented to a parole panel in the very near future." A spokesman in the state pardons and parole division confirmed recently that the case was being reviewed.

Mrs. Cooper said she thought Whirty could kill again if he were released, although family members have been told he was a model prisoner.

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