Cary, North Carolina looked like the American dream. “A futuristic Pleasantville,” National Geographic called it once, a town of the young, affluent and educated, its streets lined with sprawling houses, SUVs and sports cars glinting in broad driveways. Cary boomed as North Carolina became a technology hub in the 1990s, swelling from 15,000 people in 1990 to over 40,000 a decade later. In 2001, more than 80 per cent of the population of Cary worked white collar jobs. Nearly 90 per cent of the households were comprised of married couples with children. Though there were growing pains, Cary made lists of the Six Hottest Towns in America, the Best Small Cities in America, and prided itself on being one of the United States’ safest communities. It was a place where neighbours regularly gathered for barbecues and cook outs, just as they did on the evening of July 11, 2008, couples eating and mingling while their children played on a warm summer evening.
Brad and Nancy Cooper and their two young daughters were at the party that night. It was the last time Nancy’s friends saw her alive..
Nancy was sporty and fun-loving, a skilled ringette player and all-around athlete who grew out of geeky coke-bottle glasses into the kind of woman who lit up a room. She loved jewelry, art and fashion, and ran her own clothing store in addition to her IBM work.
Jessica Adam called 911 early on the afternoon of Saturday, July 12, 2008. She was almost breathless, panic swirling in her voice.
Nancy was supposed to be at her house at 8 a.m., but hadn’t showed up. Brad said Nancy went jogging with another friend but he was vague on the details, and it wasn’t like Nancy to miss plans.
“I don’t know what I should do,” she told the 911 operator. “Her husband and her are living together but they are in the middle of a divorce. And he is, um, …” The end of the sentence disappeared into a breath.
The disappearance of an attractive 34-year-old housewife with a successful husband and two young daughters was the kind of case people noticed. Within days, the story was picked up by media around the United States and internationally.
Two days after Nancy was reported missing, a man walking his dog saw a body floating in stormwater in an undeveloped subdivision just outside the town of Cary, about five kilometres from the Coopers’ house.
Nancy had been strangled, choked so hard a bone in her neck broke. She wore only a tangled sports bra and one diamond earring. There were no signs of sexual assault. The man who called 911 said he noticed the body because of the vultures hanging around.
After Nancy’s body was found, many turned to Brad Cooper as the obvious suspect.