More Evidence Links James Kopp to Canada

By Joyce Arthur
Pro-Choice Press, Spring/Summer 2004


Over the last couple of years, the Pro-Choice Press has reported on anti-abortion radical James Kopp's connections to Canada. We felt it was important to shed light on who might have helped a sniper plan and carry out the non-fatal shootings of three Canadian doctors, for which Kopp is the primary suspect. The bottom line is that James Kopp had close friends in Vancouver and that's where the first shooting took place. Coincidence? We don't think so.

Canadian police have refused to investigate further, however, even though they have publicly stated that the sniper probably did have some assistance. They are not actively investigating the shootings at all. In fact, they have never even questioned Kopp about the Canadian shootings, and likely have no intention of extraditing him to stand trial here. Kopp himself has never admitted anything.

Of course, it's possible that Canadian anti-choicers unwittingly provided information to the sniper without realizing what he was going to do with it. Regardless, our fear that people within Canada's anti-choice movement may have hidden their knowledge or complicity in these crimes motivates us to continue bringing this issue to light. Because they're still out there—maybe protesting in front of an abortion clinic in your city.

Perhaps more importantly, justice has not been served for the three Canadian doctors and their families, who were all severely traumatized by the shootings.

First, a bit of background: James Kopp is an anti-choice Catholic terrorist from Vermont. He is currently serving a prison term of 25 years to life in Buffalo after being convicted last year for murdering Dr. Barnett Slepian in October 1998, in Amherst New York. Kopp evaded police for over two years by fleeing to Europe. He was caught in France in March 2001 and extradited to New York the next summer to stand trial on state murder charges. Kopp has another upcoming trial on federal charges of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) by using deadly force against an abortion doctor. No date has been set for the federal trial.

Meanwhile, Kopp continues to be the main suspect in three non-fatal shootings of Canadian doctors: Dr. Garson Romalis in Vancouver (1994), Dr. Hugh Short in Hamilton (1995), and Dr. Jack Fainman in Winnipeg (1997). He was charged in the Hamilton shooting after DNA evidence was found at the scene that matched Kopp's hairs. Kopp is also a suspect in a fourth non-fatal shooting in Rochester, New York—Dr. David Gandell (1997). All five victims, including Dr. Slepian, were shot through a window of their home by a sniper hiding behind the house, armed with an assault rifle.

A serial book chronicling the James Kopp story appeared in the Hamilton Spectator newspaper from April to June. For his Sniper series, reporter Jon Wells succeeded where Canadian police never even bothered to try. He gained access to Kopp and interviewed him several times. He also conducted extensive written correspondence with him. The series uncovered further tantalizing connections between Kopp and Canada. Although Kopp apparently refused to confide information to implicate him directly in the Canadian shootings, he did reveal a strong familiarity with Canada that indicates he must have spent a lot of time here.

According to Sniper, Kopp "followed Canadian politics, read items from Canadian newspapers. He had spent some time in British Columbia and southern Ontario. He had good friends, ardent prolifers, who had lived in Canada. They included Loretta Marra, who had many friends in Canada. He had spent time in jail with Canadians who protested with him, intense bonding experiences in Italy and England. Kopp was also fascinated by Canadian culture ranging from personalities such as Ben Johnson to popular entertainment such as the TV show Due South. Joni Mitchell, the Saskatchewan singer, had always occupied a special place in his heart."

Kopp's Border Crossings

It had been previously known that a car owned by Loretta Marra was seen in the Vancouver area around the time of the Romalis shooting in November 1994. (Marra is a Brooklyn extremist and advocate of clinic violence who was convicted of aiding Kopp as a fugitive after the Slepian shooting, along with her husband Dennis Malvasi, a convicted clinic bomber.) Sniper reveals that Marra's car crossed the border at Peace Arch (near Vancouver) into Blaine, Washington on Dec. 18, 1994, one month and 10 days after the shooting.

It had also been previously known that Kopp's car was stopped by police near Hamilton for a traffic violation one week before Short's shooting in November 1995. Also, in October 1997, Kopp's car crossed the border into Niagara Falls about two hours after the shooting of the Rochester doctor. Two weeks later, the same car crossed from Manitoba into North Dakota, four hours after Dr. Jack Fainman was shot in Winnipeg. Finally, although not mentioned in Sniper, there was an unconfirmed report that Kopp's car crossed into Alberta a few weeks before the Winnipeg shooting and was searched by customs.

Sniper did reveal another border crossing, however: On July 17, 1998, Kopp's car crossed into Canada from New York state at Queenston Ontario, returning via Niagara Falls on July 23. This was three months before the Slepian shooting.

According to Sniper, American FBI agent Jim Fitzgerald thought the shooter "was striking in Canada because he knew cross-border investigations were so difficult." However, surely the risk of crossing the border over and over again would have outweighed such considerations in the sniper's mind. So why take such foolhardy risks at all? Was it because the sniper had an emotional affinity to Canada, nurtured by his previous travels here and the Canadian friendships he forged, both here and abroad?

Did Kopp Confide in His One True Love?

Sniper says, "Kopp told very few people, perhaps just one, about his intention to shoot an abortion provider. For Kopp, his mission's success depended on keeping it secret."

That one person, according to Sniper, was anti-abortion radical Loretta Marra. Sniper documented some of her connections and affinity to Canada. She apparently had many friends here, liked to visit here, and made sure that both of her young sons were born in Canada. In 1996, she stayed with friends of her father, Dr. Phillip McNeely and his wife Anne, who lived in Beachburg, northwest of Ottawa. Dr. McNeely delivered Marra's son, then moved to Nebraska later that year. In April 1999, Loretta Marra returned to Canada to give birth to her second son, again near Ottawa.

Sniper implied that Marra had no prior knowledge of Kopp's crime—or even his guilt until Kopp's lawyer shared that with her in August 2002, several months before Kopp officially confessed. However, given Marra's intimate connections to Canada and her many friends here, it certainly raises strong suspicions. Sniper portrays Marra as Kopp's one true love, although she married another man, Dennis Malvasi. She was apparently Kopp's only link to his old life while he was on the run, corresponding regularly with him and sending him money. Kopp was willing to do anything for her. According to Sniper, he confessed to the Slepian murder and went to jail for life in order to try and spare Marra from prosecution and further jail time for her role in protecting him while he was in Europe.

Or was it to protect her from something even bigger? Because if Kopp was really willing to sacrifice himself on the altar of true love, he wouldn't hesitate to lie about Marra's involvement in his alleged crimes to protect her. He would make a strong point of pinning the blame solely on himself. Which is exactly what he did.

More Canadian Links to Kopp

Sniper revealed the following new hints about Kopp's connections to Canada, or indications of his guilt:

  • Kopp's "ingenious" defense in the Slepian murder trial was that he was shooting to wound, not kill. Ironically, the four non-fatal shootings would have been a perfect support for that defense. But Kopp's lawyer Bruce Barket could not raise the issue of the Canadian shootings without implicating his client. How frustrating that must have been for him! So frustrating evidently, that Barket couldn't resist making an apparent slip-of-the-tongue admission of Kopp's guilt in the Canadian shootings during Marra's and Malvasi's sentencing hearing in Brooklyn in August 2003. Barket (acting as their lawyer) said that as far as Marra knew, Kopp had tried to wound Slepian, not kill him. Barket said, "The government has been saying Kopp shot five abortion providers, and four of them did not die. He maintained that his purpose was to wound them, and Slepian's death was unintentional." He quickly added that Marra "didn't know he was guilty at all, of anything. It was all well publicized, he did this four or five times, supposedly."
  • At the end of Sniper, author Jon Wells visits Kopp in jail and reminds him that police have his DNA from Dr. Hugh Short's backyard—they can put him at the scene. Sniper says, "Kopp put his hand over his mouth as if gagging himself, shook his head. No, don't talk about Canada. Anything but that. He'll be on a slow boat to Siberia if he does. Nothing against Siberia! It's better than prison!"
  • Kopp has proven himself very capable of lying and dissembling. He proclaimed his innocence in the Slepian murder for almost two years before confessing. If he can lie about that, he can lie about the involvement of friends. His cunning is also revealed in a news article about the Sniper series. Author Jon Wells noted that the first time he met Kopp in jail, the first thing Kopp said to him was: "So how was the weather in—is it Hamilton?" As if Kopp had never heard of the place before. "Which was interesting, since he has been charged with an attempted murder here," said Wells. Plus, Kopp was stopped for a traffic violation in Hamilton about a week before that attempted murder.
  • In Winnipeg, anti-choicers had been circulating a list of doctors who provided abortions. Dr. Jack Fainman's name was on the list. Did someone in Winnipeg give it to the sniper? There was no evidence of any similar list in Hamilton. However, at a regular anti-abortion protest in front of Hamilton's Henderson Hospital where Dr. Hugh Short had performed abortions, protesters conceded it was possible that Short's name may have been mentioned during a protest. From there, it could have spread to extremists in the movement. (BC anti-choicers have also compiled lists of local doctors. However, Vancouver's Dr. Garson Romalis was more well-known than the other two doctors, and his home had been picketed in the years before his shooting.)
  • While Kopp was on the lam in Ireland, he took refuge with St. Pius of X, a Catholic sect so conservative it has broken ties with the Vatican. There are St. Pius of X parishes across Canada, including in Vancouver, Winnipeg, and St. Catherines. Although this turned into a dead end for Canadian police, Sniper says: "There was a story making the rounds within the Winnipeg congregation that Kopp had in fact attended Our Lady of the Rosary, where they worshipped, and that he had even helped in the mass. But no one could confirm it."
  • On April 5, 2001, Loretta Marra and Dennis Malvasi were arrested at their Brooklyn apartment for aiding Kopp as a fugitive. Among other things, police found "seven pages from the website of a group called CARAL—the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League—two pages listing abortion clinics in Quebec, two pages listing clinics in Ontario, and three pages for those in British Columbia."
  • American anti-choice extremist Joan Andrews (now Joan Andrews-Bell) attended a protest outside the Toronto Morgentaler clinic on October 29, 1988. Andrews, who had lived in Stoney Point, Ontario "for a time," reportedly had a "recollection" that Kopp may have been in Toronto as well.

Besides the Sniper revelations, another indication pointing to Kopp's guilt is worthy of note: During his November 2002 confession to two Buffalo News reporters, Kopp declined to say whether he was involved in the Canadian shootings. The reporters said it appeared that Kopp wanted to talk about it, but his lawyer Bruce Barket stopped him. He did, however, make some remarks that suggested his involvement in earlier shootings. Kopp said something like "it takes weeks to plan and carry out this type of thing" and also that he had been practicing with guns for a "long time" before the Slepian shooting. He also stressed to the reporters that he chose targets based on whether the house had a rear window and some woods to hide in. The homes of all the shooting victims met that criteria—except for the first one. Perhaps the reason Kopp was so emphatic about the need to hide in the woods was because he learned a hard lesson on that first shooting. The sniper was spotted by witnesses as he lurked in (or nearby) the narrow back alley of Dr. Garson Romalis' urban Vancouver home.

The Mystery of Maurice Lewis

By Joyce Arthur

The Sniper series briefly touched on my hypothesis that Vancouver's Maurice Lewis, a good friend of James Kopp's, could have helped the sniper with the shootings, at least the Vancouver shooting. This hypothesis had never been made public before.

In 1997, Lewis was found dead in his truck on the side of the highway near Wawa, Ontario. Police listed the cause of death as accidental asphyxia. I believe that Lewis died after an auto-erotic ritual went wrong (see The Question Left Hanging, Pro-Choice Press, Autumn/Winter 2002). Indeed, Sniper notes that he was found naked in his locked, idling truck with a cord knotted around his neck. However, the anti-choice movement promoted the ludicrous view—which they may still believe—that Lewis was murdered by the police in order to stop his Supreme Court appeal for a bubble zone conviction.

Kopp himself exhibited unusual paranoia over Lewis' death. After Kopp was caught and extradited to the U.S. to stand trial, he claimed he was innocent and had fled the country only because he was afraid the police would kill him, the same way they had killed Lewis. In a June 2001 letter to friends, Kopp said, "If that's what they did to Maurice, what about me?"

Although Kopp cynically used Lewis' death as an alibi for his false claim of innocence, that does not mean he didn't believe Lewis was murdered by the police, and probably still does. This was already a well-publicized belief in the anti-choice movement before Kopp took advantage of it. Further, Kopp really distrusted the police, citing examples of alleged police brutality against anti-choicers, including himself.

Kopp's paranoid belief that the police were "out to get pro-lifers" might explain why he was so concerned over Lewis' death. But what if there was more to it than that? What if Lewis was involved in the Canadian shootings? What if Kopp's paranoia stemmed partly from his fear that the police had somehow found out he and Lewis were in it together, and that's why the police killed Lewis, and now they wanted to kill him, too?

Here's some other considerations that point to the plausibility of Lewis' involvement in the Canadian shootings:

  • Presuming he's guilty, Kopp picked Vancouver to carry out his first shooting (Dr. Garson Romalis), even though he's an American from Vermont. Why? Could it be because his good friend Maurice Lewis lived here, and had provided information to him on Vancouver doctors? (Both Lewis and another Vancouver friend, Barrie Norman, had spent time in jail with Kopp in Europe.) In fact, Kopp had likely been to Vancouver before. There are unconfirmed reports that Kopp attended a protest or two at the Everywoman's Health Center in the late 1980's or early 1990's. Also, Vancouver anti-choice activist Gordon Watson told the media in 2003 that he thought Kopp came through Vancouver around 1992, "but Sissy would know for sure." (He was referring to Cecilia von Dehn, a prominent anti-choice activist in Vancouver, who later denied knowing anything about Kopp.)
  • Lewis was a long-distance truck driver, which would have given him opportunities to scope out doctors' names and houses in other parts of Canada, perhaps even help get weapons. It would have been risky for Kopp to carry weapons across the border, and there are indications that he did not do so. According to a clinic worker in Calgary, police told her about a Kopp border crossing into Alberta a few weeks before the Winnipeg shooting. A suspicious customs guard reportedly searched Kopp's car, found no weapons, and let him through.
  • According to anti-abortion sources, Kopp decided to investigate Lewis' death, perhaps at the request of a Scottish priest, Father James Morrow. Why go to such lengths? Could Kopp have been worried about the implications of Lewis' death for himself, if Lewis was indeed his partner in crime? Of course, if he investigated Lewis' death, it would have also given him an excuse to make extra trips to Canada to track and shoot doctors.
  • There are some indications that Kopp did indeed take steps to investigate Lewis' death. In his June 2001 letter to friends, Kopp refers to an "RCMP report" about Lewis' death. Kopp says: "The RCMP report indicated the presence of someone who 'cleaned up' the death scene before the RCMP got there. … Why do we know this? The RCMP makes no reference to any wrappers, papers, soda cans or bottles or bags that one would associate with eating a snack." But the report the police released was very brief and did not describe the death scene. Plus, it was the OPP, not the RCMP, who found the body and investigated the death. Kopp could not have gotten a copy of the full police report because that has been sealed under Ontario's freedom of information laws. So if Kopp wasn't fabricating all this, could he have gotten his garbled information from a second-hand source, perhaps someone inside law enforcement? (It would not be the first time that police officers in Canada had leaked sensitive information to anti-choicers.)
  • In that same letter to friends, Maurice Lewis is the only person that Kopp mentions by name, other than a judge to whom Kopp had considered turning himself in. Why is Lewis singled out for such special attention? Kopp has generally been very careful to never talk about any of his friends, lest he implicate them in his crimes. Of course, there was no danger in mentioning Lewis because he was dead and no longer needed protection. But his fixation on Lewis implies something more was going on between them.
  • Sniper plays down my hypothesis that Lewis may have been an accomplice simply because his brother in England, Richard Lewis, called it "over the top." Of course, a family member who knew little of Maurice's life in Canada is not qualified to judge the merits of a hypothesis implicating Lewis. In fact, as we know from countless crime investigations, family members and friends of accused persons are usually the quickest to defend their innocence. For example, James Kopp's closest friends were convinced he was innocent of the Slepian murder, citing what a gentle and peaceful guy Kopp supposedly was. The same has been said of Lewis by his friends, and it means nothing.
The Upshot…and What's Next?

In the end, according to Sniper, Kopp apparently refused to shed any light on whether Loretta Marra knowingly helped him plan or carry out any shootings, or whether Maurice Lewis or any other Canadian helped him, unwittingly or not. Unfortunately, we may never know the truth one way or the other. Our only hope is if new information comes out at Kopp's upcoming federal trial in the U.S.

Near the end of Sniper, Kopp says he is going to have a "surprise" for everybody before he's done in court. Kopp said, "Imagine a letter, the very existence of which would send any number of lawyers, etc. etc. all scurrying and fussing yak yak."

Sniper asks, "What did that mean?"  Indeed.