Police arrest ex-boyfriend of slain East St. Louis woman

News DemocratDecember 3, 2013 

— The ex-boyfriend sought in connection with the stabbing death of the 25-year-old mother of one of his children surrendered to police Tuesday night.

Police had been searching for Montrell Cooper since Saturday night when the body of Michelle Rowling was found.

"Cooper contacted police and turned himself in at a Residence Inn in Alorton," Illinois State Police Capt. Jim Morrisey said.

Cooper, who was arrested shortly after 6 p.m., has not been charged in Rowling's death but East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Floore said, "We want to question him about the stabbing death of Michelle Rowling."

The St. Clair County State's Attorney's Office issued a probation violation warrant against Cooper on Tuesday.

Bail was set at $200,000 and Cooper was transferred to the St. Clair County Jail.

Rowling was found slain inside of her apartment in Building 34, Apt. F of the Gompers Homes public housing complex Saturday evening.

Cooper, 25, has had a history of domestic violence with Rowling. Police said that Cooper slit her throat on one occasion and he beat her up on a second occasion.

"In February 2012, Rowling walked into the City Hall rotunda with blood gushing from her neck," Floore said. "She said the suspect had stabbed her."

St. Clair State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said Cooper was prosecuted and Rowling refused to cooperate with authorities and with her favoring Cooper over the state's prosecuting him, Kelly said, "It undermined our argument for prison."

"We often move forward with charges even when victims are not cooperative, hoping that if they see us standing up for them, they will stand up for themselves," Kelly said. But, that does not always happen, he said.

"The victim in this case actually testified in favor of the defendant."

At a candlelight vigil held Sunday night at the Gompers Homes, family members said the couple have been together for a few years in an on-off relationship. Rowling, was trying to leave him, some said, and they believe this could have been the reason she was murdered.

Rowling's mother, Cathy McGolson, said she is hurt, angry and at a loss for words.

"I don't know which way to turn," McGloson said.

Diane Simmons, Rowling's grandmother, said her granddaughter's children are safe with her. She said she knew of Cooper, but she thought "they had broken up."

Several family members talked about a Facebook posting that Rowlings put out saying that if anything happened to her to tell her children and her mother that she loved them.

Through tears, Danielle Lane, a second cousin, talked about the last time she saw her cousin on Thanksgiving Day when they met at another cousin's house.

"She was happy, but she looked worried," Lane said. "She told me about the domestic abuse with him. She wanted to be with him, but they weren't getting along, so she was trying to leave him," Lane said.

Lane said she saw Cooper several times with Rowling and he was always quiet.

"He was really quiet. ... He never really spoke. He would only say hello. That was it. He never interacted with the family, never. He just sat right under her," Lane said.

Lane said she learned about his slitting Rowling's throat in 2012 two days after it happened.

"I didn't see her for about three weeks. When I saw her, I told her she needed to get out of that relationship because that wasn't love. I tried to get her to meet up with me and do some things, but she wouldn't," Lane said.

"We need to put a stop to women being abused. No matter what your family or friends say or think, speak out. There is always help out there," Lane said.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

"We are having a horrible time trying to get funds together to pay for her funeral. She didn't have any insurance. I want young people to know they need insurance. Get insurance and leave a will," Simmons said.

Anyone with any information on Cooper's whereabouts should call the East St. Louis Police Department at 482-6700, Illinois State Police at 246-3990 or CrimeStoppers at 1-866-371-Tips (8477). This is an anonymous tip line.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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