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Mercenary for Justice

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James Kopp: The murderer.  

So he said yes.

Joseph insists his decision wasn’t about abortion. It was about murder. “Pro-life? I got no problem with that. But murdering someone? I got a problem with that regardless who they are.”

Then there was the money—or as Joseph calls it, “the incentive.”

“Want me to lie to you and tell you no?” Joseph says. “I’d be lying to myself.”

The bureau wanted to bug everything—Dennis’s place on Chestnut Street, Joseph’s car—so they could listen as Joseph tried to get Dennis and Loretta to reveal where Kopp was. But until they could get warrants, Joseph would be their eyes and ears. The agents provided Joseph with cash for entertaining Dennis and Loretta. He was already buying them meals almost every day; now the FBI was picking up the tab. Joseph would tag along with Dennis to trash cans where he got rid of reams of paper so the FBI could search through them once Joseph tipped them off. Later, Osborn suggested that Joseph give Dennis a bunch of prepaid phone cards that the FBI could trace. In time, the FBI knew about every call Dennis and Loretta made or received. Joseph once sat with Dennis and Loretta at his place as they watched a 60 Minutes segment about the hunt for Kopp, waiting for them to give something up. They said nothing the agents could use.

About a month into his surveillance, the three of them were in Dennis’s car, heading home from a Chinese buffet in Canarsie. Loretta’s cell rang. She picked it up and gasped.

“It’s him! It’s him!”

“Pull over,” Dennis said.

Joseph might have guessed they were talking about Kopp, but he wasn’t sure. He tried to act uninterested. “Dennis, do me a favor, man. Just drop me off.” That night, he called Michael Osborn and told him what had happened. All he got were questions—what did Loretta say? Who was she talking to? They needed more.

“How,” asked the FBI agent, “would you like to have $1 million?”

By the end of 1999, Kopp had made his way from London to Dublin, calling himself Timothy Guttler, walking the streets, even hanging out in well-traveled spots like Bewleys coffee shop. The following July, he took the name Sean O’Briain, a name he’d seen on a local tombstone. Kopp wanted eventually to return to Canada or America—perhaps just to be around the people he loved, perhaps to come out of what he called “retirement.” Throughout his exile, he wrote letters—at times lighthearted and jokey, at times sentimental—to his friends Dennis Malvasi and Loretta Marra at 385 Chestnut Street in Brooklyn.

Joseph, meanwhile, spent the next year hinting to Dennis and Loretta that he wanted to join their cause. Joseph would tell Michael Osborn he was going on car trips with Dennis and Loretta, and the FBI would loan him cars with bugs; he’d tell Dennis and Loretta his own car was in the shop. According to FBI transcripts from Jon Wells’s book about the Kopp case, Sniper, Joseph (referred to in the book as a “confidential source”) and Loretta were talking on one car trip about gumming the locks of clinic entrances with glue—a tactic used to stop abortions, if only for a few hours.

Joseph brought up the Slepian murder.

“You think the shooter was trying to kill him?” he asked.

“You’re always out there to maim,” she said.

“What’s Jim’s opinion on that?” he asked—slipping in a mention of Kopp’s name.

“I know he feels bad for Slepian’s children,” she said. “But he knows Slepian was not an innocent person, either. He was, morally, a guilty person.”

Joseph couldn’t think of a way to ask Loretta where Kopp was hiding. Instead, he brought up Dennis’s clinic bombings. That was when Loretta told Joseph that she thought Dennis never should have surrendered to the cardinal. “In my opinion, Dennis had an obligation not to obey him,” Loretta said. “O’Connor’s request was a sinful command.”

On another trip, Joseph remembers asking Loretta, “Would you really have the fortitude to kill a human being?”

“I think I’d be capable of killing,” she said, “for God and a higher good.”

After Joseph and Loretta came home, Osborn pushed Joseph to go inside Dennis and Loretta’s apartment; they’d always made excuses whenever Joseph tried to enter. Joseph went on a shopping spree and came over on the pretext of delivering presents. “They had a little room, nothing much,” he remembers. “They slept on the freakin’ floor.” When Loretta stepped out to a bodega, Joseph started to play with little Louis. Joseph pointed to a picture on a shelf of James Kopp with a cross on it.

“Who’s this guy?” Joseph asked.

“Oh, that’s Uncle Jim,” said Louis.


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