When Bill Lacovara and his two sons, Sean and Rocky, went fishing near Atlantic City’s famous Steel Pier amusement park several weeks ago, they could never have anticipated what they would catch.
The group parked their Jeep beneath the pier and noticed something just off-shore. There, floating in knee-high water, were several large shopping bags.
Inside the bags were nearly 300 unopened letters with postmarks from the 1970s to 1999.
About half of the letters were wet, so Lacovara threw them out. The other half, however, turned out to be pleas for help – financial help, legal help, help with family, or help with drug problems.
Some of the letters were mailed from as far away as Savannah, Ga., but many were simply hand-delivered. The letters’ destinations were all the same: one of the two Jersey City churches where Rev. Grady Cooper once worked.
Cooper died in 2004 in Hudson County, according to Social Security records. The discovery of his unopened letters, many asking him to pray for them, has raised a flurry of questions.
However, Lacovara apparently did not look to unravel any mysteries as he put about 100 of the letters on eBay, the online auction website, and as of Friday received 32 bids with the highest bid price coming in $527.
However, he abruptly took the letters off of the auction the same day.
A call to Lacovara, who had spoken with the Reporter earlier in the week, was not returned before article went to press.Unraveling the mystery
How did the letters end up in the water? Who was Rev. Grady Cooper? And why did so many people ask him for help?
The most recent letter was dated 1999, but Cooper died in 2004 at the age of 79 in Hudson County, according to Social Security and other records. His wife, Frances, died in 2000.
Both lived in a two-family house at 162 Orient Ave. in Jersey City. A search of city tax records found the house is still owned under their name. But a visit to their home found a tenant who knew nothing about the couple.
However, a visit to the Mount Calvary Church last Sunday yielded more clues.
Reba Jenkins, a soft-spoken woman in her fifties, laughed at the reference to her as a “church historian.” But Jenkins conceded she has been a parishioner at the church for 50 of the 55 years that it has existed on the corner of Ocean and Linden Avenues.
It was during her early years that Jenkins met Cooper, an associate pastor, and his wife.
When told about the letters, she said she hadn’t heard about the situation until she was informed by the Reporter.
But Jenkins said it was no surprise that people wrote to him.
“Pastor Cooper traveled a lot and ministered to people from all walks of life,” said Jenkins. “And if you visited him at his house, people were always visiting him there and counseled them.”
Jenkins went on to say Cooper had “a gift” dealing with people. She said she had seen him actually heal sick people with his hands.
“I truly believe God spoke through him and gave him the power to do these wonderful things,” said Jenkins.
She said Cooper was a freelance carpenter who had built his house and the house next to his with his own hands.
She also said he had two daughters who lived in New Jersey, and that she would try to contact them. But as of the end of last week, she said she was unable to contact them. Why unopened?
Why would the letters be unopened?
Many of them spoke of marital problems, pregnancy problems, and drug problems, and asked Cooper to pray for them. Some were direct pleas to God.
According to a published report, one teenager wrote in pencil on yellow lined paper: “Lord, I know that I have had an abortion and I killed one of your angels. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the mistake I made.”
Jenkins didn’t know how the letters wound up in the ocean. She said perhaps a tenant or even the daughters may have thrown the letters out by accident, or they could have been stolen.
However, she hoped the letters wouldn’t be sold on eBay. “I think whoever found those letters should keep them, because good things will happen,” said Jenkins. “The fact that they found is a sign of something.”
Earlier in the week, Lacovara said that once his discovery made the pages of the The Press of Atlantic City, he started receiving calls from curiosity-seekers hoping to obtain some of the letters for themselves.
He said his family wasn’t as impressed with the find.
“My wife thinks it’s stupid, my one son thinks I should throw them back in the ocean, and my other son, Rocky, doesn’t really know what everyone’s all interested about,” he said. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher Zinsli can be reached at email@example.com.