When 14-year-old Fame Cooper ran away from home in July 1990, her family wasn’t that concerned.
She’d done this before. They knew the drill: She’d leave a note and call to let them know she was OK, and be back in a couple of days.
But this time, something was off. She didn’t leave that note. She never made that call. It was like she’d disappeared.
As days passed into weeks and then months, and there was still no word from her, her family grew concerned.
According to her older sister, Sunshine Hornick, the family waited until September to report her missing.
She was last seen July 11, but it would be almost four months to the day until they learned what happened to the dark-haired teen.
On a darkening early evening, shortly before 5 p.m., on Saturday, Nov. 10, 1990, some hunters stumbled upon her skeletal remains in a cow pasture at Robinson Hollow near Barrackville.
Her murder remains one of Fairmont’s most troubling open cases.
‘14 going on 30’
Fame Cooper was born Sept. 19, 1975, a daughter of Tina Marie Sopranik and Rick Less. Her mother reportedly named her after the David Bowie song, “Fame.”
She had an older sister, Sunshine Hornick, and younger brother, Rodney Sopranik. Each of the three siblings had a different father and last name.
Sunshine’s birth last name was Cooper, but she took her grandmother Evelyn Hornick’s last name when she adopted Sunshine at age 6, and has lived with her since on Fairmont’s East Side.
Fame was born Fame Less. Her father was Rick Less, who later was convicted of the 1986 first-degree murder of Cindy Croston. She lived with a maternal aunt, Mary White, who was her temporary legal guardian, and great-grandfather on Fairmont’s West Side.
“She wanted to know who her father was, but he really didn’t want to be in her life at all,” Hornick said. “He really didn’t want anything to do with Fame. They thought it was best if she had my father’s last name (Cooper).”
Almost 22 years after her sister’s death, Hornick finds it easy to talk about Fame.
Fame Cooper was a walking contradiction in terms: In other words, a fairly typical teenage girl.
“She liked the boys,” Hornick said fondly of her little sister. “She had crushes on lots of different boys. She liked to go to school dances. She’d go to ball games just to see who was there.”
Fame, then just two months from her 15th birthday, “was your typical fun-loving, boy-loving, popular girl,” her sister said.
“She liked Paul Stanley of KISS. She had his pictures all over the wall. She was not into boy bands. She was more into hard rock kind of stuff.”
Described as having “homecoming queen looks,” the dark-haired, dark-eyed slender girl dreamed of becoming a model. She was shy, enthusiastic, compassionate and loved rock music — and the boys.
But there was an edge to Fame.
She was also moody and depressed, and as one relative put it, “14 going on 30.” And she ran away a lot.
‘This isn’t right’
“I don’t think she did that to hurt any of us,” Hornick said. “I think she was trying to find herself — who am I, what do I really want — that kind of stuff.
“So when she disappeared that July, nobody thought it was unusual.”
Yet it was.
“I remember the last weekend I saw her,” Hornick said. “I’m thinking it was around July 4 of that year. She’d wanted me to come over to our great-grandfather’s house and stay the weekend. Then one of her friends called and she went to stay with them. I was really ticked off because she’d invited me over there.
“I don’t even remember the girl’s name. All I remember is she came with her mother or father to pick Fame up. I remember Fame had a bag of clothes and stuff with her. She just got in the car and left. I didn’t know that was the last time I’d ever see her.
“We just figured she was with a friend and forgot to call home, you know? She did that a couple of times. But usually she’d call and say she was OK, she was at so-and-so’s house. So this wasn’t that unusual, but it was a little unusual.”
July passed. No word from Fame.
August passed. School started and still no word from Fame.
September. It was getting close to her 15th birthday and still no word.
White finally reported her missing to the police.
“This isn’t right,” she told them.
Even as the search for the young teen went on, her family heard nothing from her.