When Krystal Weber met Navy Lt. Cmdr. Tyler Eric Lee through an Internet singles site, she was dazzled. Courtly in his dress whites, he said he had an M.B.A., flew jet fighters and was on top secret antiterrorism duty. They had only begun dating when Lee told her he planned to leave the service, take a six-figure airline pilot's job and settle down. Four months into their courtship, the 22-year-old Houston nurse flew off with him to Las Vegas and married him in the Chapel of Love. "I tend to date wussy guys; he seemed strong," she recalls. "He told me the mushy stuff a girl likes to hear."
Except that much of it was a lie—right down to his name, which was actually Eric Eugene Cooper. Three weeks after her wedding, Weber says, her new husband was emptying her bank account. Then came more disturbing revelations: He wasn't in the Navy, wasn't a pilot and had done time in prison. And though Cooper told her he had never been married, she discovered he had left behind a number of ex-wives. Weber called the cops and threw Cooper out. "Nothing he told me was the truth," she says. "Nothing was real about him."
She wasn't the first woman to learn that the hard way. In fact, some of his exes and former fiancées say that Cooper, 29, posed as either a Navy pilot or a SEAL and wooed them into marriage. They also claim he started depleting their savings accounts. "In hindsight he's the biggest con man I ever met," says Tonya Causey, 27, who was briefly engaged to Cooper. At the very least, it seems, he has a problem with commitment. Records show that since 1994 he has had seven wives and been engaged at least twice. Says Det. Eric Price, a Friendswood, Texas, police officer who is investigating Cooper: "This guy felt he had found something that worked, and he just kept at it."
Until some of the women told Price their story. After Causey caught Cooper reading an e-mail from a former fiancée, Brandy Bowden, 21, she contacted her and started a correspondence that eventually included Weber and April Singleton, 23, another of Cooper's ex-wives. The women compared notes. "Everything he told me, he told them," Causey says. Says Weber: "We realized it's got to stop."
Cooper, who now faces charges that include assault and bigamy (and who declined to be interviewed for this article), told the Houston Chronicle the women's allegations were "false" and brought "out of spite." Still, he failed to show up for an April 20 hearing and was arrested in Kansas, booked into Houston's Harris County jail and released on bond, continuing a saga that started in rural Shepherd, Texas, where he was raised by grandparents. As a child he was known for telling "whoppers," says an ex-classmate. "People picked on him."
Right out of high school in 1994, Cooper wed Shepherd-area local Melissa Pope. Two years later he joined the Navy but was discharged for undisclosed reasons after less than three months. In 1998 he was divorced, living in the Houston area and briefly working as a county field appraiser. That year he married Kimberly Pitman, but the union quickly ended in divorce. By 2000 Cooper had wed and divorced April James, and that same year married Paula Herren. By then he was in trouble with the law, serving probation for credit card abuse (he used someone else's). Also in 2000, he met high school senior Bowden. They were soon engaged, and within a month she was pregnant. "Then," she says, "things started going wrong."
Bowden and Cooper broke up, and he started seeing Singleton, then 19, a Pizza Hut worker. They wed in May 2001. In short order, Cooper forged a check belonging to her grandmother, who filed a forgery charge. Then Singleton found out he might still have been married to Herren. "I didn't think people lied that much," Singleton says. Cooper was sentenced to two years for the forgery but was released on bond pending an appeal.
During that time Bowden, who had borne daughter Breonna, now 3, took him back. "I was being stupid for my child," she says. In 2002, Bowden claims, Cooper "pulled a gun on me and my baby. I took the baby and left."
In November 2002 Cooper's probation was revoked, and he was sentenced to a year in prison. Released in 2003, he headed back down the aisle—this time with Jennifer Smith. After that union was annulled, he met Weber. Soon after they eloped, she noticed money missing from her bank account.
Suspicious, Weber's mother, Lynn, 46, searched public records on the Internet, discovered Cooper's past and alerted her daughter. The day after Weber kicked him out, Cooper was wooing Causey. After a month he proposed. "He gave me this heartfelt speech," she says, "saying, 'You're the first person who ever cared about me for me.' " Then she noticed her bank balance shrinking—and around the same time surprised Cooper as he read an e-mail from Bowden, who was trying to get sole parental rights. Causey memorized the address and wrote to her. "She said, 'I'll tell you anything you want,'" Causey recalls, "'but buckle your seatbelt.'"
That set off the chain of correspondence that has Cooper in more trouble. But his exes say they don't really care whether he winds up behind bars—just as long as he doesn't hurt someone else. "The most important thing," Weber says, "is that we outed him."
Richard Jerome. Kevin Brass and Wendy Grossman in Houston
On Newsstands Now
- Amy Robach: 'I'm Lucky to Be Alive'
- Paul Walker: Inside His Tragic Death
- Julia Roberts: Choosing Family Over Hollywood
Pick up your copy on newsstands
Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine