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Dr. Barnett Slepian was a conservative doctor and family man with strong religious beliefs. But he didn’t think doctors should pick and choose which services to provide, so he performed abortions at a clinic in Buffalo, New York. The anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue made him a target, harassing him and calling him a “murderer” at his home in Amherst, New York, as well as at his private practice and the Buffalo clinic. In 1998, Slepian was the victim of a sniper attack. 

In this episode, in partnership with the CBC podcast “Someone Knows Something,” reporters David Ridgen and Amanda Robb – Slepian’s niece – look into the network of anti-abortion extremists who targeted doctors and clinics in the 1990s. 

Dig Deeper

Listen: Someone Knows Something: The Abortion Wars series (CBC) 

Read: Abortion’s Last Stand in the South: A Post-Roe Future Is Already Happening in Florida (Reveal) 

Listen: Crossing the Line: The Fight Over Roe (Reveal)

Credits

Someone Knows Something team: Host, writer and producer: David Ridgen | Reporter: Amanda Robb | Producers: Hadeel Abdel-Nabi, Steph Kamf and Amanda Robb | Sound design: Evan Kelly | Digital producer: Émilie Quesnel | Story editor: Chris Oke | Executive producer: Cescil Fernandes | Director of CBC Podcasts: Arif Noorani 

Reveal team: Editor: Michael I Schiller | Production manager: Amy Mostafa | Digital producer: Sarah Mirk | Sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda, with help from Jess Alvarenga and Kathryn Styer Martinez | Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan | Host: Al Letson

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

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Speaker 1:During the 75th year anniversary of Jackie Robinson becoming the first black baseball player allowed to play in modern major league baseball, the History Channel in association with MLB present After Jackie, executive produced by LeBron James and Maverick Carter, Stanley Nelson, and director Andre Gaines. After Jackie explores the overlooked story of the second wave of trailblazing black baseball players, Curt Flood, Bill White, and Bob Gibson, and how they continued Robinson’s legacy by fighting battles on and off the field for a more inclusive America. Tune in Saturday at 8:00, 7:00 Central, only on the History Channel.
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. All this year, we’ve been reporting on reproductive rights and what could happen if Roe v Wade is overturned. Last month, we investigated rising tensions at abortion clinics in Florida.
Speaker 2:Jacksonville 911, what’s the location of your emergency?
Speaker 3:I was just assaulted.
Al Letson:We found that police calls related to disturbances, harassment and violence doubled at abortion clinics in the state since 2016. Kelly Flynn owns a clinic in Jacksonville.
Kelly Flynn:As abortion providers, we should not have to be harassed going to work every day. I mean, no one’s picketing the urologist that’s doing vasectomies.
Al Letson:A woman’s rights group told us they’re worried that violence will only get worse if Roe v Wade is overturned. The CBC podcast, Someone Knows something, has been looking into historic cases of doctors who were targeted for performing abortions, starting with one from 1998. Dr. Barnett Slepian was an OB/GYN who performed abortions.
Amanda Robb:He was, like abortion providers of his generation, he began doing the procedure way before it became politicized.
Al Letson:That’s reporter Amanda Robb. Dr. Slepian was her uncle. She called him uncle Bart. Anti-abortion activists started targeting him and would hold protests outside his home in Amherst, New York. They would yell at him and his family, calling him a murderer. Amanda says her uncle didn’t believe abortion should be a political issue.
Amanda Robb:It wasn’t some stance on feminism, or reproductive rights, or anything. It was just part of a practice really. He’s always was a very conservative guy.
Al Letson:Then on October 23rd, 1998, he was in his kitchen, heating up some soup in the microwave when there was a crash through his window.
Amanda Robb:He was shot and killed at home in front of his wife and children, and it totally messes you up. I mean, it just… I think the Hallmark TV movie version of it is that it brings you closer together, but what happens is being around each other just remind you of what’s missing.
Al Letson:Amanda says she was always close to her uncle Bart.
Amanda Robb:My dad died when I was four, and my mom was pregnant, and Bart came to live with us for many, many years, so I was closer to him than maybe a normal niece would be to her uncle.
Al Letson:She says his case inspired her to become a reporter because she always wanted to get to the bottom of what happened.
Amanda Robb:Anyway, the way I dealt with it was I was just going to figure out why.
Al Letson:Amanda decided to get some help with her investigation, and she reached out to David Ridgen host of the Someone Knows Something podcast. David was living in Toronto at the time of Dr. Slepian’s death, not far from where the shooting happened, and he remembers it clearly. David and Amanda decide to meet up, and as they investigate the murder, they find connections to a series of doctor shootings that actually began in Canada.
David Ridgen:Amanda.
Amanda Robb:David.
David Ridgen:How are you doing? Is it okay to meet in here?
Amanda Robb:Of course it is.
David Ridgen:Okay. Nice.

After several phone calls with Amanda Robb, I’m meeting her in person. An investigative journalist from New York, she’s written for Rolling Stone, the New York Times, and GQ. Early 50s, someone who likes to throw herself into difficult situations and then write her way out of them, she’s a fan of Someone Knows Something, so the scene seems already informal like we know each other through downloads. Amanda settles onto a couch, binders of papers on a table in front of her. She’s wearing jeans, and her blonde hair is held back by a pair of reading glasses. This is not the first time Amanda has investigated tragedy in the ongoing narrative of abortion rights. In fact, Amanda became a journalist because of the murder of her uncle, Dr. Bart Slepian.
Amanda Robb:I know people react to grief in many different ways. I’m sure you’ve learned that. You’ve seen it, and then the way I reacted was I was going to figure out why Bart was dead. I don’t know why that was my thing. I wasn’t particularly angry. I was going to solve the puzzle. I wasn’t a journalist at the time. It was just like that’s what I was going to do. That was my thing.
David Ridgen:I want to find out more about uncle Bart, more about the scene at the time and who he was.
Amanda Robb:He was not the Martin Luther King of abortion. He was a very conservative guy. He voted Republican. He was religious. He hated feminists. He particularly hated Hillary Clinton. I mean, this wasn’t his cause.
David Ridgen:Even still with abortion being a relatively small part of his practice, Amanda’s uncle became a target of anti-abortion protests in the Buffalo area. Bart felt obligated to provide abortions because the procedure was becoming less and less accessible. Here’s Bart in a TV interview from the time talking about anti-abortion protesters.
Barnett Slepian:I’m not afraid of them, and I’m not afraid of the violence, but I fear for my family, my children, I think of if I wasn’t around what they would go through, but personally, I’m not afraid of them.
Amanda Robb:People would go around to all his neighbors saying they lived next to a baby killer. People were following his kids to school and saying, “Why does your daddy kill babies?” They put wanted posters out with target marks all over his face, or there were billboards that said, “Slepian kills babies. Slepian’s a murderer.” He felt like doctors shouldn’t get to pick and choose what you do. If you’re an obstetrician and a gynecologist, this is what you signed up for, and he didn’t like bullies. Whereas it would make other people go, “Wow, this is bad idea. This isn’t my thing. I’m going to back off,” it just made him like, “Fuck you. I’m going to keep doing it, and you’re not going to bully me with babies and fetuses.”
Speaker 4:Lord, we ask for your hand of protection over the children that are scheduled to die here today in Jesus name.
David Ridgen:At protests like this one in Buffalo in 1992, anti-abortion supporters would not only carry large posters with graphic imagery purporting to be from abortion procedures, but would carry and display actual human fetuses.
Speaker 5:This is not a political issue. This is not an issue of rights. This is not a social issue. This is a dead baby. This is a dead human baby.
David Ridgen:Dr. Slepian eventually tried to appeal to the forces at play, often right on his front lawn.
Amanda Robb:In 1994, he wrote an op-ed to the Buffalo News and said these people are expressing their freedom of expression when they call me a murder, and they follow my kids to school, and they threaten me, and just any other thing, but don’t be surprised when one of the more fragile minded shoots a provider. Four years later, that’s exactly what happened. I just became obsessed with Bart’s killer.
David Ridgen:After the shooting police soon landed on one suspect, a 44 year old anti-abortion fanatic from California named James Charles Kopp, or Jim as Amanda calls him.
Amanda Robb:I would get everything I could. Jim Kopp was named as a person of interest, and then he was named as the only suspect. I swear to God, I kept a scrapbook. It was almost like I had a crush on him. Then I started, there would be an article about him, and they would interview somebody, so then I would call that person, and I would need to talk to them. What were they going to do? They had this bereft girl on the phone, and they were Christians, and so they had to be nice to me. Then I would fly and go visit them. It was crazy.
David Ridgen:When you visited them and interviewed them or talked to them, were you interviewing them or were you just talking?
Amanda Robb:I brought bagels.
David Ridgen:James Charles Kopp’s childhood doesn’t seem to give any hint of where he would actually go in life. According to our research and media reports, Kopp had a lawyer father and a nurse mother who eventually divorced, twin brother, three older sisters, California sunshine, Kopp was a straight A Eagle Scout. Kopp earned A’s in biology, but never got a job in the field. Instead, he went to L’Abri, a spiritual retreat in Switzerland, founded by the theologian Francis Schaeffer, who preached that abortion was a form of killing. Kopp returned to the US and opened a crisis pregnancy center where he tried to aggressively convince patients to keep their unwanted pregnancies. Around 1986, Kopp converted to Catholicism.
Amanda Robb:Anyway, by the end of it, I realized, “Oh, a crazy person got a gun.” I finally pulled myself together enough to stop drinking and to find a functional outlet for what has become I’m a trauma junkie now, which I think is not unusual. Then something about the 20 year anniversary of Bart’s death, and my aunt, his widow, has let me back into her life. I don’t know. All of a sudden it seemed okay. I thought, “They’re going to die, and nobody’s getting any younger here, and it’s worth knowing how this happened and who were the players.” It’s not for vengeance, and it’s not because I want…
David Ridgen:Amanda wrote and published stories about her family’s difficulties moving forward in the aftermath of her uncle Bart’s murder, and she still struggles with it.
Amanda Robb:I think we loved each other, and the last time we spoke was about three weeks before he died.
Al Letson:When we come back, David goes to the scene of the crime and meets with Dr. Slepian’s widow.
Lynn Slepian:He had help. He had help, but he had it so well planned out. He had to have somebody help him get through the neighborhood.
Al Letson:You’re listening to Reveal. From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Today, we’re bringing you a story from the CBC podcast, Someone Knows Something. Reporters David Ridgen and Amanda Robb are investigating a series of shootings in the US and Canada that targeted abortion providers in the ’90s. One of the victims was Amanda’s uncle Dr. Barnett Slepian. He was killed when a sniper shot him through the window of his kitchen at his home near Buffalo, New York. David decides to meet up with Dr. Slepian’s widow, Lynn, to get a better sense of what happened.
David Ridgen:It’s mid-August. I’m in Buffalo, New York on my way to interview Lynn Slepian, Barnett Slepian’s widow, and I’m interested in finding out who supported these shootings. None of that has ever really made it to air. It’s important to hear the details of the shooting from a witness, no matter how difficult it will be for Lynn to talk about this, and I’m not sure she has spoken about this very much. We’re going to meet at a hot dog stand, apparently, just about to arrive. Hi, I’m David, by the way.
Lynn Slepian:Oh, hi. I’m Lynn.
David Ridgen:Nice to meet you.
Lynn Slepian:Good on the intros. What exactly is going to be the outcome of this?
David Ridgen:Lynn looks far younger than her 66 years. She has shoulder length, auburn hair, green eyes, and is wearing medical scrubs. She’s still working long hours as a nurse, and she’s agreed to meet me after work one day.
Lynn Slepian:He was very kind, very compassionate. He was the typical give you a one rose kind of guy. That was just him. He was family oriented. Everything was about the boys. He wasn’t an activist. He didn’t go to any of the protests. He went, he did his job, he came home, none of the other stuff. He wasn’t on TV. He didn’t want to be on a TV show. He didn’t want to be on the cameras. He hated all that stuff. He cut his own grass. He pulled his own weeds. He shoveled his own driveway. Yeah. He was a very…
David Ridgen:I ask Lynn if she knows why Bart decided to become an OB/GYN.
Lynn Slepian:I think it was one of his electives when he was a resident, and he liked it, and he went into it, and he always said that as far as the abortion aspect of it, he was never going to take a woman in crisis and send them to a stranger.
David Ridgen:Do you think he was motivated more strongly to stand his ground because of the forces that were gathering around?
Lynn Slepian:Absolutely, but the more he did it and the more it became harder and harder for patients to get the care they needed, I think the more he felt he was obligated to fulfill that need.
David Ridgen:I ask when the protests started around their home.
Lynn Slepian:I think it was always here. The police would come, and they would keep them in the street or keep them within a… There was a buffer zone. They could only come within a certain number of feet of the home, but they would be right out there. All the neighbors would come out, and it was pretty ugly. It was on a Friday night, pretty regular basis. They were there.
David Ridgen:In 1988, a van filled with anti-abortion protestors appeared outside their home as Bart and his family opened Hanukkah presents inside. The protesters taunted Bart, yelling that he was a murderer. Dr. Slepian then smashed the van’s windows with a baseball bat and was later charged with assault.
Lynn Slepian:I didn’t feel fear from them. I was angry more than fearful. I mean, now I think I’d be more fearful because things have gotten a little more volatile, but I didn’t think they were going to physically do anything, but they were just obnoxious.
David Ridgen:What about Bart? Was he afraid, or was he out on the front lawn trying to talk to them, or how did…
Lynn Slepian:Well, we always tried to talk to them. We always tried to tell them to please leave, and the police would tell him to leave, and they’d leave, and then as soon as the police left, they would come back. There was a hotline that you could call, and you could find out where they were going that night. 90% of the time they were coming to our house.
David Ridgen:Was ever any warning or every pre-thought that something a shot could happen?
Lynn Slepian:No, none, none. I mean, it’s always in the back of your head, but they were probably stalking us for quite a while before it happened, Kopp or whoever. That’s what really got to me with my kids. I mean, they must have been checking. I mean, they knew where we were going the night we went out. They knew when we came back. They must have seen the headlights come up the driveway. It was well planned out. I mean, he claims it was an unfortunate, lucky shot or whatever you want to call it, but I mean, he had a high powered scope and everything. I would say it’s a good distance away. We had come back from temple services, and Bart went to warm some soup up in the microwave. He hadn’t even taken his suit or sport coat off. They had to know that the kids were home. They had to see. Yeah. They were watching us.
David Ridgen:They were watching us, a word Lynn uses throughout her descriptions of the events. Who are they? James Kopp and who else?
Speaker 6:Turn left, now.
David Ridgen:This is the dead end right here that Kopp parked at. I guess this is how he got into the woods at the back. Just backing into the very spot that I think James Kopp parked in. This must be the path he took.
Amanda Robb:Yeah.
David Ridgen:He would’ve walked along here. Have you been back here before?
Amanda Robb:No.
David Ridgen:I’m walking back behind Dr. Slepian’s former house with Amanda to get a firsthand look at the scene. Amanda leads the way, but grows more silent. A dilapidated wooden backyard fence on my right, probably dating from the time of the shooting, runs along behind a row of well appointed houses. A tangle of trees and bushes ahead and on the left side of the fence would obscure any approach. We stopped behind where Amanda’s uncle used to live at a group of larger trees with the kitchen in view.

The kitchen is there in between.
Amanda Robb:Yeah, where those…
David Ridgen:Where the flowers go to?
Amanda Robb:Where the flowers go to is the window that was shot through.
David Ridgen:Yeah. I mean, I can’t imagine a more clear line of sight to a kitchen window than this. According to FBI documents, media reports, and interviews, Kopp parked his 1987 black Chevrolet Cavalier a short distance away at the dead end of a street, walked behind the Slepian’s house as we just have, passing through a neighbor’s backyard to the area where he set up his Russian made rifle and scope using a tree to study himself. The shot through the kitchen window was about 90 feet away, a clear view into the lives of the family he was shooting at. After he made his shot, he buried his rifle close by in a rubber tube that had been prepared ahead of time and other items in nearby holes that had likely already been pre-dug and then made his escape. A match for Kopp’s DNA was found here behind Dr. Slepian’s house. It’s the burial, the repeat visits, and the organization of it all that makes me think Kopp must have had someone helping him.
Lynn Slepian:He had help. He had help, but he had it so well planned out. He had to have somebody help him get through the neighborhood.
David Ridgen:James Kopp was named a material witness 12 days after the shooting, and it was a key piece of information logged by a neighbor just over a week before the shooting that helped point to Kopp. The neighbor had seen a suspicious, shabbily dressed man, pretending to jog, and then getting into a black Cavalier. She was so suspicious that she took down the plate number, and police were able to connect the car to Kopp.

Did you ever hear any names coming out about people that were helping him or anything like that?
Lynn Slepian:No. It was pretty quiet.
David Ridgen:Did you ever question yourself why?
Lynn Slepian:I always knew there was more involvement. There had to be more. He couldn’t. He’s not that smart to act alone. He had nothing, no creature comforts, no nothing. I mean, how did he live? How did he survive? He had an old piece of garbage car, and the clothes on his back, and no money. I mean, somebody had to harbor him and feed him. Yeah. He had to have help.
David Ridgen:Do you think it’s worthwhile for me to pursue these people?
Lynn Slepian:Do I?
David Ridgen:Yeah.
Lynn Slepian:Yeah. I had been asking for this for years, but it’s very hard to try to do on your own. It’s also hard when you’re directly involved. My kids were little. I didn’t want to push too much. I didn’t want to keep opening the wounds. I let them heal and move on. I didn’t.
David Ridgen:James Kopp was at the extreme end of larger anti-abortion movements that were protesting at clinics around the world. He began in 1984, and that year alone, he was charged with trespassing, battery, and assault with a deadly weapon. In 1986, Kopp met Randall Terry who had recently founded Operation Rescue. Terry and others thought that the passive tactics of some of the existing groups on the scene were useless. Here’s Randall Terry speaking at a news conference in Washington, DC in 1991.
Randall Terry:Please quote me on this. If they’re going to kill children, we are not going to give them rest day or night until they abandon the practice.
David Ridgen:Operation Rescue became the most influential anti-abortion group in the US by 1988. It’s protesters would crawl babies across abortion clinic parking or entrance areas in order to block the way. If arrested, many would identify themselves only as Baby Doe. Here’s Operation Rescue in Buffalo in 1992.
Speaker 7:Our father who art in heaven. Hallow be thy name.
David Ridgen:Pro-choice protestors were out in force too. [inaudible].
Speaker 8:About these women… We have prevented them from blocking the clinics. Operation Rescue has failed in Buffalo.
David Ridgen:Other more extreme, even militant groups, such as Army of God and Lambs of Christ were also formed around this time. To give a sense of the times, a supporter of Army of God called the Mad Gluer put together a manifesto on how abortion providers should be hurt or disabled from how to build bombs, to methods for shooting, or poisoning them all placed loosely within the tenets of the Christian Bible. James Kopp advanced through these more extremist anti-abortion ranks quickly, and the first person listed in the special thanks in that manifesto is someone named Atomic Dog, a nickname that came to be directly associated with James Kopp.

In 1990 in the US, there were 15 acts of violence at abortion clinics. In 1993, there were 278. In the US, the legal right to abortion had been protected in law by this time for the previous 20 years. In Canada, the prohibition against abortion was only struck down in 1988. Leaks of US Supreme Court documents indicate that landmark decisions on abortion may well be overturned, and there is a sense by some Americans and Canadians of a looming re-ignition of violence.
Lynn Slepian:That night changed everything forever. It did. I mean, it changed my trajectory. The stuff that we lost was very hard, and I’m lucky the kids did as well as they did.
David Ridgen:Bart and Lynn had four children all between age seven and 15 at the time.
Lynn Slepian:I tried to keep things as normal for them, so that’s hard, keep them at school, keep them at football, keep them at baseball, keep them at on schedule for everything.
David Ridgen:Did you guys ever talk about that particular day ever again?
Lynn Slepian:Nope. Nope. They choose not to discuss it. They reminisce about stuff we used to do as a family, but no, that night does not come up. No, I had the 15 year old grabbing towels, and one calling… No, they don’t want to go through it, and I would never bring it up again. They don’t want to talk.
David Ridgen:Sorry to make you go through it gain.
Lynn Slepian:No, that’s okay. It’s okay.
David Ridgen:After Dr. Slepian’s shooting, Kopp had fled American soil via Mexico, then Ireland onto France with the help of some of the people I’ll be looking at, but eventually after over two years on the lamb, Kopp’s interactions with his supporters led police to him. When Amanda Robb heard the news, she began working her sources, including a devotedly Christian woman named Susan, and Susan knew James Kopp.
Amanda Robb:The day the FBI called us and said that he’d been apprehended in France, I had arranged to speak to Susan. I think at this point I had decided I was going to write a book about Bart and Jim. I thought, “Well, I can’t just talk to her without telling her,” so I said, “Well, Susan,” I said, “I think I need to tell you that Jim’s been apprehended in France.” She goes, “Great. I’ll go see him.” I said, “Can I come?” She said, “Whatever Jesus wants,” so I was like, “Okay.” I said, “All right, Susan. We’ll meet in Charles de Gaulle. How will I find you?” She was like, “Well, Jesus will take care of it.” I said, “Susan,” I said, “Charles de Gaulle is a really big airport.” I shit you not. I come through customs, and there as a woman with her hands folded in prayer, and it’s Susan. She’s like, “Wow.”
David Ridgen:Amanda and Susan meet James Kopp’s lawyer, and a one on one meeting with Jim is arranged.
Amanda Robb:I go in, and I think, “All right, well it’s going to be okay, because it’s going to be like on Law and Order, and there’s going to be this glass partition or plexiglass, but no.” French jail’s really…
David Ridgen:Amanda found herself in a room in the jail face to face with the man who killed her uncle. Kopp was a small slight man with bright blue eyes and what Amanda describes as an unnerving flirtatious manner.
Amanda Robb:In comes this guy, and he gives me a Bible, and he calls me Mandy, which only my family calls me Mandy. Then he, I don’t know, he flirts. He gave me a lot of movie recommendations. He told me to see, let’s see, the movie Pay it Forward was the story of his life. Then he would burst out screaming, “I’m not some homo pedophile priest,” and he curled up in fetal position and start crying. He’s very bright, but it was like his mind would get tangled up. I mean, it was obviously a very stressful time, and I didn’t know how to do an interview. I mean, it was stressful for both of us. It became pretty apparent pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to write this book. The Jim parts were easy. It was the Bart parts I couldn’t write. It was just too upsetting for my family, and it was too upsetting for me to have them angry with me. I don’t even think I could write it now, 20 years on. It’s just too upsetting.
David Ridgen:Amanda still carries this meeting with Kopp along with her questions, which are now mine. Kopp was eventually charged and convicted for the killing of Barnett Slepian and was sentenced to 25 years to life. Where’s the investigation here? Why talk about a murder that’s already been apparently solved? Because, there’s more.
Amanda Robb:Jim is the suspect in five shootings of abortion providers.
David Ridgen:Dr. Slepian wasn’t the only abortion provider to be shot.
Amanda Robb:There was Bart who died, there was a doctor in Rochester, New York who was injured, and then there were three doctors in Canada.
David Ridgen:In addition to the murder of Dr. Slepian, James Kopp is a suspect in four other attacks on doctors because of the striking similarities between the shootings. People may not remember as much about the Canadian abortion providers who were also the victims of sniper attacks. Dr. Gary Romalis was the first to be shot at his home in British Columbia in November 1994, followed by Dr. Hugh Short in Ontario in November 1995, and then Dr. Jack Fainman in Manitoba in November 1997. An American doctor in Rochester, New York was also shot at in the same year as Dr. Fainman. The two bullets missed, but he was injured by debris. All three Canadian doctors were badly injured but survived, and all three had their lives and those of their family and community pretty much ripped apart.
Amanda Robb:Why Buffalo? Why Ontario? I would be very curious to know who it was, why they did it, and how they feel about it now.
Al Letson:After spending more than 20 years in prison for the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian, what does James Kopp have to say about the shootings, the ones in Canada?
Jim Kopp:This is Jim Kopp speaking. How are you doing today?
Al Letson:That’s after a short break. You’re listening to Reveal.
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Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Today, we’re bringing you a story from the podcast Someone knows Something, about the murder of abortion provider, Dr. Barnett Slepian and the violent extremist factions of the anti-abortion movement that formed in the 1990s. A man named James Kopp is currently serving a life sentence without parole in a federal prison for Dr. Slepian’s murder. He’s been incarcerated for over 20 years now, but there were also three other shootings that took place in Canada around the same time that Dr. Slepian was murdered under very similar circumstances. Those cases were never solved. One of the victims was told by police they were stalked for a year by the shooter who had support from a group in the US. CBC reporter, David Ridgen wants to know what James Kopp has to say about those shootings. After months of trading emails with him, Kopp calls David from prison.
Jim Kopp:This is Jim Kopp speaking. How are you doing today?
David Ridgen:Jim Kopp, thank you so much for calling.
Jim Kopp:Is this a good time?
David Ridgen:Yeah, no, this is good. This is good.

Kopp does not sound I expected from his emails, lucid and calm.
Jim Kopp:Mr. Ridgen, you and me are friends talking.
David Ridgen:To get the ball rolling, I ask him what he thinks about Roe vs Wade and what’s going on in the Supreme Court. I just want to, I guess, start off with asking you about where you stand now?
Jim Kopp:Yeah. First of all well, I’m really not the one to talk about politics and stuff like that. I have an opinion, but it’s just like anyone in the street. I’m a specialist. I tend to worry about a child that’s going to be dead within a matter of hours. The Supreme Court doesn’t worry about that. The pro-life movement doesn’t worry about that.
David Ridgen:A specialist, one that believes that Roe v Wade will never be substantially reversed, he thinks that anti-abortion supporters in Texas aren’t going far enough.
Jim Kopp:I’ve been in this business for a minute, and I tell you something, it’s disheartening to see a whole bunch of very powerful pro-lifers down in Texas, sitting back and saying, “There, we won the battle. What are you doing?” Then they don’t care.
David Ridgen:I try to get into the shootings. Have you stayed pretty much the same since the time of the Slepian shooting or whenever, before that, or whenever you were engaged?
Jim Kopp:Yeah. If I understand the question it’s, as I told you this thing about Fresno, that informs every single thing I do. I think about it all the time. I think about it at the current moment. It never leaves me any peace.
David Ridgen:Fresno is an incident Kopp says he experienced in Fresno, California. It’s something he talks about a lot in his correspondence with me. It’s also something he uses here to deflect my question. The Fresno incident is one that he says illustrates his belief that many abortions are forced upon women by others, notably men.
Jim Kopp:As far as relates to me, a woman was beat, and dragged, and slapped, and kicked, and dragged off into abortion clinics. For God’s sake, she had polio braces on her feet. She couldn’t run away. She would’ve loved to run away. She would’ve loved to run over to where I was calling to her, and then I said to her…
David Ridgen:I cannot verify any of these details. I circle back on the shooting of Dr. Slepian again. Talk about Buffalo bit more. Talk about how you see yourself in that particular scene with Dr. Slepian and that shooting.
Jim Kopp:It’s the kind of thing when you’re in here in jail doing life, and you put your head on a pillow at night, and you wake up in the morning, it’s the kind of thing that you go, “Yeah. It’s not wonderful.” Yes. It’s terrible what happened to the Slepians. It’s terrible what happened to my own family. A massive price was paid on both sides. I was not trying to kill the guy, but I was trying to injure him, exactly like the Canadian guy.
David Ridgen:The Canadian guy Kopp is talking about is a person he claimed shot the three doctors in Canada, but the only person police publicly named as a suspect in any of those shootings was James Kopp. He was charged with attempted murder in one of those cases, but charges were dropped after he was convicted in US courts. Still, Kopp claims without concrete evidence that a Canadian guy was responsible for those shootings.
Jim Kopp:The man had three targets. Each of the three men made a public statement, “I will never do an abortion again, ever. You can scratch my name off some list you have,” and that was my motive in Buffalo, and I failed at that. That is a terrible, terrible thing what happened to him
David Ridgen:Failed Kopp says because his shot killed Dr. Slepian, whereas the Canadian guy wounded his three targets, Dr. Romalis, Short, and Fainman. Romalis able to return to work, Short and Fainman weren’t.

Now, you’re suggesting that you weren’t responsible for any of the Canadian shootings?
Jim Kopp:Oh, definitely not. How I wish. Are you kidding? How I wish. To have that accuracy and to have that much… My God, if I were that accurate, I’d be out of custody now, number one, and number two, Slepian would still be alive. I would be out, I could have a family, I could be doing who knows what, and also Dr. Slepian would still be alive, so how I wish, how I wish, but anyways, thinking about it and based on the information I have and do not have in Canada, there’s no doubt in my mind that he was a professional shooter. There’s no doubt in my mind that the shooter was professional. I’m an amateur. That’s why Dr. Slepian is not with this anymore, and that’s why this is so terrible.
David Ridgen:I just wonder when you talk about not being involved in those shootings, I’ve seen evidence that says that you were actually in the area at the time. Is that not true? Were you not seen at the borders there?
Jim Kopp:Oh, no. Hell no.
David Ridgen:Yeah, no. These are border NCIC reports that say that you were seen on these various days in a car scouting missions, then the day of Dr. Romalis’ shooting that same car across the border just hours after, those are the documents I’ve seen.
Jim Kopp:Right. They know that in trial, that’s not going to do anything, and they also know… See, my big point that I keep making, that guy was a professional, and I’m an amateur.
David Ridgen:Then in Hugh Short’s case, I find that they’ve found DNA that’s linked to you there on this baklava they found on the driveway. Was that not…
Jim Kopp:Who is who Hugh Short?
David Ridgen:Dr. Hugh Short, Ancaster, Ontario. You were pulled over just the week before he was shot there on highway 403. According to the police, they pulled you over in your car there, so that wasn’t you?
Jim Kopp:It’s definitely not me.
David Ridgen:Kopp’s car was recorded crossing the border into the US from Ontario, less than two hours after Dr. Short’s shooting.
Jim Kopp:I never did any of the Canadian things. See, I don’t know the guy who did it, but I’ve heard of him. I’m convinced the guy up north was about to retire. He was an HRT shooter up there. He was about to retire. He did his thing. If he’d been caught, he said, “Fine,” but he got away with it, I guess, kept going. Then there’s the shootings up north that are off record. No one ever called the police for them
David Ridgen:In the US, the term HRT stands for hostage rescue team. I press on Kopp’s suggestion that there were unreported shootings of abortion providers in Canada.

You’re saying that there were other shootings in Canada that weren’t reported as anti-abortion shootings or at least as shootings at all?
Jim Kopp:I know it for a certainty. You have to find those doctors, though. You have to go dig them out. It’s the same thing in the United States.
Speaker 10:This call is from a federal prison.
David Ridgen:There are other shootings in the US that we have found that may have been perpetrated by anti-abortionists, but were called something else, like a robbery. It’ll be tough to verify Kopp’s claim about unreported Canadian shootings unless someone listening comes forward. Our time is almost up. I try to press further on Dr. Fainman’s case, the third unsolved shooting in Canada.

Dr. Fainman in Manitoba, again a black 1987 Cavalier registered apparently to you was seen going over the border after his shooting. All these times with a car or vehicle or you’re being seen, it isn’t your car?
Jim Kopp:Let me answer you this way. I’ll tell you how the squad torched abortion clinics in the United States, because I heard it from the horse’s mouth disenfranchised by Janet Reno. Do you follow that? You know what happened in the ’90s, right? She went in there, and she said to these people, “You can’t chase after the mob anymore. You got to chase after the pro-lifers,” and they were frustrated.
David Ridgen:Here, Kopp provides a convoluted theory, similar to one Amanda Robb found in her reporting on the case in 2002, that was used by Kopp’s supporters prior to his confession that the shooting of Dr. Slepian had been undertaken by an FBI agent to impress Janet Reno, who was US attorney general from 1993 to 2001. In 1998, Reno did create a task force to investigate violence against healthcare providers, and in response to the murder of Dr. Slepian, but in Kopp’s version of events, the task force that Reno created was made up of disenfranchised FBI agents who worked to frame anti-abortion activists. Kopp starts to hypothesize as to how an FBI team would’ve carried out anti-abortion actions, including blowing up clinics, which he refers to here as mills.
Jim Kopp:I slip out the back door. I go check out the mill. First of all, I disarm the alarms, which is what I did in the ’90s before got into shooting, right? I was a bad shooter, but the other stuff went much better.
David Ridgen:Kopp first says he copied the Canadian guy and then infers that it was actually a frame job by FBI agents responsible. I keep pressing.

Then Slepian, there’s been some speculation by family and others that I’ve spoken to that you might have had some help in that case. Did you do all the work on your own? Were you being helped?
Jim Kopp:Again, like the Canadian thing, I wish I had been the Canadian shooter because if I did Dr. Slepian would be alive. Well, the thing that you just said is, did I have any help? I wish I’d had help. I wish to God I had had some help, but that one I operated alone and that’s why I got…
David Ridgen:Our call is interrupted. The prison line apparently disconnects automatically after 15 minutes. The last thing he said was, “I wish to God I had had some help, but that one I operated alone. That’s why I got…” That one? I send the recording of the call to Amanda.

I questioned him about the shootings, and there was that one moment. Do you notice that one?
Amanda Robb:Yeah. He says, “Did I have help? I wish I’d had help. I wish to God I’d have some help, but on that one, I operated alone.”
David Ridgen:That’s what it was.
Amanda Robb:Yeah.
David Ridgen:That was it. I message. Retired FBI informant handler, Michael Osborne, to get his thoughts on Kopp’s claims of not being the Canadian shooter and that he was an amateur. Osborne tells me amateurs don’t maintain a fugitive status like Kopp did. He and his support network were in sync. Kopp also described himself as an expert shot to Lou Michel of the Buffalo News, and Lou says Kopp had really bragged to him about how he had worked with the Russian SKS rifle. The rifle had a homemade bullet catcher attached for the Slepian shooting, and the butt was taped for balance to the liking of the shooter, not the actions of an amateur. Also, Dr. Romalis could have easily faced the same fate as Dr. Slepian had he not applied a tourniquet, Dr. Romalis’ own first aid tying that tourniquet is what helped to save his life, not any shooter expertise who was trying to wound not kill.

According to a statement by the prosecution, one of the other Canadian doctors also had to prevent themselves from bleeding out. I’m not so sure about Kopp’s claims that the shootings were so different. Maybe the Canadian shooter wasn’t a professional trying to scare or name doctors. Maybe the shooter was trying to kill them and failed. Kopp makes claims and uses various defenses in our conversation. In fact, he’s tried to push forward and appeal in the US courts based on his assertion that a trial judge did not allow him to argue that he was saving the lives of children, that by killing a doctor, he prevented future murders.

I feel sometimes like I’m continuing your obsession, like I’m actually creating part of the problem because you came saying you had this obsession with the abortion doctor shooters and obviously Bart’s shooting. I don’t know if I’ve helped with that.
Amanda Robb:I feel like you’ve brought me peace. I mean, I’ve been all alone with this. You have to imagine for 20 some odd years, and with you, I got somebody who wanted to deal with it with me and wanted to dig into things with me.
David Ridgen:We found, I think, some new information, but the full truth seems just out of reach. The idea that who are the helpers, are we ever going to be able to find that? Then it made me think, how do you, how do you reconcile with the tragedy really? How can we do that without the full truth?
Amanda Robb:Well, I don’t know that you ever reconcile. I mean, a tragedy is a tragedy. It’s a hole in your heart, and that’s just what it is.
David Ridgen:I guess the real question is, do we have to reconcile with tragedy?
Amanda Robb:I have to try to understand why. I mean, I just do. I mean, it’s my nature. I have to figure stuff out. Yeah. I can live with it, but I always live with it. Every story I’ve ever done, I’ve never, I don’t think ever, gotten every single answer I wanted. I think what you do is you get to a point where if you squint, you can see the picture, even with pieces missing. I feel like I can squint now and see much more of the picture of what happened. I mean, this is really the bedrock tragedy of my life, and yet it’s been the best work experience of my life, and so it’s a very strange thing. I mean, I’ve very much enjoyed working with you. It’s so strange because it’s such a sad, painful subject, but I am so sad our work is almost over.
David Ridgen:Thanks for involving me in the case.
Al Letson:Thanks to the CBC podcast, Someone Knows Something, for partnering with us on this week’s show. We were only able to bring you a part of the story today. David and Amanda delve much deeper in the full series. David goes to Mississippi, where he talks to people on the front lines of a fight for reproductive rights. There are also interviews with a man who fire bombed abortion clinics and with a former leader of the anti-abortion movement, who’s now in favor of access to abortion. You can hear all of that by subscribing to Someone Knows Something, season seven, The Abortion Wars. It’s available wherever you get your podcasts.

Someone Knows Something is hosted, written and produced by David Ridgen. The series is also produced by Hadeel Abdel-Nabi, Steph Kampf, and Amanda Robb. Sound designed by Evan Kelly. Emily Canell is a digital producer, and the story editor is Chris Oke. The executive producer is Cesil Fernandes, and the director of CBC podcast is Arif Noorani. This week’s show was adapted from the CBC series for Revealed by Michael I Schiller. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production manager is Amy “The Great” Mustafa. Reveal’s sound design team is the dynamic duo J-Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, my man, Arruda. Our post production team is the Justice League, and this week it includes Jess Alvarenga and Katherine Stier Martinez. Our digital producer is Sarah Merck. Our CEO is Kaizar Campwala. Sumia Arawa is our editor in chief, and our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Kamarado, Lightning.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heisin-Simons Foundation, the Hellman Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Inasmuch Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting in PRX. I’m Al Letson, and remember, there is always more to the story.
Speaker 11:From PRX.

Michael I Schiller

Michael I Schiller is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. His Emmy Award-winning work spans animation, radio and documentary film.

“The Dead Unknown,” a video series he directed about the crisis of America's unidentified dead, earned a national News and Documentary Emmy Award, national Edward R. Murrow Award and national Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award.

His 2015 animated documentary short film “The Box,” about youth solitary confinement, was honored with a video journalism award from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Northern California chapter, a San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award and a New Orleans Film Festival special jury prize, and it was nominated for a national News and Documentary Emmy for new approaches.

Schiller was one the producers of the pilot episode of the Peabody Award-winning Reveal radio show and podcast. He continues to regularly produce audio documentaries for the weekly public radio show, which airs on over 450 stations nationwide. Schiller is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Amy Mostafa (she/they) is the production manager for Reveal. She is a UC Berkeley School of Journalism alum, where she focused on audio and data journalism as a Dean's Merit Fellow and an ISF Scholar. She has reported on science, health and the environment in Anchorage for Alaska Public Media and on city government in Berkeley and San Francisco for KQED. Her work also has appeared on NPR, KALW and KALX. Mostafa holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and public policy. She has most recently reported on housing and aging in the Bay Area. She is based in Reveal’s Emeryville, California, office.

Jim Briggs III is the senior sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. He supervises post-production and composes original music for the public radio show and podcast. He also leads Reveal's efforts in composition for data sonification and live performances.

Prior to joining Reveal in 2014, Briggs mixed and recorded for clients such as WNYC Studios, NPR, the CBC and American Public Media. Credits include “Marketplace,” “Selected Shorts,” “Death, Sex & Money,” “The Longest Shortest Time,” NPR’s “Ask Me Another,” “Radiolab,” “Freakonomics Radio” and “Soundcheck.” He also was the sound re-recording mixer and sound editor for several PBS television documentaries, including “American Experience: Walt Whitman,” the 2012 Tea Party documentary "Town Hall" and “The Supreme Court” miniseries. His music credits include albums by R.E.M., Paul Simon and Kelly Clarkson.

Briggs' work with Reveal has been recognized with an Emmy Award (2016) and two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards (2018, 2019). Previously, he was part of the team that won the Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage of Trauma for its work on WNYC’s hourlong documentary special “Living 9/11.” He has taught sound, radio and music production at The New School and Eugene Lang College and has a master's degree in media studies from The New School. Briggs is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Fernando Arruda

Fernando Arruda is a sound designer, engineer and composer for Reveal. As a multi-instrumentalist, he contributes to the original music, editing and mixing of the weekly public radio show and podcast. He has held four O-1 visas for individuals with extraordinary abilities. His work has been recognized with Peabody, duPont-Columbia, Edward R. Murrow, Gerald Loeb, Third Coast and Association of Music Producers awards, as well as Emmy and Pulitzer nominations. Prior to joining Reveal, Arruda toured as an international DJ and taught music technology at Dubspot and ESRA International Film School. He worked at Antfood, a creative audio studio for media and TV ads, and co-founded a film-scoring boutique called the Manhattan Composers Collective. He worked with clients such as Marvel, MasterClass and Samsung and ad agencies such as Framestore, Trollbäck+Company, BUCK and Vice. Arruda releases experimental music under the alias FJAZZ and has performed with many jazz, classical and pop ensembles, such as SFJAZZ Monday Night Band, Art&Sax quartet, Krychek, Dark Inc. and the New York Arabic Orchestra. His credits in the podcast and radio world include NPR’s “51 Percent,” WNYC’s “Bad Feminist Happy Hour” and its live broadcast of Orson Welles’ “The Hitchhiker,” Wondery’s “Detective Trapp,” MSNBC’s “Why Is This Happening?” and NBC’s “Born to Rule,” to name a few. Arruda also has a wide catalog of composed music for theatrical, orchestral and chamber music formats, some of which has premiered worldwide. He holds a master’s degree in film scoring and composition from NYU Steinhardt. The original music he makes with Jim Briggs for Reveal can be found on Bandcamp.

Jess Alvarenga (they/she) is a former associate producer for Reveal. They are an audio producer and documentary filmmaker from the American South. Meeting at the intersection of art and journalism, they use storytelling as a way to document and reimagine immigrant narratives, particularly those of the Central American diaspora. In 2017, Alvarenga was awarded an individual artist grant from the Houston Arts Alliance and the City of Houston for their work on the city’s Central American population. They have a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley.

Kathryn Styer Martínez

Kathryn Styer Martínez (she/ella) is a production assistant for Reveal. She studies audio and photojournalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She is also a Greater Good Science Center reporting fellow, focusing on Latino well-being.

Martínez was the 2020-21 Toni Randolph reporting fellow at Minnesota Public Radio, the 2019-20 New Economy Reporting Project fellow and the former director of KGPC-LP FM, Peralta Community Radio. Her work has appeared in El Tecolote, The Oaklandside, MPR News, National Public Radio, Outside Online, Talk Poverty, New Life Quarterly and Making Contact.

She earned bachelor’s degrees in Raza studies and political science from San Francisco State University.

Kevin Sullivan is a former executive producer of Reveal’s public radio show and podcast. He joined Reveal from the daily news magazine show “Here & Now,” where he was senior managing editor. There, he helped lead the expansion of the show as part of a unique partnership between NPR and WBUR. Prior to radio, Sullivan worked as a documentary film producer. That work took him around the world, with stories ranging from reconciliation in Northern Ireland to the refugee crisis during the war in Kosovo.

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sullivan launched an investigative unit for CBS in Baltimore, where he spearheaded investigations on bioterrorism and the U.S. government’s ability to respond to future threats. He also dug into local issues. His exposé of local judges found widespread lax sentencing of repeat-offender drunken drivers. Other investigations included sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, and doctors who sold OxyContin for cash. Sullivan has won multiple journalism awards, including several Edward R. Murrow awards, a Third Coast / Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Competition award and an Emmy. He has an MBA from Boston University.

Al Letson is a playwright, performer, screenwriter, journalist, and the host of Reveal. Soul-stirring, interdisciplinary work has garnered Letson national recognition and devoted fans.