Family suspects murder, $5,000 reward offered in Ocala couple's suspicious deaths

DNA identifies husband and wife burned beyond recognition

Marion County Sheriff's Office detectives are offering a reward for information about a couple who died in July after their home burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances.

It took six months for detectives to positively identify the couple, Robert Cooper and Ariel Prim, through DNA because their bodies were so badly burned.

Sheriff's office spokeswoman Lauren Lettelier said the medical examiner ruled the cause of death as undetermined and the fire marshal couldn't say how the fire started.

"At this point we've ruled it's a suspicious death investigation," Lettelier said. "There are a lot of variables where we can't come out and say this is a homicide investigation but it's certainly suspicious to us."

Firefighters were called out to the home after neighbors realized the mobile home had burned overnight.

Marion County Fire Rescue responded to the fire in the 4000 block of SE 84th Lane Road on July 28, 2018. A 911 caller said the house had "burned to the ground," according to authorities.

Firefighters said they found the structure already burned down when they arrived and discovered the remains of two people inside.

Marion County Sheriff's Office Major Crimes detectives confirmed in December through DNA evidence that the remains were those of Cooper and Prim.

"Now we can really do the boots-on-the ground investigative work to find out what happened," Lettelier said.

Cooper's mother, Karen Cooper, said the couple married in 2015. They were computer and IT specialists and worked alongside each other every day. Prim was an accomplished equestrian and moved to Ocala with Cooper to ride horses.

Ariel Prim was an avid equestrian, her family says

Karen Cooper said she suspects the couple were murdered.

"I don't know why they were killed, over money, or things, or whatever, but nobody deserves to be killed over money or things," she said. "I talked to Robert the night before, at 11:45 Friday night, and everything was fine. And yet, by 7 the next morning they were burned to the bone. How can that be?"

Karen Cooper said the couple had planned to sell a horse the day after the fire and then move out of Ocala. 

"I don't think we can ever let go of it," she said. "As long as I believe someone is out there who did this I will never be able to rest because if someone could do this to them, they could do this to anyone. I don't know how to go on. I don't think any of us know how to go on after this."​

The Florida Sheriff’s Association Criminal Apprehension Assistance Program and Marion County Crime Stoppers are offering a $5,000 reward for information.

"That would be so tremendously helpful for the families because they are hurting so much to not know what happened," Lettelier said. 

Anyone with information about the couple's death is asked to contact the Marion County Crime Stoppers at 352-368-STOP.​

Robert Cooper and Ariel Prim were found dead in their Ocala home on July 28, 2018. Detectives are seeking information about their suspicious deaths. (Image: MCSO)

About the Authors:

Emilee Speck

Emilee is a digital journalist for News 6 and ClickOrlando.com, where she writes about space and Central Florida news. Previously, Emilee was a space writer and web editor for the Orlando Sentinel and a producer at the Naples Daily News. Emilee is a Space Coast native and graduate of the University of North Florida journalism program.

Erik von Ancken

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.

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