Today’s Drifting Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
William Cook, Jr. was born into abject poverty in Joplin, Missouri in 1929. When his mother died, his father more or less abandoned the children in a disused mine shaft. Thereafter, Billy Cook was shuffled back and forth between relatives, foster families and institutions. He was unwanted not only because of a right eye that, due to a botched operation, never closed, but also because of his total lack of conscience or emotion. Even his own siblings wanted little to do with him.
Cook predictably grew into a drifter and petty criminal, saying once that he planned to “live by the gun and roam.” He got a tattoo of the phrase Hard Luck on his knuckles, and on December 28, 1950, he kidnapped a man named Lee Archer who’d picked him up hitchhiking in Texas. Archer was locked in the trunk of his own car, but managed to pry the trunk open and escape. Cook was unfamiliar with the car’s transmission and ended up in a ditch, where he was “rescued” by the Mosser family. Carl Mosser, his wife Thelma, and their three children–Ronald, 7, Gary, 5, and Pamela Sue, 3– were travelling from Illinois to visit Carl’s brother in New Mexico when they stopped to help a seemingly stranded motorist. Cook promptly took the family hostage and forced Carl Mosser to embark on an aimless, three-day drive across the southwest and midwest. At one point, when they stopped for gas, Mosser tried to tried to save his and his family’s lives by getting into a struggle with Cook, trying to get his gun.
The gas station owner misunderstood the situation and thought it was a run of the mill brawl. He drew his own gun and ordered the two men to leave immediately, which they did. The shaken owner then called the police, but it was too late. Cook shot all five Mossers and their dog, dumping the bodies down a flooded mine in Joplin. Then he headed west, and fetched up in the desert town of Blythe, California. There he abducted a deputy sheriff and forced him to drive pointlessly around the desert, before ordering him to stop, get out of the car and lie facedown by the side of the road. He seemed about to shoot the man, but inexplicably left him alive, hitching a ride with 32-year-old Robert Dewey, whom he murdered in Arizona before wandering into Mexico.
In Mexico, Cook kidnapped two American prospectors, who found that they could not slip away from their captor in the night as they’d hoped because his right eye remained open and they could never tell if he was awake or asleep. By now Cook’s story and his description were all over the news, including coverage in Life magazine. A police chief in the small town of Santa Rosalia, Mexico, recognized Cook in a café and arrested him without incident, freeing the two captives. Cook was brought back to the US to face trial. He was tried before a judge, sans jury, on charges of killing the Mossers, and though he could have received the death penalty, he was instead given a sentence of 300 years, theoretically meaning he was eligible for parole. The judge was mercillesly criticized in the press, and prosecutors vowed to seek the death penalty when Cook was tried for the Dewey murder.
Sure enough, Cook was found guilty and sentenced to die in California’s gas chamber. On December 12, 1952, the young man known as Cockeyed Cook elbowed a prison chaplain hard in the ribs as a final act of defiance before being seated inside the death chamber. He inhaled the cyanide gas readily and was soon pronounced dead. It was noted that as he succumbed to the gas, Cook’s heartbeat never accelerated like those of other prisoners being gassed.
Have you ever read the short story “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” by Flannery O’Connor? I think it’s inspired by this murder.
Death In A Nutshell
Aimee reminded me about the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death and sent me a link to an excellent website that discusses them, so I thought I’d feature them again even though I’d discussed them previously. The Nutshell Studies are crime models that were created by Frances Glessner Lee in the 1940s as a teaching tool for police homicide investigation. This website does a great job in displaying the beautiful doll house designs and explaining the clues they display.