Billy Cook (criminal)

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Billy Cook
Born William Edward Cook
December 23, 1928 (1928-12-23)
Joplin, Missouri, U.S.
Died December 12, 1952 (1952-12-13) (aged 23)
San Quentin Prison in San Quentin, California, U.S.
Other names Billy Cook
Occupation Drifter
Criminal penalty Executed by gas chamber
Criminal status Deceased (execution)
Conviction(s) Homicide of Robert Dewey

William Edward "Billy" Cook (December 23, 1928 – December 12, 1952) was an American spree killer who murdered six people on a 22-day rampage between Missouri and California in 1950–51.[1]

Early life[edit]

William Edward Cook Jr. was born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1928. His mother died when he was 5 years old. Soon after, his father relocated the children to an abandoned mine, eventually leaving them to fend for themselves with a few supplies. They were discovered there by the authorities and all the children were placed into foster care except William. A deformed eye and belligerent attitude stopped him being adopted by any family so he became a ward of the state. Cook was eventually placed in the care of a woman who accepted State money to look after him but they had a poor relationship.

He soon drifted into petty crime and was eventually arrested for truancy. At the age of 12 he told a judge he would prefer a reformatory to more foster care. Cook spent several years in detention before he was transferred, aged 17, to the Missouri State Penitentiary. While in prison he assaulted another inmate with a baseball bat.

When Cook was released from prison in 1950 he returned to Joplin to be briefly reunited with his father. He told him his intention was now to “live by the gun and roam.” Cook then drifted to the small desert town of Blythe, California, where he worked as a dishwasher until just before Christmas 1950. In late December he headed east again; on the way he acquired a snub-nosed .32-caliber revolver in El Paso, Texas.


On December 30, 1950, Texan mechanic Lee Archer was driving his car near Lubbock, Texas, when he picked up Billy Cook who was hitchhiking. Shortly afterward, Cook robbed Archer of $100 at gunpoint and forced him into the trunk of his car. Later, as Cook made a slow turn onto a secondary road, Archer escaped by forcing open the trunk with a tire iron and jumping out.

After the car ran out of fuel on the highway between Claremore and Tulsa, Oklahoma, Cook posed again as a hitchhiker. This time, he was picked up by farmer Carl Mosser from Illinois, who was en route to New Mexico with his wife, three children, and a dog. At gunpoint, Cook forced Mosser to drive around aimlessly for 72 hours. At one point, Mosser nearly overpowered Cook at a filling station near Wichita Falls, Texas; but Cook was too strong for him. Mentally unstable and increasingly tired, Cook shot the entire family and their dog shortly afterward. He dumped their bodies in a mine shaft near Joplin, Missouri.

Cook then headed back to California, after abandoning the Mosser car in Oklahoma. The vehicle was later discovered, full of bullet holes and covered in blood. Additionally, the receipt for Cook's gun was found in the car, providing police with a name for their suspect.

Just outside Blythe, California, a deputy sheriff named Homer Waldrip became suspicious of Cook and went to the motel where he'd earlier lived with a friend. Hoping to question the friend, he was instead taken by surprise when Cook himself jumped from behind the door and took Deputy Waldrip's revolver. Deputy Waldrip was taken hostage by the killer. In a manner similar to Mosser, Cook forced the deputy to drive around aimlessly. It was during this drive that Cook bragged about murdering the family from Illinois. After traveling more than 40 miles, Cook ordered the deputy to pull over the car and forced the officer to lie face down in a ditch. Cook then said he was going to shoot a bullet into the back of the deputy's head. However, Cook instead got back into the police car and drove away. When later asked why he did not kill Deputy Waldrip, Cook told reporters that the Deputy's wife Cecilia – with whom he had worked with for a short period of time in Blythe – was "nice to him, treated him like a human being and had been nicer than anyone had ever been to him in his life."

Cook then kidnapped another motorist, Robert Dewey, from Seattle. Sometime later the traveling salesman tried to wrestle the gun from Cook but was wounded in the process. The car left the road and careened into the desert. Cook murdered Dewey with a shot to the head. Dewey's body was found in Waldrip's abandoned car near Ogilby, California; Cook abandoned Dewey's car in Mexicali, Mexico.[2]

By now all law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. Southwest were on the lookout for Cook, who had returned to Blythe. He kidnapped two other men, James Burke and Forrest Damron, who were on a hunting trip. He forced them to drive across the Mexican border and on down to Santa Rosalia. Amazingly, Cook was recognized by Santa Rosalia police chief Luis Parra, who simply walked up to Cook, snatched the .32 revolver from his belt, and placed him under arrest. Billy Cook was then returned to the border and handed over to waiting FBI agents.


Cook was returned to Oklahoma City to answer for the Mosser killings, and sentenced to 300 years in prison. In 1951, a California jury sentenced him to death for killing the salesman from Seattle, Robert Dewey. On December 12, 1952, Cook was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin Prison. "I hate everybody's guts," he said at the time of his arrest, "and everybody hates mine."[3]

Cook's body was returned to Joplin, Missouri, to be buried in Peace Church Cemetery.

Cook was known for the words "H-A-R-D L-U-C-K" tattooed on the fingers of his left hand and for a deformed right eyelid that never closed completely.


  • Carl Mosser, 33
  • Thelma Mosser, 29
  • Ronald Dean Mosser, 7
  • Gary Carl Mosser, 5
  • Pamela Sue Mosser, 3
  • Robert Dewey, 32
  • Homer Waldrip (survived)
  • James Burke (survived)
  • Forrest Damron (survived)
  • Lee Archer (survived)

In popular culture[edit]

  • In his memoir, Education of a Felon, Edward Bunker describes attacking Cook in the showers with a shank, cutting him several times before being hauled away into solitary confinement by guards. However, Bunker writes that this incident happened in 1950 in the "High Power" unit of the Los Angeles County Jail when Cook was on trial for the murder of Robert Dewey. The actual trial took place in El Centro, California, in October and November 1951. Cook was released from the Missouri State Prison in June 1950 and only in California a few months during that year and he managed to stay out of trouble. Records from the National Archives show that Cook only spent 1 day in the Los Angeles County Jail while being transported from the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary to Imperial County to stand trial. Whoever Bunker shanked in the shower of the Los Angeles County Jail in 1950, it was not Cook.
  • The 1953 film noir The Hitch-Hiker, directed by Ida Lupino, was based on the Cook crime spree. It starred Edmond O'Brien and Frank Lovejoy, with William Talman as “Emmet Myers,” a killer modeled after Cook, right down to the deformed eyelid. The plot is a dramatization of Cook’s kidnapping of James Burke and Forrest Damron and their flight to Mexico.[4]
  • An in-depth portrait of Billy Cook, his crimes and execution appears in John Gilmore's 2005 book L.A. Despair: A Landscape of Crimes & Bad Times.
  • Cartoonist Mark Zingarelli made a seven page hard boiled comic story on Cook in 1987, titled "The 'Cockeyed' Cook Story" collected in The New Comics Anthology, ISBN 0-02-009361-6.
  • In the original script for The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison's short film HWY, the main character who is a hitchhiker was named Billy, which is a reference to Cook.


  1. ^ "Billy's Last Words". Time Magazine. 1952-12-22. Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  2. ^ Lewiston Daily Sun January 8, 1951 p.8
  3. ^ "Billy's Last Words". Time Magazine. 1952-12-22. Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  4. ^ Muller, Eddie. Dark city: the lost world of film noir page 176. MacMillan. (1998)