William Cook was born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1929. 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 reformatory than more foster care. Cook spent several years in detention before he was transferred, aged 17, to 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 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 hitch-hiking. Shortly afterward Cook robbed Archer of $100 at gunpoint and forced him into the trunk of his car. But the mechanic eventually escaped by forcing open the trunk with a tire iron before jumping out as Cook made a slow turn onto a secondary road.
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. However, the receipt for Cook’s gun was found in the car. Police now had a name for their suspect.
Just outside Blythe, California, a deputy sheriff who had became suspicious of Cook, 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. But it did not happen. Instead Cook got back into the police car and drove away.
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 before dumping his body in a ditch.
By now, all law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. Southwest were on the lookout for Cook, who had now returned to Blythe. He kidnapped two other men, James Burke and Forrest Damron, who were on a hunting trip. He forced them to drive to across the Mexican border to Santa Rosalia. Amazingly, in the town, Cook was recognized by Santa Rosalia police chief, Francisco Morales, 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.
Despite killing the Mosser family, the Federal Authorities turned Cook over to the Californian courts which tried him only for the murder of Robert Dewey. He was found guilty and sentenced to death in the gas chamber. He was executed at San Quentin Prison on December 12, 1952.
Cook’s body was returned to Joplin, Missouri to be buried in Peace Church Cemetery.
Cook was known for the words “Hard Luck” tattooed on the fingers of his left hand and for a deformed right eyelid that never closed completely.