KSNF/KODE — There is a lot of speculation on what influences the actions of those who kill for the thrill, or go on murder sprees. From strained relationships with mothers, societal rejection, lust, fear, or something inherently psychological and lacking in empathy — whatever it is, it seems complicated more often than not.
Some have said that Billy Cook had never experienced the warmth of love and it left him cold, while others have argued that regardless, he could have made different choices. Choices that didn’t take the lives of 6 people, and the family dog, across America.
Born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1928, William “Billy” Cook Jr.’s beginnings were brutal. At five years old, he discovered his mother’s lifeless body. The coroner determined it was due to a cerebral hemorrhage — a brain bleed that can be caused by an accident, brain tumor, stroke, or high blood pressure. It’s said his father, William Cook Sr., was an abusive alcoholic that often spent time at the Joplin House of Lords— a world-renown notorious saloon and brothel. There was speculation that he may have played a role in his wife’s death but there was no solid evidence to suggest this was truly the case. Oddly enough, her obituary did not mention William Cook Sr. as her husband.
Not long after the passing of his wife, William Cook Sr. abandoned his children in an old mine shaft where they were later discovered by authorities. While the other children went into foster care, Billy ended up a ward of the state — supposedly because he had a bad temper and a droopy eye that kept families from wanting to adopt him. It was this droopy eye that made him a target for bullying and earned him the nickname “Cock-eyed Billy.”
He was involved with petty crimes in his youth, like robbing a cab driver for $11, and was later arrested at 12 years old for truancy, which landed him in a detention center. From the reformatory school, he was then transferred to the Missouri State Penitentiary at 17 years old. This recount of Billy’s life says a fellow inmate mocked his droopy eye and Billy nearly beat him to death with a baseball bat.
In 1950, Billy was released from prison and returned to Joplin where he found his father after being estranged for over a decade. Many sources recount Billy told his father he wanted to “live by the gun and roam.” Billy made his way to Blyth, California, where he lived for some time before making his way east. In December of that year, Billy was hitchhiking and picked up by Lee Archer, a mechanic. He then kidnapped Archer and forced him into the trunk of the car, which the mechanic was later able to escape from.
Eventually, the car ran out of gas and Billy was on foot hitchhiking again. He was picked up by Carl and Thelma Mosser, their three children, and the family dog. At gunpoint, Billy made Carl drive for three days from Oklahoma to Texas. Carl tried to get the upper hand on Billy but to no avail. Shortly after, Billy then shot the entire family, including the dog, and made his way back towards Joplin, Missouri where he dumped their bodies nearby. One source says in a well, while this one says a mineshaft.
After the murder, Billy abandoned the bloodied car riddled with bullet holes and headed to California. There, he took a deputy sheriff hostage, much like the Mossers, and made the sheriff drive around, while Billy boasted of the Mosser murders. Billy eventually spared the sheriff’s life because his wife reportedly had been kind to Billy when they worked together at a diner in California.
Billy’s last victim was Robert Dewey, a motorist from Seattle, whom Billy had shot in the head. At this time, Billy was wanted across America for his crimes. Law enforcement agencies from all over were aware of Billy and on the lookout.
Eventually, Billy fled to Mexico, where a local police chief supposedly walked up to Billy, snatched his gun from him, and arrested him. Billy was then handed over the border and taken into custody by the FBI.
In Oklahoma, Billy stood trial for the murder of the Mosser family, where he was sentenced to 300 years in prison — 60 for each life he had taken, with the intent to serve those years at the infamous Alcatraz prison. However, Billy was then tried again in California for the murder of Robert Dewey, and sentenced to the death penalty via gas chamber in the infamous San Quentin Prison — most known for housing numerous mass murderers, serial killers, and rapists such as Charles Manson and “The Night Stalker.”
On December 12, 1952, Billy was executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin Prison. His body was sent to Peace Church Cemetery in Joplin, Missouri, and buried in an unmarked grave.
Many articles can be found online siting Billy Cook’s final resting place with a claim or creative interpretation (like this one here from the Joplin Toad) that he does not rest peacefully. It is believed he aggressively haunts the grounds of the Peace Church Cemetery in Joplin.
From tragic beginnings to horrific endings, the tale of Billy Cook Jr. is one that begins and ends in our very own Joplin, Missouri.