June 28, 1959: Stettler family of seven slain as they slept; other son later hanged for murder
As church bells tolled and residents of the peaceful farming community of Stettler prepared for their customary restful Sunday, RCMP uncovered one of the most gruesome crimes in Alberta’s history.
Found piled in a mechanic’s pit in the garage of a small farmhouse were the barely recognizable bodies of Raymond Cook, 53, and his wife Daisy Mae, 37, both shot in the head. Bludgeoned to death were their children Gerald, 9; Patrick, 8; Christopher, 7; Kathy, 5; and Linda Mae, 2.
Raymond Cook’s son by a previous marriage, Robert Raymond Cook, 23, was in police custody from the night before on a charge of false pretences. An ex-convict, he’d been released just days earlier from Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert.
Police said he drove a car to Edmonton and traded it in on a 1959 convertible before returning to Stettler. Officers in Edmonton received a complaint regarding the transaction, which was made using his father’s identification, and a warrant was issued for Cook’s arrest.
Officers twice tried to notify his father and stepmother. When no one answered their knocks the second time, on Sunday, they entered the house and noticed that while the bedrooms were empty, there was blood on the floor and in the beds. A blood-stained shotgun was stuffed under a mattress.
When police reconstructed the crime, it appeared that all seven — still wearing their nightclothes — had been killed as they slept, possibly the previous Thursday. Their bodies were then dragged to the pit of the adjoining garage, dumped and covered with tires, boxes and blankets.
“We don’t know if the gun has been fired or not,” said one investigator. “Our investigation is not complete. However, we are sure of one thing: It appears the gun was used as a bludgeon to beat them to death. It is a terrible crime.”
Cook later became the subject of a manhunt when he escaped from the mental hospital in Ponoka after being told he wouldn’t be allowed to attend the funerals. But four days later, a weak, half-naked Cook gave up without a fight when police found him sitting on the ground in a hog pen in Bashaw.
He steadfastly denied any involvement in the deaths.
In the fall of 1959, a Red Deer jury deliberated for about an hour and 20 minutes before finding Cook guilty of murder. The verdict was appealed and he was convicted again in the summer of 1960, this time in an Edmonton courtroom.
He was sent to the gallows at Fort Saskatchewan Jail on Nov. 15, 1960, the last person to be hanged in the province.
In a final letter to Lila Larson, a woman who had cared for him after his mother died and one of his staunchest defenders, he wrote: “I just received word that this sentence is to be carried out tonight. I want you to know mom your faith in me was the true faith and not displaced. I am innocent and tonight murder will be committed in the name of the law.”
Stettler is 110 kilometres east of Red Deer.
Robert Cook was sentenced to death after the brutal murders of his father, stepmother and siblings at the family’s home in Stettler in 1959. Cook denied that he had committed the murders, and maintained his innocence until his execution in 1960.