June 28, 1959: Stet­tler fam­ily of seven slain as they slept; other son later hanged for mur­der

Edmonton Journal - - NEWS -

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.

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