1970: Akira Nishiguchi, Vengeance Is Mine inspiration 1861: William Johnson, impulse deserter

1952: Hard Luck Billy Cook

December 12th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1952, the short and brutal life of William Cook ended in the San Quentin gas chamber.

A quintessential “terrible upbringing” criminal, young Billy was ditched with his siblings by their alcoholic widower father in an abandoned mine when he was a small child.

Though brothers and sisters found foster parents, Billy — afflicted by physical deformity and an ungovernable temper — had to make his way as a ward of the state. Constantly delinquent through his adolescence, he was institutionally handed off to the state penitentiary at age 17.

He got out at 22, with a grudge against the world and a knuckle tattoo reading “H-A-R-D L-U-C-K”, resolved — so he told his derelict father — to “live by the gun and roam.”

In a 22-day spree looping from California to Texas and Oklahoma and then back again, Cook slew six people: an entire vacationing family in Oklahoma, and then another kidnapped motorist in California. Taking drivers hostage was how he navigated America’s growing intercity road network, making the Cook story readily adaptable to titillate cinema-goers who knew the loneliness of the open road, in 1953’s The Hitch-Hiker. (Teaser line: “Who’ll be his next victim … YOU?”)

Cook took little care for his own secrecy and had to flee to Mexico to avoid a dragnet. Surprisingly, even the police chief of Santa Rosaria in Baja California recognized the wanted man, and he was captured there unawares and extradited back to the Golden State.

“I hate everybody’s guts,” he reportedly explained upon his capture. “And everybody hates mine.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,California,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Gassed,History,Murder,USA

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2 thoughts on “1952: Hard Luck Billy Cook”

  1. David Goldman says:

    Sorry fotr the family’s loss but this movie did not glorify Cook in any way. He is shown as a horrible human being without a real soul. Despicable is the correct word.

  2. Mary Powell says:

    This man killed my great uncle Carl and his family (pregnant wife, two sons and little girl) and dumped them in a pit in Joplin Missouri. He held them hostage for a wile, driving from Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas corner. He was and evil man and cannot understand why people want to glorify such evil by having a movie about them.

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