By Savanah Mandeville
Every town has urban legends and creepy, haunted places where teenagers like to cruise on the weekends and get a good scare. Growing up in Joplin, there were a few of these: The Spooklight, Hoffman’s Mansion, and Peace Church Cemetery.
I’ve never really been one to believe in ghosts. I’d trail along with my friends, rolling my eyes, or not go at all because I didn’t feel like wasting my time standing around in a graveyard. (Yeah…I was a lot of fun.)
But recently, when some unexplainable things started happening at my house – the doorbell ringing on its own, a disembodied voice in the hallway – I began to question my beliefs about the paranormal.
So, with Halloween coming up and my skepticism shaken, I decided to, with new eyes, revisit one of those haunted stomping grounds of my youth: Peace Church Cemetery.
Peace Church Cemetery is located west of Joplin on Peace Church Avenue and has been more or less abandoned for many years. Curious teenagers and paranormal investigators alike have reported strange noises, eerie lights, and even mysterious scratches.
And then there’s the shadowy figure known to lurk on the edge of the burial ground in the trees.
Legend has it that lurking figure is the ghost of 21-year-old Billy Cook.
On December 30, 1950, Billy Cook began a 22 day killing spree that spanned several states and took the lives of six people. He was buried in an unmarked grave on the outskirts of Peace Church Cemetery in 1952.
Cook was born in 1929 and grew up near Joplin. His father was a mine worker and after the death of Cook’s mother, he raised Cook and his seven brothers and sisters in an abandoned mine shaft. One night, Cook’s father hopped a freight train and left the children to fend for themselves. After some time, authorities found the children huddled in the old mine, living like animals. They were all placed in foster care, except no families would take in Billy because they all reported something sinister about him. He was finally taken in by a woman who only agreed to do it for the government money. As a teen, Billy got into a lot of trouble and got the words “Hard Luck” tattooed on his knuckles. He ended up spending most of his formative year in a reform school. He was quickly one of the most dangerous students in the institution and was sent to the Missouri Penitentiary. While there, he beat another inmate so badly with a baseball bat that the man almost died.
In 1950, Cook was released and returned to Joplin to look for his father. Soon after, he left town and started hitch-hiking all over the country living briefly in California and Texas. Somewhere along the way, he bought a snub-nosed .32 caliber pistol. He kidnapped his first victim near Lubbock, Texas, and forced the man into the trunk of his own car as Cook drove on. The man was able to use a jack handle to open the trunk. He held it down until Cook turned off the highway onto a country road. At the right moment, he jumped out and escaped by running across the flatland. Cook drove on until the car ran out of gas somewhere between Claremore and Tulsa. He left the vehicle on the side of the road and started walking until he flagged down a 1949 Chevy and told the driver he was having car problems and needed a ride.
The driver, Carl Mosser, was traveling with his wife, Thelma, and their three small children from Decateur, Illinois to New Mexico. In that time, it was less widely known the dangers of picking up hitchhikers, so Carl Mosser, happy to help out the young man, allowed Cook into the car with his family.
Once in the car, Cook pulled the gun on Mosser and forced him to drive to Wichita Falls, Texas. Mosser finally thought he had a chance to lose Cook in Wichita Falls when he urged Cook to allow him to let him fill up on gas. Mosser pulled into a station and told the elderly attendant to fill the tank. When he asked, at Cook’s orders, that some lunch meat be brought the car, the attendant told him that he would have to go inside and get it himself. Cook followed Mosser inside, and it was then that Mosser grabbed hold of Cook and tried to pin him from behind. The elderly attendant saw the two men struggling and pulled out a .44 caliber revolver and ordered Mosser to let go of Cook. Mosser tried to explain what was going on, but the attendant ordered them to leave. Mosser and Cook continued to fight and then Cook broke away and pushed Mosser through a plate glass window.
The old man, now terrified, locked himself inside as Cook ordered Mosser back to the car. As they drove away, the old man jumped into his truck and chased after them. Cook saw him coming and fired several shots at him, causing him to give up the chase.
Now furious, Cook forced Mosser to drive to Carlsbad, New Mexico then to El Paso, Texas then Houston then Winthrop, Arkansas and finally back toward his old hometown of Joplin. After more than 72 hours of this manic driving, the children became hysterical and began to wail. Cook gagged everyone except Carl. Before long, Cook grew tired of his deranged game and turned his pistol on the family, murdering all of them as well as the family dog. He dumped their bodies in his old home, the abandoned mine shaft near Joplin.
Eventually, the Mosser’s car was found abandoned near Tulsa. It’s been described as a horror scene with blood splattered all over the slashed upholstery. The bodies of the Mosser family were soon discovered… along with the receipt for Cook’s gun. His identity was soon learned and a massive search began.
Next on Cook’s killing spree, he headed for California and kidnapped a deputy sheriff who had almost caught him. He forced the deputy to drive him around while he bragged about murdering the Mosser family. After more than 40 miles, Cook ordered the officer to stop and lie down in a ditch with his hands tied behind his back. He told him he was going to put a bullet in his head, and just when the officer thought he was about to take his last breath, for some reason Billy jumped in the car and drove away. The officer would never know why he was spared.
A short time later, Cook flagged down another motorist by the name of Robert Dewey. After Cook wounded him, the two men struggled and the car went off the road into the desert. Cook put a bullet in Dewey’s head and threw him into a ditch.
He decided to next head to Mexico. He kidnapped two men and took them to Santa Rosalia, Mexico. Once there, Cook was recognized by the local police chief, Francisco Morales. He simply walked up to Cook, snatched his gun away, and put him under arrest. Cook was then rushed the border and turned over to the FBI.
Despite the slaying of the Mosser family, the Justice Department turned Cook over to the
California courts and he was tried for the murder of Robert Dewey. He was sentenced to death and died in the gas chamber at San Quentin on December 12, 1952.
Cook’s body was later returned to Joplin but no one wanted to have anything to do with it. Finally, the town decided to bury him outside the gates of Peace Church Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Many people believe his restless spirit haunts the grounds to this day.
On the night of Friday, October 5th, I employed the help of my friend, Krystal, to go in search of the ghost of Billy Cook. My grandparents were in town visiting from Iowa and, to my surprise, said they wanted to go ghost hunting too, along with my mom. So we became a family of paranormal investigators.
At around 10 p.m. we drove out to Peace Church Cemetery. It was dark night and the drizzly weather and howling wind didn’t help with the creep factor. Flashlights in hand, we got out of the car and started exploring the old cemetery.
My grandpa was fearless. “Billy, are you here?” he shouted. “Come out Billy!”
We wandered around looking at the old tombstones. I didn’t see any with a death date past the 1940s. I did find one with the name “William Cook Sr” on it. Billy’s dad? I doubt it, but I’d have to look into it. I noticed that there were several small, square markers that simply read “grave” on them throughout the cemetery. My guess is there’s a local group that is tracking down old burial sites that no long have a stone and are placing these out there. I need to go back in daylight and see if there is one somewhere outside the cemetery and see if they have marked Billy’s burial place.
I took several photos hoping to catch an orb or something, but I didn’t see anything. We also walked along the treeline, looking for Billy’s shadowy figure lurking in the trees, but we didn’t see anything. Aside from the creepiness of being in an old abandoned graveyard late at night in October, nothing really scary happened.
Finally, we gave up and decided to leave. Sure enough, as we were pulling out, a car with two teenage girls in it pulled in the graveyard. Looks like the old tradition remains.
What do you think? Do you think Billy Cook’s spirit is haunting Peace Church Cemetery, angry that his final resting place was outside the cemetery gates? Have you ever seen Billy in the trees or had any other spooky experiences at Peace Church Cemetery?