Stettler students hear story of Cook’s infamous hanging

After Stettler’s notorious multiple murder, Robert Raymond Cook was the last criminal hanged in Alberta.

Retired judge Dave MacNaughton (left) and Coun. Malcolm Fischer spoke with Grade 8 students at Stettler Middle School last week to recount the gripping story of Robert Raymond Cook’s hanging in 1959.

After Stettler’s notorious multiple murder, Robert Raymond Cook was the last criminal hanged in Alberta.

Although he was hung in 1959, the story was relived last week for Stettler Middle School students and staff.

Retired local judge and Cook’s former lawyer, Dave MacNaughton, shared his story to Grade 8 students. He recounted details of the day when Cook, 22, was charged with the death of his father, Raymond Cook, step-mother Daisy Cook, a teacher at Stettler Elementary School, and five half-brothers and half-sisters on June 28, 1959.

That same summer, a massive province-wide manhunt ensued when Cook escaped from a mental hospital in Ponoka on July 10.

“He never ever confessed to anyone or police,” said MacNaughton, who was 31 at the time.

“If he did, he didn’t think he did. In his mind, he never did it.”

All seven bodies were discovered in the Cook home at 5018 — 52 Street, buried in the garage grease pit, just two blocks west of McTaggart Motors, where the senior Cook worked (now the building housing the Town of Stettler and Clearview School Division).

Cook was eventually charged only with the murder of his father.

“Had he admitted to us he had done it, we would have never allowed him to take the stand to go under oath and deny he had done it,” MacNaughton said.

“As a lawyer, you always have to believe your client and he was a very smooth person — he was a constant liar.”

The shotgun had no fingerprints to help local police identify the accused.

“We ran an advertisement in the Stettler Independent to find out who the owner of the gun was, but we never found out,” MacNaughton said. “These were the problems we faced. Nobody said they saw Bobby kill them.”

After the largest manhunt in Alberta history at that time, he was caught near Bashaw and locked in a jail cell in the Bashaw fire hall.

Leading the investigation and manhunt was Stettler RCMP Corp. Tom Roach, father of current Stettler resident Mike Roach.

During the manhunt, more than 200 police and soldiers swept the Stettler area for the accused.

Before he introduced MacNaughton last week, Coun. Malcolm Fischer recalled his memories of the Cook case as a nine-year-old boy.

He was walking downtown with a buddy when a police officer startled them.

“As soon as he came out of the bush, we raised our hands,” Fischer said. “We didn’t know what was going on.”

When the elusive Cook was the last of 62 criminals in Alberta hanged, his lawyer opposed the sentence.

“I am not a believer in capital punishment,” MacNaughton said.

Over the years, too many cases have been prone to mistakes, he said.

MacNaughton retired after 43 years in the justice system.

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