An Athabasca County resident now has a powerfully-penned connection to Stettler’s most infamous murder case.
Susan Ball’s aunt, the late Nancy Kmech, was given a poem many years ago that was apparently written by convicted killer Robert Raymond Cook while he was awaiting execution in Fort Saskatchewan.
Cook was charged in connection with the slaying of his entire Stettler-based family in 1959. Raymond and Daisy Cook and their five children were found shot and bludgeoned to death in the garage of their Stettler home.
Robert, who was 21 at the time, was convicted of the crimes in the Old Red Deer Court House.
He was retried later in Edmonton and again found guilty. He was executed on Nov. 14th of 1960 by hanging.
“My aunt Nancy, when she was young, she was a guard at the Fort Saskatchewan jail,” explained Ball of her aunt, who just passed away on April 30th.
In the faded margins of the paper the poem is typewritten on, Nancy noted that at the time, she was working in the ‘fort restaurant’ and that her friend, who isn’t named, gave her the paper with Cook’s poem on it.
“In a later conversation with me, she said, ‘Susan, I have this poem. It was passed to me from a friend’,” recalled Susan.
“She said, ‘I have a poem from Robert Raymond Cook’.”
She told Susan that it was left in one of her books, so upon Nancy’s passing, Susan and her sister began going through their aunt’s belongings.
“I went looking for the dictionary, and sure enough, there it was.”
The poem reads as follows: ‘Sitting here, my heart in despair/proven innocent, juried guilty – it just isn’t fair/I sent for my lawyer, he just shook his head/No! No! He said/Justice will come long after you’re dead.
“I know I am not guilty, but what can I do/The jury they just guessed that crime I did do/I escaped, my loved ones’ funeral to attend/sealing my own fate in the end.
“If they went to heaven, that wonderful place/Then I’ll soon be there, it’s never too late for grace.
“Out under the stars, cool breeze in leafy bower/Through bars in my death cell, a moon beam shower/Each beam like a tear from my sweet heart so dear/But look up honey, have no fear/the higher judge sees it clear.
“Take caution my friends, if circumstances induce/The jury can guess you right into a noose.
‘They’ll measure me, they’ll weigh me, they’ll put a black hood on my head/Then they’ll pull that lever and I’ll soon be dead.
“You people of the world, take note/The innocent do die at the end of a rope.”
Another poem penned by Cook is online, and there are some similarities – particularly the line including the words ‘at the end of a rope’.
Cook’s name is printed at the bottom of the poem as well.
Looking back on the case, Robert Raymond Cook had a history of clashes with the law during his short life — prior to the murders, he had been in prison on a robbery charge.
Following the murders, he was apprehended on a farm near Bashaw by police after a sprawling, ambitious manhunt. He was then whisked away to the village’s police office.
About 400 people gathered to watch the bedraggled escapee escorted into the building.
Despite the eventual conviction, questions have lingered as to Cook’s guilt. And the case continues to fascinate Stettler residents all these years later.
His alibi of being in Edmonton during the night of the murders couldn’t be cracked, although pinpointing the times of the deaths wasn’t the exact science that it is today.
And although he reportedly didn’t always see eye to eye with his folks, some say it’s an enormous stretch to believe he would kill his entire family.
Also, police seemed to abandon the search for other suspects.
In a letter to his lawyer, Cook wrote he, “Used to think it was up to the Crown to prove a person guilty, now, I believe different. I know they cannot prove me guilty, for in all truth, I am not. If I hang, murder will be committed in the name of the law.”
For Susan, reading the poem sparks a number of questions as well.
Why did her aunt end up with it?
Why did Cook apparently intend for Nancy to have it?
“Did he think that he trusted her enough to give it to her,” she asked. “I think that maybe he was reaching out.”