Who killed Kelly Cook, the backup babysitter?

15-year-old Kelly Cook vanished from her home in Alberta in 1981, considering one of the province's most high-profile incidents.

It was Wednesday, April 22nd, 1981. Kelly Cook, a fifteen-year-old girl from Standard, Alberta, Canada, was at home. Kelly Cook and her family were from Montreal, but had lived in Standard for three years. Kelly had two siblings a younger sister named Marnie and a younger brother named Heath.

Kelly Cook the backup babysitter
Kelly Cook, The Backup Babysitter. © Image Credit: MRU

Standard is a small farming community about 70 kilometres northeast of Calgary. The population was less than 400 at that time. The Cook family had settled well there. Kelly was a popular girl at school who earned good grades and enjoyed figure skating.

She was getting ready for school on April 22, 1981, when she received a phone call from an unknown number about 8:30 a.m. from a man who introduced himself as Bill Christensen. He asked Kelly if she could babysit for him later that night from 8:30 p.m. until midnight. Kelly and her family had no firsthand knowledge of Bill Christensen, so they were skeptical.

Apparently he contacted another 17-year-old girl in town three days earlier, identifying himself by the same name Bill Christensen, but she had refused the offer because she was busy. When the caller asked whether she knew of any other babysitters in the area, she gave her friend, kelly’s number.

Kelly’s mother Marion sent her to school with the instruction that they would decide whether or not she could attend depending on whether or not people at her school recognized the mans’ name. The only issue was that Christensen was a relatively popular last name in Standard, Alberta.

Who killed Kelly Cook, the backup babysitter? 1
Kelly’s parents, Marion and Walter Cook. © Image Credit: MRU

When Kelly asked her classmates if they knew a man named Bill Christensen, some of them replied had heard of the name. She informed her mother after school that she would be OK because people confirmed that they knew the caller.

Kelly Cook: The backup babysitter

Kelly Cook
Portrait photo of Kelly Cook the backup babysitter. © Image Credit: MRU

Around 8:30 p.m., a full-size American car came up in front of the Cooks’ house. Kelly said her goodbyes to her family and got into “Bill’s” car. Kelly was supposed to call home after arriving at “Bill’s” place, but the call never came.

The anxious teenager entered the vehicle and was never seen again. Kelly’s mother called around the town to all of the prominent local establishments to check if any of the staff knew Bill after kelly failed to contact her mother. They were unable to vouch for the individual, so they called the police around 12:30 a.m.

Due to the circumstances surrounding Kelly’s disappearance, authorities lost no time in launching a search. Every car that passed through the area was pulled over and searched. They searched woods, ditches, barns, and other vegetation, but there was no sign of Kelly anywhere.

Who killed Kelly Cook, the backup babysitter? 2
Chain Lakes Reservoir is a reservoir in Alberta where the body Kelly Cook was found. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On June 28, 1981, her corpse was recovered on the edge of Chin Lake, an irrigation reservoir two and a half hours from Kelly’s house. She had to be identified by dental records due to the extensive decomposition of the bones. She’d been tied with rope and cinder blocks before being dropped into the reservoir.

Her corpse was fully dressed, and there was no evidence of sexual assault during the autopsy. Kelly’s death was never fully explained, however, some reports claim she died from strangling.

The possible suspect

Kelly Cook
The sketch of the man who introduced himself to kelly as Bill Christensen (possibly the suspect). © Image Credit: Royal Canadian Mounted Police

In this case, there is just one legitimate suspect: the man who claimed to be “Bill Christensen” and picked up Kelly to babysit.

A local gas station owner called the police to report that a person of interest may have dropped by his store to call Kelly. The man was 5’9, in his forties, with black curly hair, lightly tanned skin, and the appearance of a farmer.

When requested to use the phone, the owner described the man as nasty and selfish. The store owner peered over his shoulder as the suspected man dialed a local number and began chatting about babysitting.

Kelly’s murder, according to the RCMP, was a well-planned crime. On April 18th, for example, a man claiming to be “Bill Christensen” contacted another girl in town and requested her to babysit. The girl refused him down but gave him Kelly’s phone number. This indicates premeditation and also appears to imply that Kelly Cook was not the intended target.

Additionally, there are unconfirmed rumors on discussion boards about this case stating that a man called the local school back in March asking for information about a young figure skater in town who had been featured in the local newspaper. He received the girl’s number, and that this is the girl who later passed on Kelly’s phone number to “Bill.”

If this is accurate, it also implies that the killer planned to abduct a young local girl long before Kelly’s disappearance and eventual death.

Corporal Craig Green of the RCMP told reporters: “There is no doubt that the suspect resided or visited the area. He was familiar with Kelly and knew what her name was. He was also familiar with the city’s layout and several of its residents.”

This perplexes everyone, because if “Bill” was from Standard or the surrounding area, how could he be so certain that Kelly’s parents would not recognize him or his vehicle when he picked her up? And why was he never identified from the suspect sketch that was circulated immediately after the crime? If “Bill” was from the area, his decision to kidnap and murder a girl so close to home was certainly audacious.

“She was a good child… Kelly’s mother, Marion Cook, told the media at the time that her daughter was “extremely well in school and she had aspirations for the future. She was always that way, even when she was a baby. She was always three going on ninety. She was really intelligent.”

Final words

Kelly’s case remains unsolved, even though 2,200 different suspects have been investigated. Given the killer’s potential age today, one of the cops who worked on Kelly’s case believes the case may be solved during the killer’s deathbed confession. He did, however, admit that the suspect may be dead at this point.