Sunday, December 21, 2014

Killer on the Road

I was listening to an old recording of Baby Snooks last night along with some other Christmas shows from the Golden Age of Radio, and recalled that I remember the night Fanny Brice died.

That was May of 1951. And that started a whole chain of free-association childhood memories, until I stumbled on a clear and vivid memory of a killer terrorizing residents along US Highway 66 from Chicago to California at about that same time. Since I lived on a farm that was exactly one mile from Route 66, this I seem to remember was a constant topic of fear and worry to the adults in my life for months. I remember my parents going on "full alert" whenever a strange car came down the road.

I also remember how relieved everyone was when the "Route 66 Killer" finally got the gas at San Quentin. The Tulsa World newspaper splayed it across the top of the front page in big WWIII headlines. So I got curious as to who that really was and what it was all about.

Childhood memories are funny things. I had built it up in my mind that the guy had been on a months-long killing spree up and down the highway and had murdered literally dozens of victims during that time. Fortunately I also remembered that the name of the killer was "Cook", so I was easily able to find that he was one Billy Cook from Joplin, Missouri.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Billy Cook was nothing more than a punk, his killing spree lasted only 22 days, around New Years 1951, and his body count was only five people. And places such as Wichita Falls and Lubbock, Texas, and Blythe, California, were the scenes of his killings. None of those places are even near Route 66. (To be fair, he apparently was picked up as a hitchhiker on Route 66 near Tulsa by the Mosser family from Illinois and they drove him to Wichita Falls before he killed them there.)

Granted I was only five years old at the time, but even so I think our memories can't really be relied on to reflect the truth of any given situation in our past. Now I'm starting to rethink any number of things that I was "sure" had happened the way I remember them.