Despite its reassuring name, Peace Church Cemetery is anything but peaceful. Paranormal investigators are convinced the secluded graveyard is haunted, while visitors have experienced mysterious sounds, disembodied voices, and eerie lights. Some unlucky souls even report being pelted by debris, and returning home with inexplicable scratches.
And of course there’s the shadowy figure known to lurk along the edge of the old burying ground…
One of the oldest cemeteries in Joplin, Missouri, Peace Church is the eternal home of the city’s earliest founders and pioneers. But the most famous resident of this small resting place is buried in an unmarked grave just outside the cemetery grounds.
In 1950, 21-year-old Joplin native Billy Cook began a 22 day killing spree that crossed half-a-dozen states and claimed the lives of six victims, including three children. He started by kidnapping a motorist near Lubbock, Texas, forcing him into his trunk. While that first victim managed to escape, Cook soon followed up by kidnapping the Mosser family and forcing them at gunpoint to drive him around the Southwest.
After more than 72 hours of terror, Cook executed the entire clan, including the family dog. A manhunt commenced, but not before Cook added a deputy sheriff in California to his body count. After kidnapping two additional men, Cook was ultimately captured in Mexico and sent to San Quentin, where he was put to death in the gas chamber.
When Cook’s body was shipped back to Joplin for burial, his heinous crimes meant that no one wanted to take responsibility for his remains. He was ultimately buried in an unmarked grave outside the Peace Church Cemetery.
Such an ignominious burial is more than enough to prompt a haunting—yet a glimpse into Billy Cook’s backstory suggests his spirit would remain restless, with or without his troubled demise.
Cook’s early life near Joplin wasn’t an easy one. After his mother died, his father raised Billy and his brothers and sisters in an abandoned mine shaft before hopping a train and leaving the children to fend for themselves. Billy would later use this grim location to dispose of his victims, the Mossers.
Authorities found the abandoned Cook children in the old mine, “living like animals.” All of Billy Cook’s brothers and sisters were put into foster care, while Cook himself became a ward of the state. It’s said that Cook’s bad attitude combined with a deformity that prevented his right eyelid from closing completely made it so no family would want to adopt him.
Young Billy Cook turned to petty crime as an adolescent, and when he was 12 years old he told a judge he preferred reform school to foster care. At the age of 17, he was transferred to the Missouri State Penitentiary, where he assaulted another inmate with a baseball bat.
Cook had the words “HARD LUCK” tattooed on the knuckles of his hands, and upon his arrest he was quoted as saying, “I hate everybody’s guts and everybody hates mine.” Such words seem tailor made for the dark and threatening figure so often sensed in Peace Church Cemetery today.
While the cemetery was started in 1855, it’s been abandoned for more than three decades. Under Missouri’s abandoned cemeteries law, this means that the burial ground belongs to the descendants of its inhabitants. Alas, there’s no one left to inherit Peace Church, so volunteers perform all the maintenance and grounds keeping.
Since the graveyard is so old, many of the bodies were interred when burial laws were less strict, meaning that they weren’t always buried six feet below the surface. Numerous coffins have since collapsed under the weight of the soil, while headstones have shifted in place. There’s even a danger spring rains long-buried remains.
If so, the ghost of Billy Cook won’t be the only restless soul haunting Peace Church.