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True story of killings written by detective

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    Nathaniel Cook, left, and his brother Anthony Cook appear in Lucas County Common Pleas Court in 2000. They were convicted eight years ago this week.

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    Frank Stiles, a retired Toledo Police detective who is an investigator for the Lucas County prosecutor, presents the book he wrote about a local murder spree.

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Frank Stiles, a retired Toledo Police detective who is an investigator for the Lucas County prosecutor, presents the book he wrote about a local murder spree.

The Blade/Herral Long
Enlarge | Buy This Image

For 17 months, Anthony and Nathaniel Cook covered their tracks and evaded Toledo police as they performed the crimes that would make them the city s most notorious serial killers.

The gruesome murders that began in May, 1980, locked the city in fear as brutally beaten bodies were found in culverts and ditches and young couples turned up dead in the trunks of cars.

The rampage ended in October, 1981, when Anthony Cook was arrested in the shooting death of Realtor Peter Sawicki. However, 17 years would elapse before DNA linked the brothers to the other crimes.

Evil Brothers: A True Crime Story, written by Frank Stiles, a retired Toledo Police detective who was the lead investigator during the killings, details the police investigation that ended in 2000 when confessions made by the Cooks cleared up eight cold-case murders and other unsolved crimes.

It was a scary time to be in Toledo, recalled Mr. Stiles, who is chief investigator for the Lucas County prosecutor s office. I knew the streets would not be safe until we got these killers locked up.

It was eight years ago this week that Anthony and Nathaniel Cook were convicted in Lucas County Common Pleas Court for their roles in the murder of Thomas Gordon, 24, and the attempted murder and kidnapping of his 18-year-old girlfriend.

The couple were abducted May 14, 1980, in North Toledo and taken to western Lucas County, where Mr. Gordon was shot in the stomach. His girlfriend was raped and stabbed, but survived.

Anthony Cook, now 59, who was already serving a life sentence for the murder of Mr. Sawicki, was given an additional 20-years-to-life punishment. His brother, 49, was given a 20-year sentence and will be released from prison in 10 years, with credit for time he already had served.

As a detective, Mr. Stiles investigated the Gordon murder and the next six killings: Connie Sue Thompson, 19, who was killed by the Cooks after they picked her up hitchhiking on Cherry Street; Dawn Rene Backes, a 12-year-old Gesu Elementary School student who was raped and bludgeoned in the basement of a central-city theater; Scott Moulton, 21, and Denise Siotkowski, 22, who were shot and killed in a car at an Oregon apartment; and Daryle Cole, 31, and his girlfriend, Stacey Balonek, 21, who were beaten to death and found in the truck of Mr. Cole s car in North Toledo.

It was during the investigation of the Sawicki murder that Mr. Stiles connected Anthony Cook to the crime through an informant and eventually developed him and his brother as prime suspects in the killings.

Anthony Cook also confessed to the 1973 murder of Vickie Lynn Small, 22, a crime he committed when he was 24 and before he went to prison for six years for an armed robbery conviction. Her body was dumped in Ottawa Park after she and some friends had car trouble and Cook ended up giving Ms. Small a ride.

After Cook was convicted of killing Mr. Sawicki in the attack of the Ottawa Hills man s daughter and her boyfriend, Mr. Stiles and other investigators continued to work on the case.

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Nathaniel Cook, left, and his brother Anthony Cook appear in Lucas County Common Pleas Court in 2000. They were convicted eight years ago this week.

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He retired from the police department in 1990, but the memories of the heinous crimes never left him. I would never give up on this case, he said. I still have nightmares about the murders. No case had ever bothered me like this one.

DNA testing was emerging as a new scientific crime tool in 1997 when Prosecutor Julia Bates suggested that it be used to link the Cooks to some unsolved crimes. A search warrant was obtained for the brothers blood, and tests indicated they raped Mr. Gordon s girlfriend.

Despite being obtained 17 years earlier, the DNA evidence was instrumental in getting indictments against the Cooks and bringing long-sought resolution to the cases, Mr. Stiles said.

Mr. Stiles was working as director of security at a local department store chain when Mrs. Bates called him in 1997 with the idea of using DNA.

The retired detective identified the crimes he believed the Cooks committed so that evidence could be tested for DNA.

Mr. Stiles went to work for Mrs. Bates in 1999 as the first investigator in the office.

Frank is a great guy to have working in the office because of his institutional history. He not only has skills as an investigator, but he has knowledge about old cases, Mrs. Bates said.

Mr. Stiles said he put his spare time to good use about three years ago to work on the book, and researched the case by combing through police records, court transcripts, newspaper clippings, and other documents.

He said he met face to face with family members of the victims and victims who survived attacks to get their approval for the project and gather more information about the victims themselves.

Among the things that I wanted to accomplish was to write a little about what these kids did while they were alive, he said. In some cases there was not a lot I could tell about them because they hadn t lived long.

Sharon Backes Wright s daughter, Dawn, was the youngest victim. She would have turned 40 this year. Mrs. Wright said she started reading the book, but put it down when she got to the chapter on her daughter.

The book is difficult to read. [The Cook brothers] were the cruelest to her, and I am not saying that because I am her mother. She was an innocent 12-year-old girl, she said.

Mr. Stiles will talk about the book at Locke Branch Library, 703 Miami St., at 7 p.m. April 21. Paperbacks start at $17.95.

Contact Mark Reiter at: markreiter@theblade.com or 734-241-3610.

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