“It’s just life now. It’s just what we’ve had to learn to live with. There’s no acceptance in it, there’s no ‘closure,’ if you want to use that word.”
-Marnie Kathol, Kelly's Sister
It was the 22nd of April 1981. A Wednesday. Fifteen year old Kelly Cook was at home in Standard, Alberta, Canada. She lived in the small village with her parents, Marion and Walter, and her younger sister Marnie and younger brother Heath. They were originally from Montreal but had lived in Standard for three years.
Standard is a small farming community about 70 kilometres northeast of Calgary and when Kelly lived there, there were less than 400 people living in the area. The family had settled in well there. Kelly was a popular girl in school, she got good grades and loved figure skating. So it wasn't a surprise when she received a call asking her to babysit.
That morning, the 22nd of April, at 8.20 am, there was a call made to the house on the landline and Kelly answered but nobody spoke so she put the phone down. She received another call. This time, a man spoke. He asked Kelly if she would babysit for him. Kelly did a bit of babysitting for families in the area, a lot of the teenagers did. She was the perfect choice as she acted much older than her years, was wise and thoughtful. She wanted to be a lawyer one day and was already responsible and trust worthy.
But the call she received that morning was different. She had no idea who the caller was. The man identified himself as Ben Christensen. He told Kelly that he needed somebody to babysit that night. He called Kelly because a friend recommended her. One of Kelly's friends, one of the other teenagers from the figure skating team, gave Bill Kelly's phone number. Kelly's friend wasn't available to babysit that night and he asked her if she knew anyone else who could do it. She told him about Kelly.
Kelly was unsure at first as she did not know the man. But she agreed and he told Kelly he would pick her up from her house that evening.
At 8.30pm that night, the man collected Kelly. He drove a full sized North American car. It was cream in color. He pulled up right outside Kelly's house but he waited in his car as Kelly said goodbye to her parents. He never got out of the car. Kelly told her parents she would call them as soon as she arrived at his house. But they never received a call.
Kelly's parents were worried when they received no call. They were waiting to hear from her. So a few hours later, they called the police to report their daughter missing. Kelly's younger sister, Marnie Kathol, said:
“I remember going to bed and waking up probably after midnight and the police were already there.”
Within hours of Kelly getting into the man's car, 350 police and neighbors searched a 1250 square mile area on foot, horseback, in vehicles and in the air. Christensen was a common name but nobody in the area was called Bill Christensen and nobody knew of anyone who had that name. Police believed the name given to Kelly was not the man's real name.
Kelly Cook's Parents
Some of the people who were from the area told police about a dark haired man they saw at the Strathmore Hotel bar and in the local co-op grocery store and the service station. They remembered seeing him because he was new to the area and they had not seen him before. The man asked the service station manager if he could make a call inside the service station as the payphone outside was not working. He agreed and overheard the call. It was about babysitting. Police believed that it was likely that that was the man who called Kelly.
When asked to describe the man, the station service manager said:
"To me, he looked like a farmer. I don't remember him wearing a hat but he was rude."
That was a description that was echoed by others in the area. Anyone who had encountered the man described him as either rude or arrogant.
The service station manager thought the man knew the person he was speaking to on the phone due to his tone. He described him as a clean shaven man with dark hair, possibly curly but not grey.
Police had a sketch drawn up of the man based on the description provided by the service station manager and the other people who saw the man. The man was described as around 5'10" , medium build and between 30-45 years old.
When police released the sketch, they received a huge amount of tips but none of them led to finding out any information about what happened to Kelly. But one tip gave them cause for concern. A phone operator in Calgary received a phone call from a pay phone in Hussar. Hussar is around a twenty minute drive from Standard. The phone operator said that the night Kelly went missing, a call was made at around 10-10.30 pm that night. When she answered the call, she heard a girl scream. And then, silence. The phone went dead.
Two months later, a few boys cycling near an irrigation canal at the Chin Lake Reservoir near Taber, Alberta found a body. The water levels were low due to a drought in the area and one of the boys saw a body lying face down on the shore. Dental records later confirmed that it was Kelly.
Taber is a two and a half hour drive from Standard. Kelly was fully clothed when her body was dumped in the reservoir. She was bound and weighed down with two cinder blocks tied to her side. There were three ropes around her body. There was one around her ankles, one around her hips and one around her shoulders.
Kelly's body was badly decomposed and had been in the water for a considerable amount of time. The Autopsy revealed there was no evidence of sexual assault. Police revealed that she probably died of asphyxia.
The discovery of Kelly's body did not provide any new leads for the police. They sought the help of the FBI to create a profile of the man they believed could be responsible but despite questioning over 2000 men and widening the search, they found nothing of any evidential value.
Chin Lake Reservoir near Taber, Alberta
Police believed that whoever abducted Kelly that night had planned the crime. They believed that by choosing the name Bill Christensen, that showed that the abduction was planned. The name was a common one in the area and would not have seemed suspicious or out of place.
He also knew the full name of the girl he called before Kelly, the girl he had initially asked to babysit. She was a figure skater and was featured in a newspaper before he made the call. But she had no idea who he was either and the only details he gave her was the name Bill Christensen, that he was new to town and needed someone to babysit.
Kelly's case is still open. Her family are still waiting to find out who is responsible for her death. Sometimes, somebody who may not be involved in the case but may have been told details about the case come forward years later with information. This may happen here. But to date, no arrests have ever been made.
A one hundred thousand dollar reward from the Village of Standard is offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator of this crime.
If you have any information about this case, please contact Crime Stoppers 1-800-222-8477 or "K" (AB) Division, Serious Crimes Branch South Airdrie at 403-420-4900.
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"When someone just disappears for no reason, it's shocking, it's devastating. I just feel like my life stopped that day and I've just been in a tailspin ever since."
- Adam Vaughan, Janine's brother
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