Terror, Then Silence: Lake Juliette killer still a mystery

jkovac@macon.comFebruary 17, 2013 

Editor’s Note: This story is based on information gleaned from investigative files, court documents, newspaper archives and interviews with detectives.

On an October night in 1992, a teenage boy from Warner Robins was stabbed, beaten and left to die along a country road that parallels U.S. 41 in southern Monroe County.

The boy, 17-year-old Keith Patrick Young, had dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. He was a telemarketer for a window company in Macon. A co-worker invited him to a party. Some people at the party tricked him into going for a late-night ride in his car.

One of them drove. They were out to steal Young’s gold 1986 Pontiac Grand Prix. They had a baseball bat.

A few miles west of Bolingbroke, they murdered him.

His killers included Timothy Don Carr of Lizella, a 22-year-old who liked to get stoned on hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Unprovoked, Carr slit Young’s throat and stabbed him in the chest and back. Carr was caught two days later in Tennessee. In 1994, he was sentenced to die and sent to Georgia’s death row.

Two years after that, in November 1996, a GBI agent paid Carr a visit. The agent was at the prison trying to figure out how crack cocaine had been smuggled to a condemned inmate who’d used it and passed out.

Carr wasn’t in on the smuggling, but agent Randy Upton thought Carr fit the psychological profile of the killer in an unsolved double murder he was working.

Upton knew Carr wasn’t his man. The killer Upton was hunting had slain a Mercer University couple in early 1995, eight months after Carr was sent to prison. Even so, Upton wanted to pick Carr’s brain.

“I’ll never forget it,” Upton said recently. “He just looked at me and said, ‘Cool.’ ”

Then Carr talked about something that still haunts Upton: silence.

* * *

Michele Cartagena and her boyfriend, Grant Hendrickson, had spent the days after Christmas 1994 with her folks in Columbus.

Her father bought her a new Honda Civic over the holidays.

Michele, 19, headed back to Mercer University on New Year’s Day. She was a sophomore liberal arts major and, at 6 feet tall, an athlete. She played on Mercer’s tennis team.

Grant, 22, grew up in Macon. He was a senior majoring in engineering and physics. Grant, also 6 feet, was a Mercer cheerleader and fraternity brother. He was active in student government.

On Jan. 2, two nights after leaving Columbus, he and Michele went to see “IQ,” a movie playing at Rivergate Cinema in north Macon. The movie ended at 11:15.

In Michele’s new car, they cruised out Riverside Drive to Lake Juliette, about a dozen miles away in Monroe County. They rode onto a jut of land, a lover’s lane at the Dames Ferry recreation area known as “the Point,” and parked.

About 12:25 a.m., someone pulled up and started shooting, unleashing a fusillade of bullets.

Shortly after daybreak, a camper found the couple dead.

There were 15 bullet holes in Michele’s car.

Grant was slain in the driver’s seat. Michele, fatally wounded, had been dragged from the car. The gunman spit on her left thigh.

The killer, who had been playing pool with a friend earlier and decided to go out for a ride, didn’t know Michele or Grant. They were just there, and as he would tell a guy he worked with nearly two years later, he wanted to see if he could kill and get away with it.

Investigators, in their profile of the mystery suspect, noted his ambush-style assault and how he’d opened fire from 30 feet away.

“This offender is actually a coward,” the profile declared, “afraid to confront his adversary face to face.”

Shell casings from a Colt AR-15 assault rifle littered the ground. A Ruger 9mm pistol was also used in the attack.

Another couple at the lake heard the bursts of gunfire and saw someone drive off in a low-rider Honda CRX.

The killer left the park, turned south toward Macon and vanished -- for more than 22 months.

* * *

Shortly before Thanksgiving 1996, after his conversation with Timothy Carr on death row, Upton began sifting through a list of 108 area gun buyers.

Specifically, those who’d bought or sold Colt AR-15s in recent years.

New to the case, Upton narrowed the list that had been compiled by original lead agent Mark Mansfield and others who’d scoured the region for a suspect.

Monroe County sheriff’s investigators, led by Ronnie Evans, paired off with detectives from other agencies in seven two-man teams. For months, they ran down more than 250 leads, each of them dead ends. One tip came from a woman who claimed she was a prophetess.

In the days after the murders, a man who lived near the scene said what plenty of locals would think for months to come: “We’re wondering what kind of fruitcake there is out there.”

The case captured more national attention than perhaps any midstate crime in the 1990s. TV’s “Unsolved Mysteries” featured it, as did a number of cable programs. Everyone, it seemed, had a theory.

Upton, though, had that list of local gun buyers -- but, of course, no guarantees the suspect had bought the rifle around here.

He zeroed in on the area’s assault-rifle purchasers who lived closest to Lake Juliette.

The fifth name on the list was Andrew Allen Cook. People called him Andy.

Cook, 22 at the time, liked to hunt and fish. He worked at a diaper plant in south Bibb County.

In August 1994, he’d paid $1,365 for an AR-15 at Arvin’s, a gun shop on Poplar Street in downtown Macon.

On April 30, 1995, a few months after the Mercer students were killed, The Telegraph, citing a source familiar with the investigation, reported that the victims had been shot with two guns.

The newspaper also specified the weapons.

Two weeks later, Cook, who kept up with coverage of the killings, walked into Arvin’s and pawned his AR-15.

* * *

Cook’s parents divorced when he was 7.

When he was 10, in 1984, he was diagnosed with what court documents termed “major depression.”

He had lived with his mother in Jones County. They had a falling out in early 1996.

Afterward, Cook lived alone in a rented trailer with blacked-out windows northeast of Gray.

Some in his family said it was hard to have a conversation with him.

In September 1996, less than two months before Cook became a suspect in the Lake Juliette slayings, his mother, Sandra, wrote him a letter:

“I love you, and I miss you. These past six months have been very difficult, and having my son disown me has hurt me more than anything I have gone through. How I wish I could go back even 10 years and do things differently. Maybe neither of us would hurt so much. ...

“I tried to show you right from wrong. I tried to be by your side and be there for you if and when you needed me. ... I let you get by with things that I should have never let you get by with. I wanted to make it up to you that your Dad and I divorced. I felt like you got the wrong end of the stick being so young when we divorced. ...

“I let you talk any way you wanted to me, and when you became independent and decided you were going to do what you wanted to do, I should have sat down on you. But that is history. I know you think that I was too tough on you, but I wasn’t tough enough. I was trying to prepare you for the real world. Life isn’t all a bed of roses, and one doesn’t get their way all the time. ...

“We could rehash all the old problems until the cows come home, but that won’t do any good. Angry words and throwing stones at each other won’t solve anything. Son, there has not been a day that goes by that I don’t think about you and wonder what is going on in your life.”

The letter echoed something written a year and a half earlier.

Minus the mother’s lament, the GBI’s profile of the unknown killer had mentioned that the culprit might “become withdrawn and further isolate himself from others.”

The profile went on to say, “The offender likely feels no remorse for what he has done but rather fears detection.”

* * *

Upton, 40 at the time, had been a criminal investigator in the Army. One of 10 children, he grew up in Pennsylvania, outside Pittsburgh. He went to the University of Maryland, got a degree in psychology and joined the military.

He was stationed at Fort Benning in 1979. Driving into Georgia for the first time, he recalled, “I knew I was home.”

He left the Army and, in 1995, joined the GBI. When he was assigned the Lake Juliette case in November 1996, it was nearly two years old.

Around that time, Upton had his chance meeting with Timothy Carr on death row. During their conversation about the at-large killer of Grant and Michele, Carr said if he’d done it he would have hocked the rifle.

“It’s too expensive to throw away,” Carr said, “and if you sell it to somebody, they’re gonna tell.”

Investigators had already theorized that, but Upton kept listening.

Carr said something most homicide cops in search of whodunit killers know all too well. The murderers who outfox police are often ones who keep their mouths shut.

Carr, who eluded capture for all of two days after his crime, had learned the hard way. When he and his accomplice, his girlfriend Melissa, got caught after crashing their teenage victim’s car in Tennessee, they were handcuffed and put in the back seat of a police cruiser. Carr talked about the killing. Unbeknownst to Carr, there was a hidden tape recorder in the cruiser.

Silence, Carr figured, can be a murderer’s only friend.

He told Upton that if he ever tracked down the killer, the suspect would probably say, “You’re trying to frame me.”

A few days later, around Thanksgiving, while Upton was going over his list of gun buyers, he called Andy Cook and left a message.

On Nov. 27, Cook called him back.

While they talked, Cook got testy with Upton.

“I think you’re gonna try to frame me,” Cook said.

* * *

Cook moved out of his trailer and seemed poised to go on the run.

He was sure investigators were on to him. They knew he’d owned a Honda CRX, an AR-15, a Ruger pistol.

A guy Cook worked with at the diaper factory later told authorities that Cook wondered if his ex-girlfriend had tattled, that Cook said he would “kill her if she had and she knew it.”

Cook had learned from Upton that investigators were asking people who’d owned AR-15s around the time of the murders to let them do DNA swabs.

“They found the (expletive) saliva on the crime scene,” Cook told his co-worker.

On Dec. 5, game warden Scott Gignilliat caught Cook skinning a deer out of season along Griswoldville Road in south Jones County.

Cook told the game warden his name was John Hamilton, but Gignilliat saw through the lie and hauled Cook to jail in Gray.

Later that day, Cook was moved to the Monroe County jail. He told investigators he would “tell you what you want to hear” if they’d bring his father to see him.

His father John Cook was an FBI agent, and had been for 29 years.

* * *

John Cook talked to his son in private at the jail that night.

Andy admitted killing Grant and Michele.

In a statement to Monroe Sheriff John Cary Bittick and Capt. Johnny Wilkes on Dec. 17, John Cook laid out his son’s confession, how Andy had driven to the lake and seen the couple parked:

“He said he pulled off beside the car, he said about 30 yards. And then he said, ‘I took the rifle and I shot the car.’ ... I said, ‘Andy, why?’ And he said, ‘It was not me, Daddy. I don’t know who took over me. I don’t know why.’ ...

“He was simply conveying to me that he didn’t think he was in his right mind ... or he was possessed by someone or something. I said, ‘Well after you shot (them) with the rifle, what else did you do?’ He then said, ‘I shot them with my pistol.’ ... Again, I said, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know why.’”

The question has now loomed for 18 years.

It has been answered with silence.

* * *

For years, Andy Cook has declined requests to discuss the reasons behind the murders.

Perhaps there aren't any, at least not simple ones.

Upton, now 56, has tried to get Cook to speak to him, to sit down and say to Cook, “Let’s talk about why you became a cold-blooded killer.”

Cook has turned him down.

But maybe silence is all he has left.

“Silence is strength,” Timothy Carr told Upton back in 1996.

Upton asked Carr what he meant.

Carr explained by not answering.

“He just sat there and stared at me,” Upton recalled. “I said, ‘OK, what are you trying to prove?’ He goes, ‘I have strength over you through silence.’ ”

The other day, Upton said, “It didn’t make much sense to me at the time, but it does now.”

Carr was executed in 2005. He was 34. Before being put to death, he apologized for killing Keith Young. His last word: “Peace.”

Andy Cook, 38, is scheduled to die Thursday night.

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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