Suspects arrested 32 years later

GateHouse News Service
Gregory Nelson

Thirty-two years after the naked body of a 6-year old Happy Camp boy was found stuffed in a barrel near the Klamath River, two people – Suzanne Little, 69, and Gregory Nelson, 51, both of Hoopa,  were arrested last week and charged with kidnapping. In addition, a murder charge will be filed against Nelson, said District Attorney Kirk Andrus, although he didn’t rule out filing a murder charge against Little at a later date.

Little and Nelson were arrested at their homes without incident Tuesday of last week by Siskiyou County and Humboldt County sheriff’s deputies.

William “Willie” Cook was kidnapped from his father’s pickup truck in Happy Camp in August 1976. His body was found six months later by teenagers, between Highway 96 and the Klamath River approximately 16 miles northwest of Yreka.

Despite the efforts of law enforcement, the Cook murder case sat cold for the past 32 years, until the Yreka Police Department received a tip last month from a confidential informant.

The day after the arrests, Siskiyou County Sheriff Rick Riggins praised investigators who dusted off old case files and gathered enough evidence to arrest Little and Nelson.

“Solving a case like this is a like a puzzle – there’s always that one little piece you’re missing,” Riggins said last week. “After 32 years, we’re finally getting the pieces put together.”

Riggins, who was a young YPD patrol officer when Cook disappeared, also praised Andrus for taking an interest in the case and issuing the arrest warrants for the suspects.

The crime shocked the small Happy Camp community, and the unsolved mystery surrounding Cook’s death has haunted them ever since.

“He was a very dear little boy,” said Hazel Joiner, a lifelong Happy Camp resident who knew Willie. “He was living right behind us. Everybody in the community was terribly disturbed.”

A bail hearing for the suspects will be held in November, said Judge Laura Masunaga in a Yreka courtroom on Monday. Bail has been set at $1 million for Nelson and $500,000 for Little.

The case has drawn national media attention in recent days because of both the length of time the case remained cold, and the brutality of Cook’s murder. 

Suzanne Little