Son’s Unsolved Homicide Leaves Mom Struggling
December 7, 2001
She didn’t believe them when they called.
She was angry and scared and sad. She wanted to throw something or scream and wake up from her nightmare.
Linda Cook Thames grabbed the keys to her car with tears streaming down her face, furious at the world, and drove to Lakeland Regional Medical Center.
Friends, family members, chaplains – everyone had gathered at the hospital.
Thames got there and cried, desperately wanting someone to tell her it was a cruel joke. She wanted someone to tell her Eric Cook, her pride and joy, her best friend, was still alive.
That was more than 12 years ago, but Thames still remembers every detail of that night.
“I lost it. I remember jumping in the shower fully dressed, just trying to figure out which way to go. They told me he was at Lakeland Regional and I kept telling myself that he’s not dead, he’s not dead, he’s not dead. I just didn’t want to believe it.”
About 12:20 a.m. Dec. 7, 2001, Cook, 30, parked his 1988 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham near the former Speedway gas station at 1916 Harden Blvd. to let his cousin, David Black, use the restroom, according to Lakeland police reports.
Black, then 28, got out of the car and was urinating on the wall of the building when a dark-colored Toyota Camry pulled into the parking lot, police said. At least two men, one armed with a shotgun and one with a pistol, got out of the Camry and approached Cook, according to police reports.
Black told police he heard the men tell Cook to get out of the car — and then he heard a “pop.” The men pulled Cook out of the Cadillac and drove away in both cars, police said.
Cook was shot once in the abdomen. He died about an hour later at Lakeland Regional, police said. Black was unharmed.
The next day, police found Cook’s Cadillac on fire in woods off Cesara Drive in Mulberry, about a mile from his house.
Lakeland police Detective Brad Grice, who has been looking at the case recently, said it appeared to be a robbery that went bad.
“I think it was a carjacking,” Grice said. “It was a crime of opportunity. It just happened to be after midnight and they saw this vehicle they wanted and it pulled over and gave them the opportunity to get out on it.”
Grice and Lakeland police Sgt. Jeff Birdwell, who oversees the department’s violent crimes unit, have been working on Cook’s cold case for several months. Grice said they’ve received several leads, but are still missing a few pieces of information. They’re urging anyone who knows anything – even second hand hearsay – to come forward, Grice said.
“There are other people out there that never came forward that surely could help us, and that’s what we hope,” Grice said. “This happened in 2001.”
Thames knows her son wasn’t perfect.
He was arrested a few times in the 1990s and dabbled in drugs, but she said Cook was working to get his life together. He had a daughter, who was 10 years old at the time, and was living with a girlfriend, she said.
“He was a hard-working young man, and he had a lot going for him. And he was on the right road to doing a lot of positive things just before he got killed,” she said.
“He wasn’t an angel, but he was my angel. He was my pride and joy.”
Eric Teron Cook was born Dec. 22, 1970, and attended Mulberry High School through the 11th grade, Thames said.
As an only child and the first-born grandchild, Cook was spoiled. He always had a smile on his face and everyone in her family loved him, Thames said.
“He never wanted for anything. He was the first child in the neighborhood back in the 1970s to have a scooter when other kids were riding on bicycles,” she said. “There was nothing that he wanted that he did not have.”
She said he was a jokester, making people laugh and pulling pranks on his friends. He loved his Cadillac and spending time with family. But more than anything, he loved his baby girl, Thames said. He gave her the world.
Thames said she has faith in the Lakeland police and thinks her son’s case will be solved soon. After Cook died, she said it took her years to get to a point where she finally felt OK again. To where she could reach out and start helping others.
Thames said she stays busy volunteering at nursing homes and at her church. It’s her way of giving back and turning her son’s death into a positive, she said.
“I want to really be able to reach out and help somebody, but most of all, I want to help the mothers because every mother that has lost a child, I don’t care how good or how bad her child was, that was still her baby,” Thames said. “Those little people, we fall in love with them before we ever see their face.”
She said she’s no longer angry or mad at the people who killed her son. She has love in her heart and forgives them for taking his life, but she said she’s ready for closure.
“I want them to ask God to forgive them and say, ‘Lord, I was wrong. Please forgive me for taking that lady’s son. I don’t even know her. I can’t begin to feel her pain, but I could only imagine what my mother would feel if somebody took me away from her.’ That’s what I pray for them to think like.”
And no matter how many years pass, even if Cook’s case isn’t closed soon, she said she will continue to have hope for closure. She said she’ll never give up – and she’s pleased to know the Lakeland police won’t either.
“There was never a time that I went to Detective Grice and he didn’t sit down with me and talk to me and tell me what was going on. He helped give me hope,” she said. “Through my tears, through the years of seeing him, he would always listen to me. He would just let me cry my heart out.”
Anyone with information on Cook’s death can contact Detective Brad Grice at 863-834-8951, or Crime Stoppers at 800-226-8477. Callers can remain anonymous and be eligible for up to a $3,000 reward. If you have any information on any other cold cases handled by Lakeland Police Department, please call the department or email detectives at email@example.com.