Las Vegas Sun

December 21, 2014

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Motive sought in slaying-suicide at store

Paul F. Cook's intentions were clear when he walked into an Albertson's store with two revolvers. He was out to kill his ex-wife, but his motives may never be known.

Paul and Mary A. Cook were divorced nearly five years ago and while the split was bitter at times, there was little to no contact between the two for years.

But while Mary Cook, 62, apparently was able to rebuild her life after more than 30 years of marriage and start dating and make new friends, Paul Cook, 65, appeared to sit in his home and fume about the divorce he never wanted.

Sunday, minutes before 8 p.m., Paul Cook walked into the Albertson's store on Lake Mead and Jones boulevards where his ex-wife worked in the deli department.

Cook pushed a shopping cart around the store for 10 minutes or so until he finally pushed the cart up to the deli counter, said Lt. Wayne Petersen of Metro Police's homicide unit.

Within the next few minutes Cook would shoot his wife and then himself in a store filled with workers and shoppers. No one else was injured. While family and friends may never know the reasons behind what happened, Paul Cook made it known what he was going to do.

"He handed a note to a store employee with some contact numbers on it, and it said he was there to kill his ex-wife," Petersen said.

But what police didn't have were any of the common incidents that point to a potentially deadly domestic violence situation. Paul Cook had no arrests for domestic violence. Police weren't called out to their home for loud fights, and Mary Cook never took out a protective order against him.

"What precipitated this is anyone's guess," Petersen said.

But there was bitterness in their divorce. Their marriage started to dissolve after their oldest daughter died in an accident several years before their 1996 divorce. Then after their son-in-law remarried, the Cooks were denied visitation of their granddaughter, said Ernest del Casal, a friend of the couple's.

What followed was years of court battles for the couple trying to gain the right to see their granddaughter, but in the end they lost at every level of Nevada's court system.

"I think the strain of losing their daughter and then not being able to see their granddaughter ended their marriage," del Casal said.

That divorce became petty in the end. The pair spent an hour in court fighting over three cans of salmon and three cans of juice, the Cooks divorce attorneys said. In the end the judge ruled that Mary Cook shouldn't have taken the juice and cans of fish and ordered she pay Paul Cook $10.

"I remember he was bitter about everything, and she was going on about her life," said Gus Flangas, Mary Cook's divorce attorney. "She just wanted to move on."

Paul Cook's attorney, Bill Henderson, remembered the couple contesting just about everything during the divorce, but could never foresee what happened in the grocery store Sunday night.

"They were unable to agree on the smallest items," he said. "I knew he didn't want the divorce, but I would not imagine he would be capable of something like this."

Paul Cook found himself in his 60s, recently divorced and extremely unhappy, del Casal said. Cook came to del Casal for help, and del Casal directed him to a support group for the recently widowed or divorced. Cook went to the group, but apparently it didn't help his sorrow and loneliness.

Mary Cook moved into a condominium after the divorce and was very lonely for the first couple of years. But then she started dating a man, made friends and had the job at the Albertson's she loved, del Casal said.

A couple of years ago the Cooks' younger daughter moved to the area and spent time with Mary Cook.

"I talked to her about three weeks ago, and she said this was the happiest time of her life," del Casal said. "She was able to pick up the pieces of her life and move on, and I guess Paul wasn't."

Paul Cook did come into the store where Mary Cook worked twice in the last six months to buy cheese. But she didn't express any trepidation by the meeting, del Casal said.

"There was not stalking. There were no phone calls," he said. "She didn't even really see him for years."

The domestic violence that took Mary Cook's life is more common than not in the Las Vegas Valley as each year there are slayings attributed to domestic violence, but the scenes are not often played out in such a public place as a grocery store, Petersen said.

In the aftermath of Sunday's shooting, Albertson's donated $10,000 to Safe Nest, a Las Vegas domestic violence counseling and assistance program for women.

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