For six months, Klaressa Cook was the other murder victim linked to Alberto Palmer.
Like 18-year-old Brittany Clardy, Cook’s body was discovered in a car in a Twin Cities impound lot. But while Palmer has been jailed in Anoka County since March, charged with Clardy’s murder, no charges had been filed against him in Cook’s death, although Brooklyn Park police named him the lone suspect.
“We’ve waited, we’ve worried, we’ve wondered,” Cook’s sister Arianna Russell said this week. “My sister wasn’t perfect, but she never hurt anybody. We need to know what happened.”
On Thursday, a Hennepin County grand jury indicted Palmer on two counts of first-degree murder in the death of Cook, a 24-year-old Georgia native. The document listing the charges does not provide details.
The development is the latest during a 15-month period that has seen charges against Palmer in the assaults of three women in Georgia last year, his arrival in Minnesota last winter and the killings of two young women who apparently dabbled in prostitution and died within weeks of one another.
According to court records, Clardy, of St. Paul, was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in February after meeting Palmer through the website, backpage.com, where she advertised massage services. It was the same Internet site Palmer allegedly used to meet the women he is accused of assaulting in Georgia. In the indictment involving Cook, Palmer was charged with murder and with murder during an aggravated robbery.
Cook, like Clardy, was believed to have worked as a prostitute, family members said, but the similarities with Clardy may have ended there. Clardy was raised by two parents in a traditional family setting. Cook’s father served 20 years in prison for a killing committed when she was a baby. Her mother, Regina Cook Dean, had six children by three men by the time she was 21. And Cook drifted through foster care, often shuttled between Georgia and Tennessee, before being sent to an alternative high school in Savannah, some 300 miles from her family, relatives said.
None of her family members are sure how or why she came to the Twin Cities. Russell said she last heard from her sister on Jan. 19, a little more than a week after Cook’s 24th birthday. Cook told her sister at the time that she was in Minnesota, had a job with a car dealership and was living in a hotel.
“She said she was doing real good,” Russell said. “She told me she was working in a car lot, as a salesperson. But to be honest, I was afraid to ask much more.
“We didn’t like her being so far away and not knowing, but she was so strong-willed, so independent, so stubborn.”
Several of Cook’s relatives, including her sister and grandmother, said that Cook told her mother she’d worked as a prostitute when she lived in Georgia. But her family was convinced that she had abandoned prostitution. She told them she was “tired of getting hurt,” Russell said.
‘We were all hopeful’
“She told me she had quit meeting up with guys,” said Russell, 20. “She talked about going to college, about becoming a veterinarian. She wanted a baby real bad. She was so good with kids. We were all hopeful.”
Cook mentioned late last year that she had ended a relationship with a man she’d been seeing in Atlanta. That was around the same time that Palmer left his job as a cook at an Atlanta restaurant. According to Palmer’s relatives, he came to the Twin Cities in late December or early January, staying with a brother in Brooklyn Park, an aunt in Woodbury and, possibly, another brother and sister in the Twin Cities. If Cook knew Palmer in Atlanta, she never mentioned him to her siblings or cousins.
‘We all worried’
“We all worried about her,” a cousin, Mercedez Burson, said from South Cleveland, Tenn. “It’s not safe for a girl that pretty to travel the world — especially doing what she was doing.”
“She was a free spirit, but she was also very loving and caring,” said her grandmother, Sally Hernandez. “She talked about going to Las Vegas and to California and then we didn’t hear from her no more, like she dropped out of sight.”
Russell became concerned about her sister when Cook failed to send birthday greetings to her twin brothers. Still, she said she waited two months before contacting authorities in Minnesota on March 18. Palmer, already in jail, had been arrested two weeks earlier and charged with Clardy’s murder.
Cook’s life had been rough from the start, recalled her cousin Jennifer Burson. Her mother was 16 and unmarried when Klaressa was born. Cook was a baby when her father, Cliff Carroll, was convicted of killing a man during a 1989 argument. He would spend 20 years in prison before being paroled three years ago.
Cook was 4 when she was molested by a family friend and removed from her home by authorities, said an aunt, Tabytha Byrd.
“We were so proud of her when she got her diploma that we all drove down from Tennessee to Georgia to see her and spend time with her,” Jennifer Burson said.
Cook’s body was discovered in a Minneapolis impound lot on May 20. Her car had been towed there on April 11 from a Rainbow Foods parking lot in Brooklyn Park. When impound lot employees detected a foul odor from within the gold Lexus, Cook’s body was found in the trunk.
In late May, Brooklyn Park police identified Palmer as the suspect. They released his name before charges were filed to reassure the public that they didn’t think there was a risk to broader safety, they said.
Part of the reason for the longer time before the Hennepin County indictment was that Palmer was already in jail in Anoka County. In addition, authorities said, the county attorney’s office decided to seek a first-degree murder charge, and the evidence needed to be presented to a grand jury.
Members of Cook’s family, interviewed before the indictment was issued, now want closure. Her parents, who never married but are again a couple, declined to be interviewed. Cliff Carroll, who forged a relationship with his daughter after his release from prison, said through his sister, Barbara Taylor, that’s he’s “still grieving” and could not talk about her death.
“I just want to hear the man say he done it,” Taylor said of Palmer. “I want to know that that man will face judgment.”
Byrd, Cook’s aunt, said: “We pray for Alberto Palmer. I pray there is no bitterness or hatred dwelling in anyone’s heart or mind.”