By Courtney Stringfellow
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
It was a Wednesday – the evening of Oct. 28, 2015.
Some families were coming home to cook meals, others were leaving to work the night shift.
In Bradla Cook’s kitchen, there was a pan on the stove, which wasn’t unusual. Around the room lay honeybee-related decor and school projects the 61-year-old’s grandchildren had gifted to her over the years.
But the Cedar Hills Estates house presented officers with something darker that evening – Cook had been brutally murdered in her own home.
Police found her body after a caller reported a vehicle fire that evening. The vehicle’s tag led police to Cook’s house, where they made the gruesome discovery.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office found no signs of forced entry.
Investigators from the Sheriff’s Office said they have considered many people of interest and that it’s typical for cases such as Cook’s to involve at least 10 interviews.
But today the case remains unsolved.
Cook’s oldest child, Cheryl Martin, had been working the night shift at Flagler Hospital that Wednesday.
She had gotten off a few hours earlier than usual and decided to spend the remaining hours of the night catching up on some sleep at her boyfriend’s house. Around 7:30 a.m., Martin woke up to her alarm and a series of phone calls from her ex-husband.
She ignored five consecutive phone calls before finally picking up. It was then that her ex-husband told her what he saw in passing her mother’s house, which was on his normal route to his child’s daycare center.
“The whole block is taped off,” he told her, “and I stopped counting cop cars at 20.”
Martin needed more information than her ex-husband could provide. She needed confirmation. He told her to turn on the news, so she did.
“So I fumbled through trying to turn on my boyfriend’s TV,” Martin remembered. “I’m hollerin’ and screamin’ tryin’ to get someone to help me turn on the TV.”
When Martin located the news channel, she saw the scene her ex-husband had described. Detectives had not yet identified Cook, but Martin had a gut feeling it was her mom.
Martin immediately called the medical examiner’s office and asked the person who answered to call her when her mother’s body arrived. Detectives called Martin roughly two hours later and asked her to meet them to verify her mom’s identity.
“‘Well, her and I have matching tattoos on our leg,’” Martin told detectives. “And so they asked for the description of the tattoo. And when I gave it to ’em, they just kind of gave me that look, and nodded their heads and said, ‘Yeah, that’s your mom.’”
That tattoo of a bee was one Cook had gotten years before to commemorate the birth of Martin’s first child, Makayla – Cook’s first grandchild.
“I have all four of my kids’ names wrapped around my right leg down into my ankle, and at the top of it is a flower, and on top of that flower is a bee,” Martin said. “She had the same bee on her leg as well.”
Makayla is now a student at the University of Florida and she remembers the frequent visits to her grandmother’s. They were neighbors for 11 years. She remembers yard sale hunting as well as listening to and watching television with her grandmother on her back porch for years.
To say the two were close would be an understatement.
“We were sitting in the back and she was showing me photos and telling me about her childhood,” Makayla said. “Through those stories I felt so close to her.”
Even her choice of botany as her major at the University of Florida was influenced by Cook.
“I could always find her either outside planting in her little garden or sitting on her back porch with her bird book looking at the birds,” Makayla said. “She definitely put in this love of science and this love for being connected to nature — ’cause she just loved it, and I loved her.”
Although Cook had lived in Jacksonville for more than 30 years, she was born in Ohio. A series of moves, marriages and children eventually led Cook and her family to Jacksonville.
All three of her children remember her for something different.
Martin remembers her for gardening. Brad Burgher remembers her for her cooking and her love of dancing. Kara Trimmer remembers her for her attention to detail.
One particular tradition Trimmer remembers was the family’s annual winter dinner.
“I would go and I’d go decorate, and I’d come back and there’d be platters all over the counter: cheese platters, and meat platters and fruit trays,” Trimmer remembered. “She’d just roll her eyes and be like, ‘See, I tried to tell ya.’”
Trimmer used to speak with her mother on a daily basis, even though she was living in Italy at the time. Now, instead of those conversations, she thinks about what happened that Wednesday and how her life and her children’s lives would be different if her mother had not been taken so abruptly.
“We adopted a kid and he never had that, and we gave him an amazing grandmother. And this person selfishly ripped that from him all in the mix of him finding himself, and where he belongs, and who he is,” Trimmer said.
“Every day is a nightmare. Every day you wake up and just pray that something came back from the lab, or somebody talks, or they messed up and get caught,” Trimmer said.
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