The Texarkana Moonlight Murders
Throughout 1946, a menace began to plague the area of Texarkana. From February to May, a killer that went by the name of “The Phantom” struck four times, leaving behind five victims and three survivors. Despite the inclusion of state and federal officials, this investigation struggled to identify any suspects… and “The Phantom” would go on to become the area’s boogeyman.
Part One: The Phantom
Friday, February 22nd, 1946.
25-year old Jimmy Hollis and 19-year old Mary Jeanne Larey were on a double-date with Jimmy's brother, Bob.
The two couples had gone out to dinner earlier that evening, and then enjoyed a movie at a local theater. Some time after 11:00 PM, they decided to call it a night, and began heading home.
Jimmy had been driving the other three, and since his date, Mary, lived with her family out in Hooks, Texas - about twenty miles west - Bob and his girlfriend asked to be dropped off first. Jimmy and Mary obliged, as this would give them a little bit of time to themselves.
On the way out to Mary's house - which, again, was in a small town to the west calls Hooks - the young couple decided to stop by a secluded lovers' lane. This was an unpaved, unnamed area, just off of Richmond Road.
Despite being just outside of a suburban area - about 100 or so yards from the nearby Beverly housing development - this road was very quiet. Still surrounded by trees almost eighty years later, the area that is now known as the 700 block of Richmond Road - near what is now Stevenson Street - was as isolated as any spot in Texarkana.
It was quiet, desolate, and secluded: the perfect place for two young lovers to slip off and enjoy each other's company.
The two arrived at the quiet spot at around 11:45 PM. They were there for about ten minutes, before a presence appeared at the driver's side door.
It was a man, shining a bright flashlight into the car. It was disorienting and blinding, but both Jimmy and Mary could see that the man was wearing a white cloth mask. They would later recall that it looked like a pillowcase, which had small holes cut into it for the man's eyes to peer through.
Jimmy seemed to think that this was a prank, telling the strange man that he had the wrong guy. However, any hope that this was a light-hearted joke disappeared when the masked man revealed that he had a gun, and he ordered the young couple out of the parked car. His threat was directed at 25-year old Jimmy.
"I don't want to kill you, fellow, so do what I say."
Though horrified and hesitant, the young couple complied. Both exited the car through the driver-side door, noting that the masked man was taller than both of them. He continued to shine his flashlight at them in one hand, the other gripping his pistol.
Once Jimmy and Mary were out of the vehicle, the masked man ordered Jimmy to take off his pants.
"Take off your goddamn britches," the masked man demanded. Again, Jimmy hesitated, but now even his worried date insisted that he follow the orders given to him.
So, Jimmy unbuckled his belt and took off his pants, before the masked man took a step forward. Mary, disoriented by the bright flashlight, described what happened next.
"After Jimmy had taken off his trousers, the man hit Jimmy twice on the head. The noise was so loud I thought Jimmy had been shot. I learned later that the sound was his skull cracking."
Jimmy Hollis' skull was instantly fractured in multiple spots. Mary, thinking that they were falling prey to a robber, immediately began pleading with the masked man.
"I picked up Jimmy's pants and took his billfold out of his pocket, and I said, 'Look, he doesn't have any money,' but the man told me I was lying and he said that I had a purse, but I told him that I didn't. Then he hit me, I thought, with a piece of iron pipe and knocked me to the ground, but I managed to get up."
Mary was struck with either the attacker's firearm or flashlight, and hit the ground. She stood, panicked and in pain, before being ordered to run. She didn't need much more instruction.
Mary Jeanne Larey ran towards a nearby ditch, but the man called out behind her, ordering her to run up the road, in the opposite direction. He clearly didn't want her disappearing into the treeline, wanting her out in the open. By all indications, it seemed like he was hunting the 19-year old.
Mary then began running towards a vehicle up the road, hoping that someone might be inside. Unfortunately, the engine was cold and no one was inside.
At around this point, the man - who had apparently been following her - caught up to Mary.
"Just as I got past the car, the man overtook me."
The masked man demanded to know why Mary had been running away from him. In a moment that seems almost comical, in retrospect, she told him that he had ordered her to do so at gunpoint. Again, the man called her a liar, and shoved her to the ground.
There, the man proceeded to sexually assault Mary, using the barrel of his pistol to do so.
It was around this time that Jimmy - whose skull had just been fractured, moments beforehand - began to come to his senses. He was in agony and confused, struggling to regain his bearings. He noticed that Mary, his date, was missing. So was the masked man, who had just accosted them and disappeared with his pants.
Jimmy walked a short distance to Richmond Road, where he was able to flag down a vehicle. The vehicle slowed down, cautiously approaching, but the driver agreed to help him out. While Jimmy remained at the scene of the crime, this passerby would stop by a nearby funeral home to phone the police.
Meanwhile, the masked man - who had been sexually assaulting Mary along the road for an untold amount of seconds - had now scattered. He had gotten frightened by the headlights of a passing vehicle, and disappeared off into the darkness. Mary, seizing the opportunity, fled from the scene on foot, running nearly half-a-mile to a nearby house.
Here, along the 800 block of Blanton Street, Mary began approaching houses, in the hopes of waking someone up for help. A car drove by, and Mary tried to flag it down, to no avail. However, she was able to speak to the residents of a home, who woke up and agreed to call the police.
Within half-an-hour, Bowie County Sheriffs officials were on the scene, including Sheriff W.H. Presley - more commonly known as Sheriff Bill Presley. He, along with three other officers, began going over the crime scene, eager to learn more about this masked gunman, who had disappeared into thin air.
At the time, this attack seemed like a personal vendetta - a love triangle that police would figure out in no time. Sheriff Presley and his fellow officers had no idea that they were in the early days of a case that would consume their office, as well as the states of Texas and Arkansas, for years to come.
This is the story of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders.
Texarkana is a metropolitan area that rests on the border between Texas and Arkansas.
Many people think of Texarkana as one city, but it's really one city that's split in half. Half of the town resides in Texas's Bowie County, while the other half belongs to Arkansas' Miller County. Despite sharing facilities, the towns have their own separate local governments.
The name itself - Texarkana - is inspired by the geographical regions the area owes its heritage to. The first three letters, "Tex," of course come from Texas. "Ark," the middle section, comes from Arkansas. And then there's "Ana," which is inspired by Louisiana - whose border is located roughly 30 miles south of Texarkana.
It's unknown how this name came to be, exactly. Legend says that the name was inspired by a 19th century steamboat named "The Texarkana," but it's also rumored that the area was named after an drink called "Texarkana Bitters."
Originally settled as a railroad and lumber center, some nicknamed Texarkana "Little Chicago," because it served as a hub for travel. As such, the region was known as a stop-gap town between the east and the west - at least, until the early 1940's.
The attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into World War Two, and kicked America's manufacturing machine into gear. Many plants and factories were renovated to begin produce wartime goods, and ammunition plants were built in America's heartland.
Red River Army Depot was created in 1941, where ammunition from throughout the nation would be sent for storage. Then, a few months later, the Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant opened for business, where bullets, shells, and more began production.
The opening of these two plants brought with them jobs. And with the jobs, came a burgeoning population. Between 1940 and 1950, the population would increase drastically on both sides of the Texarkana divide, with most choosing to live on the Texas side, but both receiving an influx of new residents.
When World War Two came to a close, the two plants continued serving as a hub for munitions and arms. Many of the people that worked at the plant were able to keep their jobs as America transitioned into peacetime, and soldiers began returning home.
This brings us into 1946 - one year after the official end of the war - where a masked man has just attacked a young couple in an isolated lovers' lane, on a brisk February evening.
Bowie County Sheriff Bill Presley was the first officer on the scene, in the early morning hours of Saturday, February 23rd, 1946.
He arrived to the scene less than half-an-hour after his office received two calls - one from a troubled family, who had been awoken by a troubled young lady named Mary. The other came from a passing motorist, who had encountered a bruised and battered young man named Jimmy along the road.
Both calls claimed that they had been attacked by a masked man with a gun, and Presley sped off towards the scene.
Sheriff W.H. Bill Presley was a veteran of World War One - the Great War - where he had served in France as a member of the American Expeditionary Forces. Since returning home, over twenty years beforehand, he had been a public servant: serving as Bowie County's commissioner and treasurer. Now, he was sheriff.
Sheriff Presley was joined at the crime scene by three other officers, but together, they were unable to find any definitive details. They found what looked like tire tracks a short distance away from the crime scene, but it didn't seem to point to a unique brand or model of vehicle. They were also able to recover Jimmy's trousers - roughly 100 yards away from his parked car - but his wallet and belongings seemed to be intact.
While this had the hallmarks of a disturbing crime, there was really nothing for investigators to go off of. At least, as far as physical evidence was concerned - especially when we factor in that this was 1946, before many of our modern investigative techniques were established.
The two victims remained hospitalized overnight, where it was learned that Mary Jeanne Larey had received some minor head wounds, but had also been sexually assaulted. Publications would refrain from saying that she had been raped, instead choosing the colloquial phrase "she had been abused."
Jimmy Hollis, on the other hand, would stay in the hospital for nearly two weeks, as he struggled to regain consciousness following his multiple skull fractures.
Mary would speak to police that night, providing them details about the attack and the masked man that had terrorized them at gunpoint. She claimed that he wore a white bag over his head, which contained cutouts for his eyes and mouth. She said that she had been provided some brief glances at the man's face, through those cutouts, and described him as being African American.
This was disputed by Jimmy Hollis' statement, when he regained consciousness about a week later. He said that - from his perspective - the man seemed to have white features, and appeared to be around thirty years old. However, he also noted that he only had a vague recollection of this. After all, he had been disoriented by a flashlight throughout most of his encounter with the masked man, before being clubbed in the head and losing consciousness.
Jimmy only knew one thing for sure about the victim: that he was mad.
"I know he's crazy. The crazy things he said made me feel his mind was warped."
In their combined statements, the two victims only seemed to agree upon one physical trait of the masked man: that he stood around six feet tall, if not a inch or two taller.
Because of the disparities in their statements, police became suspicious of the two. They even began to suspect that the couple might have known their attacker, and were feigning confusion in an effort to protect them.
This stigma would hang over the case for the next several months, as investigators began to lose interest in the tale spun by Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jeanne Larey. Nobody was detained for questioning, and no suspects would ever be named by investigators.
25-year old Jimmy Hollis would remain in critical condition for several days after the attack. Four days after being admitted to Pine Street Hospital, he had still not fully regained consciousness.
On March 9th - 12 days after being assaulted by the masked man - Jimmy was finally released from the hospital. He was told that his recovery from multiple skull fractures would be a long and arduous process, and he would not be able to simply return to his job - as an insurance agent - for at least six months.
By May of 1946, he was still struggling to come to terms with what had happened to him and his date on that chilly February evening.
"I still get nervous when I think about it. At night, on the street, even downtown."
Mary Jeanne Larey, Jimmy's 19-year old date, had received only minor head wounds from the assailant. Those were stitched up at the hospital, and she was released the next morning.
However, Mary's more pressing concern was the sexual assault she had received at the hands of this unknown perpetrator. It was not reported in the media at the time, with police and reporters believing that it was too vulgar to mention. Police were also hoping that withholding that information would help weed out false confessions, should that come-to-pass.
Mary struggled to overcome this violent incident, and - like Jimmy - she was plagued by nightmares for a long period of time. A few weeks after the incident, she moved from her parents home in Hooks, Texas, up to her aunt and uncle's house in Frederick, Oklahoma. Even there, though - over 300 miles away - she would often refuse to go upstairs by herself, or even sleep alone.
She was haunted by the man that had attacked her; whose voice continued to cloud her thoughts.
"I would know his voice anywhere. It rings always in my ears. Why didn't he kill me too? He killed so many others."
It would be months before Mary and Jimmy's encounter with a masked man would be linked to a repeat offender plaguing the area of Texarkana.
March 24th, 1946.
Over a month had passed since a young couple was assaulted in a quiet lovers' lane along Richmond Road.
It was a quiet Sunday morning, and a motorist was driving down Rich Road, just south of US Highway 67. This road still exists, but has been renamed South Robison in the years since.
At the time, Rich Road was nicknamed "Lovers' Lane" by locals, due to its secluded nature. It was a gravel road that was not yet connected to the highway, surrounded by trees which allowed for privacy. It also happened to be close to a hang-out called Club Dallas, which was just a few blocks away.
Some time between 8:30 and 9:00 AM, this motorist was driving down Rich Road, and noticed an Oldsmobile parked along the side of the road. This was unusual, so he decided to stop by and have a look to see who the vehicle belonged to.
As this motorist peered inside, they saw two bodies. The first - a male - was oddly crouched down between the front seats. His head was resting on his crossed hands, and it looked like his pockets had been turned out.
In the backseat, a young woman was sprawled out, face-down. Like the male, her pockets had also been turned out.
At first, this passing motorist thought that the two people inside the Oldsmobile were sleeping. However, it quickly became apparent that something was very wrong. There was blood inside the vehicle, and - as Texarkana would soon learn - the man and young woman inside the car had been shot-to-death, execution-style.
Richard Lanier Griffin was born on August 31st, 1916.
He grew up in Linden, Texas, eventually becoming embroiled in World War Two. He was a member of the "Seabees," the US Naval Construction Battalions. Basically, his job title was to help construct things for the United States Navy, but the "Seabees" - as they were known - were prepared to fight should it come down to it.
In December of 1945, Griffin was discharged, and returned to Texas. He moved in with his mother, in a housing unit provided for reintegrating soldiers. In the months since returning home, he had resumed work as a carpenter and a painter. He had also begun seeing a young woman named Polly.
Polly Ann Moore was born on November 10th, 1928. She grew up in Atlanta, Texas - about half an hour south - and had graduated high school the year prior, at the age of just 16. Ever since, she had worked for Red River Arsenal, as a checker.
Because she was living away from home, Polly lived with her cousin at a nearby boardinghouse. However, she had begun dating an older man named Richard.
Richard was 29 and Polly was 17, but the age different at the time wasn't a major concern. It was socially acceptable for men to date much younger woman; even though, nowadays, we'd consider a 29-year old man dating a 17-year old girl troubling.
The two had been dating for about six weeks, eventually culminating in them spending a Saturday out-and-about. The two had been seen the night prior, March 23rd, at a cafe in Texarkana, where they had visited with Richard's sister, Eleanor, and her boyfriend until about 10:00 PM. That was when they left, and apparently set off for the nearby lovers' lane.
The following morning, their bodies were found inside Richard's Oldsmobile. He was identified by the vehicle, but Polly would be identified by the class ring she wore on her finger, which bore the inscription of her initials - "P.A.M." - as well as her graduation year - '45.
Because the crime happened again on the Texas side of Texarkana, it was Bowie County that handled the investigation into the double-murder of Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore.
Both of the victims had been shot in the back of the head - which appeared to be execution-style. But their bodies were found inside the car, leading police to think that they had been shot outside, and then brought back into the vehicle post-death; their bodies were then posed, and eventually found hours later by the passing motorist.
Bowie County Sheriff W.H. "Bill" Presley was again one of the first officers to arrive at the scene, joined by friend and colleague Jack Runnels, the Texas City Chief of Police. They were part of the original investigative group that discovered a patch of blood-soaked soil just a short distance from the car, about twenty feet away or so. This is where police believe one or both of the victims had been killed, and later tests would indicate that the blood matched a sample of Polly Moore's blood type.
Despite police believing that the victims had been killed outside, the interior of the car was anything but clean. The running board inside the car was covered in congealed blood, which had been pooling underneath the car door.
These investigators were also able to find a couple of .32-caliber shells at the scene, which might have been fired from a Colt pistol. At least, this would give them an understanding of the weapon used in this violent double-murder.
Unfortunately, that Sunday saw rainstorms throughout the area, so police were frustrated when one of their most promising leads - footprints discovered near the crime scene - were washed away by the heavy rain.
As investigators continued to learn about the case, other agencies were called in to assist. This included detectives and officials with city police, the Department of Public Safety, neighboring Miller and Cass counties, and even the FBI.
Current records make it hard to determine whether or not a thorough examination of the bodies took place. There was - and is - no record of a pathologist examining or analyzing the bodies, which makes this next part tricky.
There have been a lot of rumors that the female victim, Polly Ann Moore, was sexually assaulted before or during her murder. There were reports made that she had been raped, but - just like the assault on Mary Jeanne Larey the month prior - these reports were not publicized.
By March 27th, 1946 - three days after the bodies were discovered - the combined police effort had interviewed somewhere between fifty and sixty witnesses. Most of these witnesses were patrons and employees of Club Dallas, a local bar and hot-spot near the crime scene. It was theorized that Richard Griffin and Polly Moore had gone there prior to heading to a lovers' lane, but police were unable to learn anything substantial from these potential witnesses.
By March 30th, 1946, a $500 reward was announced for information leading to an arrest. Just like the police inquiry, this seemed to go nowhere - instead, jamming up the investigation with what was later determined to be over 100 false leads.
During this investigation, three suspects were taken into custody for possessing bloody clothing. Police viewed each skeptically, looking for any reason to doubt them, but two of the three had reasonable explanations for the clothing. The third was held in Vernon, Texas, for further investigation, but was later freed and cleared of any wrongdoing.
In the end, over 200 people were questioned by law enforcement following the murders of Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore. But not a one were charged with any crimes relating to the case.
In the aftermath of this double-murder, police asked the public for help. However, it quickly became apparent that the area of Texarkana was the perfect environment for fear and distrust to fester into rumor and gossip.
A March 27th article published in the Texarkana Gazette read as follows:
"Sheriff Bill Presley and his deputies have a difficult task ahead of them as they attempt to solve the shocking double murder discovered Sunday morning. Texarkana residents can help in this investigation and at the same time, if they are not careful, they can hinder the investigation and cause the officers to spend many hours following blind trails. Persons who have information which might furnish a clue to the identity of the slayer or slayers or which might indicate a motive for the crime should not divulge such information on street corners or at cold drink stands but should immediately make it available to the officers. Do not spread rumors regardless of how many bases for the fact there is in them. Do not say 'I heard' or 'they say' because the chances are that the person listening will repeat your information and enlarge upon it. Before long the story grows to such proportions as to necessitate a detailed investigation by the officers, thereby perhaps pulling them off the true trail and sending them up a blind alley. Stick to facts that you know of your own personal knowledge and relay those facts as quickly as possible to the officers."
Investigators knew that the public was growing concerned over an unsolved double-murder; especially one aimed at young men and women. Panic was beginning to set in over the town, and worried parents were becoming more concerned about their children, beginning to tighten the leash on curfews and allowances. Concerned residents began patrolling lovers' lanes, looking for any sign of trouble, but praying that they wouldn't find any.
Betty Jo Booker was born on June 5th, 1930. She was an only child, whose father died early in her life.
While a youngster, Betty attended Fairview Kindergarten, where she became friends with a boy named Paul Martin. Their friendship would become a mainstay in Betty's life, and the two would become intertwined in the history of Texarkana.
Paul James Martin, born about a year prior - on May 8th, 1929 - was the youngest of four sons.
Both Paul and Betty had once both lived on the Arkansas side of Texarkana, but when Betty's mother remarried, they were moved to the Texas side of things. Yet, despite this, Betty continued to attend Beech Street Baptist Church, which allowed her to see Paul on a regular basis.
At around the time they started high school, things continued changing for the two friends. Paul was sent away to the Gulf Coast Military Academy, in Gulfport, Mississippi, for a year, before returning to attend high school in Kilgore, Texas.
In 1946, Betty Jo Booker was a 15-year old junior at Texas High School, who was popular with the boys, but didn't take any of her friendships or "relationships" too seriously. She was focused on her report cards, which were littered with straight A's, and planned to become a medical technician following graduation. She had also become enamored with music, and she played alto saxophone for a couple of bands.
On the second weekend of April, Betty and Paul made plans to see each other. They had resumed their friendship over the years, and Paul was going to be in town, so they figured 'why not?'
Unfortunately, tragedy had them in its sights.
On Friday, April 12th, 1946, Paul Martin said goodbye to his parents in Kilgore, telling them that he was making the nearly-two hour drive up north to Texarkana. He planned to spend the weekend with friends, but was going to be back on Sunday morning.
That night, he stayed with a friend in Texarkana, and made plans to see Betty the following evening: Saturday, April 13th.
In addition to playing her saxophone in the high school band, Betty played regular weekly gigs with a band called the Rythmaires. Band leader Jerry Atkins usually only recruited male musicians to play with, but the lack of any candidates throughout World War Two had brought several promising female musicians into the fold. Betty had proven herself to be an incredibly gifted musician, who provided the band with talent beyond her fifteen years.
This evening, Betty and the Rhythmaires played a gig at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Club, along West 4th and Oak Streets. The night ran late, with the gig not finishing up until past midnight. It was around 1:30 AM when Betty was finally released, and this is where she met up with her old friend, Paul.
Paul picked up Betty in his 1946 Ford Club Coupe, and planned to drop her off at a slumber party on the other side of town. However, somewhere in-between the two locations, the two teenagers had decided to make a stop along a cozy lovers' lane... where they ran afoul of a burgeoning predator.
Roughly five hours after leaving the VFW Club, the body of 16-year old Paul Martin was found by a Texarkana family.
It was around 6:30 AM, on Sunday, April 14th, when Mr. and Mrs. G.H. Weaver - who had their young son with them - came across the bloody remains of Paul. He was lying along the northern edge of North Park Road, near the neighborhood of Greenbrier Forest Circle. Even from feet away, it became apparent that Paul had been shot multiple times.
On the other side of the road, another smattering of blood could be found, which indicated that there was more than one victim.
Police were notified, and - again - Sheriff Bill Presley was one of the first to arrive at the scene, along with his friend, Texas City Police Chief Jack Runnels. They were able to piece together some of the details from the night prior, and learned that Paul Martin - the young victim whose body they had just found - was with another teenager, Betty Jo Booker.
She was nowhere to be found.
A search was launched to find Betty Jo, spreading out through the surrounding area, scanning through every bush and field. In addition to the police, several citizens joined in and participating in the search, hoping to cover as much ground as possible.
One search party consisted of members of the Boyd family, as well as Texarkana resident Ted Schoeppey. They were scanning through the area that is now known as Galleria Oaks and Fernwood Drives, at around 11:30 AM, when they came upon the body of Betty Jo Booker.
The fifteen-year-old was lying on her back, behind a tree. Like the other murder victims, she was still fully-clothed, but her body seemed staged, in a way. Her coat was buttoned all the way up to her chin, and her right hand was resting in the pocket of her overcoat.
Betty Jo's body was found nearly two miles away from the body of Paul Martin. But, just like him, she appeared to have been shot more than once.
The murders of Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker revealed to the world that there was a repeat offender plaguing Texarkana.
At this point in time - April of 1946 - the term "serial killer" didn't yet exist. But this second double-murder, and the third assault in as many months, pointed out to police that someone was specifically targeting young couples in lovers' lanes.
An examination of the bodies showed that Paul Martin had been shot four times in total. One bullet went through his nose, one went through his left ribs from behind - indicating that he had been running from his attacker; another bullet was lodged in his right hand, and one exited through the back of his neck.
Meanwhile, Betty Jo Booker had been shot twice: once in the chest, and a second time more directly, to the face.
Just like the last double-murder - of Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore - the weapon used was most likely an automatic .32 Colt pistol.
In addition to being shot multiple times, it also became apparent to investigators that the female victim - Betty Jo Booker - had been sexually assaulted. This seemed nearly-identical to the last double murder.
Sammy Wacasey, a Texarkana native and a researcher at the East Texas Historical Association who dedicated several months to researching the case, stated:
"Official reports would say Miss Booker was raped in the same manner as Miss Moore."
Despite finding the victim's bodies on the morning in-question, it took police a bit longer to find the vehicle the two had been driving the night prior. Paul Martin's 1946 Ford Club Coupe was found outside of Spring Lake Park - a good distance away from where the two victims were found. This was nearly a mile-and-a-half away from Martin's body, and over three miles away from Betty Jo Booker's remains.
The keys were still in the ignition, and police would remain unsure on which of the two victims had been targeted first. The state of the crime scene made it nearly impossible to determine what, exactly, had happened in the early morning hours of April 14th, 1946.
The funerals for both of the murder victims took place just days later, on April 16th.
That Tuesday was a stormy, windy day throughout the region, and schools excused students early, to allow them to grieve for their fellow classmates. As the rain began to pour outside, friends and family of both Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker piled into the Beech Street Baptist Church they had attended for years.
The service for Paul James Martin took place at 10:00 AM that Tuesday. His mother spoke about his shortened life, telling the audience that she had worried about him getting in a car wreck the weekend that he left for Texarkana. She lamented allowing him to leave at all, fighting through tears and exhaustion to memorialize her son.
The funeral for Betty Jo Booker took place just a few hours later, at 2:00 PM. During her service, Betty's only close relative - her mother - struggled to keep her composure throughout.
"I trust the men who are handling the investigation into my daughter's death. I'm sure they'll find whoever did it. If he is caught, I would like to kill him. If they would let me, I would kill him myself."
Jerry Atkins, Betty's band leader, served as one of her pallbearers. His band, which Betty had played saxophone in - the Rhythmaires - would never play another gig, out of respect to Betty and her family.
Manuel T. Gonzaullas was a Texas Ranger, who was called in to assist in the investigation on the orders of the then-Texas governor.
The second double-murder in as many months had attracted a lot of unwanted attention, and the Rangers - Texas' most elite crime-fighting organization - had been called in to try and stop the bleeding.
Captain Gonzaullas had been a Ranger for over 25 years, becoming one of the state's most well-known and well-respected lawmen. He was known for being flashy and dramatic, which he often chalked up to his Spanish heritage. Because of his persistence, and his over-eagerness to step outside of the box, he had earned himself the nickname "Lone Wolf."
The editor of the Texarkana Gazette newspaper, J.Q. Mahaffey, would later describe Captain Gonzaullas as:
"... one of the best-looking men I have ever seen and [he] wore a spotless khaki suit and a white 10-gallon hat. He packed two ivory-handled revolvers on his hips and did not deny that he was the Ranger who sat in the cashier's office in the Crazy Water Hotel in Mineral Wells and gunned down two ex-convicts who sought to rob the place. He was so good-looking that my girl reporters would not leave him alone. He really didn't have time to hunt down the Phantom. He was too busy giving out interviews and trying to run the Gazette. All of the other officers working on the case were intensely jealous of Lone Wolf and complained bitterly every time his picture appeared in the paper."
Tillman Johnson, a Deputy for neighboring Miller County, described Gonzaullas as a showman whose reputation proceeded him. However, he also critiqued the Ranger for being a less-than-impressive investigator, who was the first to take credit for someone else's work.
"Whenever he came down the stairs from his hotel room, he called for the press. He was a showman. He was a handsome man, I'd say, and he made a good appearance and of course he had a reputation for being a killer. So the press all followed Gonzaullas. No, he didn't do any real police work himself. He'd get in that car and ride around, ask a lot of questions about what the other officers had found then he'd release it to the press like it was his information. It got to where after a while some officers wouldn't tell him anything."
The involvement of the Texas Rangers would signal to Texarkana - and the rest of the region - that this was no longer a small-time case. This was something to be scared of.
Over time, many would point to Captain Gonzaullas' involvement in the case as both the best and the worst thing to happen to this investigation.
One of the leads that detectives followed up on, in the early days of the Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker murder investigation, was the mysterious disappearance of Betty Jo's saxophone.
Like I've discussed - she was very big into music, and played in a number of bands. Just hours before her disappearance, she had played a gig with Jerry Atkins' band, the Rhthmaires. Well, Atkins told the police that she had left the night prior with her saxophone, and police were operating under the belief that Betty and Paul Martin had not stopped anywhere before pulling into a lovers' lane outside Spring Lake Park.
When they found the two bodies - and then later, Paul's vehicle - absent was Betty's alto saxophone.
Big or small, this was a lead.
It was believed that the saxophone might have been stolen; that, perhaps, the two teenagers had become the target of a theft, and ultimately became the victims of a robbery-gone-wrong. Texas City Chief of Police Jack Runnels handled this investigation.
Well, a little over a week later, a man in Corpus Christi, Texas became a suspect in the investigation. On April 25th - 11 days after the murder - this man tried to sell a saxophone to a music store. He seemed nervous, and an employee decided to have a manager speak to him. When confronted by the manager, who wanted to learn about the instrument, this strange man ran away. Police were contacted, and a description of the man was given.
He was arrested two days later, on April 27th. In the interim two days, he had purchased a .45 revolver from a pawn shop, and when police looked through his room, they found that he no longer possessed a saxophone. However, he did have a bag of bloody clothing, which he suspiciously claimed had gotten bloodied after a bar fight from days prior.
Despite being ID'd by employees in the music store as the same man that had tried to sell them a saxophone, the man was cleared as a suspect weeks later. He had been detained for several days and questioned numerous times, but police stated that he wasn't their guy.
Captain Gonzaullas, the Texas Ranger that was now leading the investigation, said about this suspect:
"This man has been completely eliminated. He has been checked and double-checked and he couldn't have had anything to do with the murder cases here."
The decision to free this man and clear him of any wrongdoing was given some credence months later, when the saxophone belonging to Betty Jo Booker was finally located. It was found on October 24th, 1946 - six months after the murder - just a short distance away from her body.
Following the second double-murder - and the third assault of young couples - the area of Texarkana was caught up in rumors and panic.
The reward fund - which had been $500 just a month prior - grew to a total of $1700. That's the equivalent of roughly $25,000 today. As such, police officials found themselves inundated with leads: most of which were determined to be fake.
It was said that a local taxi driver had become a suspect after police spotted his vehicle near one of the murder scenes, but this lead was later "washed out" by investigators. Then, an especially nefarious rumor began to spread about a local minister, who residents claimed had turned in his own son as a suspect. This was later deemed false by investigators.
During an April 18th press conference, Captain Gonzaullas personally addressed these rumors in a statement, describing them as "a hindrance to the investigation and harmful to innocent persons." This opinion was shared by all of the police agencies working on the case, which including local, county, and now state investigators.
Despite this, however, the panic of this unknown killer began to spread throughout Texarkana. The rumors and gossip just added to this growing urban legend, creating the belief that - whoever this killer was - they were not just lurking in the shadows, but they were walking among the rest of Texarkana, waiting to strike.
On April 16th, 1946 - the same day that Betty Jo Booker and Paul Martin were laid to rest - the Texarkana Gazette ran a headline:
"Phantom Killer Eludes Officers as Investigation of Slayings Pressed"
A follow-up headline the following day read:
"Phantom Slayer Still at Large as Probe Continues"
This unintentional nickname seemed to stick, as this unknown killer would be known as "The Phantom" from here on out.
Part Two: The Town That Dreaded Sundown
Walter Virgil Starks was born on April 3rd, 1909. He was born to a farming family in the area of Texarkana, Arkansas, and - over time - he would begin to go by his middle name, Virgil.
In his childhood, Virgil would meet a girl named Katherine Ila Strickland - who went by a nickname of her own, Katie. Like Virgil, she had been born in 1909, but a few months after him - on September 25th. The two would remain friends throughout their childhood. As they began growing through adolescence, their friendship took a more romantic took.
On March 2nd, 1932 - when both were 22 years old - they decided to marry. They became Mr. and Mrs. Virgil Starks, and - soon thereafter - would move to a modern ranch-styled house just northeast of Texarkana.
This home, which was on a 500-acre farm, would become the Starks marital home. Virgil worked primarily as a farmer, but would occasionally do some welding work for neighboring farms. The home they lived in was just across the street from Katie's sister, and was within two miles of both Virgil's brother and father.
The two would have no children, but lived a very comfortable life. They enjoyed one another's company, and grew to love each other dearly.
May 3rd, 1946, was just like any other Friday for Virgil and Katie Starks. Virgil, now 37 years old, called it quits in the early evening. Just before 9:00 PM, he was finally getting to unwind and relax after an exhausting day.
Virgil turned on his favorite weekly radio show, and then sat down in his favorite chair in the family's sitting room - located just off of the kitchen and bedroom. As he listened to the radio, he began looking through the day's edition of the Texarkana Gazette.
Katie brought her husband a heating pad for his sore back, and then kissed him good night. She was tired, and began heading to the nearby bedroom to lie down for the evening. She changed into her nightgown, and then laid down in bed.
Minutes pass. As Katie lays there, she struggles to fall asleep. She hears some distracting sounds - which might have come from the backyard - and asks Virgil to turn down the radio.
He gets up to acquiesce, but is then stopped in his tracks.
Just seconds after asking him to turn down the radio, Katie - in the nearby bedroom - hears what sounds like the breaking of glass. She stands and rushes out into the nearby sitting room, where she sees Virgil standing, before immediately dropping back down into his armchair.
His face was covered in blood. He had just been shot, and Katie couldn't immediately tell how many times. Because - unbeknownst to her at the time - the killer was standing on the other side of the window just behind Virgil's armchair, standing on their front porch.
Katie rushes over to her husband, Virgil, to try and help. But almost instantly she is hit with the crushing realization that there is nothing she can do. He is dead.
As such, she rushes over to the telephone, to try and at least call the police. She manages to ring the wall-crank twice before she is shot twice. The shots are fired from the same window that Virgil had just been sitting in front of; where this mysterious killer has been lurking and - seemingly - waiting.
One of the shots enters Katie's right cheek, exiting just behind her left ear. The other hits just below her lip, instantly breaking her jaw and splintering several teeth. The bullet lodges underneath her tongue, nearly-crippling Katie in pain and fear.
She drops down to her knees, ending her phone call before it ever started.
However, as we'll learn about Katie - she is a survivor. The pain to her facial nerves is enough to cripple anyone weak-of-heart, but Katie perseveres. She crawls to the nearest cover she can think of: the bedroom she had just left moments beforehand. There, she takes a brief moment to collect her thoughts, and thinks to herself about protection. Virgil and her kept a pistol in the living room, and she begins making her way towards that: the only thing that can protect her at the moment.
As she stumbles into the living room, though, Katie is overcome with a dreadful realization: she is blinded by her own blood. She struggles to make out her own house, seeing little more than shapes and shadows. As she begins to look for the pistol, she can hear someone trying to tear loose the screen from a window or door.
The killer, who had originally shot Virgil and Katie through a window at the front of the house, has now run towards the back of the house, and up a small set of stairs towards the back door. There, he or she began trying to tear the screen out from the kitchen window, which would allow them access inside - which would lead them straight to Katie, who was now struggling to see through her blurry vision, and leaving a trail of blood and broken teeth behind her.
After hearing this killer attempting to break in to the house, Katie gives a brief consideration to leaving a note for her relatives to find. However, like I said - she is a survivor - and she quickly abandons that idea.
Realizing that the killer has now gone towards the back door, Katie decides that escaping out the front of the house is the best option for her survival. She turns and runs through the dining room and bedroom, down a hallway, and towards the front door. Investigators would later note that there was a "virtual river of blood" left in her wake.
Barefoot and still wearing her nightgown - which was now soaked in blood - Katie runs across the street to her sister and brother-in-law's home. Unfortunately, no one was home at the time, so Katie runs another fifty or so yards, to the home of neighbor A.V. Prater.
Thankfully, Prater was at-home and awake. He rushes out to help Katie, who manages to get out the words "Virgil's dead" before collapsing in his yard.
Prater grabs one of his rifles, and fires it into the air to alarm some of the other neighbors. Elmer Taylor, one of these neighbors, responds to the call.
Prater tells Taylor to bring his car and come help, because both Mr. and Mrs. Starks had been shot. He also relays the message that Virgil was dead, and that Mrs. Starks - Katie - needed immediate help.
Prater, as well as his wife and baby, travel with Taylor and Katie to Michael Meager Hospital - which is now known as the Miller County Health Unit. On the trip there, Katie struggled to remain conscious. In her dazed state, she even yanked out one of her broken teeth - which contained a gold filling - and gave it to Taylor as compensation for his help.
By the time they arrived at the hospital, Katie had lost a significant amount of blood - as the crime scene photos would later prove - but she was, thankfully, not in any real danger of going into shock. Her vitals looked normal, and she would enter surgery that evening to repair the damage done to her face.
Back at the home, though, police would find a troubling crime scene. It felt suspiciously related to the crimes that had been plaguing the area - which included three assaults on young couples in lovers' lanes and a total of four murders - but stood out in a number of aspects. The following morning news headline in the Texarkana Gazette read, in all caps:
"MURDER ROCKS CITY AGAIN; FARMER SLAIN, WIFE WOUNDED"
Yet, despite the panic put into the headline, police would struggle to connect this case to the crimes attributed to Texarkana's "Phantom." In the following months, investigators would struggle to connect this brutal shooting to that crime spree... however, the stories have remained linked in the following decades.
This is the story of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders.
Following the reports of a shooting out at the home of Virgil and Katie Starks, Miller County Sheriff's deputies and Arkansas state police were the first to arrive at the scene.
Because the incident took place on the Arkansas side of town, the call was forwarded to the nearby Hope, Arkansas city police, who then forwarded emergency services to the Starks farm, as well as to Micheal Meager Hospital - where Katie Starks had just been admitted.
Arkansas State Police officers Charley Boyd and Max Tackett were the first officers to arrive at the scene, after hearing the call come over the radio. They approached the house cautiously, and entered inside - finding the trail of blood leading down the hallway towards the sitting room, where Katie and Virgil Starks had been shot.
The body of Virgil Starks was still there, but there have been contradictory reports in the decades since about the condition of his remains.
One of the two Arkansas State officers said that they found Virgil sitting in the blood-soaked chair he had been shot in, while another said that the officers found Starks lying across the floor.
However, a couple of facts were later confirmed by investigators. Virgil had been shot twice, in the back of the head, and the chair he had been sitting in had since caught fire. You see, Katie had brought her husband a heating pad before heading to bed, and - following the shooting - the heating pad had set the chair ablaze. Thankfully, the fire didn't spread by the time investigators arrived.
A short time after Officers Boyd and Tackett arrived at the Starks' farmhouse, Miller County Sheriff W.E. Davis arrived, with a swarm of deputies and other county officials in-tow.
Despite this being the first of the shootings to take place in Arkansas, the entire area had been panic-stricken and fearing an incident like this crossing over. Miller County was going to respond in-kind.
Sheriff Davis called upon officers from the surrounding area - including those in Texas and the Arkansas State Police - to set up a blockade along Highway 67. Their goal was to apprehend, detain, and ultimately question any suspicious individuals leaving the area.
This blockade would result in twelve suspects being detained, but only three were kept for in-depth questioning. Following that, they were all cleared of any potential involvement.
The crime scene, which investigators began to look over, was a troubling mix of the Starks' normal marital life and a "virtual river of blood," as described by Captain Manuel Gonzaulles of the Texas Rangers, who remarked about Katie Starks:
"... it is beyond me why she did not bleed to death."
Investigators could only find two bullet holes in the window, which looked out from the Starks' sitting room to the front porch. This led Sheriff Davis and the other investigators to theorize that an automatic rifle had been used, which allowed the shooter to fire multiple shots through a single hole, without having to re-aim. After all, four shots had been fired - two at each of the victims - but there were only two holes in the glass.
It was believed that the shooter had shot and killed Virgil Starks, and then patiently waited for Katie Starks to run out from the couple's bedroom. Once she had done so, the killer then shot her, creating the second bullet hole in the front window.
At the crime scene, investigators were able to learn several things about the attack and the potential perpetrator, but struggled to connect them to what they knew about "The Phantom" - the person or persons that had been terrorizing young couples over in Bowie County.
For starters, there was the obvious outlier: this was the first attack to happen at a couple's home, instead of on an isolated lovers' lane. That, in addition to this being the first - and only - attack to happen on the Arkansas side of town.
Then, there was the difference in the ammunition used. The first attack, on Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jeanne Larey, had involved no bullets, just clubbing with an iron pipe or flash light. But the next two attacks resulted in double-murders; each time, the ammunition used was a .32-caliber round. This led investigators to think that a Colt pistol was used.
This time, though, the ammunition used were .22 caliber rounds, leading to the belief that this might be a different shooter entirely. Perhaps, even a copycat, who was trying to use the recent slayings to confuse detectives and muddy the waters of the investigation.
Sheriff W.E. Davis remained hesitant to claim that the murders were related, saying at one point:
"... it is possible that the killer is one and the same man."
Meanwhile, his Chief Deputy, Tillman Johnson, voiced his own concerns some time later:
"I felt like (the Phantom Killer) didn't do the Starks murder. It would be hard to tie him to the Starks murder."
Tire tracks were found near the family's home, but police struggled to connect them to any suspects or persons-of-interest. And, following the Friday evening murder of Virgil Starks, bloodhounds were brought out to the farmhouse in the early morning hours of Saturday, May 4th, 1946. These bloodhounds were able to pick up two different scents - which tracked throughout the house, out the front door, and towards the nearby highway - but both trails ended there. That was where the killer had likely stashed their car and made a getaway, somehow evading or eluding the blockade that Sheriff Davis had set up.
Within 24 hours, Sheriff Davis and other investigators were questioning Katie Starks in her operating room at Micheal Meagher Hospital, as she recovered from the two gunshot wounds to her face. They learned about how the shooting had unfolded, from her perspective, and that informed a lot of their decisions moving forward. They would return four days later to speak to Mrs. Starks, after trying to gauge the community for any leads.
There had been mounting rumors that Virgil Starks had been harassed in the days before his murder, but Katie Starks discounted those entirely. There had been no build-up to the attack that took the life of her husband, which made it all the more tragic and terrifying.
Sheriff W.E. Davis would later tell the press:
"This killer is the luckiest person I have ever known. No one sees him, hears him in time, or can identify him in any way."
The area had already been at high-alert, anxiously awaiting news of another shooting or double-murder. But the fourth violent incident to happen in as many months began to spin the region of Texarkana into a frenzy.
Tillman Johnson, the Chief Deputy of Miller County, was with Sheriff Davis at the crime scene on the night of the Starks shooting. He would later remark to reporters about that first night, and the local tension they encountered:
"We tried to secure the crime scene and we were in and out of there all night long. We were running around, trying to find leads and gather what evidence we could. We tried to interview some people and question some suspects.
"We went to other peoples' homes in the area to see if they had heard or had seen anything. People would stand out near the front of their homes and yell at you to identify yourself before you got too close. You had to (identify yourself) or you would get shot."
As the media began to run with the details, this type of behavior would only continue to escalate. In the following days, groups of vigilante groups would begin to patrol quiet, isolated areas of Texarkana - while worried residents began guarding their homes like mob bosses or drug dealers.
The lack of any significant motive in the police investigation did not deter some police officials from making guesses, which ultimately ended up in the local news headlines. After all, it did not seem like robbery had been a motive in the most recent shooting, since no jewels or money were stolen from the Starks' home. But a flippant statement from an unnamed police officer led to the May 5th all-caps headline in the Texarkana Gazette:
"SEX MANIAC HUNTED IN MURDERS"
The unnamed officer had stated that they believed "... a sex pervert is responsible" for the string of murders. This would become the prevalent theory moving forward, although some investigators continued to think that the Starks murder was separate from the lovers' lanes attacks perpetrated by the mysterious "Phantom."
By the evening of Virgil Starks' murder, the reward fund for the Phantom Killer investigation had eclipsed $7,000. That total would continue to rise in the coming weeks and months, with an additional $2,500 being raised for Virgil's case alone.
On May 29th, 1946, the Texarkana Gazette ran a front-page story on a new lead being developed by investigators, which focused in on a flashlight.
The flashlight was featured on the front-page, in the Gazette's first ever color photo. It looked like a normal flashlight, but both ends had been painted red, making it rare for the area. A limited number had been sold in the Texarkana region, and police were hoping that someone would be able to identify it.
This flashlight had been discovered in a hedge underneath the Starks' front window - the same window that they had been shot through.
In the three weeks since the shooting had unfolded, the flashlight had been sent to an FBI crime lab in Washington, DC, where it had gone through extensive fingerprint analysis. Unfortunately, those tests had failed to come back with any results, and the flashlight itself seemed to not contain any fingerprint samples.
Because of this, police felt comfortable floating this lead to the press, as a diversion from the more extravagant stories being spun about "sex maniacs" and "perverts."
Ultimately, this was unsuccessful in identifying any persons-of-interest in the investigation.
Following the murder of Virgil Starks, the investigation - headed by both the Texas Rangers and now the Arkansas State Police - was given additional resources to combat the threat identified as "The Phantom Killer."
State-of-the-art police equipment was shipped from Austin Texas, which was described as "the best in the country" by flamboyant Texas Ranger Captain Gonzaullas. This included a mobile radio station, which allowed officers to communicate with each other in their vehicles via two-way radios. We now know this as standard police equipment, but in 1946, this was revolutionary.
In addition, a teletype machine was installed in the Bowie County Sheriff's Office, which allowed for easier communication between jurisdictions and departments.
Just days after the murder of Virgil Starks - between May 7th and May 8th - this technology allowed for the spread of information about a red-haired man that was being hunted as part of the probe into the Phantom slayings. He was apparently a former German prisoner-of-war, who wore a GI jacket, who was rumored to have weapons in his possession. He had threatened several of the area's residents, including one while hitchhiking through the area - so it was possible that he was a vagabond.
Ultimately, nothing came of this lead - but the new technology allowed departments and investigators to share the information with ease.
Rumors continued to proliferate the case of the Phantom Killer, which had now extended to include the shooting of Virgil and Katie Starks, as well as the February assault of Jimmy Hollis and Mary Larey.
One of the most popular theories throughout Texarkana was that each of the victims had personally run afoul of the shooter, who was now attempting to scare or hunt them down in revenge. Police discounted this outright, because there was nothing linking together the victims, other than being in an isolated place during a weekend evening.
Then, there was the theory that the killer was a sex-crazed maniac run amok - which seemed popular with investigators. After all, the first three attacks contained evidence of sexual assaults, and it seems like that might have been the attacker's motivation.
Finally, we have the theories that regard specific people. Every suspicious individual throughout the area was being tossed around as a suspect, their name being dragged through the mud as a sexual sadist.
In fact, when one of these individuals left town for a short period of time, it became a topic of discussion that police had captured him. Rumors spread that he was being held by the Texas Rangers in a secret jail cell, shackled to the floor and guarded with sub-machine guns 24/7. When this resident returned, he had to downplay the allegations in an attempt to salvage his reputation.
Bowie County Sheriff Bill Presley had to ask citizens to remain calm in the wake of this violence, and refrain from making broad accusations. In the May 19th edition of the Texarkana Gazette, a story titled "Newspapers Will Tell Public If Killer Is Caught" included a statement from Sheriff Presley, which read:
"These rumors positively are not true. We can understand why the people believe them. All of us are tense and hopeful that at any hour officers will announce they have the killer in custody. The people must not become so anxious to rid themselves of the killer, however, that they brand innocent persons as the murderer and believe unfounded stories. The investigating officers have announced that when and if the killer is apprehended or killed the public will be given the full story through the newspapers. We reaffirm this statement. The newspapers are kept posted on developments in the investigation and they will announce all news immediately. We believe that the people have a right to know if the killer is caught or killed and we pledge ourselves to let the public have this information."
Even Texas Ranger Captain Manuel Gonzaulles, who was found of showmanship and embellished himself at every turn, found himself having to give a public statement about the rumor mongering. In a radio interview, he described the area's gossip as harmful.
"These (rumors) only take the officers from the main route of the investigation. It is so important that we capture this man that we cannot afford to overlook any lead, no matter how fantastic it may seem."
Following the May 3rd murder of Virgil Starks, Texarkana residents were eagerly awaiting answers from law enforcement. After all, since February there had been four violent incidents, which had resulted in five people dead and three others hospitalized, and the media made it seem like the killer could strike any any moment.
The day after the shooting at the Starks' farmhouse, stores in the region began selling out of locks for doors, latches for windows, firearms, ammunition, and all manner of household items which pertained to security and privacy.
Residents - who had been comfortable leaving their front doors unlocked just months beforehand - were now renovating their homes out of distrust. Many only ventured outside during daytime hours, beginning a nightly routine that involved locking all doors and windows, pulling down shades, and even booby-trapping entrances to the house.
Some propped up items against windows and doors, which would cause a good amount of noise if anyone tried to get in.
Paranoia was taking over Texarkana.
W.E. Atchison, a 16 year old resident of the region at the time of the murders, later told a reporter:
"If you wanted to go to someone's house after dark, you had to call them first and let them know you were coming. The big wonder for everyone back then was whether the killings were done by someone who lived among us, and I still wonder who did it."
As the police would learn, over the course of their lengthy investigation, residents were on-edge, and continued to report anything that they perceived as the mysterious "Phantom Killer." This included noises, and things that go bump in the night.
For several weeks after the most violent incident - that of Virgil and Katie Starks - police were flooded with reports of prowlers. Tillman Johnson, the then-Chief Deputy of Arkansas' Miller County, later recalled:
"We were constantly getting calls, mostly at night, about prowlers. People would call about any noise they heard at all."
Virtually all of these prowler reports were imaginative, with police stating that there was no substance to any of them. These prowler calls included things like a cat jumping around in an upstairs trash can, in one family's home, and then a man stepping onto a neighbor's porch during a rainstorm while waiting for a bus.
The police - who were complaining about the prowler calls - were at least partially responsible for the fear gripping Texarkana. Not because of their lack of any leads, per se, but because of the public comments they had made about the Phantom Killer. In addition to referring to the killer as a "sexual sadist" that could strike at any moment, Captain Gonzaullas of the Texas Rangers made a public address over the radio airwaves just days after the Starks shooting, on May 6th. In this address, he told Texarkanians to:
"... oil up their guns and see if they are loaded. Put them out of the reach of children. Do not use them unless it's necessary, but if you believe it is, do not hesitate."
This ultimately resulted in a random smattering of gunshots throughout the region, as worried residents began shooting at these perceived prowlers. Thankfully, this didn't result in any deaths, but at least one drunk patron was shot by a bar owner over a slight miscommunication, and the sound of gunshots became more than enough to send a neighborhood into a frenzy.
Just days after the public address by Captain Gonzaullas - in which he told residents to "oil up their guns" - the weekly Two States Press ran an article detailing this palpable bear.
"Texarkana people are jittery, plain frightened - and with reason. Within a period of six weeks, five people have been murdered in cold blood and a sixth seriously wounded, escaping death by a seeming miracle. The question in the minds of most of the citizens is, when, where and how soon will another tragedy shock the community, and who will be the victim or victims since two deaths seem to be the design of the killer?"
One of the biggest issues that investigators faced, in trying to track down this mysterious Phantom Killer, was weeding through all of the information given to them.
Not only were residents reporting every perceived social infraction by neighbors and colleagues, but police received multiple confessions from people claiming to be the Phantom. At least nine Texarkana residents tried to convince police and the media that they were the killer, including one alcoholic that used this confession to coax bottles of whiskey out of eager reporters.
Police knew that people confessed to crimes they didn't commit on a regular basis, and that is why so many details of the investigation were guarded closely. Max Tackett, a young officer with the Arkansas State Police, explained this in an interview:
"You don't tell everything you know about a case. When it gets into the paper, the real criminal finds out how much you know and the confession will fit those facts into their confessions. You keep yourself two or three pertinent facts to protect yourself from crackpots."
Police were on the lookout for these type of false confessions, and that's perhaps what guided them away from a young man that confessed to the murder, over a thousand miles away.
A man named Ralph B. Baumann confessed his involvement in the Texarkana murders to Los Angeles police. Baumann was an ex-Army Air Force veteran, who had red hair - much like some of the descriptions of an odd man reported by Texarkana residents.
Baumann claimed to have been in a subconscious coma for several weeks, before waking up and running away from "something bad." He said that after waking up, he learned about the killings, and felt he might be responsible. So, he hitchhiked out to the west coast, before eventually ending up in California and confessing to police.
He was viewed as a pretty realistic suspect, because he matched the physical description of the attacker. In addition, he was very good with firearms - having served in the military as a gunner. After waking up from his perceived coma, he couldn't find his rifle.
Investigators heard out this young man's confession, but felt that he offered up no new details. All of his information about the killings was stuff he could have picked up from radio and newspaper reporting. It was also discovered that he had been discharged from the military for being psycho-neurotic.
Police eventually cleared him of any involvement in the Texarkana slayings, believing that this man needed mental help.
As panic and paranoia tightened their grip around Texarkana, with businesses beginning to experience an estimated 20% drop in activity, some residents began to take the law into their own hands.
Teenagers from the area began camping out on lovers' lanes with pistols, in an attempt to bait the Phantom into attacking. Often times, they would have friends hiding out in the nearby brush, who were eager to trap the killer and become local heroes.
On more than once occasion, this nearly led to an altercation between these vigilante teens and police officers, who eyed these vehicles skeptically.
Eventually, police began using these tactics for decoys of their own; using local-area teenagers, younger-looking police officers, and even mannequins to sit in parked cars in an attempt to bait the Phantom.
Unfortunately, these tactics were perhaps too little, and too late. Whoever the Phantom was, they had likely moved on, and were no longer harassing Texarkana couples. No new incidents were reported over the next several months, and - just as he had arrived - the Phantom had disappeared.
Captain Manuel Gonzaullas, who had famously stated after arriving that he would remain in the region until the Phantom was brought to justice, left town less than three months after the murder of Virgil Starks. He would remain with the Texas Rangers until 1951, and would eventually take his flashy talents to Hollywood, where he served as a consultant and a producer for radio, TV, and even film projects. More on that in a bit.
By October of 1946, all of the investigating Texas Rangers had left Texarkana, returning to their regular posts. They had slipped out of town one-by-one, not wanting to attract unwanted attention... or to trigger the Phantom into action again.
A few FBI officials had been in the region, as well, assisting with the investigation and providing federal resources for what would later be defined as a primitive serial killer investigation. In time, they would return to their regular positions, leaving their work on the Texarkana case unfinished.
The investigation remained in the hands of local authorities, who continued to investigate for the next several years.
A suspect in the Texarkana Moonlight murders was hard to develop because - to put it bluntly - there was very little information for investigators to work off of.
The first two victims, Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jeanne Larey, gave conflicting physical descriptions of the person who had attacked them in February. Larey described him as a black male, and Hollis - who had only seen the hooded man for a few moments - described him as being white.
The only other surviving victim, Katie Starks, never saw her shooter. She was unable to confirm that the person who shot her was white or black, whether he wore a mask or not, or whether it was a "he" at all.
The scarce amount of evidence found at the other crime scenes - the two lovers' lanes shootings in March and April - made it impossible to confirm or deny investigators' suspicions. They were able to find some footprints and tire tracks, but those were hard to confirm as belonging to the killer.
Details they knew and could confirm about the shooter were few and far-in-between.
The killer's M.O. remained the same throughout the attacks. They always happened late at-night, during the weekend, in isolated areas. Three couples were attacked on desolate roads, while another was attacked inside their home. During the three lovers' lane attacks, the female victim was sexually assaulted, but it's impossible to know whether the same fate awaited Katie Starks, as she managed to escape.
Then, there was the type of ammunition used. In the first assault, nobody was shot, so it was impossible to prove what kind of firearm the offender was holding. In the second and third assaults - where both male and female victims were murdered - the type of ammunition used was .32-caliber shells... likely from a Colt pistol.
In the shooting at the Starks farm, .22-caliber ammunition was used. Again, this case seemed to be the outlier, so it was hard to investigators to positively link it to the other crime spree.
However, something that investigators would note was that each of the four crimes happened approximately three weeks after the prior assault. This perhaps pointed to a pattern of sorts for the offender, who had been nicknamed "The Phantom."
Dr. Anthony Lapalla was a psychologist at the Federal Correctional Institute in Texarkana, who was called upon by the Texarkana Gazette, following the murder of Virgil Starks. The paper wanted to gain a better understanding of the criminal's motivation, and Dr. Lapalla created an early kind of psychological profile for the Phantom.
Dr. Lapalla believed that the killer would continue to strike, at-random. He believed that this was his calling card, and he likely relished the thrill the random nature of the attack provided. Dr. Lapalla also believed that the four crimes were connected - as in, he believed without a doubt that the murder of Virgil Starks and the shooting of Katie Starks could be linked to the other three crimes.
Dr. Lapalla described the killer as being intelligent, clever, and shrewd, who was likely following the case closely in the media. He described the Phantom as being between his mid-30's and his mid-50's, who lived a normal life - appearing to be a good citizen in his personal life. He was likely motivated by a strong sexual component - indicating that he was a sadist of sorts - and that he was most likely NOT a veteran. Dr. Lapalla insisted upon this, stating that he had been in the war, his "maniacal" tendencies would have presented themselves differently.
In a statement that shows how far we've come from the 1940's, Dr. Lapalla stated that the killer was most likely white, because - in his words:
"... in general, negro criminals are not that clever."
Dr. Anthony Lapalla described the last attack - that on the Starks' farmhouse - as a natural outlier. He indicated that the killer had decided to strike a new type of target, because he knew that his usual hunting grounds, lovers' lanes, were being patrolled by police and local vigilante groups. This meant that he needed to find another avenue for his aggression, and focused in on a 500-acre farm.
In Dr. Lapalla's summation, the killer was a threat that needed to be neutralized immediately, before he continued progressing.
"This man is extremely dangerous. He works alone and no one knows what he is doing because he tells no one."
As the investigation struggled to gain a foothold in the weeks after the most recent crime, one young officer made a breakthrough.
33-year old Max Tackett was an Arkansas State Police officer, who had gotten involved in the case following the murder of Virgil Starks. He was actually one of the two officers that first responded to the crime scene, and he would remain entangled in the case in the following years.
Officer Tackett made the realization that, on each of the nights that the Phantom Killer struck, a car had been stolen from the area. And one of these cars - which had been stolen on the night that Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore were murdered, March 24th - had just been found in a parking lot, months later.
On June 28th, 1946 - a Friday - Officer Tackett decided to stake out the vehicle until the thief returned. He was surprised to find that the person coming to the vehicle was not a scary-looking man, but, rather, an innocent-looking young lady.
Peggy Stevens was 21-years old, and - upon being confronted - told Officer Tackett that she had just gotten back from Shreveport, Louisiana; where, he would learn, she had just married a man named Yuell Swinney. In fact, they had gotten married just hours before she was detained.
Her husband, she said, was in Atlanta, Texas, trying to sell another stolen vehicle.
Officer Tackett was able to follow this lead to Atlanta, where he learned more about this Yuell Swinney. He was eventually able to confront him at the Arkansas Motor Coach bus station, along Texarkana's Front Street, near Union Station.
At first, the suspect tried running away. He ran out the back of the building, and tried to escape via a fire escape. But there, he was cornered by police, and was quoted as saying "Please don't shoot me." When Officer Tackett told him that he wasn't going to get shot for stealing cars, Swinney allegedly responded:
"Mister, don't play games with me. You want me for more than stealing cars."
This suspect would make several similar comments in the coming hours and days, including while he sat in the back of a police cruiser, en route to the station. He lamented potentially getting the electric chair, certain that police were onto him for violent crimes he had committed.
Yuell Lee Swinney was 29 years old, and would become the primary suspect in the Texarkana Moonlight Murders. The man had a checkered past, with prior criminal convictions for car theft, counterfeiting, burglary, and assault, and - the more that police learned, the more they liked him as their guy.
Swinney's young wife, Peggy, would later confess on three occasions that her husband was the Phantom Killer. When told by police that he was being held for murder, she stated:
"How did they find it out?"
She would confess on three separate occasions, with the most illuminating parts being gleaned from her first confession, on July 23rd, 1946. During this confession, she stated:
"He and I were at his sister's house at 220 Senator Street. We were discussing the murders in Texarkana. I asked him who killed these people. He told me that it was someone with a brilliant mind, someone with more sense than the cops."
Peggy then recalled a memory of hers from months prior, in which she had gone out to dinner and a movie with Yuell - then her boyfriend - and on their way home, he had stopped along the side of the road to take a leak. This happened to be near Spring Lake Park: the same place that Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker were parked before their assault.
"(Yuell) was gone from the car about one hour when I heard something that sounded like two gunshots. I do not know whether they were pistol or shotgun shots. It was just getting daylight when he came back to the car and started driving out of the park at a rapid rate of speed. When he came back to the car, I saw that his clothes were wet up to his knees and damp on up to his waist."
The day after this first confession - July 24th, 1946 - Peggy Swinney confessed yet again, but changed up her statements ever-so-slightly. She described herself as less of an ignorant girlfriend, and more as a bystander to the various crimes perpetrated by her new husband. She claimed to be a bystander to the crimes, and said she had witnessed the murders of Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker - murders she said came as a result of a robbery-gone-wrong.
Peggy Swinney would confess on one more occasion - on November 22nd, 1946 - but she would provide law enforcement with several details that pointed towards her telling the truth. She took police out to the spot where Paul Martin's vehicle had been found, and told them that she had been there, in the woods, watching the crime take place. Sure enough, police had found a woman's heel-print at the crime scene, and were shocked to hear this new detail.
She then gave police details that had not been made public - including information about Paul Martin's datebook. She told police that this datebook had been thrown into some bushes nearby the crime scene, and sure enough, it actually had been. Bowie County Sheriff Bill Presley knew about this detail, and had not released it to the press nor other jurisdictions.
It was beginning to look like police were on the right track, and Yuell Swinney was looking guiltier with every passing day.
In addition to the three confessions offered up by his 21-year old wife, police were able to find a few other pieces of evidence that incriminated Yuell Swinney.
It was discovered that the 29-year old suspect had, at one point, owned a .32 Colt automatic pistol, which he had sold somewhat recently in a game of craps.
Investigators were also able to find slag in one of Swinney's pockets, which matched samples taken from Virgil Starks' welding shop.
However, faced with a potential death sentence, Yuell Swinney refused to confess to the murders. He claimed his innocence, and refused to falter. In addition, fingerprint testing had failed to come up with anything conclusive, and even though police would spend over a year trying to validate the confessions of Peggy Swinney, even that began to fall apart.
Several holes were discovered in her confessions, including her ever-changing involvement in the crimes she alleged were perpetrated by her husband. She was deemed to be an "unreliable witness," and her confession was basically all that police had to operate on.
To make matters worse, as a trial began to come to realization, Peggy Swinney recanted her confessions. And, because she was married to Yuell Swinney, she could not be forced to testify against him.
It was basically a losing situation for investigators, and they were forced to drop all murder charges against Yuell Swinney, having little more than very circumstantial evidence against him.
However, he wouldn't exactly become a free man again. Police still had car theft charges they could press against Swinney, and - because he was a "repeat offender," extreme sentencing guidelines would apply. He was given a life sentence for the car thefts, which would only last about 26 years.
In the early 1970s, Swinney would appeal his life sentence, and be released in 1973. He continued to deny his guilt in the Texarkana murders, and - despite police believing he was their Phantom Killer - he was never charged with any of the murders.
He eventually died in a Dallas-area nursing home in 1994.
The investigation to find Texarkana's Phantom Killer faltered in the following months and years, eventually becoming an important component of the area's history. The killing spree later dubbed the Texarkana Moonlight Murders would be voted both Texas and Arkansas's #1 most-followed news story for 1946.
Then, two years later, the case made headlines once again when a second prime suspect was identified by police. However, unlike Yuell Swinney, this suspect wouldn't have to endure a lengthy investigation... because they had already taken their own life.
Henry Booker Tennison, more commonly known by his abbreviation H.B. or his nickname "Doodie," was an 18-year old freshman at the University of Arkansas. On November 5th, 1948 - two-and-a-half years after the Phantom Killer had last struck - Tennison was found dead in his bedroom in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The local police official, Washington County Sheriff Bruce Crider, would discover that just two days before - on November 3rd - Tennison had purchased cyanide of mercury. He said, at the time, that it had been purchased as a rat poison.
Inside Tennison's bedroom was a confusing note, which contained a riddle for investigators to solve. It pertained to Tennison's lockbox, which contained a sturdy lock:
"The opening to my box will be found in the following few lines. In a tube of paper is found, rolls on colors and it is dry and sound. The head removes, the tail will turn, and inside is the sheet you yearn. Two bees means a lot when they are together. These clues should lead you to it."
Investigators quickly learned that the riddle pointed to a B.B. fountain pen, which contained a note inside. The note contained the combination for the lockbox, and police would also discover that the cap of the pen contained the cyanide of mercury that Tennison had used to kill himself.
Police forced open the lockbox, not wanting to wade through another myriad of riddles, and discovered a number of hand-written letters; one of which claimed responsibility for the murders in Texarkana, and stated that this responsibility is what had driven the young man to suicide.
An excerpt of the letter, which ran for nearly three paragraphs, read:
"Why did I take my own life? Well, when you committed two double murders you would too. Yes, I did kill Betty Jo Booker and Paul Martin in the city park that night, and killed Mr. Starks and tried to get Mrs. Starks. You wouldn't have guessed it, I did it when Mother was either out or asleep, and no one saw me do it. For the guns, I disassembled them and discarded them in different places."
H.B. Tennison had been a teenager at the time of the murders, being just 15 or 16 when the four assaults took place. He had never been suspected in any of the killings, likely because of his age. Even today, it's rare for young men to be that methodical in terms of killing, as they often don't have the time, freedom, or resources to make it happen.
Investigators would discover that Tennison had played in the same high school band as murder victim Betty Jo Booker, but they weren't friends. They both played brass instruments - with Betty playing saxophone and Tennison playing trombone - but they weren't really acquainted with one another.
Other than this, police could find nothing linking Tennison to the other victims.
The emergence of this young man as a suspect was a revelation for investigators, but - over time - they would begin to doubt the suicide note left by Tennison. Police found other notes in the lockbox, which seemed to blame his lifelong depression for his suicide, and made it seem like Tennison had an overactive imagination. He liked to take credit for things that just weren't possible, and made fanciful claims about his young life... things investigators could easily disprove.
H.B. Tennison's brothers agreed with this assertion, that "Doodie" - as they called him - liked to tell stories. His family also told police that he didn't have access to the weapons which were used to kill the five victims, and none of Tennison's fingerprints proved a match for those recovered at the crime scenes.
In addition, James Freeman - one of Tennison's childhood friends - said that on the night of Virgil Starks' murder, he had been with Tennison. They were at home, playing games, and Freeman only remembered because it was that night they found out about the assault, together.
Just like some of the other leads developed in the aftermath of the killing, H.B. Tennison's suicide letter was later deemed irrelevant to the investigation.
In January of 1949, a 26-year old black man was arrested in relation to a violent double-murder, and soon found himself suspect of involvement in the Texarkana Moonlight Murders. I would include this man's name, but it wasn't included in any of the reporting I found, so apologies.
This man had been arrested for killing a young black couple in Waco, Texas, and in the execution of the crime, he had sexually assaulted the female victim.
At the time, he had reportedly confessed to the crime, giving police details that confirmed he was the responsible party. However, in the following investigation, police discovered that this young man had worked for Virgil Starks - the last murder victim of the Phantom Killer. In fact, he had actually been living on the Starks property when the crime was committed, which raised some eyebrows.
No charges were filed against this young man for the Texarkana crimes, but he was eventually given a life sentence for the other crimes he had confessed to.
Over a decade after the Phantom Killer had disappeared, one of the most peculiar incidents unfolded near one of the crime scenes.
The date was July 9th, 1956, and workers were tearing apart a school near Spring Lake Park - the area where Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker were killed by the Phantom in April of 1946. The school was actually near the railroad tracks where Paul Martin's vehicle had been found, putting it in close proximity to the events that unfolded that weekend.
While deconstructing the building, a bag containing what looked to be blood-stained clothing was found in the attic of the school. The articles of clothing, which were white linens, were covered with dark red stains - which the workers viewed suspiciously.
The police were informed, and - eventually - the clothing was sent off to the state crime lab for a closer examination. When the results came back, it originally read that there were blood samples found, but it was later determined that the report meant to say there were NOT blood samples found.
A simple misunderstanding, really. The dark stains on the clothing was nothing more than paint, a test would show.
However, this clothing has become a part of the Phantom's legend, with many in the area thinking that the killer had sneaked into this schoolhouse following his second double-murder. There, he had stashed these articles of clothing in the attic, and either promptly forgot about them or left them there to be discovered years later.
This is, of course, nothing more than a silly rumor, which was disproven several times by investigators.
Between 1968 and 1969, a serial killer named the Zodiac emerged from the San Francisco Bay Area, where he haunted - and hunted - his victims in isolated areas, such as lovers' lanes and quiet parks.
The Zodiac Killer has a reputation that precedes him, and I just covered his story a few months ago on this very podcast. However, to make matters short, the Zodiac was a killer that enjoyed the media attention his crimes allowed him, and he mostly targeted couples... for some unknown reason. In at least one of his crimes, he used a bright flashlight to disorient his victims, and one of his survivors described him wearing a hooded costume, very similar to that seen in comic books.
Many have pointed to these two similarities - the flashlight and the hood/mask - as a potential link between the Zodiac and the Phantom. Both were killers that operated at-night, in isolated areas, but were separated by nearly twenty-five years.
The Zodiac was described as being relatively young, so the timeline doesn't really match up. After all, if we assume that the Phantom was at least 18 when he committed the Texarkana killings, he would be in at least his early 40s during the Zodiac assaults - if not older. Then again, that timeline might actually work, with descriptions of the Zodiac ranging anywhere from his mid-20's to his mid-40's.
Most seem to believe that the Zodiac might have been inspired by the prior Texarkana attacks, having read or heard about them in the news. Perhaps he saw that the mysterious Phantom Killer had accidentally become a larger-than-life supervillain, and wanted to recreate that with his own moniker.
Nothing definitive has ever been found, linking the two together. But a discussion about the Phantom Killer remains unfinished without at least mentioning the Zodiac, and vice/versa.
In 1976 - thirty years after the murders - a film was released.
Titled "The Town That Dreaded Sundown," the movie was inspired by the true events that unfolded in Texarkana. It was loosely based on the investigation by Texas Ranger Captain Manuel T. Gonzaullas, who had retired from the Rangers in the early 1950's to pursue a career in show business. Many claim that Captain Gonzaullas took credit for several things he wasn't responsible for, but... that didn't really surprise anyone at the time.
The film changed names and expressed its artistic license throughout, but was actually filmed in Texarkana. In fact, many of the extras and supporting cast were Texarkana natives -some of whom still live there.
The director, Charles B. Pierce, had grown up in the region and was just a child when the Phantom Killer became the area's boogeyman. In return, Pierce decided to immortalize the events in a film that many credit for helping popularize the slasher genre of horror films.
"The Town That Dreaded Sundown" has become what Texarkana is perhaps most well-known for, and the film is shown annually at local film festivals and festive screenings. Every Halloween, residents of Texarkana gather near Spring Lake Park - the area that Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker were killed - to participate in a showing. The popularity of the film even led to a 2014 meta-sequel, produced by Hollywood heavyweights Jason Blum and Ryan Murphy.
While many expressed displeasure at the original film, which they believe turned a town's real tragedy into schlocky horror, almost everyone agrees that it got several aspects correct. Namely, the panic that gripped tight around the region, and squeezed until the area earned the nickname given to it in the film: "The Town That Dreaded Sundown."
Following the first attack credited to the Phantom - which took place on February 22nd, 1946 - the two victims survived. Jimmy Hollis and Mary Larey were out on a double-date, which was interrupted by the masked man that assaulted them.
From that day forward, their lives were forever changed. But, they continued living.
Mary Jeanne Larey, who had been assaulted by the Phantom, was released from the hospital the morning after. She struggled to overcome the emotional trauma inflicted upon her, and struggled with a lifelong assortment of fears and nightmares.
Jimmy Hollis recovered from his multiple skull fractures. Eventually, in time, those healed completely and he was able to return to his life. He was questioned several times by police, but - throughout each round of questioning - he was never able to recall any definitive details about his attacker. Nothing that could prove useful, anyhow.
Following his release from the hospital, Jimmy and Mary spent about a week together. Unfortunately, their burgeoning romance didn't last long, and they would remain linked only in their memories.
Jimmy moved away from the region. He moved about an hour south, to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he eventually started a family. He would marry, and ultimately have seven kids. It was rumored that he worked for NASA at one point, and he went on to live a normal and happy life. In 1974 - at the age of 54 - he would pass away in his sleep.
Mary's life was, sadly, cut short. She moved to Billings, Montana, where she would end up succumbing to cancer in 1965, at the young age of 38.
Meanwhile, Katie Starks - the third survivor - was widowed following the murder of her husband, Virgil Starks. She would survive the gunshots to her face, and would recover completely. Eventually, she remarried, becoming Katie Starks Sutton.
Katie was a true survivor, who would only be outlived by some junior police officials. When she died on July 3rd, 1994, almost all of the sheriffs and original detectives had passed away, making her one of the last living components of an investigation half-a-century old. She was survived by her husband, Forrest Sutton, who was later buried next to her.
On the other side of Katie was the first husband she had loved, Virgil, whose death brought an end to the Phantom's killing spree.
The case of the Phantom Killer - the investigation later dubbed the Texarkana Moonlight Murders - has yet to be solved.
Many believe it never will be. Most, if not all, of the original case files and documents have gone missing. Most information that journalists work off of is historical record at this point, with the murder spree's 75th anniversary fast approaching.
The perpetrator of this mysterious spree - the "Phantom" - has inspired films and TV shows for years now. Many believe that the urban legend of the hook man, haunting teenagers on a quiet lovers' lane, was derived from Texarkana in the 1940's. It's also believed that the Phantom is one America's earliest examples of a serial killer, a term that wasn't documented until the case had already gone cold.
Every now and then, rumors and gossip bring the case back into the limelight. Sometimes, it's based on something substantial - like a 2014 book, written by Texarkana Gazette reporter James Presley, the nephew of former-Bowie County Sheriff Bill Presley. This book looked through the historical documents surrounding the case, and came to the belief that Yuell Swinney, the man investigators believed perpetrated the killings - who remained in prison for car theft until 1973 - was the Phantom Killer.
But for every worthwhile lead, such as this book, there are an endless amount of pointless theories, surrounding the Zodiac, blood-stained clothing found in an attic, etc. It's hard to determine whether or not police at the time stood a shot; whether they could have actually captured the Phantom, were it not for the media constantly hounding them for leads, and figures such as Texas Ranger Manuel Gonzaullas enjoying every second up the limelight.
Could investigators have solved this case back in 1946, without the distractions? It's impossible to say. Perhaps this was just one of those investigations that was doomed from the beginning.
The murders of Richard Griffin, Polly Ann Moore, Paul Martin, Betty Jo Booker, and Virgil Starks remain unresolved.