The Texarkana Moonlight Murders
Part One: The Phantom
Throughout 1946, a menace began to plague the area of Texarkana. Over the span of three months, multiple young couples would be targeted in isolated areas, and the media eventually gave the mysterious culprit a nickname, reminiscent of the times’ scariest villains: 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.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Originally published on September 30th, 2018
“Part Two: The Town That Dreaded Sundown” published on September 30th, 2018
Other original music created by Ailsa Traves