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The Phantom Killer, also known as The Phantom Slayer, is a still-unidentified rapist and serial killer responsible for the so-called Texarkana Moonlight Murders, occurred during the spring of 1946 in and around the twin cities of Texarkana, Texas and Texarkana, Arkansas.

Case History

First attack

The first reported attack of the Phantom killer occurred at around 11:55 p.m. on February 22, 1946. Jimmy Hollis, 25, and his girlfriend, Mary Jeanne Larey, 19, parked on a secluded road which was known as a lover's lane after having seen a movie together. A man wearing a white cloth mask with eye holes cut out (described later as a "bag" by Larey), and handling a flashlight approached their vehicle by the driver side and ordered them both out of the car. Subsequently, he ordered Hollis to take off his pants and pistol-whipped him twice, rendering him unconscious. Mary Jeanne was also hit, and was then ordered by the assailant to run up the road. After reaching an old car parked off the road, she was again confronted by her attacker whom, strangely enough, asked her why she was running, to which she replied he had ordered her to. Calling her a liar, the aggressor knocked her out and sexually assaulted her with the barrel of his gun. After the assault, Larey fled on foot and was eventually able to call in the police, while Hollis regained consciousness and was seen by a passer-by. Bowie County Sheriff W. H. "Bill" Presley and three other officers arrived on the scene. They found Hollis pants 100 yards away from the parked car. Later, both Jimmy and Mary Jeanne gave contradicting statements regarding their attacker's lookings, with Hollis claiming he was a white man in his 30s, while Larey described the man as being a light-skinned African-American, and added a detail: the mask that covered his face had also a mouth hole.

First Double Murder

Almost a month later, on March 23-24, the first double murder occurred. Richard L. Griffin, 29, and his girlfriend, Polly Ann Moore, 17, were found dead in Griffin's sedan, between 8:30 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., by a passing motorist. The car was found on another lover's lane named Rich Road, close to a local bar named Club Dallas. They were both shot once in the head, while outside the car, then placed back inside. A .32 cartridge shell was found, possibly shot from a Colt. The police launched a citywide investigation along with other sheriff's departments in the vicinity and the FBI. The authorities interviewed around fifty to sixty witnesses, and posted a reward in an effort to gain new information on the case (which in turn produced more than a hundred false leads).

Law enforcement officers searching for evidence along Morris Lane

Law enforcement officers searching for evidence along Morris Lane, in the nearings of the Booker-Martin crime scene

Second Double Murder

On April 14, another double murder occurred. The victims were Betty Jo Booker, 15, a saxophone player, and her friend Paul Martin, 16. They were both found within three miles from Martin's Ford coupe, which was parked outside Spring Lake Park, with the keys still in it. Paul's body (found at around 6:30 a.m.) was lying by the northern edge of North Park Road, he was shot four times: once through the nose, again through his ribs, a third time in his right hand and finally through the back of the neck. Betty, whom was found five hours later than Paul, was lying behind a tree, clothed and with her right hand inside one of her pockets. She was shot twice: once through the chest and once in the face. The weapon used was the same of the first double murder, a .32 automatic Colt pistol. Sheriff Presley and Texas Ranger Captain Manuel Gonzaullas said that examinations of the bodies indicated they both had put up a struggle. Betty's saxophone was eventually recovered six months later, in the nearings of the spot where her body was found. A reward was again posted by the authorities, and rumors circulated regarding the apprehension of the murderer, which were later denied by Captain Gonzaullas. This further attack made the press nickname the murderer as the "Phantom Killer".

Texarkana Gazette front page reporting the Starks murder

Texarkana Gazette front page on May 4, reporting the Starks murder

Final Attack

Flashlight recovered on the Starks murder scene

On May 9, the Texarkana Gazette published its first spot-colored photograph, depicting the flashlight recovered on the Starks murder scene

On May 3, sometime before 9 p.m., Virgil Starks, 37, a farmer and welder, and his wife, Katie, 36, were attacked in their house. Virgil was shot dead from a closed window, while reading a copy of the Texarkana Gazette. Katie was shot twice from the same window, while trying to contact the police after witnessing her husband's death. As the killer was approaching her, she ran to her neighbors house, and was brought to Michael Meagher Hospital. Mrs. Starks survived the attack and, while in the operating room of the hospital, she was questioned on the event by Miller County Sheriff W. E. Davis. A flashlight without fingerprints was left by the killer underneath the window that Mr. Starks was shot from. Although the weapon, in this case, was believed to be a .22 caliber automatic rifle, the absence of an apparent motive led the investigators to link even this murder to the Phantom Killer. As the peak of the town's hysteria was reached, inquiries were implemented, rewards were increased and new ones were posted by the authorities and by the father of Virgil Starks. By november 1948, authorities no longer considered the Starks murder connected with the other double murders.

Aftermath

Still from the movie The Town That Dreaded Sundown, depicting a fictionalized version of the Phantom Killer

Still from the movie The Town That Dreaded Sundown, depicting a fictionalized version of the Phantom Killer

The consternation and panic caused by the murders lasted throughout the summer, eventually fading away three months later. The Texas Rangers left Texarkana in October without letting anyone know, in order to keep the killer from attempting another attack. In May 1946, a man was found on the Kansas City Southern Railway tracks north of Texarkana, near Ogden, Arkansas, lying face-down. It was later discovered the man was allegedly killed, with a sharp object, before being placed on the tracks. Earl McSpadden, the man, was widely believed to be either the Phantom whom finally committed suicide, or the latter's final victim. No other crime occurred in Texarkana was ever linked to the Phantom Killer.

A 1976 horror movie was loosely based on the 1946 events, called The Town That Dreaded Sundown. A remake of the latter was released in 2014. Every October, near Halloween, the movie is the last shown during the event "Movies in the Park", which take place in Texarkana.

Modus Operandi

The Phantom Killer attacked young couples in lonely or private areas (some of which were well-known lover's lanes) just outside city limits. He would always attack on weekends, usually three weeks apart, and always late at night. In the Starks case, he shot an older couple of victims, from a closed window of their house, which he then invaded without taking anything.

During the majority of the murders attributed to him, the killer employed what was tought to be a .32 automatic Colt pistol. In the case of the Starks murder, he was tought to have employed a .22 caliber automatic rifle.

During his first reported attack, he wore a white cloth mask fitted with eye and mouth holes. It is not know if he wore the same attire during the other murders.

On one occasion, he sexually assaulted a victim with the barrel of his gun. There are no reports indicating sexual assaults, torture or even mutilations in the other cases, although contemporaneous rumors suggested so.

Profile

Dr. Anthony Lapalla, a psychologist at the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, stated, during a 1946 newspaper interview, that he believed the killer to be a white man (because, as he stated, "in general, negro criminals are not that clever") between the ages of the middle 30s to 50 years old. He also considered the killer to be motivated by a strong sex drive and a sadist, at the same time being a cunning planner and a clever, intelligent, shrewd and dangerous individual, of the type that often remains not apprehended.

According to Lapalla, the killer knew at all times what was being done in the investigation, knew that the lonesome roads were being patrolled, and that's why he chose the Starks house. He also added that the killer was planning to continue to make unexpected attacks such as that of Virgil Starks on the outskirts of town.

Lapalla was also convinced that the same person killed Virgil Starks, Betty Jo Booker, Paul Martin, Polly Ann Moore, and Richard Griffin. Pointing out that his theories were based on a number of people whom committed similar crimes, he also stated that such criminals, in some instances, will divert attention to other distant communities where it is believed the crimes are committed by a different individual, or either manage to overcome the desire to kill and assault women.

Lapalla said that the murderer could have been leading a normal life, appearing to be a good citizen. He also said the the killer was probably not a veteran, or else his maniacal tendencies would have been apparent while on duty. The Phantom was not neccessarily a resident of the area, despite his knowledge of it, as, he claimed, he could well have been a resident of another community whom acquainted himself with Texarkana's surroundings. Due to the strenghtening of police force, the killer would willingly leave because of the difficulty of committing a crime in those circumstances. The Phantom may have also reasoned, in past crimes, that the only way to remain unidentified is to kill all persons at the scene.

Known Victims

Jimmy Hollis

Jimmy Hollis

Richard L. Griffin and Polly Ann Moore

Richard L. Griffin and Polly Ann Moore

  • 1946:
    • February 22, a secluded road approximately 50 feet off Richmond Road, Texarkana, Texas:
      • Jimmy Hollis (pistol-whipped, his skull was fractured, survived)
      • Mary Jeanne Larey (hit twice and raped with the barrel of a gun, survived)
    • March 23-24, 1946, Rich Road, Texarkana Texas:
      • Richard L. Griffin (shot twice, once in the back of the head)
      • Polly Ann Moore (shot once in the back of the head)
    • April 14, outside Spring Lake Park, Texarkana, Texas:
      • Paul Martin (shot four times: through his nose, ribs, in his right hand and finally in the back of his neck)
      • Betty Jo Booker (shot twice: once through her chest and once in the face)
        Betty Jo Booker and Paul Martin

        Betty Jo Booker and Paul Martin

    • May 3, Starks farm, Texarkana, Arkansas:
      • Virgil Starks (shot twice into the back of his head)
      • Katie Starks (shot twice in the face, survived)
    • May 7, Kansas City Southern Railway tracks, north of Texarkana, near Ogden, Arkansas:
      • Earl McSpadden (possibly, allegedly killed with an unidentified sharp object and placed in the path of an ongoing train)

Suspects

In addition to these suspects, many others were either arrested or questioned in relation to the crimes attributed to the Phantom. Several false confessions were also made.

Youell Swinney

Youell Swinney

Prime Suspect

  • Youell Swinney (1917-1994)
    • He and his wife, Peggy, were arrested in June 1946 on charges of car theft. Peggy was found in possession of a car reported stolen on the night of the Griffin/Moore murders.
    • Swinney kept alluding to more serious crimes he allegedly had committed ("[...] you got me for more than stealing cars"). He asked, to one of the agents whom firstly arrested him, if he would have been given the electric chair, for what he had done.
    • When Peggy discovered her husband was held for murder, she exclaimed, "How did they find it out?"
    • Peggy took officers near the spot where Paul Martin's car was found, claiming of having been there. The officers found a woman's heel print in that area.
    • Both Peggy's family and Youell's brother-in-law believed he was the Phantom.
    • Police found a khaki work shirt in the suspect's room with a laundry mark of the word "S-T-A-R-K", which was read under a black light. In the front pocket of the shirt, slag was found, which matched samples found in Virgil Starks' welding shop.
    • Youell Swinney owned a .32 Colt automatic, which he had previously sold at a crap game.
    • While being accused of murder, Swinney remained silent instead of pleading his innocence.
    • Peggy Swinney confessed to her husband's actions, revealing detailed information, including things officers already knew and other things they did not.
    • Youell's fingerprints did not match any of the latent prints at the Booker/Martin crime scene.
    • Peggy Swinney recanted her confession.
    • The Texas Rangers and Sheriff Bill Presley were not convinced that Swinney was the Phantom.
    • Swinney denied being the Phantom and never made a confession.
    • Officers, including Bowie County Sheriff Presley, Miller County Sheriff Davis, Texas City Chief of Police Runnels, their officers and both State Police departments worked day and night for six months trying to validate Peggy Swinney's story of their whereabouts. They deduced that Peggy was not telling the truth and that, on the night of the murder of Booker and Martin, the couple was sleeping in their car under a bridge near San Antonio.
    • Unknown as either a sick prank or a true confession, an anonymous woman contacted family members of the victims, one in 1999 and another in 2000, apologizing for what her father had done. Youell Swinney was not known to have ever had a daughter.
The Arkansas High School class of 1948, with suspect H.B. “Doobie” Tennison

The Arkansas High School class of 1948, with suspect H.B. “Doobie” Tennison

Others

  • Henry Booker "Doodie" Tennison (1930-1948)
    • He played the trombone in the same high school band as Betty Jo Booker, but they weren't friends.
    • Confessed to the Booker-Martin and Starks killings in a note he wrote, among many others, just before swallowing rat poison in November 1948.
    • His fingerprints didn't match those found at the Booker/Martin crime scene.
    • A friend of his, James Freeman, provided him an alibi for the night Virgil Starks was shot.
    • Tennison's brothers stated he didn't know how to use weapons and learned to drive a car only in 1947. They also claimed the confession and suicide were induced by "reading too much comic books."
  • In May 1946, at least five people were briefly considered suspects in the Phantom case:
    • Earl MacSpadden, the man found on the Kansas City Southern Railway tracks north of Texarkana, near Ogden, Arkansas.
    • An escaped German prisoner of war, although never recaptured.
    • A hitchhiker whom threatened to shoot a motorist in Kilgore, Texas, confessed to the killings, but Captain Gonzaullas was skeptical regarding the reasonableness of this boasts. The same hitchhiker was linked to the case of a peeping tom whom had scared a resident of Lufkin, Texas. However, it is impossible to determine if this was the same person.
    • in Atoka County, Oklahoma, a man threatened a woman of killing and raping her, also boasting of having already killed three or four people. A suspect was arrested in the case, although it was later deemed impossible, by the authorities, that he was the Phantom.
    • A Los Angeles war veteran said to the authorities he could have committed the killings while being in a coma. As the man was discharged for being a psychoneurotic, the reasonableness of this assumption is doubted, although the story convinced, to some extent, Captain Gonzaullas.
  • A black man whose tire tracks were found near the Martin-Booker crime scene was arrested. He failed a polygraph test, but was later cleared through the use of hypnosis.

On Criminal Minds

  • Season Four
    • "Omnivore" - While the Phantom Killer has yet to be directly mentioned or referenced on the show, the case appears to have been an inspiration for George Foyet - Both were serial killers who wore masks, attacked couples in their cars at night, shot them, were given nicknames for their crimes, and their investigations went cold (initially in Foyet's case). Foyet also appeared in Season Five.

Notes

  • He is very similar to the Zodiac Killer, whose confirmed period of activity spanned from 1968 to 1969. He was a mixed classification serial killer whom mainly killed by shooting, attacked couples in secluded places (mainly during the nighttime) and, in at least one occasion, wore a mask. They are also similar in the sense that both killed, at least once, a lone victim who was older than those whom characterized their classic M.O.

Sources