Nineteen-year-old Mary Jeanne Larey and her boyfriend, Jimmy Hollis, 24, werelike any other young lovers in Texarkana tonight. Their world was an oyster,wide open, sparkling, and promising a taste of adventure. This evening ofFebruary 22, 1946 - a date that had begun no different than any other - promisedto end a little more exciting because they finally had a chance to be together,alone. And in good old fashioned American idiom, that meant to sneak out to theseclusion of Richmond Road beyond town, to kiss, to cuddle and pet. With theirdouble dates hurriedly rushed home and unloaded after the movie they had allseen together, Mary Jeanne and Jimmy had, by themselves, raced to a romanticrendezvous here in this section of country back road known as Lovers Lane - thelocal ministers' scorn and a blight to any respectable parent.
Turning the key in the ignition, Jimmy snuffed the engine of his auto andglanced at his wristwatch; time was nearing 11:45 p.m. He scowled, for he hadpromised his dad to have the Plymouth home not much after midnight. But, hequickly forgot his father's imminent anger under the lure of the prospect besidehim in her Lana Turner sweater and white pearl beads. His pulse raced; MaryJeanne looked so lovely, the moonlight punctuating her lovely features,glistening her eyes that spoke of a little reticence yet urged the right amountof wickedness. Her sweet perfume filled the shell of the car. When he leanedover to peck his girl's cheek, reassuring her that he meant no harm -- afterall, what's a kiss between two people who, let's face it, weren't kids anymore?-- the only sounds he could hear were her anxious breathing and the squeak ofthe seat springs beneath them.
Then, the shadow fell over them to obliterate the moonlight.
Jimmy glanced up, expecting to see the uniform of a policeman come at aninopportune moment. He startled, however, to see the thing just beyondhis window, bent to peer inside. Frankly, he didn't know what the hell it was.Some thing in a hood of what appeared to be canvas, motioning to themwith two bare hands from beyond the car window, from the darkness of the grove.As Jimmy's eyes accustomed to the darkness, he realized that one of those handsheld something in it. It gripped a pistol. And as the pistol barrel came to restagainst, then tap, the window, Jimmy recoiled into the recess of the car,shoving Mary Jeanne across the seat.
"Come out of the car now!" the Thing directed, voice muffledunder the mask. It was, muffled or not, a deep voice, a masculine voice. Muffledor not, it demanded authority.
Fearing the intruder would shoot through the pane if he did not comply, Jimmyobliged, pushing the door outward and stepping into the night. Gravel crushedunder heel. Mary Jeanne, her hand in her boyfriend's, followed suit and stoodbeside him. "You can have all the money we have, mister," the girlwarbled. "Just don't hurt us."
Try as they may, the couple could not detect eyes through the slits whereeyes should be. Only blackness, a hollowness, like that within an unlit windowsill pumpkin at Halloween. As if he noticed their inquisitive stares, thestranger flicked on a flashlight into their faces to blind their perceptions.Behind the sudden and bright beam, Jimmy heard the Thing's voice: "Do as Isay and I won't hurt you."
Jimmy's lips quivered. "What do you want? My wallet? The car?"
"Your britches." The Voice chuckled this time. "Remove yourbritches."
"I will not!" the boy responded. He wondered for a moment ifthis was some kind of gag proffered by his buddies.
"Do it or I'll kill you!" insisted the Voice.
Mary Jeanne pleaded, tugging at her date's shirtsleeve. "Please, Jim, dowhat he says."
Jimmy hesitated, wondering why this absurdity. He glanced at the gun barrel,for the first time noticing it leveled within inches of his abdomen, and lostall male inhibition. Unbuckling his belt, he let the corduroy trousers dropbelow his kneecaps. In that same moment, he watched the Thing's hand raiseoverhead, the one holding the pistol, and with first a flashing light then ablistering pain he realized that the man had belted him - twice he sensed inquick succession - with the butt of the gun. Dizzy, his legs crumpled beneathhim. Time and space faded.
The creature now turned to face the girl. She ducked beneath his reach anddashed in her desperation toward a dark connecting lane of overhanging cypress.She sensed him strike forth again and this time felt his fist tug the back ofher sweater to pull her into him; like fodder, she was tossed to the ground. Nowtriumphant, the animal sat on top of her; it coughed, then wheezed, then snortedlike a bull who had made a rag doll from a matador. His hands crept upthe inside of her skirt; she could feel the cold of the gun metal against herthighs. Despite her pleas, his abuse continued, for the barrel of the gun wasresting now against her panties, phallic like. Even though his face was hiddenbehind the dirty cover of canvas, the girl knew he was grinning. She could seethe glint of debauchery in his eyes - those dark eyes that now glimmered throughthe peep holes. They shone now, almost iridescently, in the full glow of evil,in the full of the moon...
...But, no, it was not the moon. Too bright for the moon, for the ray ofwhite light illumined the beast's full form, froze his macabre presence like awaxen dummy, forever twisted and clenched in nature in a house of horrors. Thelight caught his attention; he groaned and cursed and by his cussing MaryJeanne, under him, knew it was the light of an approaching automobile.
But, as he eased up on her, obviously to run, he intended to have the lastword. Walloping her across her face and shoulders several times with his fists,he at last retreated into the darkness from whence he came.
* * * * *
The darkness would not hold him long. He would return. His first two victimshad been lucky to have been alive, even though they did not - and Texarkana didnot -- realize their fortune at the time. Mary Jeanne and her boyfriend wererushed to the hospital where the girl's bruises were tended to. Jimmy had beenhit with such ferocity that his skull had been fractured in two places. But, hetoo survived to tell the story.
They had escaped from what would become over the ensuing months a deadly rushof murders brought on by this same Thing that crept in from the silence wherelovers should have been left alone to spoon.
Between February and May, 1946, the city of Texarkana would endure one of themost sanguine, most frightening episodes in its long and colorful history. Itwas The Season of the Phantom, of his Moonlight Murders, of his dangerousghostlike elusive ambushes that crawled under the skin of man, woman and childwho couldn't sleep at night, who suddenly began locking their doors in a townthat didn't need bolting before.
He was never caught. Who he was, where he came from, where he went is stillmuch of a mystery; at best, there is a central suspect, no more. Evidenceremains minimal.
In the end, Jimmy and Mary Jeanne would be the only two victims who coulddescribe him, and their descriptions were hazy. They described him as standingabout six feet tall, wearing a rough-looking homemade hood of white, with holespunched out for the eyes and mouth.
"It is an image most commonly associated today with the PhantomKiller," writes Carmen Jones, one of the staff writers of the TexarkanaGazette, which in 1996 produced a half-century retrospective of the murders."It is the image of record because no one else who saw the killer at worklived to give a description." And it is that image that haunted moviescreens when Hollywood filmed a semi-documentary of the event called The TownThat Dreaded Sundown.
Mary Jeanne Larey herself dreaded many sundowns to come after that night. Shespent months of scarred dreams and restless afternoons, eventually leaving townto live with relatives in Oklahoma. But, she would always remember hisvoice.
"I would know that it anywhere," she later said. "It ringsalways in my ears."
"Texarkana had a fear of the unknown...";
-- Myrtice Johnson, Texarkana resident
Texarkana sits sprawling across the Texas-Arkansas line, a dynamolumbering and industrial center manufacturing wood products (notably furniture),tires, pipe valves and tank cars. Its motto, "Twice as Nice," speaksfor Texarkana as being, really, comprised of two separate municipalities,Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana, Arkansas, divided mid-city at State LineAvenue, a popular tourist site. Each municipality has its own police and firedepartments and city council. As well, because the area takes in two separatecounties -- Bowie County (Texas) and Miller County (Arkansas) - the surroundingsuburbs are patrolled by separate county sheriff's offices.
This one-of-a-kind enterprise works well and its 60,000-some citizens thinkof themselves as being of one mind and one city. They work together well andplay together well, and meet every October at their famous Fair and Rodeo.Families from Louisiana, only 25 miles away, often visit Texarkana's CrystalSprings Beach theme park and enjoy the city's varied nightlife.
Historically, it claims names who have made a mark in our country's social,artistic and political texture. Alamo hero Jim Bowie, along with his brotherRezin, invented the famous Bowie knife nearby. Natives of the town include ScottJoplin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning ragtime composer, and one-time Presidentialaspirant Ross Perot.
In 1946, Texarkana's then-population of 44,000 was "just beginning toreturn to normal after World War II and most of the young men were returningfrom overseas, according to Phantom researchist Wayne Beck, author of his ownwebsite dedicated to the Phantom killings. " The city was celebrating theend of conflict and was trying to return to the life they knew and loved."
Adds Lyn Blackmon from the Texarkana Gazette: "In good weather,families in nice residential sections sat on their front porches after supper,sipping iced tea. They swung on porch swings, rocked in rockers and spoke toneighbors walking home from a movie or from church...Few people locked theirdoors or their windows. The only shades pulled down were in bathrooms orbedrooms." Until the murders began, the scariest event in town was takingplace at the local movie house where The House of Dracula was quiveringmany a popcorn bag.
While much of Texarkana was of white picket fences and rose-garden backyards,the city did claim its rough-house districts, too. It had been, throughout thewar, a soldiers' town and the bars and nightclubs that had sprung up to servethe GIs on leave continued to thrive afterwards. Girlie floor shows attractedmale clientele and blocks of saloons clattered well after sunset. Fights werecommon and drunken fisticuffs often brought local and state police onto thescene. Murders in the lower depths were not uncommon.
But, in most neighborhoods, Texarkana was a safe, God-fearing place to walkat night without fear of molestation.
The weird attack on Mary Jeanne Larey and Jimmy Hollis had reached thepapers, but it was downplayed as a freak incident. Many people in town figuredthe perpetrator had been a transient passing through; a police search haduncovered no culprit; and it was assumed the hooded mystery man was long gone ona boxcar to other climes. Despite the frightening nature of the lovers lane brujaja,Texarkana had no reason to fear for its general safety - yet.
On the rainy morning of March 24, one month after the Larey-Hollis attack, adriver on rural Bowie County Highway 67 noticed something strange. A 1941Oldsmobile was parked about 100 yards off the highway in a grove off adjacentRobison Road; a man seemed to be asleep behind the wheel. This was no place fora tired motorman to pull off the road, not with so many motels and other saferareas within a stone's throw. The driver, thinking he should investigate,approached the vehicle. When he peered inside, he shrieked at what he saw andscooted off to immediately notify authorities.
Bowie County officers converged on the scene. Two dead bodies lay within theauto, both shot in the head. At the wheel was 29-year-old Richard L. Griffin, arecently discharged Navy SeaBee. Lying on the backseat was his girlfriend, PollyAnn Moore, who was a checker at the Red River Arsenal outside of town. Forensictests would show that the bullets that had killed them were fired from a .32caliber revolver, possibly a Colt.
Moore had been killed outside the car, evidenced by bloodstains and dragmarks. She appeared to have been sexually assaulted. Fingerprints and footprintswere hard to trace, as a heavy downpour had washed away both during the night.
From the start, the police were stumped. Joining the investigation with theBowie County patrol were members from the Texas Department of Public Safety, thecity police forces (Texas and Arkansas) and Miller County and adjacent CassCounty law enforcement agencies. The FBI was eventually summoned, but they alsodrew a blank. Motive there was none; Griffin nor Moore had no known rivals; thelast time they had been seen alive was at a West Seventh Street café around 10p.m. the evening they were killed dining peacefully with Griffin's sister,Eleanor.
"Three days after the murder the sheriff's office hadalready questioned 50 to 60 people about the murder and tracked down about 100false leads," writes Greg Bischof, Texarkana Gazette staff writer."The murders remained a baffling mystery, forcing the sheriff's office toeventually post a $500 reward for information. None came."
The Gazette today makes an interesting comment about social attitudein the 1940s. And that has to do with how the police dealt with, and the publicresponded to, crimes involving rape or sexual deviancy. Today it is front pagenews, but in 1946 the public press glossed over any such activity. While MissMoore's body indicated telltale signs of rape, and while the offender hadsexually abused Mary Jeanne Larey with a pistol barrel before she escaped, thenewspapers, the Gazette included, remained mum on that particular aspectof both crimes. If rape was hinted, it was as a generic, "criminalassault," which could mean any number of things.
"(Sexual assault) wasn't made public. You guarded the person who wasraped," explains J.Q. Mahaffey, who had been executive editor of the TexarkanaGazette at the time of the killer's spree. He explains that no autopsy wasmade on Miss Moore's body, nor did the authorities formally state their opinionsabout a rape. It was the age before DNA testing for sperm content, the age whenmore physical facts, not science, nailed criminals. Rape was far less commonthan it is today. Alleged rape cases were based on any evidence found at thescene of the crime and any physical evidence found on the woman by an examiningdoctor. Not much more.
The lack of technology and the hush-hush standard of the time perhaps mayhave been why the killer remained so-long elusive. The attitude discouraged thelegal elements from pursuing known deviants who may have lived in the area - ifindeed any sex offenders were labeled as sex offenders at the time - andtherefore may have caused an oversight in the pursuit of a suspect. Even thoughMary Jeanne Larey had been violated in a perverted manner and Miss Moore hadbeen seemingly "assaulted," no one at the time thought to tie the twoincidences together.
At least officially. But, the citizens of Texarkana were not naïve;the fact that Polly Ann Moore may have been raped was whispered about inthe private corners of homes between couples and between best female friends.The rumors were enough to make many women, especially those living alone, startlocking their doors at bedtime.
"After Spring Lake Park, everything mushroomed fromthere."
-- Milton Mosier, Arkansas State policeman
Lights were dimmed in the VFW Hall as the dancers swayed arm in arm tothe melodic strains of "Moonlight Serenade," a popular tune of theday. On the bandstand, the Rhythmaires played this and other tunes under thegliding baton of their bandleader, Jerry Atkins, who doubled on saxophone. Thisengagement, Saturday, April 13, was one of many Saturday night gigs the band hadplayed at the hall over the last year. Beginning as an ensemble to entertain GIson leave, Atkins' band was renamed the Rhythmaires shortly after the war endedand lost no popularity in peacetime. Texarkana teenagers flocked to listen toand dance along with the most popular tunes as arranged by Atkins in the cozybanquet hall at Fourth and Oak streets.
Only a teen himself at the time, Atkins had shown skill in picking the rightpeople to play in his band. Four of its members were female, invited toparticipate due to the shortage of male musicians who had gone off to war."When I recruited the girls for the band we were playing proms and otherevents, but we were offered steady Saturday nights at the VFW Club. People stillwanted the big band sound."
Since the girl musicians were yet teenagers like Atkins, and since many ofthe places they played offered beer and alcohol, the only way their mothersagreed to let them join Atkins was if the bandleader himself (who had a finereputation) would give them a ride to and from their engagements. He agreed.
Betty Jo Booker was one of his favorites. At only 15 years old, she alreadyhandled her saxophone with grace. Atkins saw potential and often encouraged herto consider music as a full-time profession after she graduated high school. Shewas bright, talkative and eager, and Atkins felt that this straight-A studentbrimmed with promise.
The last note of the evening having resounded about 1 a.m. Sunday morning,April 14, band members began packing up their instruments and music stands.Dancers shuffled out onto Oak Street, still humming their favorite tune. BettyJo announced to her boss that he needn't give her a lift home tonight. A formerclassmate named Paul Martin from nearby Kilgore had stopped by and would takeher to where she was going, a slumber party with other girl friends. Atkinsglanced at the awaiting acquaintance, sized him up as a clean-cut kid, sober andinnocent. Satisfied, he told Betty Jo to go along and have a nice time.
It was the last time he saw her alive. Both she and Martin were dead, killedby revolver shots, long before sunrise.
Martin's automobile was discovered abandoned at the entrance of Spring LakePark, nowhere near the slumber party to which Betty Jo was headed. Paul's bodywas located first, north of Interstate 30 a mile and a half from his car. He hadbeen shot several times. Betty Jo was found nearly two miles distant outside apatch of woods near Fernwood, also north of I-30. Like Paul, Betty Jo's body wasbullet-ridden. She had also been sexually molested. This time, official recordsdidn't deny it.
Ballistic tests confirmed that the bullets that had killed the teens -- .32calibers -- matched those that had taken the lives of Moore and Griffin threeweeks earlier.
Texarkana began to panic, realizing that it had within its hide a killer whoseemed to be getting more nervy as his rampages continued. For the first time,the police put two and two together and realized that the same hooded vagabondmight be responsible for the series of assaults and murders that had begun withthe fracturing of Jimmy Hollis' skull and the near rape of Miss Larey onFebruary 22. Unfortunately, again, authorities had not found any discerniblefingerprints, but the killer's modus operandi was apparent: attackingyoung couples in secluded areas.
Because he seemed to hit and run, then dematerialize into the ether, thethen-managing editor of the Texarkana Gazette, Calvin Sutton, labeled the town'snumber one nemesis The Phantom. The name first appeared in bold-faced headlinesafter the most recent murder. "Little did Sutton realize he was makingjournalistic history in Texarkana," J.Q. Mahaffey later noted. Mahaffey,being executive editor at the time, Sutton ran the name past him for hisopinion. Mahaffey answered, "Why not? If the SOB continues to elude capturehe certainly can be called a phantom."
But, Mahaffey somewhat ruefully admits, "Of course, as we continued towrite about the murders, the name 'Phantom' only served to intensify thehysteria."
In the midst of the chaos, the fabled Texas Rangers made an entrance onto thescene. They came in the tall, lean form of well-known Ranger named ManuelGonzaullas, known as "Lone Wolf" for his ability to track downcriminals and face them by himself. In town when the latest murders werediscovered, he took over the investigations. One of his first acts was to issuea bulletin:
"WANTED FOR MURDER":
"Person or persons unknown, for the murder of Betty JoBooker and Paul Martin, on or about April 13, 1946, in Bowie County, Texas.Subject or subjects may have in their possession or may try to dispose of agold-plated Bundy E-flat Alto saxophone, serial #52535, which was missing fromthe car in which the victims were last seen...This saxophone had just beenrebuilt, replated and repadded, and was in an almost new black leather case withblue plush lining.
"It is requested that a check be made of music stores and pawn shops.Any information as to the location of the saxophone or description andwhereabouts of the person connected with it should be forwarded immediately tothe Sheriff, Bowie County, Texarkana, Texas, and the Texas Department of PublicSafety, Austin, Texas."
Lawmen queried anyone who knew Betty Jo Hooker and Paul Martin for a possiblemotive. What remains to this day a mystery is how Martin's coupe wound up so farfrom their destination.
The couple had not been romantically linked and had no reason to be in suchan out of the way location as Spring Lake Park after nightfall, a kind of placewhere lovers might wander by instinct. "We have always believed thatsomeone they knew or someone familiar to them forced them to go there," aclassmate determined. And the law agreed. Perhaps, the two unfortunates hadpicked up a hitchhiker who made them drive there under false pretense and then,once there, produced his gun. Maybe someone at the dance.
Jerry Atkins believes, to this day, that the Phantom might have been someonewho hung out at the dances, looking for people to victimize. "As I wasquestioned (by the police) about possibly identifying anyone who was at the VFWClub on that fatal night, I began to think about the Moore-Griffin murders aswell. Their car and bodies were found not too far from the Highway 67 spotcalled Club Dallas. Could someone have stalked them from there? Maybe there wassomeone at the VFW who saw Betty Jo with Paul." Recalling the hecticinvestigations that bloody spring, he adds, "These theories never(officially) materialized."
Four days after the latest double murder, its victims were laid to rest. Fourmembers of the Rhythmaires, including Atkins, were asked to be pallbearers."It was a sad and tearful day," the latter recalls.
Betty Jo's saxophone was found several months later in a marshy field inSpring Lake Park, rusting and half-submerged in the murk. Obviously it had beenlying there since the murderer tossed it that fateful night. It remained a mutereminder of the once-tuneful life of Betty Jo Hooker, a life that Jerry Atkinshonored with a single decision: After her death, he chose to put the Rhythmairesto rest, too. They never played again.
With the second double murder, the streets of Texarkana wore an entirelydifferent cloak of attitude. The once-peaceful thoroughfares and byways suddenlyfilled with dark anticipation, suspicious gazes and stiff, alerted passersby.Trust in one's neighbor melted under a hot flame of doubt. Strangers weresuspect; strange automobiles were followed, vigilante-like, until the spies wereassured the passengers of said vehicles were merely out-of-town salesmen ormerely a family of innocents driving through. And when night fell, thesidewalks, previously filled with strollers and kids playing flashlight tag,turned empty and silent as the air before a tornado.
"We were scared to death," Ida Lou Ames recollects. "We spentthe night in the same house for six weeks." The Ames house was especiallyon guard since it sat in the country, in the area where the Phantom was known tostrike. In fact, Betty Jo Booker's body had been found not far away. "Noisecarries in a still, clear, cool night, but on that night we did not hearanything. And we lived so close."
If one dared to go out after dark, it was never alone, it was cautious, andnever just for fun. "Nights were especially nerve-wracking," writes TexarkanaGazette reporter Christy Busby. "Most teenagers adhered to a voluntarycurfew and they were more careful about their whereabouts...With motion lights,alarms and other highly technical home security systems still a generation away,residents relied on cleverly crafted booby traps to warn of the Phantom'sapproach. Pots and pans were strung to clang and clatter, and loose nails werecollected so they could spill on the floor if disturbed."
Many Texarkanians alive today remember the distinct uneasiness and the safetymeasures their families took to prevent harm. Dan Young remarks, "Everybodywas scared. You could not even buy locks. The thing that sticks in my mind is meand my family in a house that summer with the doors shut and the windows shut.We had (only) a 4-inch fixed fan to cool the house, and it was hot."
James Timberlake, whose family owned a hardware store, recalls that an itemcalled a screen door brace became a best-seller. It was a metal device thatstretched across the window and screwed into the wooden window frame. But, EdMalcolm, a hardware clerk at another store, remembers items of a more deadlynature selling like hotcakes: "We sold out of all our guns andammunition."
Not all the guns that citizens bought were used merely for at-homeprotection. Some locals took it upon themselves to do what the police seemed tobe having a difficult time accomplishing: to catch the Phantom. But, thevigilantes, often just a pack of teenagers, became a real nuisance and ofteninterfered directly with established police stakeouts.
"Many students who were especially incensed by the killing of two fellowstudents were conducting their own search," explains Wayne Beck in hisonline Phantom website. "Armed young couples were parking on lonely roadshoping the mad killer would try an attack on them."
The police forces involved had their hands full, following bad leads andkeeping the temperament of the town subdued. And as their ranks grew, theorganizational mixture resembled that familiar case of too many cooks spoilingthe broth. Investigations were often redundant and the once-lineal chain ofcommunication went zig-zag. Spearheading the case were the Texas Rangers and theBowie County Sheriff's Department working hand in hand; it was under thelatter's turf that all the Phantom's crimes to date had been committed.Naturally, the two metropolitan constabularies (Texarkana, Texas, and Texarkana,Arkansas) served as aide de campe. The Federal Bureau of Investigationentered the fold to lend a hand, so did the Texas Department of Public Safetyand adjacent Cass County. As the manhunt stretched out to other counties andtowns those counties and towns leaped eagerly forward. They were the ArkansasState Police; the Hope, Arkansas, police department; the Little River CountySheriff's Department and the Lafayette County Sheriff's Department.
Says Wayne Beck, "Texarkana was the most guarded city in the UnitedStates."
Confusion aside, the different units performed a marvelous job patrolling thetown, its parks, alleys, underpasses and rail yards, and wherever a hoodedkiller might lurk. Shotgun-toting troopers on horseback, in car and on footwatched the outskirts of the city, the lover's lanes, the abandoned farms, thelakes, lagoons and swimming holes.
More than 300 suspects were brought in for questioning - people who werecaught roaming the dark spots at night, people who were considered"odd" by their neighbors, hermits and loners and those who had anycriminal record at all. All were carefully questioned, none, however, weredetained.
The town continued to shake in its boots and, with each knock of the knees,quickly lost faith in the lawmen's ability to fulfill its ultimate obligation:getting the Phantom. There was even talk that the authorities were holding backon important information. Grapevines rustled.
Responding to these rumors, Captain Manuel Gonzaullas of the Texas Rangersand Bowie County Sheriff W.H. Presley jointly issued the following pressrelease, which has more of a tone of a drastic mission statement. It read:
"The Texarkana newspapers have cooperated with us all through thisinvestigation and we intend to cooperate with them in furnishing them theinformation they desire when the time comes for divulging that information. Thenewspapers are not printing rumors and have assured us they will not. Anyinformation the public hears about the case will not be official unless it comesfrom us through the newspapers. We will continue to work day and night on theinvestigation. We will appreciate information from citizens and all suchinformation will be treated confidentially."
In the meantime, a reward fund was established by city council members forapprehension of the perpetrator of "the foulest murder ever committed inTexarkana". Business, civic organizations, private families andfraternities donated to the fund - among them Texarkana and State nationalbanks, Southwestern Gas, Longhorn Company, the Texarkana Gazette, theElks, Lions and Rotary Clubs, the VFW Otis Henry Post (where Betty Jo Bookerplayed with the Rhythmaires), and many more - to the sum of $4,280.
Texarkana was becoming big news, and major metropolitan newspapers and radiostations were sending some of their top people to cover the grisly events in thecity 'twixt the two states. Representing were The New York Times, TheWashington Post, The Dallas News, The Houston Chronicleand even The London Times. "All of the news agencies, including theAssociated Press, United Press and the International News Service, sentreporters," attests J.Q. Mahaffey, then-editor of the Texarkana Gazette,which served as host to fellow press agents.
The news hounds brought with them the color that only men and women of theirexperience could bring; downtown became one giant typewriter clacking away theTexarkana story in true human interest style - both the tragedies and thewhimsies.
There were, after all, moments of mirth. Recalls Editor Mahaffey, "Idon't suppose I will ever forget the lead paragraph of the INS reporter's story:'I have arrived in Texarkana, the home of the Phantom Killer. I have just talkedto a newspaperman named Graves. I am quartered at the Grim Hotel, and the hairis rising on my neck.'"
A favorite of the news-hungry legions of the printed word was Manuel"Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas, Texas Ranger, who had set himself up as aone-man PR agency and spokesperson. He was a reporter's delight, with theswagger of John Wayne and the verbosity of Will Rogers.
"Rumors that attached themselves to 'Lone Wolf' were easy to believebecause he was the living embodiment of the Wild West," Mahaffey says."(He) wore a spotless khaki suit and a white 10-gallon hat. He packed twopearl-handled revolvers on his hips and did not deny that he was the Ranger whosat in the cashier's office in the Crazy Water Hotel in Mineral Wells and gunneddown two ex-convicts who sought to rob the place. He was so good looking that mygirl reporters wouldn't leave him alone. He really didn't have time to hunt downthe Phantom. He was too busy giving out interviews and trying to run the Gazette.All of the other officers...were intensely jealous of 'Lone Wolf' and complainedbitterly every time his picture appeared in the paper."
True to nature, Gonzaullas succeeded in giving one of the most animated liveinterviews at the time. When Mahaffey, conducting the interview on radio stationKCMC, asked him to offer listeners some words of wisdom that might calm theirfears, Gonzaullas replied, "Sure. Check the locks and bolts of your doorsand get a double-barreled shotgun to blow away any intruder who tries to getin."
Mahaffey quickly changed the subject.
"We all wondered whether the killings were being doneby someone who lived among us, and I still wonder who did it."
Perhaps Katy Starks should have heeded Gonzaullas' advice - and bought ashotgun. Mrs. Starks, 35, and her husband Virgil, 36, owned a farm off Highway67, southeast of the city in Miller County, Arkansas. Twelve miles fromTexarkana, their rambling frame farmhouse sat on a stretch of open prairiefacing the road; across the toad was her sister's house and down the way some 50yards was a neighbor's farm, that of the Prater family. It was a remote area,but so far untouched by the Phantom. On the evening of Friday, May 3, 1946, thatwould change.
About 9 p.m., Virgil plopped in his easy chair beside the parlor radio, andflipped open the edition of that day's newspaper. He had been working in thefields all day and, dinner eaten, began a weekend respite. His back was sorefrom the day's labor, so as he read he leaned back onto the electric heating padwarming the lower stretch of muscles. Little did he notice the silhouette of aman before the moonlight, tiptoeing up his front steps.
Katy didn't see him, either. She had finished washing the supper dishes, hadexchanged her housedress for a nightgown, and now lie in her bed rummagingthrough her Post magazine. All she heard was the scratch of her husband'sradio in the parlor down the hall.
A shot blew open a pane from the front window and Virgil, struck in thecranium, jerked forward and sent the newspaper fluttering across the livingroom, blood spattered. An immediate second shot hit him again in almost the samespot. This time the body convulsed and fell limply sideways across the chairarm.
His wife heard the first, then the second, crash of glass and what soundedlike the report of a gun accompanying each. She rolled out of bed into herslippers and raced down the hallway. One look at her husband, both he and hischair soaked in blood, and she knew what had happened. Shards of glass layacross the bureau beneath the window from where the gunfire had come. Sheimmediately thought, Phantom!
Her head floated as she scrambled for the telephone across the room; herfingertips in the rush felt numb as she tried to dial the rotary for theotherwise easy O. A buzz and a woman's voice penetrated the shell of the blackreceiver, "Operator. May I help you?" But, Katy never answered.She felt a battering pressure drive the phone off her ear and a pain burnthrough her right cheek before she even heard the explosion from behind.Instinctively, she began to turn toward the sound of the blast when another shotboomed to tear her lower jaw from the upper. She watched splinters of her teethsail upward, and she gulped down a gush of blood.
Somehow she remained conscious despite the horror, the excuciating pain andthe dizziness. In an attempt to avoid further shots, she fell to the floor andcrawled toward the kitchen and the back door. But, as she reached the tiles ofthe pantry, she became aware that the rear door was clattering against its bolt,being forced from the outside. She could hear utterances from the thing outside,making inhuman sounds of despair as he realized the door was locked. Through thecurtains on the door window, his shadow filled the panes, distorted.
Blood soaked her nightgown and she felt herself on the verge of passing out,but she rallied with a determination that she would not be that animal's prey.Succeeding to her feet, she struggled back through the living room and out thefront door, trailing blood. As she repaired from the house, she heard thekitchen door finally giving way under the intruder's ramrodding, followed by astream of curses.
Wrote the Texarkana Gazette in the next day's edition, "She fledin her bloody nightgown across the highway to her sister's house, only to findno one at home. She eventually made her way to the A.V. Prater farmhouse downthe road, where she was able to summon help and a ride to Michael MeagherHospital."
The first bullet had penetrated her right cheek and exited behind her leftear. The second, after smashing her jaw, lodged in the muscles under her tongue.Immediate surgery saved her life. For days her condition was critical, but shemiraculously pulled through. The scars she wore would be nothing compared tothose she psychologically endured the remainder of her life.
Back at the farm, patrol wagons surrounded the house and the state troopersedged cautiously toward it. "(They) found two small bullet holes shotthrough the front porch window, which led them to believe the sniper used anautomatic weapon because four shots were fired altogether," said the Gazette.The police made ingress through the house, guns drawn, but found noone alive inside. Virgil Starks' body lay on the floor now while the cushions ofhis easy chair smoldered from the unattended heating pad. The killer's muddyfootprints were traced from the kitchen door to the Starks' bedroom, where hemust have gone searching for Katy, back to the living room, out again via thefront door, then across the highway, still in pursuit of the lady. Bloodyhandprints smeared on the walls and furniture indicated that the murderer haddabbed his palms in the pools of blood at Mr. Starks' feet. Whoever the killer,he seemed to have been in a fit of rage, out of control, berserk. And his frenzyhad probably peaked when he realized the woman - whom he probably lusted - hadeluded him.
This time, the police had fingerprints, plenty of them.
Miller County Sheriff W.E. Davis ordered roadblocks at both ends of Highway67 and canine units assembled to trail the fugitive. The bloodhounds traced hisscent along the highway for some 200 yards before they lost it. At this point,the maniac had probably jumped into his auto and drove off.
The Phantom had struck again, this time in a more savage way than ever. But -had it been the Phantom? Certain members of the police department did not thinkso, among them Davis and his chief deputy, Tillman Johnson. Their reasoning wasbased on two things: First, bullets removed from the Starks were fired from a.22 calibre semi-automatic shotgun, not a .32 revolver, so far the Phantom'sweapon of note. Second, the modus operandi was all wrong - no lovers laneteenagers this time.
When questioned after her recovery weeks later, Mrs. Starks could notdescribe her husband's killer; she had seen only his shadow at the back doorwindow.
Texarkanians thought it ridiculous not to consider the Starks murder as thehandiwork of anyone other than the Phantom. His savagery had been increasingwith each attack, and again here was a case of a couple being ambushed withoutmercy; it didn't matter that they weren't teenagers. As for the change ofweaponry, who wrote the law that Phantoms must be restricted to only one choiceof weapon?
There is no known record of what "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas and otherin-charges believed, but the day after the Starks rampage the manhunt for thePhantom expanded to include Miller County. In fact, central investigationheadquarters moved from downtown Texarkana to a location nearer to the Starkshome.
"Rumors were flying as to who the Phantom Killer was,including someone on the police force, some prominent person or a servicemanreturning from the war..."
-- Joe Bearden, Texarkana area resident
With the world watching, Texarkana needed an arrest. Authorities believedthat the killer, his vengeance having been unleashed so fully on May 3, hadscooted the border city area. The investigation continued in and aroundTexarkana, but fanned out.
"The Texas Rangers were in contact with every law enforcement agency inthe country where someone attacked people parking and either killed them orcommitted rape," Phantom historian Wayne Beck declares. "Surprisingly,there were many such incidences, even as far away as Wisconsin and New York.They checked out virtually everyone who was arrested for rape or robbery inTexas where the modus operandi was similar to the Texarkana crimes. Therewere several very good leads,(including) local people (but) the Rangers would gono further with them if their fingerprints didn't match."
Beck lists some of these people, names withheld:
Forty-two-year- old suspect from College Station, Texas, who owned a .22caliber rifle and was known to enjoy sneaking up on parked lovers with hisrifle. He was believed to be in Texarkana during the Phantom season.
Graduate student from the University of Texas, having displayedhomosexual/homicidal tendencies and dismissed from the U.S. Navy.
Missouri Pacific Railroad section hand, after writing to the Governor ofTexas and admitting to the killings. But he also claimed he killed Satan. In theinterim, he challenged FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and President Harry Trumanto a duel."
"One of the more comical suspects questioned was an IRS agent accused bya neighbor in Texarkana," says Beck, tongue-in-cheek. "obviously adisgruntled taxpayer."
A week after the Starks murder, an Atoka County sheriff notified the Rangersthat he was holding a migrant in Paris, Texas, for threatening a rancher's wifeafter she refused to give him food when he came to her door. The 33-year-oldsuspect lived in Lewisville, Arkansas, 30 miles east of Texarkana. The FBI,Arkansas State Police and Texas Rangers questioned the suspect, but, like somany others, was quickly released after an alibi proved solid or fingerprintsdidn't match those found at the Starks home.
On May 13, the Texarkana Gazette reported, "Despite combinedefforts of Texas, Arkansas, county, city and federal officers, no trace of thephantom killer has been found as of late tonight. Officers said there were nonew developments. 'We've been working in circles all week,' was the way oneofficer expressed himself."
Then something very strange occurred late summer. Chief of Police-ArkansasState Patrol Max Tackett had earlier noted that before each murder a car wasreported stolen, then found afterwards. On the afternoon of June 28, one ofthese cars was tracked to a parking lot in Texarkana. There, the police waitedto see who would claim it. When a young woman appeared from an adjacent marketand got into the automobile, they promptly arrested her. She confessed that itbelonged to her husband who was currently out of town. Tackett and hisassistant, Tillman Johnson, followed the man's trail to Atlanta, Texas, where heattempted to sell a stolen car, then nabbed him in a bus station when hereturned to Texarkana a couple of weeks later.
His name was, according to Wayne Beck, Youell Swinney. When apprehended, thistall, thin 29-year-old scarecrow turned to arresting officers Tackett andJohnson and exclaimed, "Hell, I know what you want me for. You want me formore than stealing a car!"
Swinney, authorities learned, already had quite an extensive record ofcounterfeiting, car theft, burglary and assault. When the police raided thehotel room where he and his wife temporarily lived, they found a shirt in thecloset with the name STARK stenciled on the pocket. When asked about the shirtback at the police station, he clammed up - in fact, he remained non-verbalabout everything.
But not his wife. She had a minor record herself, and it was obvious she waspanicking to save her hide. She talked and talked throughout the day, throughoutthe night. She told the police anything they wanted to know. They had recentlybeen married in Shreveport, Louisiana, she explained, and spent a lot of time intheir car, traveling. They came to Texarkana not long before the murders began.Then, much to her interrogators' surprise, she admitted that even though she didnot participate in any of the Phantom killings, she had been with her husbandwhile he committed every one of them.
"She told things about the murders that the general public did notknow," Beck attests. "She even knew about a date book found at thescene of the Betty Jo Booker-Paul Martin murder that only Sheriff Bill Presleyknew about."
But, there was a problem with what she was telling them. Exasperatingly, herdetails changed from interview to interview, except to leave Swinney at thescene of each crime every time.
Take her statements of the Spring Lake killing. Initially, she described howshe and her man had gone to the park to finish off a bottle of beer they hadbought at the Drivers Café. At one point during their private binge, Swinneyleft their 1941 green Plymouth (stolen) to urinate. While she waited for him tocome back, she heard two shots ring out from beyond a clump of trees. When hereturned, quite a bit later, his trousers were damp and muddy, but he refused totell her where he'd been.
Later, however, another version became more accusatory, relating how he haddriven to the park not for a harmless binge but for the sole purpose of robbingsomeone. Spotting Martin's coupe, he pulled up alongside it and ordered thecouple out of their car. Much to Mrs. Swinney's dismay, her husband thensuddenly opened fire on the Paul Martin, killing him instantly. While his wifewaited in Martin's auto, Swinney shoved Betty Jo into the Plymouth and drove offwith her. An hour later, he returned without Betty Jo. Only after someinsistence from his wife, did he later admit that he raped and killed her,overcome with desire.
As much as the police wanted to believe the woman, there were majorchallenges to her testimony. First was the fact that she never stuck to oneversion. Second, she was a convicted criminal and in the eyes of the lawconsidered an unreliable witness. Last -- but most importantly -- she refused totake the stand against him in court. By law, a wife cannot be made to testifyagainst her husband.
The Arkansas State Police nevertheless remained curious about that shirtfound in Swinney's possession. They transported him to Little Rock for furtherquestioning.
"But fate was on the suspect's side," alleges Texarkana Gazettestaff writer Kevin McPherson. "Interrogators, to his fortune, administeredtoo much 'truth serum' (sodium pentothal) and the suspect fell asleep. ''Really,we should have kept him here,' Tackett told (the Gazette) in a 1971interview. 'I think we blew our case right there,'"
Deputy Tillman Johnson, who outlived all the other Phantom investigators,concurred that their chief suspect missed the electric chair by the skin of histeeth. "I think that if we just kept him here (in Texarkana) and keptquestioning him, we would have gotten the truth out of him eventually....Max wasalways 100 percent sure it was him. I think we had him..."
No known record exists stating whether Swinney's fingerprints matched thosefound on the Starks farm.
The authorities who wanted to see Youell Swinney burn had to settle for thenext best thing. They sought and won a conviction the following year for the cartheft. Because he was a habitual offender, he received life imprisonment atTexas State penitentiary in Huntsville.
No one will ever know for sure if the law got its man, or if the real Phantomdanced away scot-free to perhaps cause havoc elsewhere. But, after Swinney'sarrest, the Phantom killings in Texarkana ceased for good.
"I'm 60 now (and) there's a lot of terror building inthese memories. Maybe that's why I'm so scared at night."
-- Dorothy Conley, Texarkana resident
In 1970, Youell Swinney filed a request for a writ of HabeusCorpus, contending that he was not represented by an attorney at his 1947 trial.Even though authorities recalled the trial judge advising the defendant tohire a lawyer at that time, "Swinney testifies that he was not advised ofhis right to an attorney, nor was he told of the possible punishment he couldreceive if convicted of the auto theft charge," wrote the TexarkanaDaily News. A hearing, presided over by the Board of Pardons and Paroles inTexas, was held at the Bowie County Building in 1973. Recollections of survivingwitnesses and law officers were hazy at best and, after consideration by theCourt of Appeals, Swinney's conviction was overturned. He was released fromprison in 1974.
No one will ever know if Youell Swinney was the Phantom. While the ArkansasState Police obviously believed he was, the Texas Rangers - at least Capt."Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas - seems to have remained skeptical over themany succeeding years. Gonzaullas did not close the books on the case, butcontinued to remain personally interested in it, investigating leads for severalyears afterward. In fact, he traced down several suspects across Oklahoma andvarious other states into the 1950s. But, all proved without avail. Technically,the case remains open to this day, unsolved.
In October of 1946, after Swinney was in jail awaiting trial, a murder tookplace in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that greatly mirrored the modus operandiof the Texarkana Phantom. A young couple, Elaine Eldridge (from Massachusetts)and her boyfriend Lawrence O. Hogan (from Miami Beach) were slain while parkedin a secluded spot near the ocean. Again, a .32 caliber had been the weapon ofdestruction, although it was believed to have been of a foreign make and not thefamiliar Colt that the Phantom probably used. There were no fingerprintsrecovered and the killer escaped into oblivion - again.
One particular man today believes, however, that the Phantom was indeed takenoff the streets when Youell Swinney was arrested. The man is Mark Bledsoe, whohas spent years researching Texarkana's most infamous shadow. Bledsoe haslearned that Swinney, prior to his arrest for car theft, had been accused ofsexual perversion. More so, interviews with Huntsville Prison cellmates revealedthat the man told them details of the killings unreported in the newspapers.
Bledsoe conducted an interview with Swinney himself in a Dallas nursing homein 1992, a year before he passed away from natural causes. Its memory remainsvivid. "When I talked to him he was coherent to a certain degree," theresearcher says. "Time has definitely had its effect. I videotaped theinterview and it is hard to make out what is being said. You have to go more onthe expressions. It made him angry when I started asking about (the Phantommurders). He said, 'I got off for that and I was cleared.'...
"It was spooky. He was in a wheelchair, I am getting goosebumps justthinking about it, being in the room with that person who had people inTexarkana so terrified."
After the Season the Phantom, Texarkana settled back into a leisure, butwould never forget the memory of those nights in 1946. In 1996, a half centurysince the moonlight killings, Texarkana Gazette reporter Rodney Burgesswrote:
"Yes, fifty years later, many who remember the scenario from livingthrough it still harbor fears of the unknown...Some witnesses, some friends ofthe victims, some family of the victims are still too frightened withinthemselves to allow them to speak freely about that impressionable time in theirlife. And, too, many still fear retribution from that unknown source of theirfear...Even if the main suspect has been dead for a couple of years, that fearremains. Some would say that it is unrealistic. But reality to some was formed50 years ago and has changed little since."
Fascination is the word that explains the feeling I encountered whileresearching the Phantom Moonlight Murders in 1946 Texarkana. It didn't take melong into my delving to realize that this is a story about much more than aghastly series of crimes. It is, all done and said, the story of people -those who died and those who lived to fight back. In all the chaos andturbulence, and withstanding all the error, Texarkana endured.
It is a rough and tumble town, is and always has been; a down-to-earth,work-hard-and-be-happy town. Its made its mistakes and its had its bad times,and unlike many other cities, it doesn't pretend everything has always beenroses. Because it prides itself and places its experiences in perspective as aset of learning tools, the Texarkana Gazette produced a wonderful50-year-retrospective of the Phantom murders in 1996. To the point and credible,it relates the snowballing terror that the Phantom created, the blunders made inpursuing him and the courage faced up by so many who sought his demise.
To the people at the Gazette, I owe so much gratitude for sharing with methis commemorative issue. In particular, I would like to thank Greg Bischofand Judy Robinson of the newspaper who, at the outset, ledme in the right direction.
Staff writers, whose articles provided me with much information, include (inalphabetical order): Greg Bischof, Lyn Blackmon, Melody Brumble, RodneyBurgess, Christy Busby, Robert Davis, John Fooks, Tisha Gilbert, Jim Harris,Carmen Jones, Kevin McPherson and Russell Minor.
As well, reminiscences by J.Q. Mahaffey, who was executive editor ofthe Gazette in 1946, and Jerry L. Atkins, who knew Betty Jo Bookerpersonally, helped me to add much human insight into my story.
Certainly not to be overlooked is Wayne Beck, who has written anddesigned a very informative website dedicated to the murders entitled, "ThePhantom Killer - Texarkana". He has been very generous with hisinformation, with his graphics, and with his time, and I highly recommend hissite (http://www.geocities.com/txkphantom)to anyone wanting to know more about this period in Texarkana history.