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The Phantom Killer
Also known as: The Texarkana Phantom; The Moonlight Murderer
Killings
Number of victims: 5 killed, 3 attacked
Span of killings: February 23, 1946–May 4, 1946
Country: United States
State(s): Arkansas, Texas

The Phantom Killer was an unidentified serial killer believed to have committed a number of murders in Texarkana, Texas between February 23 and May 4, 1946. The Phantom is also known as the Texarkana Phantom and the Moonlight Murderer, having often killed when the moon was full.

Contents

The murders and attacks

The Phantom first struck on February 23, attacking Jimmy Hollis, 24, and his girlfriend, Mary Jeanne Larey, 19, who were parked on a secluded road outside Texarkana. A man, armed with a handgun, forced Hollis and Larey out of the car and pistol-whipped Hollis. He then sexually assaulted Larey with the gun before fleeing when he saw the headlights of an approaching car. According to Larey and Hollis, their assailant was about six feet (1.8 m) tall and his head and face were covered by a mask.

A month later, on the evening of March 23, Richard Griffin, 29, and his girlfriend, Polly Ann Moore, 17, were murdered. Both were found the next morning in Griffin’s car on a rural Bowie County road, outside Texarkana. Both had been shot in the back of the head, by a .32 revolver. A bloodstained patch of earth found 20 feet (6.1 m) away suggested that both victims were killed outside the car and put back in it.

Early on April 14, Paul Martin, 17, and Betty Jo Booker, 15, were killed in Texarkana’s Spring Lake Park. Martin’s body was found a mile and a half from his car (which was in the park) near a rural highway. Booker’s body was found two miles from the car, near a patch of woods. Both had been shot several times. As with Griffin and Moore, the bullets had been fired from a .32 revolver. Soon after, the killer was dubbed the Phantom in the Texarkana Gazette.

By this time, the citizens of Texarkana had entered a state of panic. Many residents bought firearms, barricaded their residences, and stayed in at night. The police, meanwhile, began patrolling Texarkana’s secluded streets and lovers' lanes, apparently prompting the Phantom to change tactics.

On May 4, a man attacked a farmhouse in Miller County, Arkansas, 12 miles from Texarkana. The prowler, standing outside the house, shot Virgil Starks, 36, twice through a parlor window, killing him. Virgil’s wife, Katy, 35, upon hearing breaking glass, left her bedroom and entered the parlor. The assailant, still outside the house, shot her twice, hitting her in the face and mouth, but Mrs. Starks managed to escape from the house and get help from a neighbor. While Mrs. Starks sought aid, the killer searched the house, leaving muddy footprints on the floor. By the time the police reached the house, the killer had gone. Although ballistics tests would later reveal that the bullets removed from the Starks had been fired from a .22 semi-automatic pistol, not a .32 revolver, the murder of Virgil Starks is generally believed to have been committed by the Phantom.

Two days later, a man’s body was found on train tracks north of Texarkana. Some reporters speculated that the man, Earl McSpadden, was the Phantom and that he had committed suicide. However, following the coroner’s report of May 7 it was revealed that McSpadden had been stabbed to death before his body was put on the tracks, leading some to believe that McSpadden was another victim of the Phantom.

Only major suspect

The only major suspect in the Phantom case was Youell Swinney, a 29-year-old car thief with a record of counterfeiting, burglary, and assault who was arrested in Texarkana in July 1946. Swinney’s wife, who was also arrested, told police that Swinney was the Phantom and that she had been with her husband when he committed the murders. Swinney’s wife kept changing the details about the killings, however, and police came to view her as an unreliable witness. After being questioned by the police in Texarkana, Swinney was questioned in Little Rock. Swinney was eventually convicted of car theft in Texas and, as a repeat offender, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1947.

In 1970, Swinney petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, claiming that he should be released because he was not provided with an attorney at his trial in 1947. Swinney’s conviction was overturned on appeal and he was set free in 1974. He died in 1994.[1] The case of the Phantom has never been solved and remains open, although as of 2006 it is considered cold.

In popular culture

William T. Rasmussen, author of Corroborating Evidence II (2006), presents similarities between the Phantom Killer of Texarkana and the Zodiac Killer who terrorized California (and has also never been caught) in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

In 1977, American International Pictures released The Town That Dreaded Sundown, a film about the Phantom killings.

The rapper Nas mentions the Phantom Killer in his song The World is Yours. Nas states, "Headed for Indiana stabbin' bitches like the Phantom." Nas demonstrates his ignorance to the details of the killings, as only one victim was stabbed, and that killing was not clearly linked to the Phantom.

References

  1. ^ Ancestry.com. Texas Death Index, 1903-2000 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2006.







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