|The Phantom Killer|
|Also known as:||The Texarkana Phantom; The Moonlight Murderer|
|Number of victims:||5 killed, 3 attacked|
|Span of killings:||February 23, 1946–May 4, 1946|
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.
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.
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. The case of the Phantom has never been solved and remains open, although as of 2006 it is considered cold.
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.
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.
The Moonlight Murders was dubbed by the news media referring to the slayings committed in Texarkana in 1946 by a serial killer called The Moonlight Murderer (AKA The Phantom Killer). The course of events is recognized nationally in the U.S., being referenced in Life Magazine, Dallas Morning News, Washington Times-Herald, and inspired the 1976 movie The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which was released internationally. The incidents are referred as the "Moonlight Murders" because he killed late at night. Contrary to popular belief, the attacks did not occur during a full moon. The killer attacked eight people, killing five. The Phantom Killer was never caught nor identified. The Moonlight Murders are considered as a cold case.
The Phantom first struck late Friday night around 11:55 p.m. on February 22 and early Saturday morning. His first victims were James B. "Jimmy" Hollis, 24, and his girlfriend, Mary Jeanne Larey, 19, who were parked on a secluded road known as a lovers' lane. According to a 14-page statement by Hollis, dated October 15, 2007, the attack happened about 50 feet off Richmond Road on an unpaved street, about 100 yards from the last row of city homes. A 1945 Texarkana City Directory indicates that the residential development of Beverly stopped in about the 600 block of Richmond Rd, which means the attack occurred somewhere around Taylor street; contrary to the belief that it happened near the Richmond and Robison intersection.
The couple arrived at the scene around 11:45 p.m. After being there about 10 minutes, a man walked up to Jimmy's driver-side door and flashed his flashlight in the window. Instead of seeing a policeman, Jimmy noticed a man wearing a hood over his face with holes cut out for the eyes and mouth. The man had a pistol and demanded them to get out of the car by saying something like "I don't want to kill you fellow, so do what I say," and told them to get out of the car. They both got out of the car through the driver's door and stood by the mysterious man. The man told Jimmy to "Take off your [expletive deleted] britches." Mary pleaded with Jimmy to please take them off, believing that if he did they wouldn't be hurt, but after Jimmy took his trousers off, he was struck twice in the head with a heavy blunt object. Mary explained in an interview three months later with Lucille Holland, a Texarkana Gazette reporter, that the noise was so loud she thought he had been shot, but learned later it was the sound of his skull cracking.
Mary then picked up his pants and pulled out his wallet and told the assailant "Look he doesn't have any money." He told her she was lying and that she has a purse. Mary told him that she didn't and was knocked on the ground. She said she felt like she was hit with an iron pipe. When she got up, the man told her to run. Mary started running towards a ditch. As she ran towards the ditch, the assailant told her to run down the road. As she was running she could hear Jimmy moaning, and then she heard the man continue to beat and stomp him. The masked mugger then ran after Mary. Mary had a hard time running because she was wearing high heels. She saw an older car parked further up the street facing their vehicle. She quickly looked inside to see if anyone was in there. After seeing no one inside she continued to run, but was soon overtaken by the attacker. The man asked her why she was running. She told him he told her to run. "He called me a liar again and then I knew that he was going to kill me," she said in the interview. He hit her and she fell on the ground where he preceded to sexually assault her. Mary said he did not rape her, but abused her terribly. Later reports indicated the assailant used the barrel of his gun to assault her sexually.
She managed to get up and say "Go ahead and kill me." She ran half a mile, believing she was still being chased, to a Beverly residence at 805 Blanton street where she screamed for help and banged on the front door. A car passed, but did not stop when she yelled for them to stop. She ran to the back of the house and woke up the owners who then notified the authorities. Sheriff W. H. Presley and three other officers arrived at the scene, but the attacker had already driven off. They found Jimmy's pants 100 yards away.
Mary was taken to the hospital and received stitches for head wounds while Jimmy was treated for several months for three skull fractures. Mary was then later taken home by officers. She didn't know why the attacker did not chase after her or kill her, but later learned that the injured Jimmy made his way to Richmond road and flagged down a passing motorist who contacted a Funeral Home ambulance. She thinks the attacker may have been scared off by headlights. She told Lucille in the interview that she told the attacker to kill her because she would rather have been dead than to be touched or abused. She also explained that she didn't understand why officers did not believe her when she told them on the night of the attack that the attacker was black and that she didn't know who he was. She said that officers tried to make her say that she knew who he was. Jimmy and Mary described him as a man who wore a white mask over his head with holes cut out for his eyes and mouth. Although Jimmy believed he was a dark-tanned white man, Mary believed he was a light-skinned Negro "because of the way he pronounced the curse words he growled" at her. They agree he was about six feet tall.
Mary soon moved to Frederick, Oklahoma to live with her aunt and uncle. After the first double murder she made a trip from Frederick to Texarkana hoping that her story would help police connect the incidents and catch the killer. She was questioned by the Texas Rangers who continued to insist that she knew who the attacker was. Later, after the second double murder, Texas Ranger Joe Thompson flew to Frederick to question her again.
The attack was published in the Texarkana Gazette on Sunday, February 24, 1946, on the front page. There was no suspicion for more attacks and it was considered as an isolated incident. The next attack will not take place until a month later on March 24.
Richard L. Griffin, 29, and his six-week girlfriend Polly Ann Moore, 17, were found dead in Richard's 1941 Oldsmobile sedan on Sunday, March 24, 1946 between 8:30 and 10:00 a.m. by a passing motorist. The motorist saw the parked car on Rich Road (now South Robison) near a railroad spur 100 yards south of US Highway 67 West close to a nightspot called Club Dallas. At that time, it was about a mile outside of the city limits. The motorist thought they were asleep. Richard was found between the front seats on his knees with his head resting on his crossed hands and his pockets were turned inside out. Polly was found sprawled face-down in the back seat. Both had been shot once in the back of the head and were fully clothed. After discovering the bodies, the motorist contacted the city police who then contacted Bowie County Sheriff W. H. "Bill" Presley. Both bodies were taken to the Texarkana Funeral Home.
No money was found on Richard nor was any found in Polly's purse. Family members claimed that they did not carry much money with them. Polly's purse was found beside her in the car which contained the photo of her used in the paper. Polly Ann was identified when Sheriff Presley called the city marshall of Atlanta, Texas for the initials P.A.M. which were found on her 1945 Atlanta High School class ring.
On Saturday night, April 13, Betty Jo Booker was playing her alto saxophone in her regular weekly gig with her band, The Rythmaires, at the VFW Club on W. 4th and Oak street. It was not a place for kids because of beer, but rules were agreed upon by Betty's parents and the band leader, Jerry Atkins. She did not finish until around 1:30 a.m. Sunday. She waited for her friend-since-kindergarten, Paul Martin, to pick her up. Paul was in from town after moving away to Kilgore two years prior. Paul had hung out with her earlier that day before the dance and was to pick her up and take her to a slumber party across town. Betty's classmates said that earlier that day she told them that she didn't want to go out with Paul but felt obligated since he was an old friend.
Betty Jo Booker, 15, and her friend Paul Martin, 16, were killed early Sunday, April 14. Paul's body was found at about 6:30 a.m. by Mr. and Mrs. G. H. Weaver and their son who were headed to Prescott. They drove 200 yards to the nearest residence of Mr. and Mrs. Harvey Word to notify them and contact the police. Paul's body was found lying on its left side by the northern side of North Park road. Blood was found further down on the other side of the road by a fence. According to an old rough-drawn map of the discoveries, the body was found somewhere near the 6700 block of North Park road today. Paul was shot four times. One through the nose, left of the nasal arch, a second through the left fourth rib from behind, a third in the right hand and the fourth bullet entered the back of the neck and exited the front right part of his head to the right of the middle line level of the upper portion of the ear.
Betty Jo's body wasn't found until approximately 11:30 a.m., almost two miles away from Martin's body. The body was found by Ted Schoeppey, James Boyd and George Boyd who had joined in a search party because they were friends of the girl's family. They spotted the body a few yards off Morris Lane (now Moores Lane), somewhere between Cooks Lane and Fernwood Drive, behind a tree north of the road. The body was fully clothed with a buttoned overcoat and her right hand was in the pocket. Betty was shot twice, once through the left fifth rib from the front and once in the face through the left cheek by the nose. The weapon used was the same as that of the first double murder, a .32 automatic Colt pistol. The reports in the following day's newspaper claimed that the bodies were not abused, but later reports claimed that Betty was raped. Paul's coupe was found about three miles away from her body and 1.55 miles away from his body on the west side of the road. It was parked 400 yards (1,200 ft./.22 miles) from the park's main entrance across where the Spring Lake School used to be with the keys still in it. The authorities were not sure who was shot first.
Jerry Atkins, Betty's band leader who was a senior, had an arrangement with Betty's parents to take her to and from the dances. He and another band member, Ernie Holcomb, would take turns giving her and other band members rides. It was Ernie's turn that night but was told by Betty that she had a ride with an old friend. Jerry was woken up the next morning at 6:00 with a telephone call. It was a female asking if he knew where Betty Jo was. Jerry told her that Ernie took her home, but the girl said she was supposed to go to a party but never came. Jerry had no knowledge of her arrangements. He went to sleep and was awakened by another call around 8:00. The new female caller asked the same questions. Jerry started asking her if she had checked with Betty's parents. The girl told Jerry that she was picked up by an old friend named Paul and that they were both supposed to come to a party but never showed up.
A news bulletin came over the radio stating that a young male teen was found shot to death at Spring Lake Park. Jerry's friend, Sonny, who had stayed the night with him, knew that Betty wasn't going straight home and was being picked up by Paul, but forgot to inform him. Jerry was surprised by this because he never heard of Paul. As they continued to listen to the developments, Jerry tried contacting Ernie, but to no avail. He tried visiting his house just three blocks away, but no one was home. He didn't confirm that Betty was not taken home by Ernie until three hours later. Ernie had gone out-of-town with his parents to visit his sister in Vivian, Louisiana, returning later Sunday night; something Jerry learned the next day. News over the radio had been spreading that morning since the first discovery. Hundreds of people flocked to the area. Throughout the day, cars jammed the highway and roads in the park from people trying to view the crime scenes. Jerry wanted to go to the park but was shocked by the news, and the radio was discouraging more people from going there. Several hundred residents assembled around the sheriff's office to be on the spot in case a suspect was apprehended.
Jerry found out about Betty's body being discovered when the radio stated it around noon. Jerry stayed in contact with two other female band members and they heard that the Texas Rangers were to be in Texarkana by the evening and that they were going to talk to anybody who might have information. Jerry knew that he and a few others were the last ones to see her alive. He knew that Betty should have her saxophone and that it would be a good lead if no saxophone was found. He wondered if the law knew there was a saxophone involved, so he called and went to the Bowie County Sheriff's Office around 9:00 that night. He and a few classmates talked to Sheriff Bill Presley and head of investigation Texas Ranger Captain M. T. "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas for a long time. No saxophone was found and they all came to the conclusion that it was a very important lead. A lead which will lead them to the first suspect in Corpus Christi in the beginning of May (see suspects). The news was printed in the next morning's paper on April 15, on the front page, reading: TEEN-AGE COUPLE SHOT TO DEATH.
Betty Jo's saxophone was missing from the crime scene, but the make and serial number (#52535) were obtained and was widely circulated to pawn shops and music dealers in many states. Her saxophone will not be found until six months later. On the morning of October 24, two fence repairers, P. V. Ward and J. F. McNief, discovered the saxophone still in its black leather case in the vicinity of where Betty Jo was found while they were working on a barbed-wire fence. It was found ten steps off the opposite side of the lane and about 140 steps east from where the body was found. It was thrown over the barbed-wire fence into some underbrush bordering the south side of Morris (now Moores) Lane, opposite from the side the body was found. At the time of the discovery, the Phantom case was already considered as closed.
Ward, who first saw it, said, "It looked more like an old broken-down suitcase. As soon as I got to it and got a good look, I knew exactly what it was. I told Mack (McNief) to go and call the law." Mack called the police from Ochsenbein's Grocery Store. The case was investigated by Chief of Police Jack N. Runnels, as well as Deputy Sheriff Z. C. Henslee and officers Pete Carrara and Bill Bagwell. The music case was placed in a paste board box and returned to Chief Runnel's office. The saxophone was tarnished and the leather case's bottom was deteriorated as well as the blue plush lining. It was so decayed that pieces fell to the ground as it was being placed in the box.
Five hours after it was found, Betty's stepfather, Clark Brown, identified the case and instrument as belonging to Betty Jo. In it was a white and orange emblem symbolizing Texas High School as well as bits of music. "The Song of the Navy" was in a protected plastic folder which was probably played at the dance on the night of her death.
Jimmy Hollis was an insurance agent. On the night of his attack he was at the movies on a double date with his brother. After the movie he dropped his brother and his brother's date off. As he and Mary were headed to her house, they stopped off a lateral road off of Richmond where the attack occurred. Jimmy suffered three fractures in his skull and was hospitalized for several months at Texarkana Hospital (AKA Pine Street Hospital) which stood at W. 5th and Pine street and no longer exists. He was ordered by his doctor not to work for six months. He spent a week with Mary in Frederick, Oklahoma before residing in Shreveport, Louisiana where he was considering to take a job as an accountant and bookkeeper.
Mary, a brunette, was 19 when she was attacked and lived at East Hooks courts, near to where the attack happened. She had just been on a double date at the movies with Jimmy's brother, Bob, and his girlfriend. On the way home, Bob and his date didn't want to ride all the way to Mary's house, so they were dropped off. Jimmy and Mary then headed to the lovers' lane just off of Richmond. She was beaten and sexually assaulted with the perpetrator's .32 caliber pistol. She suffered a head wound which was stitched up at the hospital. Afterwards, she had nightly nightmares. She then moved to Frederick, Oklahoma to live with her aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Paul Long. Her aunt said that for the first time in Mary's life she was extremely nervous and would not go upstairs by herself or sleep alone.
Three months later, Texarkana Gazette reporter Lucille Holland was flown to Frederick by a man named Paul Burns to interview her. The report appeared in the May 10 edition of the Texarkana Gazette. Mary said "I would know his voice anywhere. It rings always in my ears. Why didn't he kill me too? He killed so many others." Mary gave the description of the attacker and believed he was a light-skinned black man, indifference to what Jimmy believes. Larey, native to Oklahoma, died in Billings, Montana of cancer in 1965 at the age of 38.
Richard was a war veteran whom was discharged from the Seabees in November 1945. Richard was living with his mother at 155 Robison Courts which was built for servicemen returning from World War II and no longer exists after going under demolition. Griffin attended school in Linden, Texas and Union Chapel, Cass county. Griffin and Polly were last seen around 10 p.m. on Saturday, March 23, in a West 7th Street (US Highway 67 West) cafe with Richard's sister, Eleanor and her boyfriend J. A. Proctor. They were also seen earlier at another West 7th street cafe by friends around 2 p.m.
Griffin's body was sent to the Texarkana Funeral Home and was then sent to Union Chapel Methodist church in Cass county at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 26, for funeral services. His burial site is unknown. He was survived by his mother, two brothers (Welborn and David) and two sisters (Miss Eleanor Griffin and Mrs. Merle Curtis).
Polly graduated from Atlanta, TX high school in 1945 and worked for the Red River Arsenal (now Red River Army Depot) as a checker since July of that year. She lived at a boardinghouse with her cousin, Mrs. Ardella Campbell, on the Texas side at 1215 Magnolia St. The home no longer exists as it was demolished for the construction to widen State Line Ave.. She had dated Richard for six weeks at the time of her death. Friends described her as being "homey" as she didn't go out with boys much. She was last seen on Saturday with Richard at 2 p.m. at a W 7th street cafe and then later at 10 p.m. at another cafe on W 7th street. She was having dinner with Richard's sister and her boyfriend. She was found sprawled in the back seat of Richard's car with a gunshot wound in her head. She was 17. The picture found in her purse which was laying beside her body was used in the newspaper. She was survived by her mother, Lizzie Moore, one brother, Melton, and grandmother, Della Melton. Her body was taken to the Texarkana Funeral Home and was then sent to Hanner Funeral Home in Atlanta, TX. She is buried at Bryans Mill Cemetery in Cass County, TX.
Paul James Martin was born in Smackover, Arkansas on May 8, 1929. He worked in his family's ice plant when he was young. His brother, R. S. Martin, Jr., said he was a quiet kid. He was a member of Beech Street Baptist church; the same church as Betty Jo. He completed the ninth grade at Arkansas Junior High school. He then attended Gulf Coast Military Academy at Gulfport, Mississippi in 1945 before going to school at Kilgore. He was a junior at the time of his death. He and Betty Jo were friends since kindergarten on the Arkansas side before she moved to the Texas side in 1944. Paul soon moved to Kilgore afterwards.
Before his death, Paul came to Texarkana from Kilgore on Friday, April 12. Paul hung out with his friend, Tom Albritton, that night at Paul's Texarkana residence at 1222 Locust (now 1224). The next day he hung out with Betty at her place during the afternoon. He picked up Betty Jo Booker from her regular Saturday night gig at the VFW Club on W. 4th and Oak street early Sunday morning around 2 a.m. He was found dead four hours later, shot to death. His body was lying on its left side beside the north side of North Park road, a mile and a half away from his car. His body was picked up by an East Funeral Home ambulance. His funeral was held two days later on April 16, at 10 a.m. He was buried at Hillcrest Cemetery on US 67 W./W. 7th St. He was survived by his mother, Mrs. Inez Martin (died in 1972), and three brothers, Jack Martin, Hugh Martin (died in 1974) and R. S. Martin, Jr.
Betty was born June 5, 1930. She was a junior at Texas High School at the time of her death. She was, like her friend Paul, a member of Beech Street Baptist church. She was also a member of Delta Beta Sigma sorority. She was one of four officers in the high school band and played the Bundy E-flat Alto saxophone second in Jerry Atkins' orchestra, The Rythmaires, who would play at proms and other events. Her mother, Bessie Brown, married her stepfather Carl Brown, an employee of the Gifford-Hill Company, several years after the death of her father. She and Paul Martin were friends since kindergarten on the Arkansas side until she moved to the Texas side at 3105 Anthony Drive.
She was very popular and well-liked in school and loved to swim. She liked dancing in programs and recitals. She was a near straight-A student who was planning to become a medical technician. After her death, The Rythmaires never played again. The night before the attack, she played at her regular Saturday night gig at the VFW building on 4th and Oak street. She was then picked up by her friend Paul and was headed to a slumber party. She was killed early Sunday morning. Her body was removed by an East Funeral Home ambulance. Several classmates and her band leader, Jerry Atkins, attended her funeral two days later at her church, Beech Street Baptist. Atkins was one of the pallbearers. It was held on April 16, at 2 p.m. She was then buried in Woodlawn Cemetery located between 3006 Stateline Avenue and 3085 County Avenue. She was survived by her mother (died in 1977), stepfather, both grandparents, three aunts and three uncles.
Friends do not know how or why she ended up at Spring Lake Park, knowing that her and Paul were just friends. Even after all this time, classmates of Betty and Paul do not want to be identified. The murders are still vivid. "We were all extremely frightened and extremely upset. And in a way we still are," said one classmate in 1996. Jerry Atkins stated "What happened was so tragic and for many of us who lived through it, the frustration and sadness will always be there." Betty Jo's parents stayed at their Texas home until October '46 when they moved to 1417 Locust (now 1407?).
Every October near Halloween, the movie The Town That Dreaded Sundown, which is loosely based on Texas Ranger Captain M. T. "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas' investigation into the murders, is the last movie shown to the public during "Movies in the Park" at Spring Lake Park (where the second double murder occurred) when the weather permits, or at the Southwest Center (near where the first double murder occurred) when it does not. Movies in the Park plays four movies in the months of May and October, with The Town That Dreaded Sundown being last. The free event is sponsored by The Texarkana, Texas Department of Parks & Recreation and is open to all ages. The showing of the movie has been a tradition since 2003. About 600 people showed up at the showing in 2008.
Texarkana, Texas Parks & Recreation Department Director Robby Robertson in 2009 said many people have called and asked for a DVD copy of the film. There is no official release on DVD and it isn't very easy to get. Robertson said, "It's still shown only on VHS tape and those aren't even available anymore." He also said that the city can't go to a local video store to rent or buy the film. Instead, because of legal restrictions, the city has to rent it through a movie distributor for $175 to $200 per showing.