The 'Phantom Killer' of Texarkana Feb 7, 2020 16:14:27 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Feb 7, 2020 16:14:27 GMT -5
The ‘Phantom Killer’ of Texarkana
Yesterday (Feb. 7), the FBI posted an extensive archive of documents generated during the investigation of Texarkana’s infamous “Phantom Killer” murders of 1946. The two large electronic files consist of more than 1,100 pages and include memoranda, reports, photographs, fingerprints, hand prints, maps, diagrams and news clippings. The files do not include an index or table of contents.
It is unclear how many of the documents – posted on the FBI’s Freedom of Information Act website – were previously available to the public. In response to inquiries, a spokesperson for the agency said “material requested three or more times is electronically made available to the public by timely posting to the FBI’s Vault. We do not comment further on FOIA requests.” According to the website, any documents published may, or may not, be available for the first time: “Included here are many new FBI files that have been released to the public but never added to this website; dozens of records previously posted on our site but removed as requests diminished; files from our previous FOIA Library, and new, previously unreleased files.”
James Presley of Texarkana, who wrote the 2014 book, The Phantom Killer: Unlocking the Mystery of the Texarkana Serial Murders, said he could not be certain without examining the documents, but doubts any were previously unavailable. “As far as I know, there wouldn’t be anything new,” he said. Presley’s uncle, W.H. “Bill” Presley, investigated the case while serving as sheriff of Bowie County. Still, he commended the FBI for making the archive easily available to the public. One of his goals in researching and writing his book was to collect information on the case before documents disappeared, memories faded and those involved died.
The attacks began Friday, February 22, 1946, when Jimmy Hollis, 24, and Mary Larey, 19, parked in a well-known “lover’s lane” just outside Texarkana after seeing a movie. The assailant, wearing a white hood, ordered the pair out of the car and barked at Hollis, “Take off your goddamn britches!” After Hollis removed his pants, the man struck him twice on the head with his pistol. He then instructed Larey to run. When he caught up with her, he knocked her down and sexually assaulted her with the barrel of the gun. Both Hollis and Larey survived and provided vague, contradictory descriptions, with Larey claiming the man was colored and Hollis saying he was white. Law enforcement officers challenged Larey’s account and suggested she and Hollis knew their attacker and were protecting him.
The Phantom attacked again on Sunday, March 24, killing both Richard L. Griffin, 29, and his girlfriend of six weeks, 17-year-old Polly Ann Moore. Their bodies were discovered after a passing motorist saw a car parked on Rich Road (now South Robison) and stopped to investigate. Moore was sprawled face-down in the back seat, but there was evidence she was killed on a blanket outside the vehicle. Griffin was found in the front seat and his pockets had been turned inside-out. Both victims were fully-clothed and died of gunshot wounds to the head. A .32 cartridge was recovered at the scene.
The third attack occurred in the early morning hours of Sunday, April 14. Betty Jo Booker, age 15, was picked up by a friend, Paul Martin, 16, around 1 a.m. after playing saxophone at the VFW. Martin’s body was discovered on the side of North Park Road around 6:30 a.m. He had been shot four times. Booker’s corpse (pictured above) was found behind a tree two miles away. She had been shot twice: in the face and chest. Again, both victims were fully-clothed. Martin’s 1946 Ford Club coupe was recovered outside Spring Lake Park with the keys in the ignition.
Following the murders of Booker and Martin, rumors – one of which suggested a minister had identified his son as the killer – spread like wildfire. In an attempt to quash the tittle-tattle, Capt. M.T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas of the Texas Rangers issued a statement dismissing such gossip as “a hindrance to the investigation and harmful to innocent persons.”
By this time, the reward for information had reached $1,700 ($24,000 in today’s currency).
On the evening of Friday, May 3, Virgil Starks, a 37-year-old farmer and welder, was listening to the radio when his wife, Katie, 36, heard a noise in the backyard and asked him to turn down the volume. Moments later, as he was reading the latest edition of the Texarkana Gazette, he was shot twice in the back of the head from a double-window. Hearing glass breaking, Katie rushed from the bedroom in time to see her husband stand up and fall back into the chair. Lifting his head, she realized he was dead and hurried to the telephone to summon the police. Unfortunately, she was able to ring the wall-crank phone only twice before the man at the window shot her twice in the face, with one bullet entering her right cheek and the second hitting her just below the lip, breaking her jaw and splintering several teeth before lodging beneath her tongue. Miraculously, she was still able to run to the living room, where she grabbed a pistol as she heard the killer tearing through the screen on the back porch. The intruder was entering the house through the kitchen window when she sprinted out the front door, leaving a trail of blood and teeth throughout the house, ending up at the home of A.V. Prater. Though seriously wounded, Mrs. Starks survived.
“Murder Rocks City Again; Farmer Slain, Wife Wounded,” proclaimed the headline on the front page of the Texarkana Gazette the following day. It was the Gazette that coined the term “Phantom Killer.”
Suspects. The strongest suspect was 29-year-old Youell Swinney, a local car thief, who was closely scrutinized after it was discovered he had stolen a vehicle on the night of one of the murders. A second reason Swinney became a prime suspect was because his wife, Peggy Swinney, identified him as the killer. Although she later recanted her testimony, it was the general consensus she knew too many of the details of the murders to have been lying and many believed she may have actually been with her husband during the attacks.
Presley, among others, are convinced chief suspect Youell Swinney committed the murders, but others who have studied the case have different theories.
The other top contender was H.B. “Doodie” Tennison, an 18-year-old student at the University of Arkansas. Tennison committed suicide November 4, 1948, from ingesting cyanide of mercury, a deadly poison he purchased the previous day. In his suicide note, he wrote: “Why did I take my own life? Well, when you committed two double murders you would too. Yes, I did kill Betty Jo Booker and Paul Martin in the city park that night, and killed Mr. Starks and tried to get Mrs. Starks. You wouldn’t have guessed it, I did it when Mother was either out or asleep, and no one saw me do it. For the guns, I disassembled them and discarded them in different places.”
The Town That Dreaded Sundown, a 1976 movie directed by Texarkana independent filmmaker Charles B. Pierce, was loosely based on the case.
Sources: Karl Richter, The Texarkana Gazette, February 7, 2020; The Texarkana Moonlight Murders: The Unsolved Case of the 1946 Phantom Killer by Michael Newton; Marc Hoover, The Clermont Sun, June 25, 2018; Gary Jenkins, "Texas Moonlight Murders," Gangland Wire, March 26, 2018; John Tennison, M.D., "Did Doodie Do It? – Phantom Killer Suspect H.B. 'Doodie' Tennison," TexasPsychiatry, May 6, 2016; Gregory Burkart, "The Terrifying Real-Life Murders That Inspired The Town That Dreaded Sundown," 13th Floor, March 30, 2016; Orin Grey, The Lineup; Prudence Mackintosh, Texas Monthly, December 2014; and Rachel Souerbry, "The Unsolved Mystery of the Texarkana Midnight Murders," Ranked.