The Texarkana Moonlight Murders
Texarkana is a metropolitan area located on the border between Texas and Arkansas. Many people think of Texarkana as one city, but it’s really a city split in half. Half of the town resides in Bowie County, Texas, and the other half belongs to Miller County, Arkansas. Although facilities are shared, towns have their own separate local governments. It is not known exactly how the name came about. Legend has it that the name was inspired by a 19th century steamboat named ‘Texaciana’, but it is also rumored that the area got its name from a drink called ‘Texaciana Bitters’.
Originally a railroad and lumber center, some settlers nicknamed Texana ‘Little Chicago’ because it served as a hub for travel. As such, the area was known as a stop-gap town between East and West – at least, until the early 1940s. The attack on Pearl Harbor brought the United States into World War II, many plants and factories were renovated to produce wartime goods, and munitions plants were built in the heart of America. Red River Army Depot (RED RIVER ARMY DEPOT) was created in 1941, where ammunition from all over the country was sent for storage. A few months later, the Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant opened for business, There the production of bullets and shells etc. started. The opening of these two plants brought them employment opportunities. With jobs, so did population. Between the 1940s and 1950s, the population on both sides of the Texan divide increased dramatically, with the majority choosing to live on the Texas side, but both areas received an influx of new residents.
After World War II ended, both plants remained munitions and armaments centers. As the United States transitioned to peacetime and soldiers returned home, many who worked at the plant were able to keep their jobs.
1946 A year after the end of the war
Friday, February 22, 1946.
Jimmy Hollis, 25, and Mary Jean Larry, 19, were in love with Jimmy’s brother Bob and his friend.
The four of them went out to dinner that evening and then enjoyed a movie at a local theater. A little after 11:00 PM, prepared to go home. Jimmy was driving the car, and since his date, Mary lived with her family in Hooks, Texas – about twenty miles west – and they asked to drop Bob and his girlfriend off first. Jimmy and Mary did so, thinking it would give them some alone time.
On the way to Mary’s house, in a small town called Hooks in the west, the young couple decided to stop on a lonely road known as . It was an unnamed, unpaved area just off Richmond Road .
The road was about 100 yards away from the nearby Beverley housing development. The road was very quiet, deserted and lonely; A perfect place for two young lovers to mingle and enjoy each other.
Both reached a quiet place around 11.45 pm. They talked there for about ten minutes. Suddenly a movement appeared on the driver’s side door. It was a man, and he shined a bright flashlight into the car. Jimmy and Mary could see that the man was wearing a white cloth mask. They later recall that it was like a pillow cover with small holes for human eyes to see through.
Jimmy thought he could tell the stranger he was wrong, because Jimmy thought it was a joke. When the masked man revealed that he had a gun, they realized it was no joke. The young couple was ordered out of the parked car. His threat was directed at Jimmy.
‘I don’t want to kill you, comrade, just do as I say.’
Terrified but reluctant, the young couple obeyed. Realizing that the masked man was taller than the two of them, the two got out of the car through the driver’s side door. He was shining his flashlight with one hand while the other gripped the pistol.
As Jimmy and Mary got out of the vehicle, the masked man asked Jimmy to take off Jimmy’s pants.
Jimmy hesitated, but a frightened Mary asked Jimmy to ‘do what he was told’.
So Jimmy unbuckled his belt and pants before the masked man took a step forward. Mary later described what she saw in the bright flashlight.
‘After Jimmy removed his trousers, the man punched Jimmy twice in the head. The noise was so loud I thought Jimmy had been shot. I later learned that the sound was a cracking of the skull.’
Jimmy Hollis’ skull was instantly fractured in multiple places. Thinking that they were the prey of a robber, Mary immediately began pleading with the masked man.
‘I took Jimmy’s pants and took his wallet out of his pocket, and I said, ‘Look, he’s got no money,’ but the man told me I was lying ; He said he had my purse, but I told him I had none, then he hit me with an iron pipe, and I thought I was knocked to the ground, but I managed to get up.
After that he told her to run.
Mary Jean Larry ran into a nearby ditch, he didn’t like her disappearing into the woods, the man called after her, ordering her to run in the opposite direction down the road. He wanted to take her out into the open. Judging by his size and expression, it seemed that he was aiming for Mary.
She saw a car lying a short distance away. Mary started running toward the vehicle, hoping that someone would be inside. Unfortunately, that vehicle had been running for some time. The engine was cold. No one was inside.
At this time, the man who was following her – caught Mary.
‘When I passed the car, the man passed me.’ Mary said later.
“Why did you run?” he asked. In an almost comical moment, he pushed her to the ground, yelling “liar” when she responded “because you said so”.
There he began sexually assaulting Mary with the barrel of his pistol.
It was at this point that Jim began to come to his senses. He was in pain and confusion, and he looked around for Mary. She was nowhere to be seen.
Jimmy walked a short distance to Richmond Road, where a vehicle flagged down. The driver agreed to help him. While Jimmy remains at the crime scene, this passer-by goes to a nearby funeral home to call the police.
Meanwhile, the masked man sexually assaults Mary along the way for several minutes. Suddenly he saw the headlights of a vehicle passing that way and got scared and hid in the darkness. Mary took this opportunity to run barefoot from the scene and ran into a nearby house about half a kilometer later. She was able to speak to the occupants of the home, who woke up and called the police.
Within half an hour, Bowie County Sheriff’s officials, including Sheriff WH Presley, were on the scene. He and three other officers began going to the crime scene, eager to learn more about this masked gunman who had vanished into thin air.
At the time, the police saw the attack as a personal vendetta. A love triangle, that might be the theme. They thought that the police would find it soon. But little did Sheriff Presley and his fellow officers know that they were in the early days of a case that would keep their office and the states of Texas and Arkansas on edge for years to come.
Bowie County Sheriff Bill Presley was the first officer on the scene in the early hours of Saturday, February 23, 1946. He reached the spot within half an hour after receiving two calls at his office – one from Mary and the other from the car driver. Both callers claimed a masked man had attacked them with a gun, and Presley rushed to the scene. Sheriff Presley was a veteran who served in France as a member of the American Expeditionary Force of World War I. After returning home, twenty years ago, he was a public servant: serving as Bowie County Commissioner and Treasurer. He currently serves as sheriff.
Sheriff Presley and three other officers attended the scene of the crime, but they could find no definite details. They found what appeared to be tire tracks a short distance from the crime scene, but did not appear to point to a known make or model of vehicle. They found Jimmy’s trousers, wallet and belongings intact about 100 yards from the parked car.
Both victims were admitted to the hospital that night, where Mary Jean Larry had minor head injuries; It was also learned that she was a victim of sexual assault. But the media chose not to print that she was raped, instead opting for the colloquial phrase ‘she was abused’. That’s how the news came in the media.
Jimmy Hollis, on the other hand, is expected to spend two weeks in the hospital as he struggles to regain consciousness after suffering multiple skull fractures.
Mary spoke to the police that night about the attack and the masked man who terrorized them at gunpoint. She reported that he was wearing a white bag on his head which had holes for eyes and mouth. Through the holes he had a partial view of the man’s face and described him as a negro.
This was disputed by the statement of Jimmy Hollis, who regained consciousness a week later. He said that – from his point of view – the man appeared to be a white man, about thirty years old. However, he stated that he had only a vague recollection of this. After all, a flashlight blocks his vision for most of his encounter with the masked man, who kicks him in the head and knocks him unconscious.
Jimmy knew only one thing about the victim: he was crazy.
‘The crazy things he said made me think his mind was twisted. I know he’s crazy’
In their combined statements, both victims agreed on only one physical characteristic of the masked man: He was six feet tall, and could not have been an inch or two taller.
The police became suspicious of both of them due to the contradiction in their statements. They began to suspect that the couple might have known their attacker and thought he might have feigned confusion in an attempt to protect them.
As investigators began to lose interest in the Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jean Larry story, no one was taken into custody for questioning, and investigators never named any suspects.
Jimmy Hollis, 25, remained in critical condition for days after the attack. Four days after being admitted to Pine Street Hospital, he did not fully regain consciousness. On March 9, after 12 days, Jimmy was finally released from the hospital. The hospital also told him that recovery from multiple skull fractures would be a long and arduous process, and that he would not be able to return to his job as an insurance agent for at least six months.
By May 1946, he was still struggling to understand what had happened to him and his lover on that cold February evening.
Jimmy’s 19-year-old girlfriend, Mary Jean Larry, suffered minor head injuries from her attacker. They were stitched up at the hospital and she was released the next morning.
However, Mary’s main concern was the sexual abuse she received at the hands of this unknown perpetrator. It was not reported in the media at the time, and the police and reporters believed it too vulgar to mention. Police hoped that withholding that information would help avoid false confessions. (Such confessions were later made in this case)
Mary struggled to overcome this violent event, and she was tormented by nightmares for a long time. A few weeks after the incident, she moved from her parents’ home in Hooks, Texas to her aunt and uncle’s home in Frederick, Oklahoma. Even there (more than 300 miles away) she was often afraid to go upstairs alone or even sleep alone. Her attacker haunted her thoughts; The voices kept dragging her thoughts back.
‘I know his voice anywhere. It always rings in my ears. Why didn’t he kill me too? He killed many others.’ She later said.
March 24, 1946.
It’s been more than a month since the young couple was attacked on the quiet lovers lane in Richmond Road. It was a quiet Sunday morning, and the US. A vehicle passes on Rich Road south of Highway 67. At the time, Rich Road was nicknamed ‘Lover’s Lane’ by locals. It was a gravel road not yet connected to the highway, surrounded by privacy trees. It’s near a hang-out called Club Dallas, just a few blocks away.
Between 8:30 and 9:00 AM, a motorist was driving along Rich Road when he noticed an Oldsmobile parked on the side of the road. As this was unusual, he decided to stop and look to see who the vehicle belonged to.
The motorist looked inside and saw two dead bodies. The first – a man – is crouched awkwardly between the front seats. His head rested on his crossed arms and his pockets were turned out.
In the back seat, a young woman was lying face down. Like the man’s, her pockets were also turned out.
The passer-by initially thought the two men inside the Oldsmobile were asleep. However, it soon became clear that something was wrong. There was blood inside the vehicle and he quickly realized that the man and woman inside the car had been shot to death.
Richard Lanier Griffin was born on August 31, 1916. He grew up in Linden, Texas and eventually got caught up in World War II. He was a member of the US Naval Construction Battalions ‘Seabees’. Basically, his job title was to help build things for the United States Navy, but the ‘Seabees’ were also meant to fight.
In December 1945, Griffin was discharged and returned to Texas. He moved in with his mother in a housing unit allowed to rehabilitate soldiers. Within months of his return, he resumed work as a carpenter and painter. He had also started seeing a young woman named Polly.
Polly Ann Moore was born on November 10, 1928 in Atlanta, Texas. A year ago, he graduated high school at just 16 years old. She has worked in Red River ever since. as a checker.
Since she was living away from home, Polly stayed with her cousin in a nearby boarding house. However, she began dating an older man named Richard Griffin.
Richard was 29 and Polly 17, but there was no age difference at the time. It was socially acceptable for men to date much younger women; However, in this day and age, a 29-year-old man dating a 17-year-old girl was a little too much.
The two had been dating for six weeks and finally decided to go out and spend a Saturday. Prior to March 23, the two spent time with Richard’s sister Eleanor and her boyfriend at a cafe in Texas until 10:00 p.m. After that they left for the nearby Louvers Line.
The next morning, their bodies are found in Richard’s Oldsmobile. He was identified by the vehicle, but Polly could also be identified by a ring on her finger, which bore her initials – ‘PAM’ and her graduation year – ’45.
Bowie County handled the investigation into the double murder of Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore, as the crime occurred again on the Texas side of Texas. Both the victims were shot in the back of the head. It seemed to be a type of execution. But their bodies were found inside the car, so the police came to the conclusion that they had been shot from outside and then put back in the vehicle after death; Their bodies were probably later straightened out and eventually found hours later by a passing motorist.
Bowie County Sheriff ‘Bill’ Presley was one of the first officers back on the scene, joined by Texas City Chief of Police Jack Runnels. A patch of blood-soaked dirt was found about twenty feet or so from the car.
Police suspected that this was where one or both of the victims had been killed, and later tests indicated that the blood matched a sample of Polly Moore’s blood type.
Police believe the victims were outside, but the interior of the car was clean. The running board inside the car was covered in clotted blood and was stuck under the car door.
These investigators were also able to find two .32-caliber shell casings at the scene, at least possibly from a Colt pistol. At least this gave them an idea of the weapon used in this violent double murder.
Unfortunately, it was raining and windy throughout the area that Sunday, so the police were frustrated as footprints found near the crime scene were washed away by the heavy rain.
As investigators continued to study the case, other agencies were called in to assist. It involved detectives and officers from city police, the Department of Public Safety, neighboring Miller and Cass counties, and the FBI.
Current records cannot determine whether a thorough examination of the bodies took place. There was no record of a pathologist examining or analyzing the bodies.
There were many rumors that the victim, Polly Ann Moore, had been sexually assaulted either before or after the murder. There were reports that she had been raped, but unlike the earlier attacks on Marie Jean Larray, these reports were not made public.
By March 27, 1946 (three days after the bodies were found), the joint police team had interviewed between fifty and sixty witnesses. Most of these witnesses were patrons and employees of Club Dallas, a local bar and hotspot near the crime scene. They speculated that Richard Griffin and Polly Moore had been there before going on the lovers’ trail, but the police did not receive this possibility from witnesses.
By March 30, 1946, a $500 reward was announced for information leading to an arrest. Like the previous quest it seemed to lead nowhere; More than 100 false positives hampered the investigation.
Three men were taken into custody on suspicion of possession of blood-stained clothing at the time. The police eyed each one suspiciously, looking for any reason to suspect, but two of the three had plausible explanations for the clothing. A third was held in Vernon, Texas for further investigation, but he too was later acquitted of charges.
Law enforcement questioned more than 200 people following the murders of Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore. But no one was charged in connection with the case.
After the double murder, the police appealed for the public’s help. However, to spread rumors and gossip; It quickly became clear that the Texakiana region was a breeding ground for fear and mistrust.
Investigators knew the public was concerned about the unsolved double murder; Especially since it is aimed at youth and women. Panic had begun to spread through the town, with worried parents becoming more concerned about their children and tightening the ropes on curfews and allowances. Concerned residents began patrolling the louvers line, looking for signs of trouble, but they prayed they would find none.
Betty Jo Booker was born on June 5, 1930. She was an only child and her father left her at a young age. Betty attends Fairview Kindergarten, where she befriends a boy named Paul Martin. Their friendship became a turning point in Betty’s life, and the two later became intertwined in the history of Texakiana. Paul James Martin was the youngest of four sons. Paul and Betty once lived in the Arkansas side of Texas, but when Betty’s mother remarried, they moved to the Texas side. Betty, however, remained at Beech Street Baptist Church, where she regularly visited Paul.
She plans to become a medical technician after graduation. She became fascinated with music and played alto saxophone for a few bands. On the second weekend of April, Betty and Paul plan to see each other.
On Friday, April 12, 1946, Paul Martin said goodbye to his parents in Kilgore, telling them he was driving about two hours north to Texarkana. He was leaving to return on Sunday morning. That night, he stayed with a friend in Texas, expecting to see Betty the next evening.
Saturday, April 13.
In addition to playing the saxophone in her high school band, Betty played regular weekly gigs with a band called the Rithmeres. That evening, Betty and the Rithmeres played a gig at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Club, West 4th and Oak Streets. The gig wasn’t over until after midnight, and it was getting pretty late at night. It was about 1:30 AM when Betty was finally sent away and it was here that she met her old friend Paul.
Paul picked Betty up in his 1946 Ford Club Coupe.
About five hours after leaving the VFW club, 16-year-old Paul Martin’s body was found by his family.
It was around 6:30 AM on Sunday, April 14, that Paul’s blood-soaked remains were found. He was lying on the north end of North Park Road near Greenbrier Forest Circle. Paul was apparently shot multiple times.
On the other side of the road, another bloodstain could be found, indicating multiple victims.
Sheriff Bill Presley was one of the first on the scene, along with his friend, Texas City Police Chief Jack Runnels. They are quickly able to piece together some information from the previous night and learn that Paul Martin is with the teenage Betty Jo Booker. She was nowhere to be seen. The search for Betty Jo began, and they sifted through all the bushes and fields that spanned the surrounding area. In addition to the police, many citizens joined the search, hoping to cover as much ground as possible.
A search party included members of the Boyd family and Texana resident Ted Shoppe. Betty Jo Booker’s body was found around 11:30 AM when they arrived in an area known as Galleria Oaks and Fernwood Drive.
A fifteen-year-old girl was lying under the cover of a tree. Like the other victims, she was still fully clothed, but her body appeared to have been manipulated in some way. for her coat was buttoned up to her chin, and her right hand was resting in the pocket of her overcoat. Betty Jo’s body was found two miles from Paul Martin’s body. Like him, she appeared to have been shot multiple times.
The murders of Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker revealed to the world that a serial killer was plaguing Texas. At that time – April 1946 – the term ‘serial killer’ did not exist. But the second double murder, and the third attack in as many months, tipped off police that someone was specifically targeting the young couple in lovers’ alleys.
An autopsy revealed that Paul Martin had been shot a total of four times. One bullet went through his nose, and one went through his left ribs from behind – indicating that he ran away from his attacker; Another bullet entered his right arm and one exited through the back of the neck. Betty Jo Booker was shot twice: once in the chest, and the second directly in the face. The weapon used in the final double murder of Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore was most likely an automatic .32 Colt pistol.
In addition to being shot multiple times, investigators discovered that the female victim had been sexually assaulted. It seemed almost identical to the previous double murder.
Sami Wakesi, a Texan native and researcher at the East Texas Historical Association, who spent months researching the case: ‘Official reports say Ms. Booker was raped, as was Ms. Moore.’
Although the victim’s body was found in the morning, it took some time for the police to find the vehicle that the duo had driven the night before. Paul Martin’s 1946 Ford Club Coupe Found Outside Spring Lake Park; It was far from where the two victims were found. The car was located about a mile and a half from Martin’s body and more than three miles from the remains of Betty Jo Booker. The vehicle was on, leaving police unsure which of the two victims was targeted first. The condition of the crime scene made it almost impossible to determine what happened in the early hours of April 14, 1946.
The cremation of the two victims took place days later on April 16.
That Tuesday was a stormy day across the region. Schools gave students early leave to allow them to grieve for their classmates. As the rain began to fall outside, friends and family of Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker flocked to the Beach Street Baptist Church they had attended for years.
Betty Jo Booker’s funeral was held a few hours later, at 2:00 p.m.
‘I trust those investigating my daughter’s death. I’m sure they’ll find whoever did it. I want to kill him if caught. If they let me, I will kill myself.’ Betty’s mother said.
Betty’s bandleader Jerry Atkins did not play another gig out of respect for Betty and her family.
Manuel T. Gonzavullas was a Texas Ranger who was called to assist in the investigation by order of the then-Governor of Texas. The second double homicide in months had drawn a lot of attention, and the Rangers were the best detectives in Texas. One of the most well-known and respected lawmen in the state, Capt. Gonzalez was a Ranger for over 25 years and was known everywhere as a flamboyant and dramatic figure. Due to his persistence and over-eagerness, he earned himself the nickname ‘Lone Wolf’.
The editor of the Texakiana Gazette later described Captain Gonzalez as:
‘… One of the nicest men I’ve ever met, the ranger who shot two ex-convicts trying to rob the place, wore a clean khaki suit and a white 10-gallon hat. He had two ivory-mounted revolvers tucked into his waistband and lived in the cashier’s office at the Crazy Water Hotel in Mineral Wells. He was too handsome for my female reporters to leave him alone, and he was too busy giving interviews and running the Gazette. All the other officers working on the case were intensely jealous of Lone Wolf and grimaced bitterly whenever his picture appeared in the papers.’
Tillman Johnson, a deputy for neighboring Miller County, described Gonzalez as a showman whose reputation carried him. However, Tillman criticized Ranger for always being an investigator who would take credit for someone else’s work.
He certainly had a reputation. So the press all followed Gonzalez, who himself hadn’t done any real police work. He drove around in a car and asked a lot of questions about what the other officers had found. (almost a Sherlock Holmes style) and then he would release that information to the media. It was his information that the media received. After some time some of the officials stopped talking to him.
Paul Martin A lead pursued by detectives in the early days of the Betty Jo Booker murder investigation was the mysterious disappearance of Betty Jo’s saxophone.
She was highly accomplished in music and played in several bands. Hours before she disappeared, she played a gig with Gerry Atkins’ band, The Rhthmaires. She had left the night before with her saxophone, Atkins told police, and police are investigating, believing Betty and Paul Martin didn’t stop anywhere before heading to Lovers’ Lane outside Spring Lake Park. Betty’s alto saxophone was missing when they found the two bodies, and when they later found Paul’s vehicle. It was a lead, big or small.
The saxophone was thought to have been stolen; Perhaps the two teenagers were robbed, and Texas City Chief of Police Jack Runnells was pursuing the investigation. A week later, a man in Corpus Christi, Texas, was named as a suspect in the investigation. On April 25 (11 days after the murder), this man tried to sell a saxophone in a music store. He looked nervous. So the employee decided to let the manager check the saxophone. When confronted by the manager, this strange man ran away. They contacted police and provided a description of the man.
He was arrested two days later on April 27. In the intervening two days, he bought a .45 revolver at a pawn shop, and when police searched his room, they found he was missing a saxophone. He did, however, have a bag of blood-stained clothes with him, which he said were bloodstained from a bar fight days earlier. But the man remained suspicious. Although the employees of the music store recognized him as the same man who had tried to sell the saxophone, after several days of detention and repeated questioning, the police finally realized that the man was not their man.
Texas Ranger Captain Gonzalez said of the suspect: ‘This man has been completely ruled out, he’s been double-checked, and he has nothing to do with the murder cases here.’
On October 24, 1946 – six months after the murder, Betty Jo Booker’s saxophone was found a short distance from where her body was found. Thus the man was released and proved that he had done nothing wrong.
After the second double murder, the Texakiana region was gripped by rumors and panic.
Reward Fund – increased from $500 a month ago to a total of $1700. That equates to about $25,000 today. Similarly, police officers appeared to be inundated with several leads, but most of them were determined to be false.
A local taxi driver is said to have become a suspect after police spotted his vehicle near one of the murder scenes, but this lead was later dropped by investigators. Then, a sinister rumor began to spread about a local minister, who the residents claimed regarded his own son as suspicious. This was later found to be false by investigators.
In a press conference on April 18, Captain Gonzalez described the rumors in a statement as “hindering the investigation and harming the innocent”. All police agencies working on the case, including local and county investigators, agreed with this opinion.
Despite this, the panic of this unknown killer began to spread throughout Texakiana. Rumors and gossip added to this growing urban legend.
On April 16, 1946, the Texakiana Gazette ran a headline: ‘Phantom Killer Avoids Officers as Murders Investigate’
A follow-up headline the next day read: ‘Phantom Slayer still at large as search continues’
That’s how the unknown killer got the nickname ‘Phantom’ unintentionally.
Walter Virgil Starks was born on April 3, 1909. He was born into a farming family in Texarkana, Arkansas, and over time – he began to go by his middle name, Virgil.
As a child, Virgil met a girl named Catherine Ila Strickland (whom he nicknamed Katie), born in 1909, and the two remained friends throughout their childhood. As they began to grow into teenagers, their friendship became more romantic. On March 2, 1932, when both were 22 years old, they decided to marry and became Mr. and Mrs. Virgil Starks, and soon moved into a modern ranch-style home in northeast Texas. This house was on a 500 acre farm. Virgil worked as a farmer, but occasionally did welding work on neighboring farms. The house they lived in was across the street from Katie’s sister’s house, which was two miles away from Virgil’s brother’s and father’s. Neither had children. But led a very comfortable life. They enjoyed each other’s company and loved each other.
May 3, 1946, was like any other Friday for Virgil and Katie Stark. Virgil, 37, left work in the evening before 9:00 p.m. and began to rest. Virgil turned on his favorite weekly radio show and then sat down in his favorite chair in the family’s sitting room, located a short distance from the kitchen and bedroom. He was listening to the radio and started looking through that day’s edition of the Texakiana Gazette.
Katie brought her husband a heating pad for his back and kissed him goodnight. She was tired and started going to the nearby bedroom to sleep in the evening. She changed her nightgown and then lay down on the bed. Minutes pass. As Katie lays there, she hears some distracting noises and feels sleepy. Virgil was asked to turn off the radio, thinking it might be coming from the backyard.
Moments after asking him to turn off the radio, he heard what sounded like breaking glass. She ran into the nearby sitting room, where she found Virgil standing, who immediately fell back into the armchair. His face was covered in blood. He had been shot, and Katie could not immediately say how many times. Because at that moment the killer was standing on their front porch, on the other side of the window, right behind Virgil’s armchair. Unbeknownst to her…
Katie ran to her husband Virgil and tried to help. But in an instant she had the shocking realization that there was nothing she could do. He was dead. She ran to the telephone, intent on at least trying to call the police. She heard two more shots. One of the shots went through Katie’s right cheek and exited just behind her left ear. Another hit her below the lip, instantly shattering her jaw and knocking out several teeth. The bullet lodged under her tongue. Katie almost fainted from pain and fear. She dropped to her knees and her phone rang twice before collapsing.
The pain in her facial veins was enough to paralyze anyone with a weak heart, but Katie persevered. She crawled into the closest hiding place she could think of, which happened to be the bedroom she’d left moments before. There, she took a brief moment to gather her thoughts. She thought about self-defense. It was then that she remembered that she and Virgil had kept a pistol in the living room and wondered how she was going to get it, maybe that was the only thing that could save her now.
She was having a hard time seeing because of her blood, but as she shuffled around the living room looking for a pistol, she could hear someone trying to remove the screen from the window or door. She quickly realized it wasn’t from the front.
The killer now tries to tear the screen off the kitchen window at the back of the house, which would allow him in, and realizing that the killer has now gone to the back door, Katie decides that escaping through the front of the house is the best way for her to survive. She turned and ran through the dining room and bedroom to the front door. Blood flowed. Barefoot, her nightgown was now soaked in blood. Katie opened the door and ran down the street to her sister’s house. Unfortunately, no one was home at the time, so Katie ran another fifty or so yards to the home of neighbor Evie Prater.
Fortunately, Prater was awake at home. He rushes to Katie’s aid as she collapses in the backyard, saying, ‘Virgil’s dead.’ Prater fired one of his rifles into the air, alerting some of the other neighbors. One of these neighbors, Elmer Taylor, was quick to respond. After searching for the cause, he asked him to bring the car and help him, he sent a message that Virgil was dead and that Katie needed urgent help.
Prater, his wife and baby went to Michael Meagher Hospital with Taylor and Katie. By the time they got to the hospital, Katie had lost a significant amount of blood. But, fortunately, the injuries were not serious. She underwent surgery that evening to repair the damage to her face.
The following morning’s headline in the Texakiana Gazette read in all caps:
‘Murder city again; Farmer killed, wife injured’
Miller County Sheriff’s Deputies and Arkansas State Police were the first to arrive at the home of Virgil and Katie Starks after reports of shots fired. Since the incident took place in the Arkansas City area, the call was forwarded to nearby Hope, Arkansas City police, who then relayed emergency messages to the Starks farm as well as Michael Meagher Hospital, where Katie Starks was admitted. Arkansas State Police Officers Charlie Boyd and Max Tackett cautiously approached the house and entered – finding a trail of blood leading down the hallway to the sitting room. Virgil Starks’ body was still there, but there were conflicting reports over the decades about the condition of his remains.
One of the two Arkansas state officers later contradicted himself by saying that they ‘found Virgil sitting in a chair soaked in blood from the gunshots’, and the other ‘found Stark lying on the floor’. However, two facts were later confirmed by investigators. Virgil was shot twice in the back of the head and the chair he was sitting on caught fire. Katie brought her husband a heating pad before going to bed, and after the shooting, the heating pad is believed to have ignited the chair. Fortunately, by the time investigators arrived, the fire had not spread too far.
Shortly after Officers Boyd and Tackett arrived at the Starks’ farmhouse, Miller County Sheriff WE Davis arrived, accompanied by a group of deputies and other county officials. Although it was the first of the shootings in Arkansas, the entire region was in a state of panic, as it was feared that something like this would happen. Sheriff Davis asked officers from surrounding areas, including Texas and Arkansas State Police, to block Highway 67. Their purpose was to capture, detain, and ultimately interrogate suspicious individuals leaving the area. Twelve suspects were detained in the crackdown, but only three were held for detailed interrogation. Following that,
The investigation also extended into Katy. Investigators were able to find only two bullet holes in the Starks’ sitting room window that looked out onto the front porch. This led to the theory that an automatic rifle was used, but had 4 shots, requiring the shooter to fire multiple shots through a hole. At the crime scene, investigators were able to learn a lot about the attack and the possible culprit, but struggled to connect it to what they knew about ‘The Phantom’. This is the first attack that occurs in a couple’s home instead of on the path of lonely lovers. Also, this is the first – and only – attack to occur on the Arkansas side of the city.
There was a difference in the ammunition used. The first attack on Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jean Larry had no bullets and was beaten with an iron pipe or a flashlight. But the next two attacks resulted in double murders; The ammunition used was .32 caliber round. This is the reason why the investigators believe that the Colt pistol was used. But this time it used .22 caliber rounds, leading to the belief that it would be a completely different shooter. Perhaps the recent murders were thought to confuse the detectives and divert the investigation.
Sheriff WE Davis was reluctant to claim any connection to the murders, saying at one point:
‘… the killer may be the same man.’
Meanwhile, his chief deputy, Tillman Johnson, expressed his own concerns shortly after:
‘I felt that (Phantom Killer) Starks didn’t commit murder. It would be difficult to connect him to the Starks murder.’
Tire tracks were found near the home, but police struggled to connect them to suspects or persons of interest. The bloodhounds were brought to the farmhouse early on the morning of Saturday, May 4, 1946. They tracked them throughout the house and found that they followed two different scents. But both lanes ended at the highway. It was assumed that this is where his car could have been hidden and escaped. Within 24 hours, Sheriff Davis and other investigators were questioning Katie Starks in her operating room at Michael Meagher Hospital, where she was recovering from two gunshot wounds to her face. They learned how the shooting happened from her perspective.
Sheriff Davis later told the media:
‘This killer is the luckiest I’ve ever seen. No one sees him, hears him on occasion, or recognizes him in any way.’
The fourth wave of violence in as many months has gripped the Texan region. Miller County Chief Deputy Tillman Johnson was with Sheriff Davis at the crime scene the night of the Starks shooting. He later told reporters of that first night and the local tension they faced: ‘We tried to cordon off the crime scene, and we were running in and out all night, trying to find leads and collect what evidence we could. We tried to interview some people and interrogate some suspects.
‘We went to other people’s houses in the area to see if they had heard or seen anything. People would stand outside in front of their houses and yell at you to identify yourself before you got too close. If you don’t say who you are, you’ll get shot.’
As the media began to work with the details, this type of behavior continued to increase. In the days that followed, vigilantes began patrolling the quiet and isolated areas of Texakiana. Meanwhile, worried residents began guarding their homes.
The lack of substance in the police investigation didn’t deter some police officers from making guesses that eventually made local news headlines. After all, the shooting didn’t appear to be a robbery because no jewelry or money was stolen from the Starks’ home.
By the evening of Virgil Starks’ murder, the reward fund for the Phantom Killer investigation had exceeded $7,000. On May 29, 1946, the Texakiana Gazette ran a front-page story about a new lead investigators were looking for, and it was about a flashlight.
The first color photograph of the Gazette featured the flashlight on the front page. It looked like an ordinary flashlight, but both ends were painted red, which was rare in the area. One that was sold in limited numbers in the Texan area, police hoped someone might recognize it. This flashlight was found on a fence below the Starks’ front window. Within three weeks of the shooting, the flashlight was sent to an FBI crime lab in Washington, D.C., where it underwent extensive fingerprint analysis. Unfortunately, those tests failed with no results and the flashlight did not contain any fingerprint samples.
However, the police felt comfortable taking this lead to the media, away from more outrageous stories about ‘sex freaks’ and ‘perverts’. But it failed to identify any persons of interest in the investigation. The investigation is given extra heat to combat the threat known as ‘The Phantom Killer’. State-of-the-art police equipment was shipped from Austin, Texas, including a mobile radio station that enabled officers to communicate with each other via two-way radios in their vehicles. We know it as common police equipment today, but in 1946 it was revolutionary. Additionally, a teletype machine was installed in the Bowie County Sheriff’s Office, which facilitated communication between jurisdictions and departments.
A few days after the murders – between May 7 and May 8 – the technology helped spread information about a red-haired man being hunted as part of an investigation into the phantom murders. He was apparently a former German prisoner of war, wearing a jacket and rumored to be carrying weapons. He had threatened many of the locals while driving through the area, so it was possible that he was a nomad. Nothing came of this lead — but new technology allowed departments and investigators to share information more easily. Rumors of the case continued.
There was a theory that the killer was a sex addict, which seemed popular among investigators. After all, the first three attacks contained evidence of sexual assault. In a radio interview, Texas Ranger Captain Manuel Gonzalez described gossip in the area as harmful.
“These (rumors) only divert officials from the main line of investigation. It is vital that we catch this man, so we cannot afford to ignore any lead, no matter how wonderful it may seem.’
The day after the shooting at the Starks’ farmhouse, stores in the area began selling large quantities of door locks, window latches, firearms, ammunition, and security and privacy items.
Many need to renovate their homes. Some came out only during daylight hours, all doors and windows were locked, shades were drawn down, and even the entrances of the house were set with traps. Some have attached sound-making objects to windows and doors, making a loud noise if someone tries to break in. Guns and ammunition are empty in many shops.
Paranoia was taking over Texakiana.
16-year-old W E Atchison, a resident of the area, later told a reporter: ‘If you want to go to someone’s house after dark, you have to call them first and let them know you’re coming.’ (Or guns would be the answer)
During the investigation, residents reported anything they thought was the ‘phantom killer’ to the police. This included noises, logs breaking at night, and everything. But the police stated that all these horses were fictitious and there was no substance to any of them. In one house, a cat jumped into an upstairs trash can among the frighteningly reported cases.
Finally, Captain Gonzalez made a public speech on the radio airwaves on May 6. He told the Texans: ‘… see if you’ve got your gun loaded. Keep out of reach of children. Don’t use them unless absolutely necessary, but don’t hesitate if you feel the need.’
This ultimately resulted in unnecessary firing across the area as worried residents started firing at these poachers. Fortunately, it didn’t cause any deaths, but a drunken man was shot by a bar owner, and the sound of gunshots was enough to panic the neighborhood.
One of the biggest problems investigators faced in trying to find this mysterious Phantom Killer was sifting through all the information they could find. Not only do residents report all social infractions shown by neighbors and co-workers, but the police have received multiple confessions from people claiming to be phantoms. At least nine Texana residents tried to convince police and the media that they were the killer, including one alcoholic.!!
The police knew that people regularly confessed to crimes they had not committed, so many details of the investigation were closely guarded. Max Tackett, a young officer with the Arkansas State Police, explained this in an interview: ‘We don’t tell everything we know about a case. That said, when it comes to paper, the real culprit will find out how much we know, and include those facts in their confession. So we always keep some grips with us. We can separate paddy and chaff from them.’
A young man came from a thousand miles away to confess to murder for this kind of false confession.
Ralph B. Bowman told Los Angeles police he was involved in the Texakiana murder. Bowman was a former Army Air Force veteran and had red hair. He resembled some of the descriptions of a strange man once reported by Texana residents. Bowman claimed to have been in a coma for several weeks. He said he learned about the murder after waking up and felt that he was responsible for it. So, he set out for the west coast, eventually arriving in California and confessing to the police.
Because he matched the physical description of the attacker, he was viewed as a very realistic killer. Also, he was very good with guns and served as a gunner in the army. After waking up from his coma, he couldn’t find his rifle. Investigators heard the young man’s confession, but he did not provide any further information. All his information about the murders was gleaned from radio and newspaper reporting. He was also found to be psycho-neurotic and discharged from the army. Believing the man to be in need of psychiatric help, the police eventually let him go.
As panic tightened its grip around Texana, businesses began experiencing a 20% drop in activity, and some residents began taking the law into their own hands. Local teenagers camped out in lovers’ alleys with pistols, often hiding in nearby bushes to attack the Phantom. Cops had to deal with these teenagers who looked suspiciously at the vehicles several times.
The police later modified the same tactic, using young police officers and loyal local teenagers as dummies in cars to try to attract the Phantom. But that didn’t work either.
On one occasion, a police officer approached a parked car for inspection. Two young couples were in the car. The officer’s intention was to convince them that the place was not safe. He asked them, “I am a police officer and will you reveal who you are?” The young man sitting in the front seat carelessly looked at him when he heard the woman’s voice from the back seat. “It’s good that you said who you are in the first place, if you hadn’t…” The policeman turned around and saw a pistol pointed at him in the hand of the young woman. In any case, they were told off from there. This was the situation at that time.
No new incidents were reported over the next few months, and as it came, the Phantom disappeared. Captain Manuel Gonzalez left town less than three months after Virgil Starks’ murder, stating that he would remain in the area until the Phantom was brought to justice. By October 1946, the Texas Rangers under investigation had all left Texana and returned to their regular posts. One by one they slipped out of the city, not wanting to attract unwanted attention or reactivate the Phantom. A few FBI agents were in the area, and in time, they returned to their regular positions, leaving their work on the Texakiana case unfinished. The investigation remained in the hands of the local authorities, who continued to investigate for the next several years.
The first two victims, Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jean Larray, gave conflicting physical descriptions of their attacker in February. Larry described him as a black male, and Hollis – who only saw the hooded man for a few seconds – described him as white. The other surviving victim, Katie Starks, has never met her shooter. She couldn’t even confirm if the person who shot her was white or black, if he was wearing a mask or not, or if it was an ‘is’. Evidence obtained from crime scenes could neither confirm nor deny investigators’ suspicions. They were able to find some footprints and tire tracks, but it was difficult to confirm that they belonged to the killer.
The killer’s MO remained the same throughout the attack. They always happened late at night, on weekends, in isolated areas. Three couples were attacked on a deserted road, while another was attacked inside their home. During the attack on the path of the three lovers, the female victim was sexually assaulted, but it is not known if the same fate awaited Katie Starks, because she managed to escape.
Then, the type of ammunition used. In the first attack, no one was shot, so it was not possible to prove what kind of gun the perpetrator had. In the second and third attacks – where both male and female victims were killed – .32 caliber shells were used. Probably from a Colt pistol.
.22 caliber ammunition was used in the shooting at the Starks farm. Again, the case seemed to slip, so it was difficult for investigators to positively link it to other crimes.
One thing investigators note, however, is that each of the four crimes took place about three weeks after the previous attack. This probably points to a pattern of sorts for the criminal nicknamed ‘The Phantom’.
After the murder of Virgil Starks, Dr. Anthony Lapalla. The paper wanted a better understanding of the criminal’s motivations, and Dr. Lapalla created an early psychological profile.
Dr. said that the killer will continue to attack randomly. Lapalla believed. Dr. said that there is a connection between the four crimes. Lapalla thinks, he undoubtedly believed, that the murder of Virgil Starks and the shooting of Katie Starks could be connected to the other three crimes. Dr. Lapalla described the killer as intelligent, clever and cunning, while he described the Phantom as between 30 and 50, who may have lived an ordinary life and appeared to be a good citizen in his personal life. He may have been motivated by a strong sexual element. Implying that he is some kind of sadist. Most likely he was inexperienced. Dr. Lapalla asserts this. Had he been an ex-warrior these ‘crazy’ tendencies would have been presented differently.
In a statement, Dr. Lapalla stated that because – in his words:
‘… In general, Negro criminals are not very smart.’
Dr. Anthony Lapalla described it as a natural phenomenon. He indicated that the killer decided to take on a new type of target because he knew that police and local vigilante groups were patrolling the trails of his lovers, his regular hunting grounds. This meant he had to find another way to attack and so focused on the 500 acre farm.
Dr. In Lapalla’s summary, the killer was a threat that needed to be neutralized before he became more dangerous.
‘This man is extremely dangerous, he works alone and nobody knows what he’s doing because he doesn’t tell anyone.’
As the investigation struggles to gain ground, a young officer makes a breakthrough. Max Tackett, 33, was an Arkansas State Police officer involved in the murder of Virgil Starks. He was one of the first two officers to respond to the crime scene. Officer Tackett recognized that a car had been stolen from the area on each of the nights the Phantom Killer hit. One of these cars was stolen the night Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore were killed and later found in a parking lot months later.
Officer Tackett decided to leave the vehicle until the thief returned. He was surprised that it was not a man but an innocent young woman who approached the vehicle.
Peggy Stevens was 21 years old and married to Yuval Sweeney. The officer told Tackett that she had not returned from Shreveport, Louisiana; They were married hours ago.
Her husband was trying to sell another stolen vehicle in Atlanta, Texas. Officer Tackett was able to follow this lead to Atlanta where he learned more about this Yuval Swinney. He was finally able to confront him at the Arkansas Motor Coach Bus Station on Front Street in Texarkana near Union Station.
At first the accused tried to run away. He ran around the back of the building and tried to escape through a fire escape. But there, the police surrounded him and caught him.
‘Mister, don’t play with me. You want me more than stealing cars.’ He then said.
He lamented the prospect of the electric chair while sitting in the back of a police cruiser en route to the station.
Yuel Lee Swinney was 29 years old and became the primary suspect in the Texakiana Moonlight murders. He had a past of car theft, money laundering, robbery and assault. And the more they learned, the more the police felt that this was their man. Swinney’s young wife, Peggy, later confessed three times that her husband was the Phantom Killer. When police said he was being held for murder, she said: ‘How did they find that out?’
At the time of that confession she said: ‘He and I were at his sister’s house at 220 Senator Street. We were discussing the Texan murders. I asked him who killed them. He told me that it was an intelligent man, more sensible than the policemen. ‘Peggy recalled her memories from months ago, in which she had gone to a movie and dinner with Yuval, and on their way home, he pulled over on the side of the road. It happened near Spring Lake Park: the same spot where Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker parked before the attack.
‘About an hour after leaving the car, I heard what sounded like two gunshots. I don’t know if it was a pistol or a bullet. It was just dawn when he came to the car and started driving out. When he returned to the car, I saw that his clothes were soaked up to his waist.
The day after this first confession – July 24, 1946 – Peggy Sweeney confessed again, but her statements were changed very slightly. And that she was a bystander to various crimes committed by her new husband. She also said she witnessed the murders of Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker. She also said the murders were the result of theft.
November 22, 1946 – Peggy Sweeney confesses on one more occasion, giving law enforcement several details that point to her telling the truth. She took the police to the location where Paul Martin’s vehicle was found and told them she was there to watch the crime take place. Police found a woman’s heel mark at the crime scene, and those who saw this new detail were shocked.
She provided information about a datebook belonging to Paul Martin, which had been dumped in bushes near the crime scene. Bowie County Sheriff Bill Presley was aware of these details, but neither the media nor other jurisdictions. She gave these unsavory details to the police. With that the police started to look like they were on the right track and with each passing day Yuval Swinney looked guilty.
In addition to the three confessions offered by his 21-year-old wife, the police were able to find some other evidence incriminating Yuval Swinney. The 29-year-old suspect was found to be in possession of a .32 Colt automatic pistol, which he had recently sold. Investigators were also able to find slag in one of Swinney’s pockets that matched samples taken from Virgil Starks’ welding shop.
However, Yuval Swinney refused to confess to the murders because of the possibility of the death penalty. He claimed his innocence and refused to confess. Also, fingerprint tests turned up nothing conclusive, and even though the police spent more than a year trying to corroborate Peggy Swinney’s confession, even that began to crumble.
Several errors were found in her confession, and her continued involvement in the crimes she alleged her husband committed was implausible. She was considered an ‘unreliable witness’ and the police only got her confession. As things got worse, Peggy Sweeney recanted her confession at a trial. Also, since she was married to Yuval Swinney, she could not have been compelled to testify against him.
It was a situation where investigators basically lost their grip, and they were forced to drop all murder charges against Yuval Swinney, who had only very circumstantial evidence against him. However, he will not go out. Police could still charge Sweeney with car theft charges and – because he is a ‘repeat offender’ – could apply extreme sentencing guidelines. He received a life sentence of almost 26 years for the car thefts alone.
In the early 1970s, Swinney appealed his life sentence and was released in 1973. He continued to deny his guilt in the Texakiana murders. He finally died in 1994 in a Dallas-area nursing home.
The quest to find Texana’s Phantom Killer was unsuccessful in the months and years that followed, eventually becoming an important part of the region’s history. Later called the Texakiana Moonlight Murders, the murders were voted the most followed story in Texas and Arkansas in 1946.
Then, two years later, the case hit the headlines again when police identified a second prime suspect. However, like Yuval Swinney, this suspect did not have to endure a lengthy investigation. Because he had already committed suicide. Henry Booker Tennyson, better known as OA or nicknamed ‘Doody’, was an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Arkansas. On November 5, 1948 (two and a half years after the Phantom Killer’s last strike), Tennyson was found dead in his bedroom in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Washington County Sheriff Bruce Crider, a local police officer, discovered that Tennyson had purchased mercury cyanide two days earlier (November 3). He said then that it was bought as rat poison.
There was a suspicious note in Tennyson’s bedroom, which contained a riddle for the investigators to solve. It relates to Tennyson’s lock box, which had a sure lock:
‘The key to my box will be found in the following few lines. A roll paper, when rolled in colors, is dry and noisy. Remove the head, turn the tail, and inside is the sheet you crave. Two bees together mean a lot. These hints will lead you to it.’
Investigators quickly realized the riddle pointed to a BB fountain pen, which contained a note. The note contained the combination for the lock box and the police discovered that the pen cap contained the cyanide of mercury used by Tennyson to commit suicide.
Not wanting to go through another riddle, the police forced open the lockbox and found several handwritten letters; One of them claimed responsibility for the Texakiana murders and stated that it was this responsibility that led the young man to commit suicide.
Part of the nearly three-paragraph letter reads:
‘Why did I take my life? Well, if you committed two double murders you would too. Yes, I killed Betty Jo Booker and Paul Martin that night in City Park, tried to kill Mr. Starks and get Mrs. Mother is out; I did it while sleeping and no one saw me doing it. firearms; I took them apart and threw them in different places.’
HB Tennyson was a teenager at the time of the murder and just 15 or 16 at the time of the four attacks. Perhaps because of his age he was never suspected in any murder, and even today, young people are rarely involved in murder, as they often lack the time, freedom or resources.
Investigators discovered that Tennyson played in the same high school band as the murder victim, Betty Jo Booker, and they were not friends. They both played instruments – Betty played the saxophone, Tennyson the trombone – but they didn’t really know each other.
Apart from this, the police could find nothing to connect Tennyson to the other victims. Over time they began to suspect the suicide note Tennyson had left behind. Police found other notes in the lockbox that suggested his suicide was caused by lifelong depression and made Tennyson appear to have an overactive imagination. He was fond of taking credit for things that were impossible and made fictitious claims about his early life. All these were things that the investigators could easily prove.
Tennyson’s brothers agreed with this argument and loved to tell ‘doody’ stories. His family told police they did not possess the weapons used to kill the five victims and that none of Tennyson’s fingerprints matched those found at the crime scenes.
Also, James Freeman remembered being with Tennyson on the night of Virgil Starks’ murder, because that was the night they learned of the attack together. HB Tennyson’s suicide letter was later deemed irrelevant to the investigation, as were some of the other leads after the murder.
In January 1949, a 26-year-old black man was arrested in connection with a violent double murder, and was soon identified as a suspect in the Texakiana Moonlight Murders. The man was arrested for killing a young black couple in Waco, Texas, and sexually assaulted the female victim in the commission of the crime. At the time, he reportedly confessed to the crime, providing police details confirming he was the responsible party. However, upon further investigation, the police discovered that the young man was working for the Phantom Killer’s last murder victim, Virgil Starks. In fact, he was living on the Starks’ property at the time of the crime, which raised some suspicions.
More than a decade after the Phantom Killer disappeared, one of the strangest events unfolded near one of the crimes.
The date was July 9, 1956, and workers were demolishing a school near Spring Lake Park, the same area where Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker were killed in April 1946. The school was actually near Paul Martin. A bag containing blood-stained clothes was found in the attic of the school while the building was being demolished. The white linen clothes were covered with bright red spots – the workers looked suspicious. The police were notified and – eventually – the clothes were sent to the state crime lab for detailed examination. When the results came back, it was initially reported that blood samples were found, but later it was found that the report meant no blood samples were found.
The report stated that it was a simple misunderstanding and the examination showed that the dark spots on the clothes were nothing but paint. However, the outfit became part of the Phantom’s legend, and many in the area thought the killer had escaped to this schoolhouse following his second double murder. There, he probably stored these clothes in the attic, either forgetting about them or leaving them there to be found years later. But it was a silly rumor that investigators have repeatedly debunked.
Between 1968 and 1969, a serial killer named Zodiac emerged from the San Francisco Bay Area , where he hunted and killed his victims in secluded areas such as lovers’ alleys and quiet parks. The Zodiac Killer enjoyed media attention for his crimes, and he mostly targeted couples. For some unknown reason; In one of his crimes, he used a flashlight to disorient his victims, and described one of the survivors as wearing a hooded outfit similar to that seen in comic books.
Many have pointed to these two similarities – the flashlight and the hood/mask – as a possible link between the Zodiac and the Phantom. Both men were assassins operating at night in isolated areas, but there was a gap of about twenty-five years between their operations. The zodiac is described as relatively young, so the timeline doesn’t really match. After all, if we assume that the Phantom was at least 18 when he committed the Texakiana murders, he couldn’t have been at least in his early 40s at the time of the Zodiac attack.
Most seem to believe that Zodiac may have been inspired by past Texan attacks, having read or heard about them in the news. He may have seen the mysterious Phantom Killer accidentally become a larger-than-life supervillain and wanted to recreate it under his own moniker.
Nothing concrete has yet been found to connect the two. But a discussion of The Phantom Killer remains incomplete without at least mentioning the Zodiac, and vice versa.
A film was released in 1976 (thirty years after the murders).
Titled ‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’, the film is inspired by true events in Texana. Texas Ranger Captain Manuel T. retired from the Rangers in the early 1950s to pursue a career in show business. It was based on an investigation conducted by Gonzalez. Many claimed that Captain Gonzávelas took credit for many things he was not responsible for, but that surprised no one at the time.
People’s names were changed in the film. But it was actually filmed in Texana. In fact, some of the actors that most people don’t know about were Texana natives, some of whom still live there.
Director, Charles B. Pierce, who grew up in the area, was a child when the Phantom Killer became the area’s boogeyman. In return, Pearce decided to immortalize the events of a film that many credit with helping to popularize the slasher genre of horror films.
‘The Town That Dreaded Sundown’ has become one of the most famous icons of Texana, and the film is screened annually at local film festivals and festival screenings. Every Halloween, the residents of Texana gather near Spring Lake Park to participate in this spectacle. The film’s popularity led to a 2014 meta-sequel produced by Hollywood heavyweights Jason Bloom and Ryan Murphy.
Although many expressed displeasure with the original film, which they believe turned the true tragedy of a town into horror, almost all agree that many aspects were shown correctly. Namely, the panic that gripped around the area, the nickname given to the area in the movie, etc.
Jimmy Hollis and Mary Larry continued their lives. Mary Jean Larry, who was attacked by the Phantom, left the hospital in the morning. She struggled to overcome the emotional trauma inflicted on her and struggled with a lifelong collection of fears and nightmares.
Jimmy Hollis is recovering from multiple skull fractures. In time, he made a full recovery and returned to his life. The police interrogated him several times, but – with each round of questioning – he could never recall any precise details about the assailant. Nothing that could prove useful anyway.
After being released from the hospital, Jimmy and Mary spent about a week together. Unfortunately, their budding romance didn’t last long and they were only connected in their memories.
Jimmy moved out of the area. He moved about an hour south to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he eventually started a family. Eventually there were seven children. He was rumored to have worked for NASA at one point and lived a normal and happy life. In 1974 – aged 54 – he died in his sleep.
Sadly, Mary’s life was cut short. She moved to Billings, Montana, where she died of cancer in 1965 at the age of 38.
Meanwhile, Katie Starks – the third survivor – is widowed following the murder of her husband Virgil Starks. She survived the injuries to her face and made a full recovery. Eventually, she remarried and became Katie Starks Sutton. And so Katy was a true superlife.
When she died on July 3, 1994, almost all of the original sheriffs and detectives had passed away, making her one of the last surviving members of the half-century-old investigation. Her husband was Forrest Sutton. He was already dead. She was later buried next to him. Only a few junior police officers survive.
The case of the Phantom Killer – the investigation later dubbed the Texakiana Moonlight Murders – remains unsolved. Many believe it will never happen.
Original case files and documents are missing. The culprit of this mysterious influx – the ‘Phantom’ – has inspired movies and TV shows over the years. Many believe that the urban legend of the Hook Man, who preys on teenagers, originated in Texakiana in the 1940s. The Phantom is also believed to be one of America’s earliest examples of a serial killer, and the term was not recorded until the case went cold.
Every now and then, rumors and gossip bring the case back to light. Sometimes, it’s based on something substantial (like a 2014 book written by Texakiana Gazette reporter James Presley, nephew of former Bowie County Sheriff Bill Presley. ) The book sifts through historical documents surrounding the case and finds that Yuval Sweeney, who investigators believe committed the murders (who was in prison until 1973 for car theft), is the Phantom. Believed to be the killer.
Could the investigators have solved the case in 1946 without distractions? Impossible to say. Perhaps this was just one of those quests that was doomed from the start. The murders of Richard Griffin, Polly Ann Moore, Paul Martin, Betty Jo Booker, and Virgil Starks remain unsolved.