Though the Phantom of Texarkana struck again on March 24, 1946, nobody knew it. The first attack had been in February when Jimmy Hollis and Marie Jeanne Larey had been brutalized on a dirt road off Richmond Road.
There is no one who has covered the case of the Phantom of Texarkana who has not walked away shaking their heads at how the police conducted themselves. Conduct in the Hollis/Larey incident was bad enough. However, it becomes far more tragic in the next case, for these victims weren’t just beaten. They were both brutally murdered. The Phantom turned to killing, but the evidence was wiped out by the incompetence of the police. They didn’t even cordon off the crime scene. Hundreds came to gawk. The entire area was trod under foot by every curious passerby. James Presley (The Phantom Killer) even quotes the first Texas Ranger assigned to the case. He asked the police if they had cordoned off the area. When they said “No” he replied frankly: “Well, if you didn’t do that, you destroyed all the goddamned evidence there was.”
As such it is hard to reenact the crime. It too was on a dirt road. Another lovers’ lane. This time it was just south of Highway 67, the rural two lane road that was the main road into Texarkana from the southwest.
The victims were Richard Griffin (29) and Polly Moore (17). Griffin was driving his four door 1941 Oldsmobile sedan.
Sometime after 2 a.m. they pulled to the end of the dirt road in the approximate area of South Robison today. This is about 1/2 mile from town, from the taverns in which they had dined along West 7th Street. This dirt road extended about 1/2 mile from the highway and ended in a field. The field had a path in it made by the cars that had over time pulled in and parked. A ditch was to one side; on the other the gate to a gravel pit. The gate to that quarry was locked. The land around them was otherwise quite marshy.
They were found next morning. Both bodies were in the car. Richard Griffin was seated on the backseat. His pants had been lowered down to his ankles. His face rested forward on his hands, which I take to mean they were on the backrest of the front bucket seat. Blood was all over. It had dripped down onto the rear floorboard and had oozed out under the read door and congealed in a large pool on the running board. Which side we are not told. Polly was seated in the front passenger seat, slumped over. She was fully dressed.
A large pool of blood was on a blanket spread out on the ground in front of the car.
The victims had been dead for hours. James Presley reports one witness saying Polly was already “dark,” which is unlikely. He may have seen dried blood on her face or it was livor mortis, which is a clue.
The blood in front of the car suggests that one or both were killed in front of the car and for some bizarre reason they were placed in the car again. One speculation was that it was to delay their discovery.
According to the death certificate, death was caused by “gunshot to the base of skull.”
According to James Presley there were 2 shots in each victim’s “back of head.” This poses a problem. We don’t know the spread, but if both were in the base of the skull clearly the spread wasn’t far. You can’t shoot people twice in the back of the skull if they are kneeling or sitting except in a conforming chair. The bodies would propel forward with the blast. So the alternative is that they were prone on the ground. The killer stood over and shot them each twice in the back of the head.
This then would explain the pool of blood in the front of the car.
Yet according to Presley, Griffin was noticeably posed in the backseat. He had bled so much it seeped out from under the door. We are not told if the body appeared to have been drug back to the car. Sitting, a dead man isn’t going to bleed from the neck that copiously. The blood would be settling in the body. Griffin had to be alive to bleed that much, his heart still pumping so that he bled from the skull. Where was he shot then? The Phantom could not have shot him in the back of the head while he sat in the back of the car.
Ghoulish I know. But his happened and it must be sorted out. So much has been lost. Until the Texas Rangers started getting involved, the case just wasn’t handled right. Compare this with Case No 3 (Martin/Booker) where a detailed chain of event can be backworked due to a clue Martin left.
Here no one is even sure if Polly Moore was raped. With Booker it was easy to determine, despite the fact she had been dressed again. But because Moore was completely dressed a very detailed examination had not been made. The Coroner said she was not “criminally assaulted” but the Coroner also didn’t remove the bullets from the body. Had a Texas Ranger not stepped in, the bullets would not have been removed from Griffin. We wouldn’t even have the knowledge the killer used a .32 automatic (probably a Colt), the bullet having 6 lands and grooves in a left turn.
It was fortunate that the cops even picked up the shell casings at the scene before they were trodden down. The car keys couldn’t be found, but finally a curious tourist bent over and found them trodden into the mud by all the tourists visiting the scene. They were about 50 feet from the car. Presley doesn’t even tell us in what direction. The way he describes the circus of tourist cars all parked behind the victim’s car it sounds like the keys couldn’t be behind it on the road.
But who knows.
One thing is clear: the victims were shot in the base of the skull and there was lots of blood in the backseat area (floorboard) and in front of the car.
There is no space here to backwork this particular case now. A later time. The similarities between the Hollis/Larey attack will help a little. Fortunately, they were not killed. Thus we can suspect that The Phantom wore his sinister hood. But what was his MO here?