There are many reasons to connect The Phantom of Texarkana to the Starks murder/assault.
(1) The western rural area of Texarkana was heavily patrolled at this time (May 1946) due to The Phantom’s brutal murders there. There was little chance that The Phantom was going to get away with another lovers’ lane attack there.
(2) There is enough evidence from his last lovers’ lane attack (Martin/Booker) that The Phantom had waited at the park for them to arrive, that he had parked across the railroad tracks, where his car would be safe; that after he kidnapped them in Martin’s car and then dumped the bodies he returned to the park, crossed the tracks and got in his car and drove off.
(3) The Phantom killed 3 of his lovers’ lane victims by shooting them at the base of the skull/top of the neck.
(4) He shot one of the female victims in the face.
(5) The Phantom struck couples. The Starks were a couple.
Now, in the Starks’ case the perp parked across the railroad tracks, crossed the road (Highway 67), then the plowed field and then shot and murdered Virgil Starks. Not in the back of the head, though that was really the most exposed part of Starks. Rather he shot him in the back of the neck. (Robert Presley says that Starks was shot in the back of the head. That would not seem accurate since one of the bullets creased the heating pad, and Starks had that on his upper back, not on his head.) When the perp fired at Katie Starks, he did not shoot at her head. Rather he shot at her face/mouth. The similarities to the way The Phantom shot the previous victims are striking. Moreover, he seemed to use railroad tracks here in the same manner.
If it was not The Phantom, then who? Was it somebody who knew the Starks and wanted them dead? Thus he used The Phantom’s MO? Classic copycat criterion.
This doesn’t seem likely. Neither the police nor press even knew of The Phantom’s Spring Lake Park MO. Sheriff Bill Presley had found the clue– Martin’s address book– and kept it from the public. It took years for this to become public knowledge.
Yet despite all this some of the clues at the Starks’ farm are puzzling, suggesting perhaps that it was not The Phantom but someone quite familiar with the farm. There was only one set of tracks across the plowed field. We don’t know how new the plowed field was, so we don’t know if in earlier reconnoitering the perp walked on hard ground and left no real prints. It does seem hard to believe that any perp unfamiliar with the farm and its occupants would simply walk up for the first time that night and start shooting. If this was The Phantom, he may have stalked the Starks’ farm earlier, in another manner, up the drive and around the hard grass around the house, but we have no evidence that the Starks’ farm was previously reconnoitered.
Yet I think it is undeniable the perp knew the farm and that a couple lived there. But I do not think he knew Virgil and Katie personally or perhaps only in passing. For instance, had the perp known them well, would he not have worried when he looked in the window and didn’t see Katie Starks laying there on the floor by the phone? Had he known them well, he would have known there was a gun in the house, a .45 automatic. Yet Katie said she recalled seeing the perp getting in the porch screen, one leg stretched through the window. A rather cumbersome way to get into the house. Had she found the gun she could have killed him easily.
The Starks’ attack seems very premeditated by a villain who intended to kill a couple at all costs. He knew that after Virgil was shot that Katie would come to the doorway and then to the phone on the wall, quite visible from the window through which he had shot Virgil. He shot them in the same way as previous Phantom victims. He took the necessary precaution to park a distance on the other side Highway 67 and the railroad tracks, and then to stalk up the side of the property.
The perp didn’t want to strike far from Highway 67. It doesn’t seem he knew the eastern area of Texarkana, Arkansas. The Phantom had confined himself to the western rural area of Texarkana, but he still remained around the main country roads — North Park, Richmond, Summerhill and in the case of Griffin/Moore he killed them right off Highway 67.
Both western and eastern areas of Texarkana are most easily and quickly accessed via Highway 67.
Altogether the circumstances of the Starks’ murder/assault seem more than coincidental with the other Phantom murders.
Why didn’t he use his .32 automatic here, as he had in the previous attacks? For one that was a pistol. With a strike on a house rather than a car he probably knew he needed a rifle, and he may only have had a .22 rifle. Katie declared she had heard glass breaking, not gun shots, so the gun did not make a loud sound. (It is still debated today whether the .22 automatic was a rifle or a pistol.)
Accepting that The Phantom is responsible, we have one bit of consistency in his stalking MO. He felt safe parking near a railroad track. What kind of person would be able to justify his presence near a railroad track if perchance police should come along while he is there and question him? This is a valuable clue. It indicates someone who worked with the railroad.