The Phantom Begins. . . .and Ends?

I’ve been taking us through the Phantom of Texarkana case (1946)here since the blog began in September. It’s an interesting case little written about and little investigated in the last 70 years. It is obviously old. Despite being quite popular around Texarkana, it never achieved national fame. This is also despite a movie The Town that Dreaded Sundown in 1976. Chuck Pierce made it, the same man who skyrocketed to fame for Legend of Boggy Creek. He became the father of docudramas with that 1972 hit, but a dramatic work seemed beyond his level at this time. The movie really didn’t carry too much atmosphere, and was quite inaccurate.

Let’s also face it. As a whole the nation tends to look back at this film noir era of 1946 as one dominated by bigoted cops getting confessions out of cheap hoods with blackjacks or rubber hoses.  The complex psychological hunt was not popularized until The Boston Strangler case, though in Britain the eccentric detective using his gray cells had been the staple. Let’s also face the brutal truth: most Americans think of some hick town in the south as being peopled by a police force of rednecks.

The upshot of all this is that there was no real hero in the whole crime spree. No hardboiled detective, no Sherlock, no way, no how. We know little of the details, so there was no real villain to love to hate. No hero. No villain. In substance, that is not true. The villain was indeed worthy of loath, and I’m sure there was a hero. But as the case stands in the chronicles of true crime it is nothing but a case.

The Phantom case had a nebulous beginning in an attack on a lovers’ lane couple off Richmond Road, west of Texarkana on the Texas side, on February 22, 1946. In this case, which got wide circulation locally, both victims, Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jeanne Larey, had survived. She said that her attacker wore a white hood with eye and mouth holes. Despite the white hood, she thought he was a light skinned negro. Neither victims had been shot, but she thought that the attacker had a gun. They were beaten.

In fact, the police were suspicious. The crime sounded like a thug beating. Both victims were divorceés, and the police tended to think the attack was vengeance on the part of Larey’s ex hubby. They were especially suspicious of Larey insisting their attacker wore a white hood. That was too dramatic to be believable, and why would a black guy wear a white hood so he could stand out at night? They suspected Larey was lying to cover having recognized the attacker or she was just goofy.

Jimmy Hollis and Larey were also quite contradictory in their accounts as to what happened that night. They agreed only that the man who approached them had a powerful flashlight. He hit Hollis over the head. We’re not even told with what hand he held the weapon. I assume since so many were right handed, he held the flashlight in his left and struck with his right. If Larey is to be believed, he hit Hollis with a pipe or pistol, one that must have had a long barrel.

Both survived, as I said. But most of the rest of The Phantom’s victims would not be so lucky. He would shoot them, some execution style, with a Colt .32 automatic. This isn’t a big handgun. It’s not going to be mistaken for a pipe or long barrel weapon, and I find it hard to believe much of the weapon would even show in the villain’s hand.


The type of weapon is further complicated by Larey’s claim that The Phantom chased her down the dirt road upon which they had parked off Richmond Road and then object raped her with the weapon barrel. It would be hard to imagine a short Colt .32 automatic being used for this, since there really is no barrel.

Larey also claimed that before the chase the attacker had told her to run back down the dirt road to the main road. This caused her to come across a car parked near the road 50 yards behind them. It would seem this was the attacker’s car. Not very smart of the attacker to send her to his car and license plate.

There was a ditch next to the dirt road, so this may be the area of Richmond Road where they had parked. The lined canal may be an extension of the water runoff ditch.


This, of course, argues for the theory that the attacker intended to kill them both and therefore he didn’t care if she saw his car and plate. If so, he bungled the job with both.

As far as everybody is concerned today, their attacker is the same villain who would soon be attacking and killing couples at lovers’ lanes without any mistakes. He would become known as the murderous Phantom Killer of Texarkana. Within a month he would strike and execute with precision using a Colt .32.  If they are the same villain, then this hooded phantom fully intended to kill Hollis and Larey without any cause or qualm whatsoever. Clearly, however, he didn’t intend to use a gun. He intended to beat Hollis and Larey to death, but failed.

This now raises the question, did he switch his MO almost entirely after this first failure? Did he use the .32 in subsequent attacks and abandon the pipe or long barrel gun? The next victims were killed execution style. The couple after that in more confused circumstances, though the boy, Paul Martin, was also shot at the base of the skull where The Phantom killed the previous two. The girl was shot in the face. Then the last ones, the Starks, were attacked in similar manner, the husband Virgil shot at the base of the skull and the wife, Katie, shot in the face. The Phantom liked to shoot in the face.

Ironically, the entire image of The Phantom comes from Mary Jeanne Larey’s description, though her attacker’s MO was quite at odds with the crimes done by “The Phantom.”

There are two ways to interpret this:

1. Copycat

Those who follow my cold case investigations know my philosophy. I don’t believe in copycats, not crime spree copycats anyway. It’s an excuse born by uninformed anxiety from those who want to stifle the intellectual discussion of an unsolved crime.  A true copycat crime is an individual crime whereby the perp is trying to give himself an alibi by making it look like a notorious serial killer currently afoot did it.

The Manson Family’s motives for killing the Tate/La Biancas is the classic excuse. They wanted it to make like the murderer of Gary Hinman was still afoot and therefore Bobby Beausoleil, who was in stir for it, would be released.

No one just reads that a crime spree is underway and decides, “Cool, I’m going to go do that too.” The logistics of murder are enormous and complex. No one but the most dedicated can pull off a crime spree. No copycat has such inner and original inspiration.  . . or they wouldn’t be a copycat. A copycat crime spree is unheard of.  Each and every villain has their own unique and evil inspiration for doing what they do.

So it would seem a long shot that The Phantom of Texarkana was actually a copycat, motivated by the enormous press that the Hollis/Larey attack received. The Hollis/Larey attack was not even immediately linked in the press to the others.

2– The Phantom was learning logistics. This is most likely. He had more than one gun.  On his first crime he may have carried a long barrel pistol holstered or in his pocket and used a pipe on Hollis and Larey. Having failed, he used his small Colt .32 in later attacks.

It is a fact that the Starks, the last Texarkana Phantom victims, were shot by what appeared to be a .22 automatic pistol. According to the FBI is was similar to a Woodsman. This is a long barrel pistol (7 inches). This may be the weapon that The Phantom carried with him on his first attack.

A Woodsman .22 caliber

A similar murder was committed later that year on October 8, 1946. However, it was of a lovers’ lane couple near Dania Beach, Florida, far from Texarkana. At first it was thought to have been committed by The Phantom, and this explained why after May 1946 he never struck again around Texarkana. The victims were Larry Hogan and Edythe Eldridge. They had parked at Fort Lauderdale’s remote Dania Beach and apparently were approached while they sat in the car. Hogan was found shot in the chest and slumped over by his car. Eldridge must have run and been apprehended. She had cast her shoes off and was found 35 feet away. She had been shot in the face, in the jaw precisely, and the bullet exited her temple. The Phantom, once again, liked to shoot in the face. A .32 was also used by their killer. In this case though it wasn’t a Colt but a Savage. This particular type of pistol has a short barrel, unlike the Colt.

A Savage .32 caliber

The similarities are remarkable to the Phantom murders. The victims must have been in their car and were told to get out, thus explaining why  Hogan was found by the car. In the Larey and Hollis attack, the attacker told them to get out and told her to run while he was beating Hollis. Did that happen here? Eldridge’s attacker did not shoot her from behind. Somehow he overtook her and then shot her in the face. No more details are known.


The victims are said to have eventually been dismissed as being Phantom victims, though I have never heard of another suspect being involved.  If we accept that The Phantom had more than one pistol then it is possible he used a different pistol in Florida but still the same MO of attacking couples at lovers’ lanes.

In conclusion, The Phantom appears to have had more than one pistol, judging by the details of the Larey and Hollis attack and the other murders, in which a Colt .32 and something similar to a Woodsman .22 were used. He shot more than one female victim in the face and 4 victims in the base of the skull. He got the male out of the way first. After May 1946 The Phantom never struck again. In October 1946 a similar murder is committed in Dania Beach, Florida. It has gone unsolved as well.

*         *          *

For 25 years Gian J. Quasar has investigated a broad range of mysterious subjects, from strange disappearances to serial murders, earning in that time the unique distinction of being likened to “the real life Kolchak.” However, he is much more at home with being called The Quester. “He’s bloody eccentric, an historian with no qualifications who sticks his nose into affairs and gets results.” He is the author of several books, one of which inspired a Resolution in Congress.


Phantom Phacts Part 6 — Collating

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.

The area of the Starks' farm today, as seen off Highway 67.
The area of the Starks’ farm today, as seen off Highway 67.

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 flashlight that was found, left by the killer, either under the window where he looked in or by the porch window where he crawled in.  If by the window where he had shot the Starks, then it indicates he was in a hurry to get into the house, no doubt after seeing he hadn't killed Katie Starks.
The flashlight that was found, left by the killer, either under the window where he looked in or by the porch window where he crawled in. If by the window where he had shot the Starks, then it indicates he was in a hurry to get into the house, no doubt after seeing he hadn’t killed Katie Starks.

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.

Phantom Phacts Part 5 — The Starks

Such few things are known about the Phantom of Texarkana crime spree that formulaic and economic rehash is basically what dominates the subject. James Presley’s book is the best so far (The Phantom Killer), but Presley did not analyze the crime spree. He also had followed the case since he was young, being Sheriff Bill Presley’s nephew (sheriff of Bowie County where the other attacks had taken place), and had long been disposed to believe that a petty car thief Youell Swinney was responsible. However innocently, coming to a thesis with a prejudice conclusion is going to limit analysis.

Formulaic rehash often states that official investigators no longer link the Starks murder/assault with the crime spree of The Phantom. I have so far found no credible statement supporting that. Nor would it really matter. The clues and the evidence matter.

Let’s begin to look at the chain of events here.

It was Friday evening, May 3, 1946, around 9 p.m. Virgil Starks, (37) relaxed in his chair in the parlor of his farmhouse. He was reading the newspaper. His back had been bothering him, so he had a heating pad on his upper back. Some of it was close to his neck. His back was to the room’s window. Under the window was a writing desk. The shade was half drawn over the upper part of the window. Virgil’s wife, Katie (36), was relaxing in the bedroom.

Their country farmhouse was just off Highway 67 in Homen, about 10 miles northeast of Texarkana, in Arkansas. The bloody attacks of the Phantom had been in the western rural side of Texarkana in Texas. The Phantom had regularly attacked couples, but only in lovers’ lanes. A single story farmhouse off 67 on the other side of town should be safe.

The location of the Phantom strikes, including the Starks on the eastern side of Texarkana.
The location of the Phantom strikes, including the Starks on the eastern side of Texarkana.

The Starks house was surrounded by grass, shrubs and trees and there was a couple of outstanding buildings, including Virgil’s welding shop. Beyond the grassy area there was a plowed field. Beyond that more grass by a row of trees along the fence to the property. The fence was perpendicular to the road.

Someone went to a lot of trouble this night. Running parallel with Highway 67 was the railroad tracks. A man parked his older model car on the other side of the railroad tracks, off a dirt road. He walked over the tracks, crossed the road, along the grass by the tree-lined fence, and then across the plowed but uncultivated field. He left no footprints on the harder ground and grass around the farmhouse. Yet he stood within 20 feet of the window and watched Virgil sitting there reading his paper. He drew his weapon — an automatic .22 caliber– either a pistol or rifle. He fired twice, one after the other. The second bullet went through the same hole as the first in the window pane. Both had hit the neck of Virgil Starks, near the base of the skull.

The map of the Starks' farm in relation to where the killer had parked. As presented in James Presley's
The map of the Starks’ farm in relation to where the killer had parked. As presented in James Presley’s “The Phantom Killer.”

The end result was murder. Virgil slumped forward and blood dripped onto his paper. One of the bullets had creased the edge of the heating pad and started a spark. The heating pad short-circuited.

The killer didn’t move. He remained in the dark on the grass.

Katie heard the breaking of glass. It wasn’t much, but she thought Virgil broke something. She got up and walked to the room. She stood in the doorway. She couldn’t believe what she saw. She approached Virgil. It was clear he was dead. Right by the doorway to the sitting room was a wall phone, an old hand crank one. She rushed to it and cranked for the operator.

Police photo of the window. At least 4 bullets passed through those two holes. Due to the precision, the bullets were obviously fired from an automatic weapon. The holes are about 10 inches apart, indicating the attacker stood back a bit .
Police photo of the window. At least 4 bullets passed through those two holes. Due to the precision, the bullets were obviously fired from an automatic weapon. The holes are about 10 inches apart, indicating the attacker stood back a bit .

The same window splintered with a hole as another .22 caliber bullet pierced it. It hit Katie in the face and went out by the ear. Another one sped through the same hole and hit her in the mouth, breaking teeth and lodging under the tongue. She dropped to the floor, oozing blood. She crawled off. She couldn’t remember what drawer the .45 pistol was in. Scrambling to the bedroom to find it, she saw the villain coming in the screen to the back porch. She only saw his leg coming in the window. She rushed through the bedroom and out another door.

The rest of her journey that night is well known. She finally got to neighbors and they sped her to the hospital. It was a miracle she had survived and not bled to death.

The general area of the Starks farm today. The house has long been demolished.
The general area of the Starks farm today. The house has long been demolished.

Many of the clues in the farmhouse were ruined by the way some of the police traipsed through it. But some good investigation was done by other cops. Two sheriffs had actually seen the car parked on the other side of the tracks around 9 p.m. on their way to Hope, Arkansas. We don’t know what type of car it was, but the footprints of the attacker could be traced from the area where it had been parked. They crossed the tracks and road to the grassy area and then the prints in the plowed field were obvious. Some of the killer’s tracks could be traced leading away from the farmhouse, but he chose another route down the driveway.

It seems he came to kill.

Many questions must be asked. Was this The Phantom? If so, why such a different MO? Why did he wait for Katie Starks to appear? How did he know she would? Had he stalked them on earlier nights? If so, why only one fresh set of tracks over the field? Did he have a rifle or pistol? In my next Phantom Phacts we’ll get into these.

Phantom Phacts Part 4 –The Phantom Strikes Again

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.

!941 Oldsmobile 4 door sedan.
!941 Oldsmobile 4 door 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.

Problematic. South Robison south of Highway 67. Somewhere in here is the crime scene.
Problematic. South Robison south of Highway 67. Somewhere in here is the crime scene.

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.

Interior of a similar 1941 Oldsmobile back seat.
Interior of a similar 1941 Oldsmobile back seat.

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.”

Polly Moore Death Certificate.
Richard Griffin Death Certificate.

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? hqdefault

Phantom Facts Part 3 — Paul Martin’s Message

Let’s look at just one of The Phantom of Texarkana’s attacks. This is his attack on the two kids Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker in Spring Lake Park.  If all the facts that have been released on this case are accurate, as recounted by James Presley, then the boy gave us a valuable clue.

The re-creation below follows the facts as presented.

It was April 14, 1946, late night. Paul Martin (16) picked up Betty Jo Booker (15) after her gig playing her sax at the local VFW with the band. They went to “park” at Spring Lake Park. This is where kids went. Spring Lake Park was on the Texas side, but all the kids about Texarkana went to park there. Even from the Arkansas side of Texarkana.

He parked in the parking lot, right by the bushes on one side. They probably weren’t there long when a man came up to them, flashlight in one hand, gun in the other. Whatever excuse he made, this gunman made it plain he was going with them and Martin was driving.

The popular image of The Phantom.
The popular image of The Phantom.

Whether they thought this was the killer of Griffin-Moore we do not know. Locals had not yet even connected the Hollis-Larey attack to the same perp. So far as Texarkanans suspected there had only been one brutal double murder.

Martin realizes this is at least a kidnapping. As the thug is getting in the back, Martin stealthily tosses his address book into the bushes by his driver’s side window. A wise move. He has left a clue.

Now firmly in the back seat, gun pointed at Martin, they back out and Martin takes them north on North Park, following the gunman’s demands.

They turn left on North Park on the north perimeter of the park. This is country area.

What happens next? It depends. Either this guy in back is too aggressive in his manner and Martin realizes this is not just auto theft, or the gunman tells him to pull over. If the first, Martin might have fought with him. If the second, the gunman tells him to get out. Then it becomes obvious the gunman is going to kill him.

Martin is shot 3 or 4 times. Once through the right hand– he was shielding himself– and once in the face (same bullet?). Once in the back at the shoulder. Was he staggering across the street? His body was found on the opposite side of the road from patches of blood. So we know he crossed the street. The Phantom must have shot him in the back when he was crossing the road to escape. And we know he was shot once at the back of the neck near the base of the skull. The bullet to the back of the neck had to be last. It was lodged in his skull. Thus The Phantom had walked across the street and finished him off with a shot to the base of the skull. The Phantom had executed Griffin and Moore that same way.

Poor kid. Paul Martin, as he was found.
Poor kid. Paul Martin, as he was found.

The Phantom takes the driver’s position and drives off with Betty Jo Booker and her saxophone.

Re-creation is now quite problematic. We know nothing of the time element involved in the rest of the night’s crime.

The next day Martin’s body is found alongside the road. Much later the search party finds Booker’s body north of Morris Lane (Moores) in the woods. Her saxophone in its case is not found (for months anyway). She lay on her back, her coat still buttoned, right hand in the right pocket, left one on her chest. She had been shot through the face to the left of the nose and shot in the heart. Later testing would prove she had been partially undressed, raped, and then dressed again. (A leaf had been found between her coat and blouse.) Clearly the shot to the face had been first. Then the heart. Macabre. Disgusting. Cowardly killer. But curious.

Sheriffs and posse search Morris Lane for clues.
Sheriffs and posse search Morris Lane for clues.

Long before Booker had been found, the search found Paul Martin’s car parked abandoned on North Park Road near the entrance to the park. It was facing south. This began a search around the area.

Due to Martin’s cleverness, The Phantom has made a terrible mistake.

This is how I can say the above. Sheriff Presley (or some other officer) found Martin’s address book in the bushes by the parking lot. This was concealed from the public and therefore from the killer. Martin’s act to leave a trace was a trump! The killer didn’t know that Martin had marked the spot from whence they were abducted. When The Phantom brought the car back to the general vicinity, he didn’t realize he was telling all and sundry he was essentially returning to the scene. As far as The Phantom had planned, it should have been a complete mystery as to where Martin and Booker had been abducted. Their car was to be found abandoned here, their bodies miles away. An unsolvable phantom-like mystery. There could be no link between this location and where the kids had been abducted. Yet now we know that this is where The Phantom had first stalked and parked.

The general location where Paul Martin's car was found on North Park Road and some of the park entrance to the parking lot where Martin had flung his address book into the bushes before being kidnapped.
The general location where Paul Martin’s car was found on North Park Road and some of the park entrance to the parking lot where Martin had flung his address book into the bushes before being kidnapped.

From this we also know that The Phantom did not pull up to “parking” areas. He staked them out. Somewhere along here he had parked and felt safe that his car would not be recognized for hours.


There was back then a path that led from North Park Road over the railroad tracks and to the elementary school on the other side. Had he parked around the school? He need only cross the narrow road and walk the game trail over the tracks.

The Phantom of Texarkana made a great mistake. Thanks to Paul Martin’s clever toss, The Moonlight Murderer is less phantom like. We can begin to understand his MO in the other killings much better now in light of this.

1 marks the parking area where Paul Martin had originally parked. 2, represents where Martin's car had been found the next morning. 3 marks the location where the path used to exist to cross under the tracks to the school.
1 marks the parking area where Paul Martin had originally parked. 2, represents where Martin’s car had been found the next morning. 3 marks the location where the path used to exist to cross the tracks to the school.

Where did The Phantom go after he got in his car? Back down North Park to New Boston Road and from there Highway 67? Or did he live nearby?  We must explore this in future Phantom Phact posts.

Phantom Phacts Part 2

Texarkana 1955 is shown in the map above. It is as close as I can come to 1946 in topos. It is good enough though for what it is needed. Highway 67 is now in, which I traced with blue. This was not evident in the 1942 topos shown in the previous post. By 1946, however, the country highway had been finished. The location of The Phantom’s strikes are shown, including the 2 locations where he dropped off the bodies of his park victims, Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker. Number 6 shows the approximate location of the Starks’ ranch. The Phantom remained close to the highway here.

What does this tell us? Again, it accentuates The Phantom knew the west rural area of Texarkana but not necessarily the east. For the one attack in the east he remained close to the highway. But by highlighting the main country highway and the attacks we see how he wanted to avoid Texarkana as well. He need only pass through Texarkana through the downtown area and pass right on to Arkansas. This would not be an area where he would stand out much in the traffic.

Texarkana downtown.
Texarkana downtown.

How to interpret this? On the face of it it is clear The Phantom wished to avoid populous areas. But there is something else. When striking in the western area he remained based around the main roads– Summerhill in particular. Richmond Road (No 1) is off Summerhill. After heading north on North Park (3) with Martin and Booker, he could dump them where he did (4, 5) and head back to Summerhill and thence to his lair.

But where was this?

Number 2 on South Robison, just south of Highway 67, is an interesting attack. Summerhill can take you anywhere into Texarkana, but Robison tells us The Phantom prowled the area around the main country highway as well. Robison leads to the highway. Summerhill does not directly lead to the highway.

Remaining around Summerhill Road seems pretty certain. But adding the attack on Robison tells us The Phantom could have been coming into the area from Highway 67 and not based in the area. He knew the general area, yes, but did he live there? He knew the lovers’ lane locations, so he had more than a general familiarity with the main roads. Having grown up in Texarkana would tell him the parking areas. He did not need to live in the area now. Did he live further to the west? Or did he live in Texarkana and use the highway to go west to the rural area? The map doesn’t tell us.

Texarkanans could see the pattern for themselves. They believed he was local. But how local? On a farm to the west or in the heart of the city?

What would help answer the question would be a map showing all the “parking” locations for the passionate moonlight set. This would tell us if he only knew those off the main country roads. This would indicate he did some level of stalking but did not know the heart of rural Texarkana. This could indeed mean he was not ultimately a local.

The map tells us he was premeditated. He stalked the lovers’ lanes and highway.  When he turned sniper with a rifle he could have shot a couple on the outskirts of Texarkana. But he didn’t. He found an isolated farm with a couple. He didn’t want to be seen. He came with the intent of murder.

Robison and how it is the main access road into the west of Texarkana’s rural area, just short of the city limits. Only Robison Courts was built up out there in 1946.

The map only hints that The Phantom came to the area from the west.

There are those who question The Starks as victims of The Phantom since they were a couple in their 30s in their own farmhouse and not lovers out parking. But as it stands there seems little reason to dispute it. The person who shot the Starks came fully with the intent to do so. He stayed close to the highway — easy in and easy out, just like with Number 2. In the lovers’ lane attacks he used an automatic pistol. At the Starks an automatic .22 rifle. A rifle is not something you’re going to use in a close quarter attack on a car, but if you plan to stand a distance outside a house and shoot the occupants you use a rifle. He merely adjusted accordingly.

The rural west was also crawling with lawmen. It would not be safe to attack there anymore.  It makes sense, from his demented motive, to strike in the east.

The span between the bullet holes in the Starks window tells us he stood back a bit. When he dropped Mrs. Starks by the phone he must have approached the window and looked in. When he saw her crawling off or gone, he must have rushed to the front door, dropping the flashlight by mistake. He rips open the screen to get in the house to hunt her down. No, this guy came fully prepared to kill. She escapes. He bolts.

The flashlight found by the Starks'  farmhouse.
The flashlight found by the Starks’ farmhouse.

Where had he parked? We don’t know. We only know he needed a flashlight to get to the house from where he did. He made it back without it. He wasn’t dressed heavily. Nothing with deep pockets or the flashlight could not have fallen out.

The general overview helps refine The Phantom’s prowling MO. But it doesn’t answer some questions. We must get more detailed in the next Phantom Phacts post.

Phantom Phacts . . .

A Scooby Doo title. . . but then part of the Kolchakian world is a Scooby Doo vibe.

Having investigated popular X Files type of stuff has proven a great blessing when tackling the hardcore world of cold case and dark deeds. I saw just how legends arise.

Newton said: “I stand on the shoulder of giants.” True. Knowledge builds upon knowledge. But the popular forum isn’t the refined world of science. Those who come first to a particular mystery may do so out of a great interest or just plain love of a mystery. They bring it forward to the public. They become synonymous with a subject. They pave the way. However wonderfully sincere they are, they may not have the best investigative mind. They chronicle. They repeat. Unfortunately, this sets the tenor for the press.

No cold case is as popular as some of the great mysteries on Earth — cryptids, UFOs, even Nessie attracts a global crowd. But legend happens in Cold Case as well. If a case reaches a level of fame but really doesn’t hold on for long, the chronicle of the early though perhaps somewhat shallow chroniclers becomes the source that is repeated and repeated odd nauseam — and that’s not a typo. With cold cases, there is often no way to get the official files and facts either to dispel the error.

Such is the case of The Phantom of Texarkana. Yes, I understand it was national news back in 1946. But it faded away to oblivion except locally in Texarkana. Chuck Pierce brought it back to life in 1976 and this was thanks to Bigfoot. Yes, Bigfoot. Without the idea of Bigfoot being a real creature, the latest greatest national pastime, Pierce’s The Legend of Boggy Creek would not have been one of the highest grossing films of 1972. Pierce was in good stead now to bring forward to the nation more than the local Bigfoot-type Fouke Monster. He brought forward the local bogey man, The Phantom.

By this time the nation had had many other fascinating and prolific serial killers– Zodiac, Juan Corona, and soon Bundy would be upon us. The movie The Town That Dreaded Sundown wasn’t that great either. The Phantom seemed inadequate compared to what had been in more recent times. He was something black and white and not very sophisticated, like an old Paramount movietone newsreel. Not like the Ripper. Not like the Crime Noir poster girl, Black Dahlia. He was a redneck, wasn’t he?

Who really knows?

Very little cold hard facts exist. There isn’t much published. The best book reads more like a local history fit for the local historical society publication. But it isn’t an investigative thesis. So forth and so on “remembers.”

There was a great man hunt going on for The Phantom. That’s how sheriffs thought back then. Hunt ’em down. But how much sleuthing? If much investigation was done, little has been released. Few crime scene pictures. A single movie near 40 years ago hasn’t helped open up the official files. Even the WWW is very sparse.

This isn't much of a help, is it? Morris Lane and sheriffs looking for clues. Betty Jo Booker had been dumped near here.
One of the most common pics in circulation today. This isn’t much help, is it? Morris Lane and sheriffs looking for clues. Betty Jo Booker’s body had been dumped near here.

The Phantom was a lovers’ lane stalker/killer. He attacked and severely wounded his first 2 victims, then killed the next 2 couples on lovers’ lanes and finally attacked a couple in their farmhouse, killing the man Virgil Starks. Then somewhat anticlimactically he vanished.

Investigators had lots of stereotypes and closed minds. They wouldn’t even accept that The Phantom’s first victims had been a couple who had survived a brutal lovers’ lane attack in February of 1946. Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jeanne Larey were both married but not to each other. To the investigators this meant a vengeful man– Larey’s husband– had beaten Hollis and punished her since she wasn’t as badly beaten. When she insisted the attacker had worn a hood they scoffed. They thought she made it up so she could say she didn’t recognize her husband. Even after the murders began a month later and she returned to Texarkana to tell them this hooded man must be the killer they wouldn’t listen to her or connect the cases.

Let’s start with this first attack. It’s the only one with witnesses.

Hollis didn’t see squat because of the blinding flashlight the attacker held, so we must rely most on Larey. She made a point that the attacker (Phantom) wore a hood. It was white, some feed sack or pillow case. Holes were cut for the eyes and mouth. This is the Phantom’s image today. There is no reason to question Larey’s statement. Her assailant conspicuously let her live. An assailant isn’t going to do that if his face has been seen. Her attacker intentionally and brutally attacked them . . . but it doesn’t seem he planned murder yet.

Popularized image of The Phantom of Texarkana.

Here is the problem: Larey thought he was a black guy; Hollis said a white guy. Larey based her conviction on the way he spoke the cuss words. Chroniclers dutifully chronicle this. But that is not enough. Was The Phantom black or white? Larey saw the hood and therewith must have seen some of the skin around the holes cut out for the eyes and mouth. She must also have seen the hands. A light skinned black man is how her appraisal is summed up whereas Hollis’ appraisal is a dark skinned white man. Yet Hollis didn’t see anything.

In an interview done with a local newspaper woman, Lucille Holland, Mary Jeanne Larey said that she told the assailant that he best kill her because she would rather be dead than raped and abused by him. Remember, this is Texas/Arkansas 1946, the segregated South. I doubt she was speaking of rape in and of itself. She had been groped by the barrel of the gun already. But him touching her was something different. She was subtly repeating her belief he was black. She didn’t want to be defiled by a particular type of man. This reflects her strong conviction that she believed her assailant was black.

As the crime spree got more complex the criminal psychiatrist didn’t want to believe a black man was responsible because on the whole he didn’t believe they were smart enough. This was the era. Such is the way it was. You can’t put a fig leaf on a statue.

All of this bias and stereotype, however, makes it more difficult to assess the case today. Was The Phantom white or black? The other victims were all murdered so we do not know anything else. All we know is that the Phantom knew the back roads of WEST Texarkana.

This may prove a better clue.

This 1942 topo highlights that The Phantom struck in the rural west of Texarkana.  1, is the first strike on Richmond Road; 2, the second on South Robison; 3 is the attack on North Park by the park. 4 & 5 mark where these last victim's bodies had been taken and dumped.
This 1942 topo highlights that The Phantom struck in the rural west of Texarkana. 1, is the first strike on Richmond Road; 2, the second on South Robison; 3 is the attack on North Park by the park. 4 & 5 mark where these last victims’ bodies had been taken and dumped.

As the topo right shows, clearly The Phantom avoided Texarkana proper. His last strike against the Starks (not on the map) was about 10 miles northeast of the city in Arkansas. Their farm was off Highway 67.

The second pair of victims– Rich Griffin and Polly Moore — were killed very close to Highway 67. The Phantom’s deepest strikes were his first off Richmond Rd  and then his 3rd by the park. In other words, he stuck close to the main country roads. He clearly knew this area but it doesn’t seem he knew the Arkansas side well. He stayed close to the main country highway.

So far these facts don’t tell us much. But let’s examine this more in our next post.