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.
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:
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 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.
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.
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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.