The Texarkana Moonlight Murders: The Unsolved Case of the 1946 Phantom Killer



Download 174.93 Kb.
Date16.08.2017
Size174.93 Kb.
#33186
The Texarkana Moonlight Murders: The Unsolved Case of the 1946 Phantom Killer by Michael Newton
Notes on Texarkana and Atmosphere During Crimes
So it was that by 1946, a Texarkana policeman could say that his town was “calloused to murder.”23Read more at location 235

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

As Lyn Blackmon observed, in the Texarkana Gazette, “In good weather, families in nice residential sections sat on their front porches after supper, sipping iced tea. They swung on porch swings, rocked in rockers and spoke to neighbors walking home from a movie or from church.... Few people locked their doors or their windows. The only shades pulled down were in bathrooms or bedrooms.”33Read more at location 279


Years later, W. E. Atchison—a sixteen-year-old on the Texas side of State Line Avenue in 1946—told the Gazette, “If you wanted to go to someone’s house after dark, you had to call them first and let them know you were coming.” TheRead more at location 599

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

“Jack the Ripper” slayers in Atlanta (1911) and Manhattan (1915); the Axeman of New Orleans (1918–19); the “Toledo Clubber” (1925); New York City’s “3X” killer (1930); and Cleveland’s “Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run” (1934–38). In rural America, axe-wielding home-invaders had claimed twenty-six lives in six attacks spanning as many Midwestern states, betweenRead more at location 607

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

September 1911 and December 1912. Meanwhile,Read more at location 609

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

As researcher Wayne Beck reports, “Many students who were especially incensed by the killing of two fellow students were conducting their own search. Armed young couples were parking on lonely roads hoping the mad killer would try an attack on them.”48Read more at location 801

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Newspapers did their part to fuel the panic. On April 16, 1946, the now-defunct Texarkana Daily News christened their city’s elusive gunman the “Phantom Killer.”Read more at location 804

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Dissension aside, the authorities still did their best. Patrols were conducted in cars, on foot, and on horseback, while well-armed decoys parked on rural lover’s lanes, hoping to draw the Phantom within range.Read more at location 819

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

The local Lions Club matched that pledge, and more offers followed, totaling $4,280 by April 20.Read more at location 839

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

One action not concealed was the issuance of a special notice on April 18. It read: WANTED FOR MURDER WANTED person or persons unknown, for the murder of Betty Jo Booker and Paul Martin, on or about April 13, 1946, in Bowie County, Texas. Subject or subjects may have in their possession or may try to dispose of a gold-plated Bundy E-flat Alto saxophone, serial #52535, which was missing from the car in which the victims were last seen, when it was found abandoned about 1.55 miles from the location of the boy’s body, and about 3 miles from the location of the girl’s body. This saxophone had just been rebuilt, replated, and repadded, and was in an almost new black imitation leather case with blue plush lining.Read more at location 850


Thirty years later, speaking to the Arkansas Gazette, Mahaffey acknowledged, “We were just crazy, you know. We cared nothingRead more at location 1269

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

about what kind of hysteria we were creating or anything like that. And people began to circulate rumors as to who the Phantom might be, and every eccentric fellow in town was suspect, and rumors grew and everybody was suspicious of everybody else. Just as these things would quiet down, another one would break out, and we certainly played it for all it was worth.”16Read more at location 1270



Black Man as Suspect
Both victims said that their attacker had been six feet tall and masked, but Hollis said he was a “young white man, under thirty,” whereas Mary Jeanne claimed that he was an African American—a “Negro,” in the parlance of the day, if not some more demeaning term. statement. Some of them badgered her, as Mary Jeanne told Lucille Holland, stubbornly insisting that she knew the gunman’s name and was protecting him, an allegation she denied for the remainder of her life. Another possible reason for downplaying Larey’s report of a black assailant was purely practical. Racial segregation was a fact of life in Texarkana in the 1940s, spawning paranoia and sporadic incidents of violence. Most recently, during America’s war against fascism, black resident Willie Vinson had been accused of “assaulting” a white woman. A racist mob seized Vinson on July 13, 1942, dragging him through Texarkana behind a car, before he was hanged from a cotton gin winch.23 Whether Sheriff Presley and his deputies were consciously attempting to avert more bloodshed, or were simply skeptical of Mary Jeanne’s account, her mention of an African American attacker was not publicized until mid–May, by which time all the bloodletting was finished and the Phantom Killer had retired.Read more at location 122

“In fairness to Bill [Presley],” Elliott recalled, a quarter century later, “he and his people went back and checked and corroborated every ounce of detail he [Sammy] had given us.” The likeable suspect was blameless.Read more at location 1414

Top of Form
Other Suspects
On the same day that the missing teens resurfaced, word arrived from Corpus Christi, Texas, concerning a possible suspect in custody. The drama had begun on Thursday, April 25, when a thirty-year-old man entered a local music store and asked the clerk if she would care to buy an E-flat alto saxophone.Read more at location 892

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

Later on May 2, with those memos in hand, the Lone Wolf laid all hope to rest. Calling the Corpus Christi lead “a complete wash-out,” he told reporters, “This man has been completely eliminated. Our duty is not only to apprehend violators of the law, but also to protect innocent persons. When we make an arrest in this case, and charges are filed, there must be no mistake. We must get the right man, or no man at all.”78Read more at location 911

Top of Form

Evidence
Official documents report discovery of several unidentified fingerprints from Paul Martin’s car. The first mention of prints, in an April 20 memo from the FBI’s Dallas field office, says that “[a] latent print developed on the steering wheel of the car was not the print of the owner [Martin’s father] nor either of the victims,” then adds that “photographs of three inexplicable latent prints” were en route from Texas “to be searched against [the FBI’s] single fingerprint file.”12Read more at location 479

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

The end result was disappointing. On May 15, Hoover wrote to Garrison that “[t]he photographs were examined, but none of the latent impressions appearing therein contains sufficient detail to permit classification and search through the Bureau’s single fingerprint file. However, three latent fingerprints appearing in the photographs contain a sufficient number of characteristic points to permit identification by comparison.”14 Translation: the FBI could not tell if they had the killer’s fingerprints on file, but if officers caught him, comparison of the Martin-Booker latents with a living suspect’s prints could nail the gunman.Read more at location 484

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

teletype to Washington from the FBI’s Dallas field office, dated April 20, reports “swab test of the vaginal passage of Betty Jo Booker positive in test for male seminal secretion. Saline solution wash of penis of James Paul Martin negative. No foreign pubic hairs present among pubic hairs of Betty Jo Booker. However they did contain male seminal secretion. Not definitely known if victim [Polly Ann] Moore had been raped.” Despite its previous uncertainty, the same document closed with a notation that “[n]o publicity [was] being given ... [to] the fact that victim Booker had been raped.”18Read more at location 495

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

And yet, denial of the facts persists. The Texarkana Gazette, in its twenty-five-year anniversary series on the slayings, still denied that victims Moore and Booker suffered any sexual assault.23 Modern researcher Glenn Ferguson, based on conversations with retired investigators, recalled that “there’s always beenRead more at location 508

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

some question as to whether Betty Jo Booker was raped.” Her state of dress—coat buttoned, one hand in a pocket—contributed to that confusion, as did police claims that “she died quick without knowing it was coming.”24 Those doubts should be laid to rest by the discovery of semen on and inside her body, while the tests performed on Martin’s corpse refuted claims of consensual sex.Read more at location 510

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

scene, withheld from reporters at the time—and, it seems, for nearly half a century thereafter—was a small address book Paul Martin carried, found by police “in a washed-out area not too far from his body.”30 Multiple sources claim that Sheriff Presley found the book himself and kept it secret even from other investigators.31 It did not name the killer, but would surface, after a fashion, in a suspect’s statement subsequently given to authorities. Aside from what was found at or around the murder scene, one item was conspicuouslyRead more at location 532

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

model—serial number 52535—as not in Martin’s car or anywhere in Spring Lake Park, as far as searchers could discover. Its description and serial number were broadcast to music stores and pawnbrokers throughout the tri-state area, in hopes that it would surface when the killer needed cash.32Read more at location 537


That flashlight, with a red handle, later entered journalistic history. On May 29, the Texarkana Gazette ran a front-page photograph of it spanning four columns—the first-ever newspaper photo including spot color.14 The accompanying caption read: “HAVE YOU SEEN THIS TWO-CELL FLASHLIGHT?—ThisRead more at location 1038

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

The blood submitted for examination also led investigators nowhere. On May 10, the FBI lab reported that “[a]s a result of grouping tests conducted on the human blood appearing on the pieces of linoleum, specimen Q1, it was ascertained that this blood was derived from an individual belonging to International Blood Group ‘O.’ The human blood contained in two vials, specimens Q5 and Q6 [from Virgil and Katy Starks], was determined to be derived from an individual belonging to International Blood Group ‘O.’Read more at location 1123



The Crimes
prowler claimed six lives and left three other victims wounded, traumatized for life.Read more at location 28

Top of Form

Bottom of Form
Mary Jeanne Larey, was a nineteen-year-old divorcée described in newspaper accounts as a “lovely brunette,” her first marriage an unspoken casualty of the Second World War. TheyRead more at location 56

Top of Form


Today, the site lies buried under asphalt, reconfigured as the parking lot of Texarkana’s Central Mall, but in 1946 it was a stretch of open, mostlyRead more at location 58

Top of Form


The lovers had been necking for a brief ten minutes, when a beam of light lanced through the driver’s window of the Plymouth. Startled,Read more at location 61

Top of Form


Hollis turned to find a hooded figure stooped beside the car. The mask was white, resembling a pillowcase with holes cut for the eyes and mouth. The prowler aimed his flashlight with one hand, a pistol with the other. His voice was gruff as he said, “I don’t want to kill you, fellow, so do what I say.”5 Hollis and Larey followed orders, stepping from the Plymouth on the driver’s side. The gunman eyed them for a moment through his mask, then snarled at Hollis, “Take off your goddamn britches.”Read more at location 62

Top of Form


Four separate documents in Texas Ranger files describe Larey’s assault as an “attempted rape.”12 In fact, multiple sources now agree that Larey’s statement to police described an act broadly defined by law as “object rape”—in this case, penetration of the victim’s genitals by her attacker’s gun barrel.13Read more at location 84

Top of Form


BTop of Form

BBoth victims were shot with a .32-caliber pistol, and since no weapon remained at the scene, authorities ruled out a murder-suicide.Read more at location 314

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Top of Form

The worst—and possibly deliberate—confusion involves the matter of sexual assault against Polly Ann Moore. Her body was found fully clothed, according to newspaper reports, and an FBI memo states that Moore’s corpse was delivered to morticians for embalming without any tests performed for evidence of sexual assault. Contradicting those claims, an early report in the Texarkana Gazette stated that “[e]xamination of the girl’s body by a local physician revealed that she had not been criminally assaulted”—a common euphemism for rape in those more genteel days. Nonetheless, four documents from Texas Ranger files state categorically that Moore was raped, and further injuries are alluded to in later newspaper reports. Articles from May 1946 describe a “sex maniacal killer,” claiming that Moore had been “horribly mutilated.” Eight years later, reporter John Scudder wrote that Moore had been “horribly mistreated for what is believed to have been about two hours” before she was shot. A test performed on blood recovered from theRead more at location 319

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

Whatever the precise nature of Moore’s injuries, two things are clear: authorities believed she had been raped, and they concealed it from the public.Read more at location 328

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

By March 27, authorities in Texarkana had questioned fifty to sixty potential witnesses in the Griffin-Moore case, including patrons and employees of Club Dallas, located near the a $500 reward offered for useful informationRead more at location 400

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Thus far, authorities had drawn no link between the double murder of March 24 and the Hollis-Larey attack on February 22, but locals who recalled the first attack from coverage in the Gazette voiced criticism of the way in which that prior incident had been soft-pedaled. Would Griffin and Moore have ventured onto lover’s lane the night they died, if wider coverage had been given to the first attack? In fact, there was no reason to presume that they were ignorant of the event, which had been covered locally for two days after its occurrence. And, as subsequent events would prove, even a double murder trumpeted in headlines would not keep young lovers from their calling on the lonely roads outside of Texarkana.29Read more at location 426

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

Betty Jo played saxophone at the dance with a local band, the Rhythmaires.Read more at location 454

Top of Form
Dazed, she dropped to all fours and managed to retrieve one tooth with gold filling intact.Read more at location 933

Top of Form


Top of Form
Bottom of Form

That evening, J. Q. Mahaffey interviewed Dr. Anthony Lapalla, a psychiatrist employed at Texarkana’s Federal Correctional Institution, to obtain a profile of the Phantom Killer.Read more at location 1156

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Not everyone agreed with Dr. Lapalla’s view that one subject had committed all five slayings.Read more at location 1185

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

General Tom Clark, declared that “[w]hile there is no possible connection between these various cases, local officers believe, in the light of all the facts, that the same person is responsible for all of them.”50 The facts, as Hoover should have known, included positive balllistic matches in the first four deaths—a clear connection—but persistent doubts surround the Starks attack.Read more at location 1186

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Phantom Innocent of Starks Murder
In Miller County, Chief Deputy Tillman Johnson apparently shared that view, although he kept it to himself for over half a century. Speaking to Texarkana Gazette reporter Greg Bischof, Johnson said, “I felt like he [the Phantom] did not do the Starks murder. It would be hard to tie him to the Starks murder.”55 (In fact, as we shall see in Chapter 8, Johnson tried very hard to do exactly that, in 1946.) In private conversations with researcher Glenn Ferguson, Johnson alleged that “Mr. Starks had been carrying on an affair with one of his relative’s wives while this person was away in the military and that the shooting was in revenge for that. After she recovered Mrs. Starks would not discuss the incident with ANYONE and went to her grave with what she knew.”56Read more at location 1205

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

As for the other suspect, never publicly identified, Texarkana probation officer-turned-realtor and prospective author Mark Bledsoe said, in 2001, that the Starks attack was perpetrated by a local serviceman who had returned from duty overseas in early 1946. “The last I heard of him,” said Bledsoe, “was that he was residing in a mental institution in Milwaukee.”57Read more at location 1211

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

McSpadden
At first glance, McSpadden’s death appeared to be an unfortunate accident, but Dr. Engler found “no bruises as there would have been had the man fallen under the train.” Instead, he reported “a deep wound two inches long on the left temple which was serious enough to have caused death.” Cuts on McSpadden’s hands, furthermore, “indicated that the victim had struggled with an assailant armed with a knife.” A coroner’s jury empanelled by Engler ruled that McSpadden had been slain by persons unknown and afterward placed on the tracks. Bloodstains on the highway, near theRead more at location 1248

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

spot where he was found, supported that opinion.9Read more at location 1252

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

locals theorized that Earl McSpadden was the Phantom and had killed himself in a fit of remorse.11 British true-crime author Colin Wilson repeated the suicide theory in 1964, while claiming that McSpadden’s corpse was unidentified.12Read more at location 1258

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

Bottom of Form



Evidence Against Youell Swinney
“The laundry mark, read under a black light, said S-T-A-R-K. This shirt was taken to Mrs. Starks and she said yes, thatRead more at location 1713

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

was her husband’s shirt and pointed to a place on the front of the shirt where she remembered personally repairing it. But on reflection, the next day, she said she couldn’t be sure. She knew it would mean death for the suspect, based on her identification of the shirt, and she said she could not positively identify it. The name was spelled ‘Stark’ instead of ‘Starks,’ and any woman would have repaired a damaged place such as that on her husband’s shirt.”50Read more at location 1714

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

In 1971, Tillman Johnson said that numerous particles of “slag” were found in the khaki shirt’s pocket. “Max and I went out there [to the Starks farm] with a dozen pillboxes,” he told James Presley, “and collected samples at random. One or two samples corresponded with the slag in Virgil Starks’ welding shop.”53 And still, it was not enough.Read more at location 1722

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Analysts could not decide if it originally read “STARK” or “STARR.” Early reports say the prints did not match.Read more at location 1739

Top of Form
Glossed over in the later Tackett-Johnson interviews is the disturbing fact that Peggy Swinney gave at least three very different and contradictory accounts of the Martin-Booker slayings. According to one published source, two of the conflicting tales ran as follows (spelling and grammar unaltered):Read more at location 1754

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

In that version, related by Tillman Johnson, Peggy pointed out the site of Martin’s murder on a map, then accompanied lawmen to the scene, where she elaborated on her story with a description of Swinney emptying Martin’s pockets. According to Johnson, she also provided other “additional details that could only have been known to someone present at the killings.” Johnson noted that discrepancies in criminal confessions are not unusual. “When you take statements from people like her,” he said, “and it’s exactly the same every time, something would be wrong.” And, while Johnson insisted that Peggy’s various statements “squared with the evidence,” we must acknowledge the radical shift in her stories that changed her from an innocent, distant bystander to a direct eyewitness.Read more at location 1780


Top of Form
Bottom of Form

this time, polygraphs were coming into use, and we took her down to Austin and had her tell the story over again to a man who was considered to be the leading authority on polygraphs. He said she was telling the truth.”65Read more at location 1790

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

1917.66 Invention of the polygraph as recognized today is credited to John Augustus Larson, a Canadian immigrant who earned his master’s degree in 1915, withRead more at location 1795

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

years later, he earned a Ph.D. in physiology from the University of California at Berkeley. Larson joined the Berkeley Police Department that same year, 1920, and began experimenting with a “deception test” based on blood pressure, pioneered by William Marston.Read more at location 1797

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Confronted with the statements from his bride, Swinney continued to deny participation in the Phantom’s crimes, professing innocence. “Then,” according to Tillman Johnson in 2001, “one night, out of the blue, he says, ‘OK, I’ll tell you all about it.’ But by the time we got everything ready to take his confession, he’d changed his mind.”73 At that point, the frustrated officers opted to do it the hard way: with “truth serum.”Read more at location 1827

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

By this time, his family had gotten him a lawyer. He and the girl were looking at the electric chair, and they [Swinney’s relatives] did their best to save them.”76Read more at location 1841

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Twenty-four years later, Johnson spun a very different tale for Carlton Stowers. “We got him there,” Johnson said, “and the doctor injected him with too much of the stuff, knocking him out cold. That was the biggest mistake we ever made.” Once revived, Swinney refused any further injections and clammed up tight.Read more at location 1843

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Years later, Tillman Johnson told Glenn Ferguson that he had found a witness who could place the Swinneys in Spring Lake Park on the night of April 13–14, 1946, but the informant was an African American (discredited by race alone, for many white jurors) and himself had briefly been a suspect in the case.78Read more at location 1848

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Hardly indicative that Texas Rangers thought Max Tackett’s suspect was “The One.” Others who never accepted the Swinney solution were Sheriff Bill Presley and J. Q. Mahaffey, at the Texarkana Gazette.93 The most obvious hole in the case against Swinney involves fingerprints. For all of their attempts to make him talk, with marathon interrogations and with drugs, neither Max Tackett nor Tillman Johnson ever described any attempts to match Swinney’s prints with latents collected from the Starks or Martin-Booker crime scenes. It seems literally inconceivable that no one took a moment to perform that relatively simple task—or, if they lacked the skill, to palm it off on Hoover’s FBI. And yet, if even one print from their suspect had been found at either scene, he would have been sewn up beyond the help of any lawyer in that day and age, dispatched to the electric chair at Huntsville. Today, thanks to release of the FBI’s file in 2006—and despite excision of Swinney’sRead more at location 1897

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

name from the relevant memos—we know that his prints matched none recovered from any of the Phantom’s crime scenes.Read more at location 1904

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

If Youell Lee Swinney was the Phantom, he apparently left no prints at any of the murder sites, while someone else must have deposited the fingerprints still unidentified today.Read more at location 1907

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Investigations Post-Swinney Arrest
On December 13, 1946, as fear of the Phantom was fading, a typewritten letter arrived at the home of Clark Brown, stepfather of Betty Jo Booker. Typed all in capitals, it read:Read more at location 1942

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

Local authorities maintained their vigil well after the rangers had moved on. As Tillman Johnson later told reporter Carlton Stowers, “One of the things we kept doing long after the killings ended was to patrol the country roads where youngsters continued to go parking, despite all the warnings we’d been giving. One night, around midnight, I was driving down this dirt road and came up on a couple. I walked up to their car and tapped on the window and said, ‘Don’t you kids know that you could get yourselves killed being out here this time of night?’ This young girl just smiled at me and replied, ‘Don’t you know you could have gotten yourself killed?’ And with that she raised this big ol’ pistol to the car window.”3Read more at location 2174

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

On the night of October 8, 1946, an unknown gunman shot and killed another couple, Lawrence Hogan and Elaine Eldridge, while they were parked on a quiet lane in Dania Beach, Florida.Read more at location 2183

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Elizabeth Short, a would-be actress from Massachusetts, nicknamed the “Black Dahlia” by journalists after her fondness for dressing in black. Despite widespread investigation, fifty-odd false confessions, and six books naming various suspects (one penned by this author), the crime remains officially unsolved today.16Read more at location 2246

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

L.A., on January 22, 1947, Miller County Sheriff W. E. Davis wrote to FBI headquarters, seeking assistance with another suspected homicide from 1946. Davis headed his letter “Re: Unknown subject, Virgil Starks, victim; murder May 3, 1946, Texarkana, Arkansas,” but any relevant connection to that case was excised by bureau censors before they released the document to public scrutinyRead more at location 2260

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Bill Presley tried a new angle of attack on May 2, 1947, as noted in another FBI memo from Little Rock that read: Sheriff W. H. PRESLEY, Texarkana, Texas, has requested this office that a search be made of the applicant fingerprint cards at the Bureau for one [two lines deleted]. If these fingerprints are located, it is furtherRead more at location 2373

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

In fact, Bill Presley had contacted local agents and the Little Rock field office on November 13, requesting assignment of a bureau fingerprint expert to Texarkana, stating his belief that “the only remaining possibility of an immediate solution in the case is through the identification of the subject through the unidentified latent fingerprints.”73 To that end, ten bureau leaders conferred on November 18 and unanimously approved Presley’s request, sending not one, but two print experts for a two-week marathon examination of fingerprint cards. The minutes of that meeting closed with a handwritten note from Hoover: “It should be remembered that Max Tackett who is very unfriendly has been appointed Chief of Police at Texarkana, Ark. We should not cooperate with him under any circ[umstance]s.”74 The bureau, in short, was prepared to let a killer stay at large, while salving Hoover’s ego.Read more at location 2521

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

The visiting G-men announced completion of their survey in Texas—5,184 fingerprint cards in all—on December 3, 1948.75 Much remained to be done, however, as the Arkansas State Police had another 800 cards, while Chief Tackett’s department held 11,700. Despite Hoover’s previous order, the technicians forged ahead in Arkansas and found Tackett cooperative. All in vain, though, since the epic project failed to match the Phantom’s latent prints.76Read more at location 2528

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

On April 1, 1949, the Bowie County Sheriff’s Department sent FBI headquarters a new list of 100 potential Phantom suspects, seeking fingerprint comparisons. Eighty-six were cleared, while fourteen were not found in bureau files.86 Another three-page list of names followed on April 26, with negative results.Read more at location 2585

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

While Gonzaullas was peddling his gadgets in Dixie, on July 21, 1954, Detective Captain Wayne Bateman announced that a suspect had surrendered and confessed to the Phantom’s crimes in Shreveport, Louisiana. Robert Martin Chandler of Stamps, Arkansas, age “about thirty-six,” had turned himself in because his conscience “was bothering” him.Read more at location 2717

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Two years later, in July 1956, workmen demolished an old school building in Spring Lake Park. In its attic, they found a man’s shirt, undershirt, and trousers marked with rusty-colored stains resembling dried blood. Could they have been the Phantom’s hunting garb? Packed off to the DPS crime lab in Austin, the garments were tested, reported to be free of bloodstains. Despite that verdict, Internet sources were still repeating the “bloody clothes” fable half a century later.Read more at location 2723

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

later.150 On June 24, 1960, FBI agents arrested Melvin David Rees in Hyattsville, Maryland, on charges of illegal flight to avoid prosecution. The charge in question dated back to January 1959, when Rees had forced a car occupied by Carrol Jackson, wife Mildred, and their two children off a rural highway in Virginia. He killed all four, raping Mildred in the process, later fleeing across country when he fell under suspicion for the mass murder. After his arrest, agents found Rees’s pistol and a diary detailing the crime at his parents’ home. Before trial in the quadruple-murder, Rees—dubbed the “Sex Beast” by reporters—was convicted of killing victim Margaret Harold, kidnapped during a drive with her boyfriend near Annapolis, Maryland, in June 1957. He received a life term in that case, then was sentenced to death in Virginia, but that sentence was later commuted to life. He died in custody, at a federal prison hospital, in 1995.151 At the time of his arrest, Rees intrigued Texas investigators, perhaps unaware that he was only thirteen years old in 1946.Read more at location 2856

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Between the passing of Tackett and Presley, on May 9, 1971, the Texarkana Gazette concluded its twenty-five-year retrospective series on the murders with an article headlined “New Phantom lead checked.” According to that piece, a “recent lead ... involving a suspect now in prison, is being investigated by the Texas Rangers.” Ranger Sergeant Lester Robertson, reached by telephone in Dallas, confirmed that he was working the case with another ranger, Max Womack of Atlanta (Texas), but “declined to specify exactly what was being checked.”6 No names were mentioned in the article, but for anyone familiar with the case, the bulk of it clearly alluded to Youell and Peggy Swinney. Inasmuch as Sergeant Robertson had played a role in the original investigation, Max Tackett’s suspicion against Swinney, recounted in detail by the Gazette, hardly qualified as late-breaking news.7 The “new” lead, finally, went nowhere.Read more at location 2906

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Texarkana realtor Mark Bledsoe, researching a still-unpublished book about the Phantom’s crimes, traced Swinney to the nursing home in 1993 and found him wheelchair-bound, the victim of a crippling stroke. “When I talked to him,” Bledsoe later recalled, “he was coherent to a certain degree. Time has definitely had its effect. I videotaped the interview and it is hard to make out what is being said. You have to go more on the expressions. He spent some time bragging about his counterfeiting days and talking about being in and out of prison. But when I asked him about the Phantom murders, he became angry and denied that he’d had anything to do with them. He said, ‘I got off for that and I was cleared.’ He even refused to admit that he’d ever been married. It was spooky. He was in a wheelchair. I am getting goose bumps just thinking about it, being in the room with that person who had people in Texarkana so terrified.”Read more at location 2989

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

In February 1999, an unidentified caller rang the home of victim Paul Martin’s brother, in Kilgore, Texas. As Tillman Johnson, then eighty-nine, told reporter Carlton Stowers, “Actually, it was his wife who took the call. She said a soft-voiced woman who sounded like she was in [her] late forties or early fifties asked if her husband had a brother murdered in Texarkana back in the ’40s. When she said he had, the caller said, ‘Please tell your husband that I want to apologize for what my father did.’” And with that, the connection was broken.44 Johnson went on to say, “It was almost a year later that I heard virtually the same story again. I was in church one morning, and someone came up to me after the service and mentioned something about my having been involved in the investigation of the Phantom Killer cases. A nephew of Virgil Starks was overheard the conversation. He came over and began telling me how his mother had received virtually the same call. He said she’d not paid much attention to it, figuring it was just some sick prankster.”45 Indeed, it may have been precisely that. No record exists of Youell Swinney siring a daughter—or any child, for that matter—but that only matters if Swinney was the Phantom. Viewed from another angle, if the Phantom killed Paul Martin but did not kill Virgil Starks, one of the calls, at least, must be a hoax or product of misinformation, drawn from media reports. Would any child of Texarkana’s slayer feel compelled to offer an apology for victims felled by other hands?Read more at location 3105
Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Later in 2003, an Italian film crew passed through Texarkana, adding a segment on the Phantom to its documentary on small-town American life. Tillman Johnson, then ninety-two and the last surviving member of the team that stalked the killer, stood by his assessment of Youell Swinney as the prime suspect in three attacks, while reserving judgment on the Starks raid.Read more at location 3118

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Casey Roberts, TAMU-T’s media specialist and instructor for the class, told the Texarkana Gazette, “When the university administration expanded its mass communication program, they asked me if I had a course

to offer students for the summer. They wanted something more advanced than just studio production. This is what gave me the idea for a television documentary on this subject.”Read more at location 3130

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

Based on the evidence available, Texarkana’s Phantom seems to have been a “mixed” offender, with sadistic overtones. His primary motive, it seems, was sexual violation of the female victims, either by “natural” rape or some other means. Published allusions to mutilation and protracted abuse, spanning two hours or more—if accurate—clearly indicate a desire to inflict pain and fear. Most serial killers evolve over time, learning from mistakes, adapting to achieve their goals more economically and to avoid capture. That evolution may explain the Phantom’s progress from attacks in lover’s lane to a nocturnal home invasion, although various investigators on the case separated the Starks attack from preceding crimes. Likewise, the change of weapons might represent an attempt to frustrate police—unless we accept Peggy Swinney’s tale that her husbandRead more at location 3394

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

The Texarkana Phantom, once again, appears to be a “mixed” offender. We have no way of knowing whether any of the victims knew their killer, but he kept a vehicle in working order, came prepared to kill in each case (hooded, armed, and carrying a flashlight), he engaged in conversation with the first surviving victims, sexually assaulted the female victims prior to killing them, and moved some of the bodies after death. Conversely, failure to retrieve spent cartridge casings might be deemed disorganized behavior, and the killer’s actions in the Starks home—if that was, in fact, a Phantom crime—suggest erratic, uncontrolled behavior.Read more at location 3417

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Was Youell Swinney the Phantom? Max Tackett and Tillman Johnson thought so, yet Captain Gonzaullas and other officers working the case pursued different suspects for over a decade after Swinney received his life sentence. DPS Director Homer Garrison went to his grave in May 1968, calling the Phantom’s crime spree “the Number One unsolved murder case in all Texas history.” Three years later, Weldon Glass—district attorney on the Texas side in 1946—still wondered if police had ever questioned the killer. “The Phantom might have gone through the mill,” Glass told the Gazette, “and then, on the other hand, he might not have.”23Read more at location 3443

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

FBI’s extensive Phantom file before it was released to public scrutiny; if one of them was Swinney’s, nothing in that file connects him to the crimes in any way. Swinney admitted nothing to police, and they retrieved no evidence connecting him to any of the crimes. By all accounts, his bride’s confession was incriminating but changed significantly in successive recitations. We are told that she directed officers to Betty Jo Booker’s lost saxophone, but that instrument was only found by accident, three months after Peggy’s interrogation. Swinney’s supposed confessions to prison mates may have been fabricated—by them, to win favor with authorities, or by him, to enhance his reputation as a tough guy. If any fingerprints or other evidence from any crime scene had been linked to Swinney, we may take for granted that he would have been indicted, tried, convicted—and, most likely, executed. So, his guilt or innocence stands unresolved.Read more at location 3449

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Did the Phantom murder Virgil Starks and/or Earl McSpadden? Tillman Johnson seems to have believed, at least in private, that the Starks attack sprang from a love triangle unrelated supported by omission of the case from several Texas Ranger documents listing the names of other Phantom victims. Against that argument, the FBI’s extensive file consistently includes Starks and his wife among the Phantom’s victims and includes no gossip (always eagerly received at bureau headquarters) suggesting another offender or motive. Never has the media, despite its many references to sexual attacks suppressed by the police in 1946, run any exposés of women scorned or hanky-panky in the Starks case. No proof of a love affair, much less a murder spawned by jealousy, is presently available—nor likely will it ever be.Read more at location 3457


Was the Phantom white or African American? The two surviving victims who observed him—hooded, in the dark, half-blinded by a flashlight’s glare—could not agree. Mary Jeanne Larey arguably had a closer look behind the Phantom’s mask, but in the circumstances, could she accurately judge his race from only lips and eyelids partially exposed?Read more at location 3465Top of Form

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

Bottom of Form


Doodie Tennison
On November 5, 1948, H. B. “Doodie” Tennison swallowed a lethal dose of poison at a residence near the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he was enrolled as an eighteen-year-old freshman. He left behind three notes—none ever published in full—for whoever might find his body. The first, found on a dresser in the bedroom where he died, was a poem/riddle titled “My Final Word.” It offered cryptic clues to opening a strongbox recovered from Tennison’s room, keyless, wherein lay the solution to his suicide. Police ignored the rhyme and cracked the box by force.66 The second note began: “This is my last word to you fine people. Why did I take my own life? You may be asking that question. Well, when you committed two double murders you would, too.” In fact, while the full note was kept under wraps, various newspaper accounts make clear that Tennison confessed to all theRead more at location 2497

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

Phantom’s shootings, including the Starks attack.67 The third typewritten note, found a short time later by Sheriff Bruce Crider of Washington County, contradicted the second. It read: “Please disregard all other messages which I have written, they are only thoughts which I was thinking about as possible reasons for taking my life. As I think about it, it is none of these things. They are not the reason for this incident, there’s a much better point to it all. Happiness. Yes, happiness. If I am out of the way, all the family can get down to their lives.”68Read more at location 2503

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

Tennison’s family, described as wealthy, made no public comment on his passing. Police discovered that Tennison was in Texarkana on May 3, 1946, but a sixteen-year-old friend recalled spending the evening with him, insisting that “Doodie” was never out of his presence from 7:00 P.M. until midnight, when news of the Starks shooting spread through town. Subsequent investigation proved that Tennison’s fingerprints matched none of the latents collected from Phantom crime scenes.Read more at location 2508

Top of Form
Bottom of Form

To be on the safe side, Sheriff Presley sent Tennison’s fingerprints to FBI headquarters, for comparison with the killer’s latent prints. The bureau’s lab excluded Doodie as a suspect on November 9.70Read more at location 2512


Town that Dreaded Sundown
Enter Charles B. Pierce, an Indiana native whose parents moved to Arkansas before his first birthday. As a child, Pierce met future Hollywood director Harry Thomason, best known for his television series Designing Women, Evening Shade, and Hearts Afire, as well as his friendship with governor and president Bill Clinton. With Thomason, young Chuck Pierce produced two home movies shot on an 8mm camera and never lost his fascination for filmmaking. In the 1960s, Pierce worked at several TV stations in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, while edging into Hollywood productions serving as set decorator on fifteen films and TV series between 1966 and 1971.25 In 1972, Pierce directed his first feature film, The Legend of Boggy Creek, a quasi-documentary relating tales of a Bigfoot-type creature reported around Fouke, in Miller County, Arkansas. Earl E. Smith wrote the screenplay, in his first of several collaborations with Pierce, and the film was shot on location, using “actors” recruited from among the patrons at a local filling station. Premiering at Texarkana’s Perot Theater, Boggy Creek earned $55,000 in its first three weeks, then went on to gross $25 millionRead more at location 3005

Top of Form


Bottom of Form

The reverse side of that coin was another strong box-office showing and eventual “cult” status, with Town widely recognized as a pioneering film in the “slasher” genre, later dominated by Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980), with their countless sequels and low-budget imitators.Read more at location 3057



Top of Form
Bottom of Form

And The Town That Dreaded Sundown lives on. Each October since 2003, around Halloween (weather permitting), it caps a series of films shown outdoors at Spring Lake Park, sponsored by the Texarkana (Texas) Department of Parks & Recreation. According to Director Robby Robertson, the film’s fifth annualRead more at location 3063

Download 174.93 Kb.

Share with your friends:




The database is protected by copyright ©ininet.org 2022
send message

    Main page