Texarkana is a small town that straddles the state line between Texas and Arkansas, and in the spring of 1946 an unidentified assailant attacked eight people in the span of ten weeks. Five of them were killed. The news media named him the "Phantom Killer" or the "Phantom Slayer" because witnesses later described him as wearing a white mask or sack with holes cut for eyes.
This serial killer would strike only on weekends and between February 22, 1946 to May 3, 1946 leading the police to believe he was employed during the week, or perhaps lived elsewhere and would drive to the Texarkana area to commit the murders.
He targeted young lovers who would park on lonely country roads, and Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jeanne Larrey were the first two victims. They survived the attack, however they did not escaped unscathed, he beat Jimmy savagely and fractured his skull and he raped Mary Jeanne. Four weeks later Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore were not so lucky. Three weeks later, Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker were the second double homicide.
The Texas Rangers took over the investigation, including M. T. "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas.
The killer was not deterred by the involvement of the Texas Rangers because three weeks later Katie Starks was severely wounded and her husband Virgil was killed after he attacked them in their home.
That summer the town of Texarkana was in a state of panic, and by dusk the city populace were inside behind locked doors, and heavily armed as well.
Police patrolled the streets, and local businesses were closed down as well after sundown, since they knew they would have no customers at night.
Stores selling guns, ammunition and locks soon found themselves sold out of all their inventory.
Rumors were rife, ranging from more murders being committed to the killer being caught. In the meantime, the residents of Texarkana hid in their houses or even left town.
Some foolhardy youths tried to play bait to draw out the killer, and luckily for them he didn't respond. The Texas Rangers quietly left town hoping the murderer would not take the opportunity to strike again.
The 1976 film, The Town That Dreaded Sundown, claimed to be true and fabricated much of the beliefs held by the public of that time about what really took place that in many instances were not accurate.
There were other cases that were then looked as being committed by The Phantom. In 1948, Virginia Carpenter disappeared from Texarkana.
A prime suspect was Youell Swinney, the son of a Baptist minister, was a known criminal with a history of counterfeiting and auto-theft. He was arrested in 1947 for auto-theft and his wife Peggy made certain statements that linked him to the murders, but she later refused to testify against him and he was never convicted. Two lead investigators in the case believed he was the killer though.
Swinney remained in prison as a habitual offender until 1973, and died in 1994, without ever implicating himself in the murders.
Seventy years later the case remains unsolved.
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by Marlene Pardo Pellicer