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Old 06-10-2009, 08:30 PM
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TX - The Texarkana Phantom, 1946

I had heard about this case several times, but thought it more of an urban legend than fact. Especially after having viewed the Hollywood epic The Town That Dreaded Sundown, a 1977 movie made on a budget of 7 dollars and three Big Macs. However, when I finally decided to look into the case, I found the truth much different...
the following is taken from many different newspapers of the time, most especially the Lubbock (TX) Morning Avalanche (01-'49), the Del Rio (TX) News-Herald, 5-'46), the Paris (TX) News (3-'46) and the Charleston (WV) Gazette (3-'55). I have found some additional info on various online sites, but as most do not cite sources I only used that info for corraboration.

The spring is usually a time for new beginnings, when residents of towns small and big finally emerge from their winter's hibernation to greet a renewed world. However, such was not the case for the residents of Texarkana, who were held in the grip of a panic created by a string of murders which occured from March through May of 1946.
Some law enforcement officials believed that the string of horrific crime actually began in February, with the attack on 19 year old Mary Jeane Larey and 24 year old Jimmy Hollis. Hollis and Larey were parked along the roadside near Hollis' home when they heard a tapping on the window of the car. A stranger (reported by one online article as wearing a white canvas hood with cutouts for eyes and mouth, though I could find no news articles to confirm this) was rapping on the window with a gun. He motioned for the two to exit the vehicle. Hollis was ordered to remove his pants, and was then hit with the butt of the pistol hard enough to crack his skull and break a vertebrae in his neck. Hollis would spend the next six months recovering from his injuries. Larey tried to run, but was caught by the stranger and forced to the ground on the roadway. She was, in the words of one reporter, 'beaten and horribly mistreated'. One writer used the analogy of what had occured to Temple Drake in the William Faulkner novel Sanctuary to describe the attack. (In the novel, Temple is raped by her impotent attacker with a corn cob-in Larey's case, a pistol was used). The attack finally ended when the stranger struck Larey over the head with the pistol, leaving her for dead. Both victims survived the attack, unlike future victims of the Phantom. Neither were able to give a description of the attacker, other than to say he was of medium height, powerfully built and 'dark'. They doubted he was "a negro", however.

The first attack recognized as being by the Phantom occured on March 24th. 17 year old Polly Ann Moore and 29 year old Richard Griffin were found dead in Griffin's car, both having been beaten and shot in the head with a .32 caliber pistol. Moore had been assaulted in much the same way as Larey-"long subjected to a maniacal form of rape".

Three weeks later, 15 year old Betty Jo Booker and 17 year old Paul Martin were driving from music practice when they were attacked. Martin's car was found near a park, his body located over a mile away. He had been shot with a .32 caliber pistol. Booker's abused and violated body was found two miles from the car in a field, hanging on a barbed wire fence. Her saxaphone was found nearby in a marsh several months later.

The final murder credited to the Phantom occured again three weeks later on May 3rd. Farmer Virgil Starks, 36, was relaxing in his home listening to the radio when shots rang out. He had been shot through a window, hit in the head and killed instantly. His wife, Katy, who had been changing for the night, ran into the room and saw her dead husband. She attempted to call the police, but was herself shot twice in the face. Katy survived the shooting, and ran from the house as the killer forced his way in. Katy managed to run to a neighbor's house who called the police and an ambulance. When police arrived at the Starks' home, they found bloody handprints and muddy shoeprints around Virgil's body. Later testing revealed that the couple had been shot with a .22 caliber weapon.

Despite what was described as the largest manhunt in the history of that part of Texas, and the involvement of several law enforcement bodies including the FBI and the Texas Rangers, no solid leads were ever developed. The best suspect was considered to be 29 year old Youell Swinney, a car thief. It was noted that a car had been stolen before every attack, and recovered after. Swinney was connected to a stolen car and later arrested. His wife told police that Swinney was the Phantom, and that she had in fact been present for the attacks. However, she was not considered a trult reliable witness and could not be called to testify against her husband in any case. Swinney was convicted of auto theft and sentenced to prison (a sentence which was overturned in later years). In 1949, an unnamed "negro" was arrested in Waco for the bludgeoning murder of a couple in a car. He admitted to this murder, claiming self-defense. It was learned by Texas Rangers that the man had worked for at the Starks farm in previous years. However, no evidence could be discovered tying him to the murders.

The murders remain unsolved.
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Old 06-10-2009, 11:32 PM
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Saw the movie,and it was pretty good for being low budget. Very interesting case. We have to remember that the war had just ended,and perhaps this guy was a mentally unstable GI returning from war.

As a frequent Zodiac case researcher,I found the Texarkana Phantom killer,interesting,and i even looked at the possibility that he could have been the Zodiac. The killings were in 1946,and if the killer was 23 or 24 at the time,then he would have been 46 or 47 at the time of the Zodiac attacks. Witnesses said the Zodiac was 35-45 and based the infamous sketch on the sighting. I thought he may have been shipped off in the military and wound up years later in the San Fran area. The reason i thought it was possible,is because these killings were so similar,its eerie. Lovers lane,secluded sites. The main difference was that the Phantom sexually attacked the women where Zodiac never was known to do that.
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Old 06-11-2009, 12:44 PM
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Another murder occured, in 1948, with circumstances very similar to the Texarkana Phantom and the Zodiac, as I detailed here:
http://www.websleuths.com/forums/sho...argie+lee+winn
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Old 06-11-2009, 01:59 PM
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Here are some more links:

http://www.kudzumonthly.com/kudzu/ju...tomKiller.html (this is a nice read)


http://www.associatedcontent.com/art...or.html?cat=17

http://www.texarkanagazette.com/news...no-2-th-39.php
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Old 06-11-2009, 02:01 PM
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SA - do you think there could be ties between this guy and the Zodiac? The M.O. is very similar. Zodiac did not beat his victims nor did he sexually assault them but the hood, the gun, approaching people while parked in their car.

Very interesting case- thanks for posting.
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Old 06-11-2009, 07:58 PM
morf13 morf13 is offline
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Definately similarities in the two cases,but the difference again being sexual the assaults
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Old 06-12-2009, 09:16 AM
Lyn1001 Lyn1001 is offline
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Originally Posted by morf13 View Post
Definately similarities in the two cases,but the difference again being sexual the assaults
I wonder if maybe Zodiac knew of the Texarkana Phantom somehow (grew up in the area, had family that were in the area at that time) and emulated him. Maybe he liked the way the Phantom did things, but wasn't into the sexual part of it.
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Old 06-12-2009, 09:59 AM
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I wonder if maybe Zodiac knew of the Texarkana Phantom somehow (grew up in the area, had family that were in the area at that time) and emulated him. Maybe he liked the way the Phantom did things, but wasn't into the sexual part of it.

That's a possibility - The Zodiac as a copy-cat killer. Interesting.
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Old 06-12-2009, 03:19 PM
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Thought I doubt there is any connection between the murders, there are some interesting similarities.
Keep in mind that the Zodiac murders were sexual in nature--Zodiac has been profiled as a sexual sadist. In his case, the murder itself took the place of the sexual act. The frenzied stabbing of Cecilia Shepard was, in my opinion, most definitely driven by some form of sexual frustration. If the theory that serial killers evolve holds any truth, then the murder of Virgil Starks and the wounding of his wife may have been the next 'step' for the Phantom. It was theorized at the time that he killed Starks in order to assault his wife, but its also possible that he planned to murder her all along. I can certainly see a 'graduation' in the Phantom attacks..In his first attack, his actions begin with an assault on the male, forcing him to drop his pants then striking him hard enough to break bones (an attack out of frustration for his own sense of inadequacy and/or inability to perform?)
What struck me about the murder of Margie Winn was the similarity between the Lake Berryessa attack and her murder (not to mention the attack on Lake Herman Road, accosting a male and female in a parked vehicle). His statements that he was on the run, needed a vehicle...

A lot of coincidences all around.
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Old 06-16-2009, 12:15 AM
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Melvin David Rees seems to be a very nice fit for a suspect in these murders. Use of a gun ,lovers lane ,music connection in betty jo bookers case as well as forcing them into his car.http://deadsilence.wordpress.com/200...in-david-rees/

Last edited by Soulmagent; 06-16-2009 at 12:22 AM. Reason: to post url
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Old 06-19-2009, 03:49 PM
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I'm also interested in this case, that's an interesting suspect too (Rees). The only name I've ever heard associated with these crimes is Youell Swinney.

Still never seen "The Town That Dreaded Sundown", is it worth seeking out? The director has made some real turkeys, including one that was skewered on MST3K.
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Old 09-20-2011, 07:24 PM
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Earl McSpadden has also been named as a possible suspect.

I love the movie. It's how a film about an unsolved case should be made.
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Old 09-21-2011, 09:33 AM
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I did see the movie. While critics may knock it, it had one of the better actors in Ben Johnson as an investigator on the case and it gave some idea as to what took place back then. This matter was also throughly detailed in a detective magazine in the early 1980's. That the killings and assaults remain unsolved give it all the more interest.

In the movie, the Phantom is shown as a hulking individual with what appears to be great strength. Apparently descriptions given by surviving witnesses reported that information. You would like that such details may have helped in finding suspects; such as persons engaged in employment that requires skills of strength. Another was the Phantom seemed to know the area well; from parking spots used by lovers to the house inwhich he shot and killed the occupant. Such knowledge also would have aided the Phantom in leaving the scene of his attacks, aluding authorities and the like. Such traits seem to point at a local person rather than someone new in town or just passing through on a killing spree.

It also appears that as time went along, the Phantom became more brazen. Starting with assaulting persons parked in vehicles to finally killing someone in their own home. This person certainly knew of the increasing law enforcement presence, but seemed to continue almost as if to spite that. Could the Phantom have been a current or former law enforcement person?

Sometimes a clue may come when the killings and assaults cease. Why did they stop in this case? Was it because that person was arrested on other matters and thus be unable to continue because of incarceration? Could the person have just moved on either because of family, work or just because things got too hot for him? Could the person have been killed in an auto accident or industrial mishap? Matching these factors against persons from that area may give you some possible suspects?

Just some thoughts on this 65-year old case.
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Old 09-21-2011, 11:00 AM
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This person certainly knew of the increasing law enforcement presence, but seemed to continue almost as if to spite that. Could the Phantom have been a current or former law enforcement person?
Yes, I have wondered that myself. He seemed to know when police began their lover's lane stakeouts and thus switched his m.o. to a home attack.
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Old 03-01-2013, 08:54 PM
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I love the movie. It's how a film about an unsolved case should be made.
I see on The Town That Dreaded Sundown Wiki page that MGM is scheduled (this year perhaps) to remake this Charles B. Pierce masterpiece starring Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lopez. Hopefully they will stay true to the original and not try to solve the crimes.
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Old 03-02-2013, 05:55 PM
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I don't think they need a remake, just a reissue of the original. That was one scary movie, especially if you live by a cornfield!
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Old 03-02-2013, 06:17 PM
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I see that IMDb has the new version listed as Horror/In-development but that's all I can see since I don't have IMDbPro.
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Old 09-09-2013, 07:54 PM
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There's a pretty comprehensive account: Texarkana Moonlight Murders on Wiki.

It states that authorities were able to determine that Swinney was in San Antonio on the night of the Booker/Martin murders. There are also two more named suspects - Ralph Baumann and H. B. Tennison - long shots I think.

As per the site, Michael Newton has a new book out on the case also which I will attempt to acquire this month.

Hollis thought their attacker was white but Larey thought he was black based on how he pronounced certain words. I'm not too sure how reliable that assumption is since blacks and coastal southern whites sound a lot alike especially to a highland south person.
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Old 09-10-2013, 06:30 AM
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I see on The Town That Dreaded Sundown Wiki page that MGM is scheduled (this year perhaps) to remake this Charles B. Pierce masterpiece starring Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lopez. Hopefully they will stay true to the original and not try to solve the crimes.
I was just reading about this it doesnt appear that its going to be a remake of the very excellent original rather it centers around the Phantom Killer returning to Texarkana in 2013.(Like he's Michael Meyers from Halloween or something.)
Ill definitly see it due to the subject and Brad Pitt is generally engaging as an actor and Jenifer Lopez generally isnt hard to watch but I dont think it will make a patch on the original.
About like the remake of 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre'.
If they were going to do an actual remake Id like to see David Fincher tackle it.
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Old 09-10-2013, 07:15 AM
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I see there will also be a film starting production in 2014 called the 'Phantom Slayer' (clever title that) by someone called Dennis Ferguson.
Its described as a 'Fictitous follow up to the event that inspired the original film'...which actually sounds like a good description of the first one they are calling a 'remake'.
I can just see the promo copy:"If you see only ONE movie about the Texarkana Murders this year make it..."
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Old 09-15-2013, 08:57 PM
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This article, which, from what I remember, has been substantially expanded since I saw it last, also mentions that a taxi cab was seen in the vicinity and time frame of the Booker/Martin Murders. I hadn't heard that before.
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Old 03-27-2014, 09:21 PM
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One of the greatest cold cases ever. I met a guy from that area recently and we a nice chat about the case.
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Old 03-28-2014, 12:56 PM
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Melvin David Rees seems to be a very nice fit for a suspect in these murders. Use of a gun ,lovers lane ,music connection in betty jo bookers case as well as forcing them into his car.http://deadsilence.wordpress.com/200...in-david-rees/
Rees was only 13 years old in 1946, and thus unlikely to fit the physical description of being "powerfully built". He was certainly not an imposing figure as an adult.
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Old 03-28-2014, 01:28 PM
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I did see the movie. While critics may knock it, it had one of the better actors in Ben Johnson as an investigator on the case and it gave some idea as to what took place back then. This matter was also throughly detailed in a detective magazine in the early 1980's. That the killings and assaults remain unsolved give it all the more interest.

I have read that True Detective, or one of the sort, covered the crime during or shortly after its occurrence.
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