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PCR # 135 (Vol. 3, No. 43) This edition is for the week of October 21--27, 2002. The Enlightenment by Terence Nuzum

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Movie posterIn 1976 a film was released entitled "The Town That Dreaded Sundown". The film documented the tumultuous events of 1946 in the border town of Texarkana. The movie followed the facts fairly closely but truth be told it did take many liberties and added ridiculous comedy relief. That was the film--these are the facts. Prepare to be enlightened once again.

Texarkana in 1946 was the epitome of a small western town. The war had ended and people were settling down to make families and a community. But in the Spring of that year the small peaceful town of Texarkana was laid seige by a unseen terror, a phantom. The first strike was on February 22, 1946. 19-year-old Mary Jean Larey and 24-year-old Jimmy Hollis parked by a deserted road that was a local lovers lane of sorts. At some point their lovemaking was interupted by a shadow. This shadow was a man in a white hood with eyeholes cutout. The hooded man tapped his pistol on their car window and motioned for the couple to get out. He then beat Jimmy sensless and proceeded to sexually assualt Mary with the barrel of his pistol. A car light scared off the hooded man and Mary and Jimmy were spared. At first the incident was ignored as a sex crime but on the rainy morning of March 24 that would all change. Two police officers found a man in a parked car on the side of the road. The driver was slumped over the wheel and they assumed he was sleeping. But upon inspection they found the bodies of 29-year-old Richard Griffin and his girlfriend Polly Ann Moore. Both victims had been shot in the head with a pistol. This was the beginning.

On April 13 more victims were claimed.This time 15-year-old Betty Jo Booker (a member of the local band The Rythmaires) and her boyfriend Paul Martin. Once again they had been shot with a .32 caliber pistol. Betty Jo was also molested and tied to a tree before being shot. The police continued to be baffled and at this point suspected that the incidents were related. Residents were worried and afraid to leave their homes after the press dubbed the killings "The Moonlight Murders" and the killer "The Phantom". Between April 14 and all through May the streets of Texarkana resembled a ghost town. The Phantom Killer had eluded the police for months but he would commit his final murder on May 3, 1946.

RangerAt about 9:00 p.m. The Phantom struck the home of Katy and Virgil Starks. The first shot hit Virgil in the head from outside the window. The Phantom continued to shoot him until Virgil's body fell to the ground. Katy heard the noise and immediately assumed it was The Phantom. She ran to the phone and started to dial for the operator, when she was shot on the side of the head, a grazing wound. She fled out the back door, bloodied, while The Phantom visciously wrestled with the front door. Katy managed to get to a nearby neighbor's to safety. There were many reasons though to believe that the Stark incident was not the work of The Phantom at all. For one, Mrs. Stark never saw The Phantom, only a black sillhouette. Added to that the killer shot Virgil with a .22 shotgun not a pistol.

That was the last of the murders in 1946 in Texarkana and The Phantom Killer was never caught. There were many suspects but none really were proven to be The Phantom. One was Youell Swinney. Swinney was in jail though when another murder took place. This time in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in October. There were reasons to believe that this was the work of the relocated Phantom as the method was the same, two victims, lovers lane, and a .32 pistol. The police dismissed it though because the bullet found was of a foreign make. The murders though finally stopped and The Phantom dissappeared as mysteriously as he appeared. The Phantom has never been found and if you ask residents about it to this day they will tell you "...the fear remains".

Phantom



"The Enlightenment" is ©2002 by Terence Nuzum.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2002 by Nolan B. Canova.