16 year old Paul Martin and 15 year old Betty Jo Booker were killed 70 years ago tonight at the entrance to Spring Lake Park. Although they were not the first victims of the “Phantom Killer” their attack was when people started realizing there was a serial killer on the loose in Texarkana.
On February 22, 1946 Jimmy Hollis and his girlfriend Mary Jeanne Larey were attacked and beaten while parked on a secluded road known as “lovers’ lane.” The attack happened near where Cowhorn Creek intersects Richmond Rd. today. Mary Jeanne Larey ran to a house at 805 Blanton Street and the homeowner called police. Both Jimmy and Mary Jeanne survived the ordeal.
Richard L. Griffin and Polly Ann Moore were the next victims of the killer and the first to be killed. The two were found dead on March 24, 1946 in Griffin’s car parked on what is now S. Robison Rd. 100 yards south of Highway 67. Both had been shot in the back of the head and were fully clothed. In the March 27 edition of Texarkana Gazette, an announcement was made that told readers “You Can Help Solve Murders”
“Sheriff Bill Presley and his deputies have a difficult task ahead of them as they attempt to solve the shocking double murder discovered Sunday morning. Texarkana residents can help in this investigation and at the same time if they are not careful, they can hinder the investigation and cause the officers to spend many hours following blind trails. Persons who have information which might furnish a clue to the identity of the slayer or slayers or which might indicate a motive for the crime should not divulge such information on street corners or at cold drink stands but should immediately make it available to the officers. Do not spread rumors regardless of how much basis for fact there is in them. Do not say ‘I heard’ or ‘they say’, because the chances are that the person listening will repeat your information and enlarge upon it. Before long the story grows to such proportions as to necessitate a detailed investigation by the officers, thereby perhaps pulling them off the true trail and sending them up a blind alley. Stick to facts that you know of your own personal knowledge and relay those facts as quickly as possible to the officers.”
The next attack was the killing of Martin and Booker on the night of April 13 or early morning of April 14. “Martin’s body was found at about 6:30 a.m. Martin’s body was found lying on its left side by the northern side of North Park Road. Blood was found further down on the other side of the road by a fence. He had been shot four times—once through the nose, again through the left fourth rib from behind, a third time in the right hand, and finally through the back of the neck. Booker’s body was not found until approximately 11:30 a.m., almost 2 miles (3.2 km) away from Martin’s body.”
On May 3 Virgil and Katie Starks were attacked in their farm house. Virgil was sitting reading the Texarkana Gazette when he was shot twice in the back of the head from a closed window 3 feet away. Katie was also shot but manged to run to to a neighbors house for help and survived.
By November 1948, authorities no longer considered the Starks’ murder connected with the other double murders and another person was eventually arrested and convicted. At the time though the murder marked the height of hysteria in Texarkana.
“Before, it was normal to leave your house unlocked, but soon residents started locking doors, pulling down shades, blocking windows, and arming themselves with guns. Some people would nail sheets over their windows or nail the window down. Some used screened-door braces as window guards. The next day after Starks’ death, several residents bought firearms and locks. Stores sold out of locks, guns, ammunition, and window shades and Venetian blinds. Other items that sold well included window sash locks, screen door hooks, night latches, and other protective devices.”
On May 9 the Two States Press, a weekly paper published on Thursdays, announced:
“Texarkana people are jittery, plain frightened–and with reason. Within a period of six weeks five people have been murdered in cold blood and a sixth seriously wounded, escaping death by a seeming miracle. The question in the minds of most of the citizens is, when, where and how soon will another tragedy shock the community, and who will be the victim or victims, since two deaths seem to be the design of the killer?”
No one was ever charged as the Phantom Killer although throughout the investigation almost 400 suspects were arrested.
See the Texarkana Moonlight Murders Wikipedia entry which was used to create this article for a very detailed account of the events.