In Black and White
Like the criminal himself, much of what’s left of the 1946 case is disappearing. The key players in the investigation have passed on but the thirst for answers continues to grow amongst keyboard detectives and fans of true crime worldwide.
Admittedly, I stumbled onto this story, unknown to me until then, while doing research into the true events behind some of our favorite horror movies. In Episode 48, I discussed the film “The Town that Dreaded Sundown” and the story behind it. I’m no expert in regards to the Texarkana Moonlight Murders, but there are some out there still putting in the time and money to get to the bottom of the events that took place throughout the late winter and early spring of 1946.
I’m No Expert
Like many of the topics discussed on the podcast, the Texarkana Moonlight Murders sucked me into its vortex and sent me down the internet rabbit hole trying to find out all I could.
Even after the episode was finished and available, I requested to be a member of the Texarkana Phantom Killer Theory Forum. In that group there are 733 other people looking for answers, offering information and having thoughtful discussion about the case.
Again, even after the episode was finished and available, I stumbled onto the hundreds of pages of declassified FBI documents available on their website. The episode is done, I should be moving on. I can’t. The story is a riveting one about a masked assailant bringing a town to its knees for months. It has teens dying on Lovers Lane. Its got confessions and hundreds of suspects. It also has very few clues and has never been solved.
On the Big Screen
Two Hollywood movies (at least) have been made about the events in Texarkana. Both movies are titled “The Town that Dreaded Sundown.” The original was released in 1976. The 2014 version was going to be a remake of sorts, instead they worked on a new script that had a new Phantom Killer stalking modern day Texarkana.
Photo search results are limited. There are a lot of duplicates and people reusing the same photos. A majority of the police files and crime scene photos are locked away. They reside in a collection that belonged to the last living officer that worked on the case. I pulled all that I could from Newspapers.com.
What I’ve done is assemble what I could find into the collages below. For anyone curious about the Texarkana Moonlight Murders or the Phantom Killer, there are some good books out there and a large community eager to bend a fresh ear.
The case will likely never be solved. Someone got away with murder… at least five of them. Maybe six. Maybe more. As I mentioned in the episode, truth is often stranger than fiction. This case confirms the old saying.
Four Bad Days
Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jeanne Larey managed to survive. Perhaps the Phantom Killer hadn’t worked up the nerve yet. On May 3rd, Katie Starks took two bullets to the face but managed to live a long life. The other five were murdered. There are some who believe that the Virgil Starks murder was a different suspect. The location and style didn’t exactly match the prior events.
The Police Force
This case brought in the FBI, the Texas Rangers and more. Captain Manuel Gonzaullas of the Texas Rangers became the face of the investigation. He wasn’t loved by everyone.
The Suspects, Clues and the Mystery of the Sixth Victim
According to the FBI files, throughout the various investigations, over 300 suspects were arrested. The police also had a number of false confessions to contend with. Youell Swinney and “Doodie” Tennison were some of the more closely investigated. A man selling a saxophone, a taxi driver and a hitchhiker were all suspects at one time. Some believe that even that man found dead on the train tracks, may have been the killer taking his own life.
Swinney’s wife, Peggy seemed to know a lot of things that she shouldn’t have. Had she not recanted her confession and refused to testify, Youell may have been found guilty.
Articles and Correspondence
J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI were heavily involved in the case. Below you will see a letter written by victim Paul Martin’s mother. Captain Gonzaullus recieved numerous cryptic messages and the Texarkana Moonlight Murders sold a lot of newspapers.
On the Silver Screen
What is Texarkana?
According to East-Texas.com:
“Texarkana is unique in that it straddles two states on either side of State Line Avenue: Texas and Arkansas.
Located in extreme Upper East Texas, close to Louisiana and Oklahoma, and bordering Arkansas, is the twin-city of Texarkana. The Texas side of the city lies in Bowie County, while the Arkansas side is in Miller County.
Even its U.S. Post Office downtown has a state line running through the middle of the lobby of the building!
There are two of almost everything in Texarkana: two city mayors, two city governments, two police departments, and two fire departments.
The population of Texarkana, Texas was about 36,000 residents as of the Federal Census of 2020. Another 30,000 residents live in Texarkana, Arkansas.“