The Texarkana Phantom Killer: Part 1

Crime
LITTLE ROCK, AR – 65 years later, the phantom killer is back.

Produced by Ryan Murphy, The Town That Dreaded Sundown is now in theaters. Picking up where the 1976 classic left off.

Both movies are based loosely on the actual crimes that took place back in 1946 when an unidentified serial killer terrorized Texarkana.

The case remains unsolved to this day and the rumors are still rampant.

In a FOX 16 exclusive, Kevin Kelly sat down with Pulitzer Prize nominated historian James Presley, who for the first time provides the most accurate account of what happened and possibly unlocks the mystery surrounding the phantom killer.

“This town was terrorized by this individual for several months,” said Presley. 

“It was a horrible situation.”

“He was very, very, brutal.”

“February 22, 1946 Texarkana, Texas-Arkansas line.”

Lover’s Lane, a popular destination in Texarkana, but on this night it turned into a terrifying nightmare for 19-year- old Mary Jeanne Leary and 25-year-old Jimmy Hollis when out of nowhere, a man wearing a mask and armed with a gun brutally attacked them.

Leary suffered deep cuts to her head and was physically abused.

Hollis’ skull was fractured in three places. Both survived, but the masked man vanished without a trace when the headlights of a car appeared in the distance and scared him away.

“It was a miracle that he wasn’t killed at the time,” Presley said. 

David Hollis first learned of his father’s brutal attack while in the fourth grade. Old newspaper clippings provided some insight. But it was the stories his mother shared years later that revealed just how traumatic the attack was.

“They were target practicing in the woods one day and shooting a pistol and heard a gun go off in the woods and he just got scared and went and got in the car, trying to hide out from whoever was shooting the gun. He just lost it,” Hollis said.

Hollis also remembers the warning his dad told investigators, that the next victim he gets a hold of will be killed.

Four weeks later, that warning came true.

“March 23, 1946, Texarkana, Texas-Arkansas line.”

29-year-old Richard Griffin and 17-year-old Polly Ann Moore were both shot twice in the back of the head. Their bodies were found inside Griffin’s Oldsmobile. Once again, on Lover’s Lane.

“That was a headline story.”

John Presley knows more about the phantom killer than any living person.

“This was a tragedy, a major league tragedy,” he said. 

He’s investigated the serial killings for decades conducting countless interviews and uncovering mountains of documents, evidence and never before seen photographs.

“So this is just the tip of the ice berg?” Kevin asked.

“Oh yeah, very small stuff.” said Presley. 

Based on his research investigators were baffled after the murders of Griffin and Moore and never considered they might be connected to the brutal beatings of Hollis and Leary.

With no evidence and no witnesses, any theory was possible.

As for the streets of Texarkana, Presley says the beatings and double murder had little impact on the daily routines of those in Texarkana.

“That changed. Three weeks after the first double murder we had another double murder and they were younger people.”

“April 12, 1946, Texarkana, Texas-Arkansas line.”

The murders of 16-year-old James Martin and 15-year-old Betty Jo Booker sent shock waves into both Arkansas and Texas.

Their bodies were found in different locations about a mile from each other, and their car.

Martin was shot four times from behind. Booker was shot twice.

“This was at Spring Lake Park, another Lover’s Lane and then the three weeks was recognized and that’s when panic ensued.”

Four murders in three weeks sparked a never before seen terror in Texarkana.

At sunset, curtains were drawn and windows were boarded up.

A curfew was installed for all teenagers.

Husbands oiled up their firearms and kept them within arms length.

And home made booby traps like this one became the norm.

“Almost over night they panicked because of that second double murder and that’s when the Texas rangers came in.”

Captain m-t Lone Wolf Gonzuallas along with Bowie County Sheriff Bill Presley would lead the charge.

A reward skyrocketed from $500 to nearly $6,500. That’s the equivalent of nearly $77,000 today. False leads were in the hundreds, every one of them followed but yielded no suspects.

The only thing they knew for sure is that the attacks happened at night, involved couples and occurred every three weeks. Meaning the next attack would happen on or around May 3rd and that’s exactly what happened.

“May 3, 1946 Texarkana, Texas-Arkansas line.”

But this time, the attack happened at a dark isolated home just off Highway 67.

37-year-old Virgil Starks was shot and killed while sitting in his easy chair reading the newspaper. The shots fired point blank, through a front window.

His wife Katie was shot in the face while trying to call police. Somehow she escaped, and survived. But she never saw the shooter.

“This is a diagram of the scene at the Starks murder.”

Five murders, three others severely injured all in less than four months.

It left investigators and the public trembling, fearing another attack would happen right on schedule.

But three weeks passed and then a month, nothing happened and calm slowly returned to the streets of Texarkana. So what happened and where did the killer go?

Presley believes his research has finally unlocked the mystery.

“It’s an opportunity to reconstruct the times, the places and the people of that time.”

He also believes he knows who the killer is.

“It’s pretty clear that the same hand did all of these attacks and murders.”

And why he got away with cold blooded murder.

“I was able to dig up enough information to pretty well answer that question,” says Presley.

So who is the phantom killer, what did he look like and did he ever strike again?

In part two of this story, you will see the evidence which Presley claims proves who the serial killer is.

Plus a bizarre exchange between the main suspect and police when he was finally arrested, and why he was sentenced to life in prison, but not for murder.

Click here to for the second part to this story. 





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