The 1976 film The Town That Dreaded Sundown was released internationally and is loosely based on true crime Texas Moonlight Murders. The movie claimed that the “story you are about to see is true, where it happened and how it happened,” the fabricated parts created much of the myth and folklore around the murders for several decades. A cold case in Texarkana in 1948 of the disappearance of Virginia Carpenter has been speculated to be the work of The Phantom.
The 2014 book The Phantom Killer: Unlocking the Mystery of the Texarkana Serial Murders, by James Presley The Texarkana Moonlight Murders, a term coined by the news media, references the unsolved murders committed in and around Texarkana in the spring of 1946 by an unidentified serial killer known as the “Phantom Killer.”
The Phantom Killer is credited with attacking eight people within ten weeks, five of whom were killed. The first attack was Saturday night February 22, 1946. The first two victims, Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jean Larey, survived.
Around 11:45 PM, Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jean Larey were parked on a well-known “lovers lane” in the Texarkana area when a man with a white sack over his head appeared and ordered them out of their car at gunpoint. After about ten minutes of the couple stopping, a man walked up to Hollis’ driver-side door and flashed a flashlight in his face, blinding him. The man showed him a pistol and told him, “I don’t want to kill you fellow, so do what I say and get out of the car.” Hollis thought this was a prank or a case of mistaken identity replied, “Fellow, you’ve got me mixed up with someone else. You’ve got the wrong man.” The masked man repeated his order to get out and they both got out through the driver-side door. The man told Hollis to “take off your god damn britches.” Mary Jean Larey pleaded with Hollis to please take them off, because she thought if they complied the man would not hurt them. After Hollis removed his trousers, he was struck twice in the head with a heavy, blunt object. After Jimmy Hollis went down, Mary Jean picked up Hollis’ pants and pulled out his wallet and handed it to the assailant and stated, “He doesn’t have any money.” The masked man accused her of lying and asked to see her purse. Mary jean replied that she did not have any money either. The masked man hit her with a blunt object and knocked her to the ground. The assailant ordered her to get up, and, when she did, he told her to run. As she ran towards a ditch, the assailant told her not to go that way but to run up the road. She stated that while she was running, she heard Hollis groaning, and that the man continued to beat and stomp him. She was having trouble running in her high heels when the assailant ran after her. She saw an older car parked further up the street facing their vehicle. She quickly looked inside to see if anyone could help her, but after seeing no one, she began to run and was overtaken by the attacker. The man asked her why she was running. She said, “you told me to run.” Larey said, “He called me a liar I knew that he was going to kill me.” At that point in time, he knocked her down again and assaulted her sexually. Mary Jean reported he did not rape her and used the words “he abused me terribly.” Later reports indicated that the assailant sexually assaulted her with the barrel of his gun.
Mary Jean was able to get up and told the guy, “Go ahead and kill me.” He seemed to relax and she ran off. She ran about a ½ mile thinking she was still being chased until she found ahouse and finally woke up the residents after running around to the back and banging and screaming. Bowie County Sheriff W. H. “Bill” Presley and three other officers responded and searched the area. They found Hollis’ pants 100 yards away from the attack.
Larey was taken to the hospital for minor cuts and received stitches for head wounds. Hollis was hospitalized for several days with three skull fractures. Questioning by the deputies revealed that Hollis thought this was a dark tanned white man but he had been blinded by the flashlight so much he did not even report the white cloth sack with eye holes cut out. Mary jean said she thought it was a light skinned black man and described the white cloth sack with hand cut eye holes. She based her identification as a black man on the way the attacker talked. They both agreed he was about six feet tall.
The Texas Moonlight Murders started in the small town of Texarkana, Texas. The entire town and surrounding area soon knew about this violent attack. It is said that the well known campfire story about the couple who were parked in a lovers lane became nervous and pulled away after hearing a nose. The story is that when they returned to town, they found a prosthetic hook still attached to one of the door handles.
The details of the attack were published on the front page of the Texarkana Daily News, a now-defunct evening newspaper, on Saturday, February 23, 1946, with the headline “Masked Man Beats Texarkanian and Girl”. By March 9, no developments had been made, but the department continued to search for clues to the identity of the attacker. The case was considered an isolated incident and further attacks were not expected. The next attack happened 28 days later on March 24.
On Saturday night March 23rd, Texarkana residents Richard L. Griffin, age 29, and his girlfriend of six weeks, Polly Ann Moore, age 17, were last seen about 10:00 PM eating at a local diner on West 7th St in Texarkana. About 8:30 the next morning, Sunday, a passing motorist found them both dead in Griffin’s 1941 Oldsmobile. The motorist noticed a parked car on a lovers’ lane named Rich Road. This was a secluded area near a railroad spur just 100 yards south of US Highway 67 West. The spot was close to a nightspot called Club Dallas, about a mile outside the city limits.
Griffin was found on the front seat on his knees with his head resting on his crossed hands. One interesting thing was that his pockets were turned inside out as if this was a robbery. Polly Ann Moore was found sprawled face-down in the back seat. Moore’s purse was beside her in the back seat and Griffin had been shot twice as if he was shot behind the wheel. Subsequent investigation revealed that both were killed by being shot once in the back of the head. Both were fully clothed. The crime scene revealed that Moore had been removed from the car and killed while she was in a blanket placed in front of the car and then placed back inside the car on the back seat. In a mix-up, Moore’s body was picked up before an examination could determine if she had been sexually assaulted. The officers did find a .32 cartridge shell in the blanket. They believed the gun used as a .32 Colt pistol. A rain storm had washed away many clues at this scene.
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