Texas Moonlight Murders Part 2

March 19, 2018

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The next murder was another double-homicide, occurring exactly three weeks from the Griffin/Moore murders. On Saturday night, April 13, Betty Jo Booker, age 15, was playing her alto saxophone in her regular weekly gig with her band, The Rythmaires. They had gig at the VFW Club. She was picked up about 1:30 Sunday morning by a 16 year old friend named Paul Martin. Paul vbisiting Texarkana after moving away two years prior. He was to take her to a slumber party across town. Booker’s classmates said that earlier that day she told them that she did not want to go out with Martin but felt obligated since he was an old friend. Sometime after that both were killed.

Paul Martin’s body was found at about 6:30 a.m. A passing motorist found the body lying on its left side by the northern side of North Park Road. Officers would find blood 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.

Betty Jo Booker’s body was not found until approximately 11:30 a.m., almost 2 miles away from Martin’s body. Searchers from a search party found this body behind a tree 25 yards off the north side of Morris Lane. Her body was lying on its back, fully clothed, with the right hand in the pocket of the buttoned overcoat. An unknown assailant shot Betty Jo Booker twice, once through the left fifth rib from the front and once through the left cheek by the nose. The weapon used was the same as in the first double murder, a .32 automatic Colt pistol. The newspaper reported that the bodies were not abused, but other  reports claimed that Booker had been raped. Paul Martin had a 1946 Ford Club coupe. Searchers would find his car parked with the keys in it just outside the Spring lake park. This was over one mile away from Paul Martin’s body and 3 miles away from Betty Jo Booker’s body. The officers could not figure out a timeline as to who was shot first nor how the bodies ended up where they found them. The authorities did claim the evidence showed the kids had put up a terrific struggle. Betty Jo’s alto saxophone was missing. Over six months later, two local men were repairing a fence and they discovered Booker’s missing saxophone still in its black leather case. It was located in the underbrush, across Morris Lane and about 140 steps east from where the body was found.

A radio news bulletin announced that a young male teen was found shot to death at Spring Lake Park. Hundreds of people flocked to the area. Throughout the day, cars jammed the highway and roads in the park as people tried to view the crime scenes. Shocked by the news, several hundred residents assembled around the sheriff’s office to be on the spot in case a suspect was apprehended.

The Texas Rangers came in to investigate, including the famous M. T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas.

The Tuesday night after the second double murder, rumors had already spread that the killer had been caught. On Wednesday, rumors suggested a local minister had turned in his own son as a suspect in the killings of Martin and Booker. Captain Gonzaullas and Bowie County Sheriff Bill Presley discounted these allegations. Surprised at the credence locals gave them, Gonzaullas also stated that it “hindered the investigation because of the time it was necessary to consume tracking it down. The spreading of the rumor certainly was an injustice to the family and the boy, because it absolutely is not so. We do not have any minister’s son in custody at this time, nor have we had one in custody or questioned a minister’s son relative to this crime.”

The murders sent the town of Texarkana into a state of panic throughout the summer. At dusk, city inhabitants heavily armed themselves and locked themselves indoors while police patrolled streets and neighborhoods. Although many businesses lost customers at night, stores sold out of guns, ammunition, locks, and many other protective devices. Several rumors began to spread, including that the killer was caught, or that a third and even fourth double-homicide had been committed. Most of the town hid in fear inside their houses or hotels, sometimes even leaving town. Some youths took matters in their own hands by trying to bait the Phantom so they could kill him.

By Thursday, March 28, the investigators were growing weary after five consecutive days of questioning about 200 suspects, chasing over a hundred false leads and tips and going back over the meager clues. They managed to get three suspects in custody because of bloody clothing, two of whom were released on explanations that satisfied the officers. The third suspect was held in Vernon, Texas for further grilling.  None of these leads panned out.

By Saturday, March 30, Sheriff Presley posted a $500 reward in an effort to gain any new information on the Griffin and Moore case that would lead to the arrest and conviction of the slayer or slayers. Officers stated that all clues found thus far had been fruitless. At this point in time, they did not want to add to the panic of a serial killer randomly killing folks in the area.

Sheriff Presley would say publicly that this crime coincided in many details with the first double murder. After collecting all the evidence they could find, they called in county and city officers from Bowie, Miller, Little River and Cass counties, the Texas and Arkansas State Police, Texas Rangers, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. M. T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, the captain of the Company B Texas Rangers from Dallas, Texas, and six other Texas Rangers (Stewart Stanley, Jim Geer, Dick Oldham, Earnest Daniel, N. K. Dixon, Tulley E. Seay) came to Texarkana to help in the investigation.


Suspects were consistently brought in throughout the day by city police. Many friends of the victims, schoolmates and others went to the Bowie County Sheriff’s Office to lend information. Atkins and the other girls from Booker’s band talked to Gonzaullas and Presley for a long time. Atkins suggested that Booker should have a saxophone with her and since no saxophone had been found, it became a very important lead. The make and serial number were obtained and widely circulated to pawn shops and music dealers in many states, but her saxophone was not found until six months later. Suspects were continually questioned during the night, but by Monday morning, Gonzaullas said that although some progress had been made there were still many missing links.


A committee to handle the reward fund was composed, and an appeal was made over the Texarkana Gazette & Daily News radio station, KCMC, for people to contribute to the fund. By Tuesday morning, the reward totaled $2,200.


Although the investigators had in the past cracked some of the most publicized and difficult cases in Texas, Captain Gonzaullas said that the murders were among the most puzzling cases he had encountered in his 30 years of criminal investigation. He also stated that “We have certain information which we cannot disclose and we do not think the public should expect us to give out any information which would be injurious to our investigation.”[23] The Texarkana Gazette and Daily News cooperated with Gonzaullas by withholding such sensitive information. Sheriff Presley and the Rangers stated that, out of the many suspects questioned during the past two days and nights of ceaseless work, very little valuable information had been obtained. Presley stated, “We are required to follow all leads, regardless of how thin they might be, in the hope that they will lead to something tangible in the eventual solution of the mystery.” The officers started to work in relays on Tuesday after many of them had become exhausted in their investigations. Gonzaullas stated that they were dealing with a shrewd criminal who had left no stones unturned in concealing his identity and activities. A voluntary midnight curfew was agreed upon Tuesday night by the Texarkana, Texas city council and the Bowie county commissioners court for all places of amusement.


Three rooms in the Bowie County building were used for questioning suspects from a 100-mile radius, both men and women, black and white. By Wednesday, newspaper crews were camped outside the door of the “questioning room”. Reporters from the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star Telegram had shown up. Captain Gonzaullas guarded new developments from release, especially by the press, but assured them that progress was being made. By April 24, no new developments had been made, but the Texas Rangers assured the town that they would remain in the city and on the case until the killer or killers were apprehended. The Rangers brought in an airplane to facilitate their investigation of leads and suspects outside of town. By Thursday, April 25, contributions to the reward fund brought it to $6,425.


Rumors hindered the investigation because they have to be checked by the investigating officers to make sure that a clue was not being overlooked. Stories ranged from the killer turning himself in, to a third and even fourth double murder. Gonzaullas stated that Texarkanians were trying hard to help in the cases, but many were hindering it maliciously, using the cases as an instrument for grudges and spitefulness. On Thursday, Gonzaullas and Presley issued a statement that if a break came in the cases, it would be reported in the Gazette and Daily News. Gonzaullas continued, “The newspapers are not printing rumors and have assured us they will not. Any information which the public hears about this case will not be official unless it comes from us through the newspapers.”

Fourth attack and third double murder


About 30 days later on Friday, May 3, sometime before 9 p.m., Virgil Starks, age 37, a farmer and welder, was in his ranch-style house on his 500-acre farm off Highway 67 East, about 10 miles northeast of Texarkana and just across the state line into Arkansas. He turned on his favorite weekly radio show and his wife, Katie, age 36, gave him a heating pad for his sore back. He sat in his armchair in the sitting room, which was just off of the kitchen and the bedroom. Katie retired to their bedroom when she heard something from the backyard and asked Virgil to turn down the radio. Seconds later, two shots were fired into the back of his head from a closed double-window 3 feet away. Katie did not hear the gunshots; instead, she heard what “sounded like the breaking of glass”. She thought Virgil dropped something and went to see what happened. As she entered the doorway to the living room, she saw Virgil standing up and then suddenly slump back into his chair. She saw blood then ran to him and lifted up his head. When she realized he was dead, she ran to the phone to call police.

She rang the wall-crank phone two times before being shot twice in the face from the same window. One bullet entered her right cheek and exited behind her left ear. The other went in her lower jaw just below the lip, breaking it and splintering out several teeth before lodging under her tongue. She dropped to her knees but soon managed to get on her feet. She ran toward another room to get a pistol. She later said she heard the killer tearing loose the rusted screen wire on the back porch. She thought she was going to be killed, so she stumbled toward her bedroom near the front of the house. The killer ran to the back of the house and made his way up the steps and onto the side-screened porch.  She heard the killer coming through the kitchen window, so she turned around and ran through the dining room, through the bedroom, down a hallway, through another bedroom, and then into the living room and out the front door, leaving behind a “virtual river of blood” throughout the house and across the street. Barefooted and still in her blood-soaked nightgown, she ran across the street to her sister and brother-in-law’s house. Since no one was home, she ran 50 yards more to A. V. Prater’s house. Prater answered her call for help. She gasped, “Virgil’s dead”, then collapsed. Mr. Prater shot a rifle in the air to summon another neighbor, Elmer Taylor. Prater called to Taylor to bring his car because Mr. and Mrs. Starks had been shot. Elmer Taylor took Mrs. Starks to the Texarkana Hospital. On the drive, Mrs. Starks gave Mr. Taylor, one of her teeth with a gold filling. She was in a semi-conscious state, slumping forward on the front seat. Although she lost a considerable amount of blood, she showed no signs of going into shock and her heart rate remained normal.

Arkansas State Police officers Charley Boyd and Max Tackett got the call on their radio and were the first officers at the scene. One of the officers said that they found Starks still slumped in the blood-soaked chair. The chair had caught fire from the electric heating pad. “Smoke was filling the room and was coming up all around the man and between his legs.”

Immediately after reports of the slaying spread, blockades were set up several miles northeast and southwest on Highway 67 East. Sheriff Davis called in officers from the entire area to help in the investigation; some of which included two agents from the FBI, Captain Gonzaullas and other Rangers, Sheriff Presley and his deputies, Sheriff Jim Sanderson from Little River County, Arkansas State Police, local police, and many others. In the house, investigators found a trail of blood with scattered teeth. On the dining room table was Mrs. Starks’ work for making a dress. Gonzaullas, after seeing the “virtual river of blood”, stated that “It is beyond me why she did not bleed to death.

Three good clues were found at the scene. The first was the caliber of bullets. The second was a flashlight found in the hedge underneath the window that Starks was shot from. The last clue was of bloody prints around the house; shoe-prints on the kitchen floor, and smudged fingerprints in other places. Sheriff Davis stated that although this murder could not be directly linked to the previous murders because the caliber was a .22, he believed it is possible that the killer is one and the same man because of the time frame, Friday night about one month since the last murders and the fac that a man and a woman were targeted. Everybody found driving in the area near the time of the slaying, along with several men found within the vicinity, were picked up for questioning. Early Saturday morning, bloodhounds were brought in from Hope by the Arkansas State Police. They found two trails that led to the highway before the scent was lost. That night, many officers patrolled lovers’ lanes hoping to prevent another attack. By Sunday night, more State Police officers were called in to help in the investigation and to aid in protecting the local civilians. Officers had detained at least twelve suspects but only kept three for further questioning. Forty-seven officers were working around the clock to solve the mysteries. The flashlight was sent to Washington, D.C. for further inspection by the FBI. Meanwhile, Mrs. Starks was showing improvements at the Hospital. The unofficial theory for a motive amongst the majority of the 47 officers was that of “sex mania”, because large amounts of money in the home were not taken, nor was Mrs. Starks’ purse, which was lying on the bed containing money and jewels, and because nothing was stolen from the home. The title on the front page of the Texarkana Gazette on Sunday, May 5, 1946 read: “SEX MANIAC HUNTED IN MURDERS”.

HAVE YOU SEEN THIS TWO-CELL FLASHLIGHT?–This is a picture in detail of the flashlight found at the scene of the Starks murder. This is a two-cell, all metal flashlight, both ends of which are painted red. Three rivets hold the head of the flashlight to the body of the light. There has been only a limited number of these lights sold in this area. If you have owned or know of any one who owned one of these lights, report at once to Sheriff W. E. Davis, Miller county courthouse, Texarkana, Ark. You may be the one to aid in solving the phantom slayings.


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