“Investigation” on its own is a very elastic concept. There must be a goal to the investigation in order to give it any direction. Unfortunately, knowledge of very old unsolved crime sprees like the case at hand do not come down to us from official investigative reports. They come down to us through the pipeline of “investigative reporting.” If actual bits of the police investigation enter the public, they do so through this sieve. And “Investigative Reporting” has as its purpose the uncovering of basic facts and as many players as possible in the original drama; thereafter the purpose is to process this information and present the finished story to the modern public, colored by the inevitable human interest angle.
By no means does the above constitute investigating a case. The object of investigating a case is, of course, its solution, not merely its presentation. Most of the time this requires the consideration of some of the most picayune clues and evidence and a systematic analysis based on the chronology of the crime spree. None of this, sadly, is of great interest to most of the reading audience.
However, a presentation, if done right, is not only useful but vital. It becomes indispensable to keeping some basic facts preserved and the case intact with relatively little folklore as possible mixed into the formula. The worse thing about a presentation— and this is not the fault of the journalist— is that it becomes a repeating narrative. In the hands of others, and within the ether of popular hyperbole, it never expands. And this begins to limit the scope of any subsequent popular investigation.
Such is the unfortunate truth of the case of the Phantom of Texarkana. It is 71 years old now. Much was kept from the public back then. Moreover, much folklore came to cloud the crime spree in 1976 when a movie (The Town that Dreaded Sundown) was released by Chuck Pierce, a local filmmaker in the area of Texarkana who had gained international renown in 1972 for being the father of the docudrama when his film on the local “Boggy Creek” monster became a surprise hit.
Only one attempt has been made to place the facts of the bizarre serial murder case, and this has only been done recently. The author James Presley (The Phantom Killer) was the nephew of the then-sheriff on the case, and over the last 30 years he interviewed people who had been involved. No matter how sincere the interviewees were, it is hard to put too much faith in memories that are decades old. Thus the case hangs on a thin thread. From an investigative and CSI standpoint, there isn’t much evidence, let alone details from which to uncover more clues.
We’re left with logistics. This is the only means we have to fill in the blank spaces between the few dots of facts. And logistics are the workings of logic based on the probabilities we are presented after reenacting the sequence of events that must have transpired to bring about the evidence that is known and preserved. A website and not a book is ideal for this. A complete understanding of the locations and sequences of events is necessary in attempting to bring clarity and thus a fresh path of approach to the solution to these sets of double serial murders.
This is the purpose of this section of The Q Files. Unless there is a discovery of a massive amount of original police reports on the subject, there is little reason for another book. Far better to the purpose at hand a website presentation allows us to bring forward the crime scene context. No book can adequately do this, and it has not been done. (Presley presented the subject from an historical approach, and vital crime scene location information is not even included in his book, including photos of the attack locations.) General locations are still intact today, though far less rural than they once were.
The Phantom Killer’s only remaining imprint is the area in which he struck, and within the area are the clues that reveal the level of his knowledge. A detailed understanding of the rural area west of Texarkana is thus crucial, even to presentation, let along in helping to facilitate solution.
There is a thin line between history and legend. Vague and improvised history is “legend.” The improvisation is folklore. The incompleteness allows it to give rise to a narrative in which folklore has grown to fill in the gaps. It is thus “legend” now— based on fact but a lot of unverified elements worked into the mixture.
For very popular cases, toxic fandom arises. There are those for whom this legendary narrative takes on the life of a comic strip. They don’t want the basic structure of it challenged, nor the players within it to be altered or removed. New issues are welcome, new installments in the franchise ardently anticipated, but a solution or even a radical rewriting of the case is not desired. They want the good guys to remain in the same halo in which they have been cast, and they want the same repeating theme on the villains and suspects already etched into the narrative.
The Phantom of Texarkana case is no different. It has been hampered from flowering as much as other crime cases because of the painfully small amount of information on it. Although Jack the Ripper is far older, the case is so well documented, and it has been written extensively about over the last 130 years, there is ample material to support elaborate theorizing and the introduction of new suspects. Little reliable information has been written about the Phantom, and as his moniker suggests there isn’t much to write about concerning his appearance. What little there is on the topic, however, seems to have achieved a certain continuing narrative.
This study will attempt to put everything in order, not only for presentation but to assist in expanding the case and moving toward its solution.
And there are reasons to set this historic case aside from other unsolved crimes. The Phantom was, in his way, dramatic for the time. He wore the grain sack hood of a ghoulish country scarecrow. He looked coarse, in denim and jacket, but he carefully stalked his victims when they entered his country domain.
The serial murders began and ended in 1946. The era is not one we associate with a crafty and savage serial killer. Nor would we associate one so depraved with the location. It didn’t occur in a big, populous city; the murders were committed about the rural areas of Texarkana, Texas, a small city that straddled the Texas border with Arkansas. It was a city in 2 states: a mayor across State Line Avenue in Arkansas and a mayor on the other side in Texas.
The countryside is lush and green and looks like most Midwest American rural areas of the time— white washed wood frame homes, narrow tree-lined streets, gravel country roads, and checkerboard fields of cultivation and orchards.
Within this idyllic American scene the murderer’s crimes developed along the lines of what would be called the typical serial murderer of today. He started clumsily, letting his first victims live, and thereafter killed all the others. They were not quick, drive-by murders. Some seemed to have been quite prolonged. As he progressed, they became elaborate, with victims taken miles from where they had been abducted at their petting spot.
In the annals of crime there are 5 major serial killers who hunted lovers’ lanes. The Phantom of Texarkana is the first. Others would follow in far removed places. These would be The Zodiac Killer in the San Francisco Bay Area of California (1968-’69), the Monster of Florence, Italy (1970s), The Atlanta Lovers’ Lanes Murders of 1977, and the Shadow Slayer of Colonial Parkway (Colonial Parkway Murders, 1986-89). None have ever been officially solved.
The Phantom of Texarkana showed us the vulnerability of lovers’ lanes. Such places truly fall within the expected locations of where wild predators would strike. The predator hunts the lame, the straggler, the outcast, the weak. Serial killers are by their actions human predators, and their victims reflect the mind of the natural, wild cowardly predator to pick off easy game. For an hour or two lovers and petters are the stragglers of society; alone, remote, on the fringes of the safety of the herd.
The Phantom was satiating a growing appetite for savage murder, murder of petting couples. He knew the places to stalk. He started in Texas, and when these western rural areas became too hot with posse comitatus he went into the Arkansas side of Texarkana and instead of striking cooing couples he attacked a husband and wife in their small farmhouse— an unexpected twist.
After this, the Phantom vanished. Texarkana remained on edge into the next year. No one knew if he would strike again. This period in Texarkana went down in its history as the time in which the residents feared sundown, the time when the Phantom would start his deadly prowling. The dramatization of this horrific episode was appropriately entitled The Town that Dreaded Sundown.
Yet the Phantom never struck again.
There were a few suspects, but no one that ever rose to credibility by today’s standards. Because of the phenomenon of repeating narratives, Youell Swinney’s name is raised in the context of having been a good suspect. This study will lay down the parameters of what constitutes a “good suspect.” A good suspect must fit the clues and evidence, and not be someone who had simply been accused 70 years ago. Until this work here on Q Files there has been no analysis of the crime spree and therewith no logistic study of what it actually took to carry off these double murders. Concise knowledge based on reenactment will alone help select the type of person who was in a position to commit these murders. This type of presentation is of far more value than simply regurgitating a list of suspects because they are in the narrative of the legend or had merited mention in newspapers at the time.
Old Texarkana is still with us, and the flavor of the times can be a powerful educating tool. Although the actual rural roads on which the Phantom struck have been widened to become major thoroughfares, progress has left behind pockets of old homes, arboreal old American streets, and even some country roads that mimic the main rural lanes of 1946. Several of these will be used to stand-in merely for presentation purposes to help the reader envision 1946 and the circumstances of au moment juste. The actual crime scenes will also be presented as they stand today.