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Mysterious killer stalks lovers

AmericaThe mysterious killer nicknamed “Ghost Assassin” has spread fear throughout the city of Texarkana, Texas after a series of consecutive murders.

In the spring of 1946, the Texarkana region continued to see violent attacks targeting couples on a weekend night out. Within 10 weeks, from February 22 to May 3, 1946, 8 people were attacked, of which 5 were murdered. The contemporary press called these “the moonlit murders of Texarkana”.

The first attack occurred at about 11:45 p.m. on Friday, February 22, 1946. After going to the movies, 25-year-old Jimmy Hollis, and 19-year-old girlfriend Mary Larey, parked their car on a deserted street known as the lovers’ street. Ten minutes later, a man wearing a white cloth mask – like a pillowcase with eye holes – appeared at Jimmy’s driver’s side door, shining a flashlight in, threatening to kill him if he didn’t obey.

He ordered them both out of the car, made Jimmy take off his pants, and hit him in the head with a gun. He then hit Mary with a blunt object, made her play catch, and sexually assaulted her. When he left, Mary ran 800 meters to the nearest house for help.

Meanwhile, Jimmy regained consciousness and asked a passing motorcyclist to call the police. Within 30 minutes, four policemen arrived at the scene but the attacker had already left.

Jimmy and Mary give different descriptions of the culprit. Mary said she saw under the mask he was a light-skinned African-American. Jimmy said it was a tanned Caucasian man in his thirties, but admitted he couldn’t tell his features apart because he was dazzled by a flashlight. Both confirmed the attacker was about 1.8 meters tall.

Police did not believe Mary’s testimony, believing that the couple knew the identity of the attacker and were covering up for him. No suspects were arrested.

The process of committing the crime was reproduced in the film the town that dreaded sundown (1976). Photo: photofest

The process of committing the crime is reproduced in the movie The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976). Image: Photofest

On the morning of Sunday, March 24, 1946, Richard Griffin, 29, and his girlfriend Polly Moore, 17, were found dead by a passerby in a car parked on Valentine’s Street. The bloody patch next to the car shows they were shot dead outside and then dragged inside. A cartridge case was found, possibly fired from a pistol wrapped in a blanket.

Police investigated the whole city, questioned more than 200 people and detained three people with bloodied clothes, but all three were later cleared of suspicion.

Around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 14, 1946, 17-year-old Paul Martin picked up Betty Jo Booker, 15, after a musical performance. Paul’s body was found at 6:30 a.m. that morning with four bullets, lying on his side on the side of the road. Blood was found next to the fence on the other side of the street.

Betty’s body was discovered at 11:30 a.m., nearly 2 miles from Paul, behind a tree. She was shot twice from a 32-caliber automatic colt pistol similar to the Richard-Polly murder on March 24.

Paul’s car was found 2.49 km from his body and about 4.8 km from Betty’s body, with the keys still inside. Authorities don’t know who was shot first. An autopsy revealed that the two had suffered a terrible struggle.

The next murder occurred on a 200-hectare farm just before 9pm on Friday, May 3. Virgil Starks, 37, was sitting in an armchair reading a newspaper when he was shot twice in the back of the head from a closed window. Hearing the sound of broken glass, Katie, 36, came out from another room and found her husband dead. When she ran to the wall phone to call the police, she was shot twice in the face from the same window. Katie ran to the door before hearing the killer’s voice behind the house. She collapsed when she reached a neighbor’s door and was taken to the hospital.

The series of murders caused the police to mobilize forces across the area but there were few clues. They surmised that the killer might be a “sex maniac”, because the money was not taken.

The police tried to fool him by recruiting teenagers as bait in cars parked on empty streets. Officers also volunteered as bait with real girlfriends or mannequins, to no avail.

On May 11, police urged the public to report any unexplained absences on the night of the four attacks. They offered a 500 USD reward for information after the first murder, the amount exceeded 10,000 USD on May 13.

Police urge the public to report anyone in possession of such a flashlight, which was found at the murder scene at the starks home. Photo: texarkana gazette

Police urge the public to report anyone in possession of such a flashlight, which was found at the murder scene at the Starks home. Image: Texarkana Gazette

Officers were hesitant to link the Starks murders to previous crimes, because the weapon was believed to be a 22-caliber automatic rifle. By November 1948, authorities had dropped the link. link between this case and the previous two murders.

Authorities did not connect the first attack to the murders. The Richard – Polly murder raised public concern but was treated as an isolated incident. By the murder of Paul – Betty on April 14, the public began to panic about the possibility of a serial killer.

A curfew was established for businesses to prevent people from going out at night. Also at this time, the local media referred to the hypothetical serial killer as the “Ghost Assassin”.

Panic increased after the murder of Virgil Starks. The media is constantly reporting on the police investigation. Sheet Texarkana Gazette announced on 5/5 that the “Ghost Assassin” could strike again anytime, anywhere and with anyone. For a week, the police were inundated with reports of snoopers, but most of them were fantasies, overwhelming fear.

In the past, people often didn’t lock their doors. But now, they equip everything from door locks to guns, even nailing windows and covering curtains. The day after the death of Virgil Starks, the stores sold out of locks, guns, ammo, window blinds. Many people look to buy window locks, door hooks, night door latches, house dogs. The fear spread to neighboring cities, causing sales of guns and axes to skyrocket.

After three weeks with no related murders, Texarkana’s fears began to subside and subsided after three months. Police said the gunman appeared to be a maniac and an expert in the use of guns.

Dr Anthony Lapalla, a psychologist at the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, believes the killer was between the ages of 30 and 50, apparently motivated by strong sexual desire and sadism. Lapella says that the perpetrators of such crimes are wise, cunning and often go undetected.

According to Lapella’s theory, he was not afraid of the police, but realized that it was increasingly difficult to attack on empty roads, so he changed his target to a farm. A murderer who acts alone, without telling anyone about the crime, may suppress his desire to attack and kill.

During the investigation of the case, hundreds of suspects were arrested. 9 people confessed to being the perpetrators but their statements did not match the reality.

The main suspect was identified as Youell Swinney, a 29-year-old car thief and impersonator. He was arrested in July 1946 after police discovered on the night of the Richard-Polly murders that a car had been stolen in the area and a previously stolen vehicle had been left behind.

The police arrested Peggy, Youell’s wife when she went to get the car. Peggy tells in great detail that Youell is the “Ghost Assassin” and killed Paul – Betty. Her story changed some details through interviews, police believe she was hiding information out of fear of Youell or fear of being accused.

Suspect youell swinney (third from left) is arrested by arkansas state police, at the miller county sheriff's office, july 1946. Photo: tillman johnson

Suspect Youell Swinney (third from left) is arrested by Arkansas State Police, at the Miller County Sheriff’s Office, July 1946. Image: Tillman Johnson

The police have a lot of circumstantial evidence against Youell but Peggy’s confession is the most important part of the case. However, Peggy withdrew her confession, was deemed an unreliable witness and could not be forced to testify against her husband.

Law enforcement agents attempt to corroborate Peggy’s confession and tie Youell to the murders. They discovered that on the night of the Paul-Betty murders, Youell and Peggy were sleeping in their car under a bridge near San Antonio. Youell was not charged with murder, but was instead tried and jailed for auto theft.

Two of the case’s lead investigators believe Youell is guilty, 2014 book The Phantom Killer: Unlocking the Mystery of the Texarkana Serial Murders by James Presley also pointed to Youell as the culprit.

“Moonlight Murders in Texarkana” is classified as a legendary mystery case, inspiring many works, including the hit movie The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976).

In February 2020, the FBI released an archive of its more than 1,000-page investigation online.

Tue Anh (Follow Texarkana Gazette, Texarkana Daily News)

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