The Terrifying True Story Behind The Texas Town That Dreaded Sundown

In 1976, a horror film called The Town That Dreaded Sundown was released, claiming to be based on a true story. The movie depicted a series of brutal murders that occurred in Texarkana, a town on the border of Texas and Arkansas, in 1946.

The killer, who wore a hooded mask and used a variety of weapons, was never caught and became known as the Phantom Killer. The film mixed fact and fiction, creating a chilling atmosphere and a sense of mystery that still lingers today. But what is the real story behind the Texarkana Moonlight Murders, and who was the elusive Phantom Killer?

The First Attacks

The first attack attributed to the Phantom Killer took place on February 22, 1946, on a secluded road known as Lover’s Lane. A young couple, Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jeanne Larey, were parked in their car when they were approached by a man with a flashlight and a gun. The man ordered them out of the car and told them he did not want to kill them. He then proceeded to beat Hollis with his gun, fracturing his skull, and sexually assaulted Larey with the barrel of his weapon.

He then told Larey to run, but chased her and hit her again. Larey managed to escape and flag down a passing car, which took her and Hollis to a hospital. Both survived, but could not provide a clear description of their attacker, except that he wore a white cloth mask with holes for the eyes and mouth.

The second attack occurred on March 24, 1946, on another Lover’s Lane. This time, the victims were Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore, who were found dead in Griffin’s car by a passing motorist. Both had been shot in the back of the head with a .32 caliber pistol. Griffin was still in the driver’s seat, while Moore was found sprawled on the back seat. There was no sign of robbery or sexual assault, and no witnesses or clues were found at the scene.

The Phantom Strikes Again

The third attack happened on April 13, 1946, and involved two teenagers, Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker. Martin had picked up Booker from a dance, where she had been playing the saxophone with her band. They were last seen alive around 1:30 a.m., when they left the dance hall. Their bodies were found the next morning, several miles apart.

Martin had been shot four times with the same.32 caliber pistol, and his body was found near his car on a dirt road. Booker had been shot twice, and her body was found in a wooded area, along with her saxophone case. Again, there was no evidence of robbery or sexual assault, and no witnesses or clues.

The fourth and final attack took place on May 3, 1946, at a farmhouse on the outskirts of town. The victims were Virgil Starks and his wife, Katie. Starks was sitting in his living room, listening to the radio, when he was shot twice in the back of the head through a window. He died instantly. Katie, who was in the bedroom, heard the shots and ran to check on her husband.

She was then shot twice in the face, but survived. She managed to get up and run to a neighbor’s house, despite being blinded by blood and having several teeth knocked out. She was taken to a hospital, where she recovered from her wounds. She could not identify the shooter, but said that she saw a flash of light from a pistol. The police found a flashlight and a bloody footprint at the scene, but no other clues.

The Investigation and the Aftermath

The Texarkana Moonlight Murders caused a wave of fear and panic in the town, as people locked their doors, armed themselves, and avoided going out at night. The local authorities, assisted by the Texas Rangers and the FBI, launched a massive manhunt for the Phantom Killer, but to no avail. Several suspects were questioned and arrested, but none were conclusively linked to the crimes.

The most prominent suspect was Youell Swinney, a petty criminal who was arrested for car theft in June 1946. His wife, Peggy, told the police that he was the Phantom Killer, and gave details of the murders that matched the evidence. However, she later recanted her confession, and refused to testify against him. Swinney was never charged with the murders, but was convicted of car theft and sent to prison. He died in 1994, never admitting or denying his involvement in the killings.

The Texarkana Moonlight Murders remain unsolved to this day, and the identity and motive of the Phantom Killer are still unknown. The case has inspired several books, documentaries, and films, including the 1976 and 2014 versions of The Town That Dreaded Sundown. The original film, directed by Charles B. Pierce, claimed to be a factual account of the events, but took many liberties with the facts, such as adding fictional characters, scenes, and details.

The film also ended with a chilling scene, showing the killer standing in line at a movie theater, implying that he was still alive and free. The 2014 film, produced by Jason Blum, was a meta-sequel that acknowledged the existence of the 1976 film, and featured a copycat killer who mimicked the Phantom’s methods. Both films were met with mixed reviews, but have gained cult status among horror fans.

The Texarkana Moonlight Murders are one of the most notorious and mysterious cases of serial murder in American history. The Phantom Killer was a precursor to other infamous killers, such as the Zodiac, the Son of Sam, and the Golden State Killer, who also terrorized communities and evaded capture for years. The story of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders is a terrifying true story that still haunts the town that dreaded sundown.

Conclusion

The Texarkana Moonlight Murders were a series of brutal killings that occurred in Texarkana, a town on the border of Texas and Arkansas, in 1946. The killer, who wore a hooded mask and used a variety of weapons, was never caught and became known as the Phantom Killer. The case remains unsolved to this day, and has inspired several books, documentaries, and films, including the 1976 and 2014 versions of The Town That Dreaded Sundown. The story of the Texarkana Moonlight Murders is a terrifying true story that still haunts the town that dreaded sundown.

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