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1946: The Texarkana Moonlight Murders

Discussion in 'Historical Cold Cases - Pre 1950' started by Lily, Jul 22, 2015.


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  1. Akoya

    Akoya Bronze Member


    In June, Life magazine published a report about how the community was coping with the idea of a monster in their midst. Citizens, “tight in the grip of mass terror,” were taking desperate measures to protect themselves. Doors were booby-trapped with pans, vases, cans and flowerpots filled with loose silverware or nails. Loaded shotguns in each room and lights blazing from dusk to dawn became the norm. People bought guns and guard dogs. Stores ran out of blinds and window shades.

    May 1946: Southern city is panicked by killer, family moving to hotel while husband is out of town, every morning they moved back home again.
    The crimes gripped the town with fear: Mrs. Henry Rochelle is seen setting booby traps to warn of phantom's approach in a May 1946 photo.
    On June 28, 1946, police tracking a stolen car arrested Peggy Stevens Swinney, 21. She was the new bride of a local troublemaker, Youell Lee Swinney, 29. The couple, married a few hours earlier, were honeymooning by indulging in their favorite hobby — stealing cars and taking long joy rides, some thousands of miles long.

    About two weeks after her arrest, police nabbed the car-thieving groom. The young man, in trouble with the law since childhood, asked an odd question as they drove him to the station house: “Will they give me the chair?”

    Stealing cars is not punishable by death, the officers assured him, but the question sparked the suspicion that they had, by accident, nabbed the Phantom.

    Youell Lee Swinney went to jail for stealing cars, but many believed he was the Phantom Killer.
    Swinney’s wife offered detectives incriminating tales and described one of the murders. But she was legally barred from testifying against her spouse, and the rest of the evidence was too weak for a conviction.

    Swinney went to jail, but as a habitual car thief, not a murderer, and he was behind bars for most of the rest of his life. He died of cancer in 1994.

    Some have insisted for decades that Swinney had to be the Phantom, but there were other candidates. One of the strongest, college student H. B. (Doodie) Tennison, 18, killed himself in November 1948, confessing to some of the murders in a suicide note.

    Officially, the case remains unsolved. It became prime fodder for urban legends, scary campfire stories, books and horror flicks. “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” premiered in 1976, featuring, in addition to the actress who played Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island,” a terrifying killer who wore a sack over his head. The film has been screened in the town each year around Halloween.

    This macabre ritual sparked a 2014 sequel — a new book, “The Phantom Killer,” by historian and former Texarkana Gazette reporter James Presley — that made the case for Swinney’s guilt. The same year, Texarkana hosted a forum, bringing together scholars and forensic experts, to ponder a question that will never conclusively be answered.
    Kimster, Jay, Lily and 1 other person like this.
  2. Lily

    Lily Bronze Member

    Akoya, Kimster and Jay like this.

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