Longform

The Phantom Menace

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At Johnson's request, a retired Texas Ranger living in Kilgore was contacted. The Ranger attempted to determine the origin of the call but was unsuccessful.

"It was almost a year later that I heard virtually the same story again," Johnson says. "I was in church one morning, and someone came up to me after the service and mentioned something about my having been involved in the investigation of the Phantom Killer cases. A nephew of Virgil Starks was a member of our congregation and obviously overheard the conversation. He came over and began telling me how his mother had received virtually the same call. He said she'd not paid much attention to it, figuring it was just some sick prankster."

Perhaps she was right. Nowhere in Johnson's faded records or the research conducted by Bledsoe or Dr. Presley is there indication that Youell Swinney, so long pointed to as the prime suspect, ever had a daughter. Thus those strange and belated calls are legitimate cause to wonder if, in fact, Swinney's lifelong insistence that he had not committed the murders might have been the truth after all.

Those who wish to argue his innocence often point to a night in October 1946--while Swinney was in jail, being questioned about the Texarkana murders that had occurred months earlier--when a young couple was slain while parked on a secluded oceanside road near Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Just as with the "lovers lane" victims in Texas, they, too, had been shot with a .32-caliber pistol. Like the Phantom, the killer simply vanished; the case never was solved.

Maybe, it is suggested, the long-ago terror that visited Texarkana, sparking fear and frustration, dark secrets and discomforting memories, abruptly ended only because the person responsible for it had simply decided to move to new hunting grounds. Such speculation, of course, continues to enhance the legend.

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Carlton Stowers
Contact: Carlton Stowers