Recap: E08: Phantom Killer Pt. 3: "A Trail of Blood

Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories " A Trail of Blood" 


In the Spring of 1946, no law abiding Texarkana citizen leaves home after sundown. They clutch their guns instead of their pillows at night, preferring its promise of protection. The Phantom Killer prowls their streets, and his unarmed victims do not hear or see him until it’s too late.

It’s no surprise that the townspeople lose faith in law enforcement and rely on themselves to keep their families safe. Neither local police or the FBI are anywhere close to apprehending the serial murderer, despite having pooled extensive resources into doing so.

Show hosts Carter and Wenndy of the Parcast podcast drama series Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories share the gruesome details of the Phantom’s last victims and come to a consensus on who they believe was the culprit behind the mask.  


At the beginning of the episode, a woman hears a noise in the middle of the night and calls out to her husband. When he doesn’t answer, she goes to look for him but finds him slumped over in his a chair, shot twice in the back of the head. She runs for the telephone to call the police but is shot herself in the process. One bullet shatters her jaw and another tears through her cheek. Despite her gruesome injuries and near crippling fear, she runs for help -- the Phantom hot on her heels. No one is home at the first house she goes to, but the second neighbor opens the door to her pounding and cries for help.

The episode then cuts to Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter and Wenndy who recap the last two episodes and pick up where they left off with the deaths of Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker.

Following the two youths untimely ends, the $500 reward offered by Sheriff Presley and Chief Runnels over the radio is augmented by contributions from individual townspeople. Within ten days the sum raises to $6,425.

Katie and Virgil Starks are the next unlucky victims in the Texarkana Moonlight Murders, but unlike the previous victims, they are a middle-aged couple attacked with a .22 caliber automatic rifle at their farmhouse, not lover’s lane.

On May 3, 1946, Virgil stays up to listen to his favorite radio program in the sitting room while Katie gets ready for bed. A short time later, she thinks she hears breaking glass and calls to Virgil to turn his radio down. Turns out she was partly right. The Phantom shot Virgil in the back of the head from the backyard through a closed window. Katie gets shot herself when she runs to call the police. The Phantom breaks into the house, and Katie leaves a trail of blood and teeth as she narrowly manages to escape..

When A.V. Prater opens his door to Katie pounding at his door, he is taken aback by her blood soaked nightgown and grisly injuries. He shoots his rifle into the air to summon their neighbor Elmer Taylor and probably also scares away the Phantom Killer. Taylor then drives Katie to the hospital; she miraculously survives.

Immediately after they get Prater’s call, local law enforcement sets roadblocks and combs the area with help from the FBI, Texas Rangers, county sheriffs and state police. However, the Phantom still slips from their grasp.

After news breaks on the latest attack, Doctor Anthony Lapalla from the Federal Correctional Institute in Texarkana speaks with a reporter from the Texarkana Gazette to give insight on the killer’s mental behavior and profile. He believes the Phantom is a sadist motivated by a strong sex drive. Lapalla attributes the change of location in the Phantom’s kills to his cleverness and acute knowledge of investigation proceedings; he knows what roads are being watched and so went to outskirts of town where police officers wouldn’t be posted.

With the latest killings and the killer’s unsettling profile printed in the papers, Texarkana reaches its peak of hysteria. Captain Gonzaullas of the Texas Rangers, a bit of a showboat and female heartthrob, doesn’t exactly quell the panic when he tells the residents of Texarkana over the radio to keep their guns oiled and loaded.

Residents who never owned guns before keep them loaded on both sides of the bed and construct Rube Goldberg-like contraptions at entryways to warn them of intruders.

Every store in town is sold out of locks, guns and ammunition, and no one needs a town-wide curfew to keep them inside. The only exceptions are town drunks, two-bit criminals and a few teenage vigilantes parking on lover’s lane who hope to nab the killer. Mistaken for the Phantom, a police officer is almost shot by one of them.

Yet weeks pass, then months without the Phantom claiming another victim, but the murder investigation doesn’t stop. Max Tackett, a Arkansas State Trooper, notices a pattern -- whenever there is an attack a car is stolen. While following this lead and tracking down stolen cars, Tackett finds Youell Swinney.

Even his wife says he’s the killer, and Youell’s certainty that he’s been arrested for “more than just stealing cars” and will get the chair for “what he did” sure makes him look guilty. Still, he doesn’t confess to being the Phantom and while his wife’s testimony is compelling, not all of it checks out and she later recants.

Carter and Wenndy run through several other possibilities, but while some of them are certainly criminals, none of them seem to be the serial murdering type. Even 18 year old Henry Booker “Doodie” Tennison, who confesses in a suicide note, likely didn’t commit the murders. His brothers claimed that he didn’t know how to handle guns and he had an alibi the night Virgil Stark was murdered.

By the end of the episode, Carter and Wenny both think Youell Swinney is the Phantom KIller, but are they right? Let us know what you think and visit us on Parcast’s Facebook and Twitter