Recap: E43 The Freeway Phantom

On April 25, 1971, thirteen-year-old Carol Spinks walks to a 7-11 a half-mile from her home when she is abducted and murdered by the Freeway Phantom. She is the first of six young African-American girls, ages ten to eighteen, to be strangled and dumped beside major roadways in the Washington, D.C. area during 1971 and 1972. The Freeway Phantom abducted the girls while they were out running errands for their families, going to work or heading home after a good time with friends.

On this week’s episode of Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories, show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy MacKenzie look at the final days of the Freeway Phantom’s first three victims: Carol Spinks, Darlenia Johnson and Brenda Crockett.

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Evander Spinks and her boyfriend Daryl listen to a Bill Withers record. They are laughing, teasing and kissing when they are interrupted by Evander’s little sister Carol. Carol repositions the needle of the record player to listen to another song. The sisters bicker, but Evander draws the line when Carol compares Daryl to an old boyfriend.

Just as Carol is about to leave, Evander asks if she’s had dinner. When it becomes apparent that her sister hasn’t eaten yet and that they are out of groceries, Evander gives Carol money and sends her to the local 7-11. Daryl requests a box of mac n’ cheese.

After picking up the items she was sent to get, Carol takes the groceries to the counter and asks the clerk if they have mac n’ cheese. He tells her they sold their last box. On the way home, Carol notices that she’s being followed by someone in a car. She yells at him to stop and starts running. The Freeway Phantom tears after Carol, and she drops her bag in the chase. She calls for help but there is no answer before she is abducted.

Six days later, her body is found on the side of the I-295 highway. Carol’s mother Denise wails when a police officer stops by the house to tell her the news. Evander is angry and accuses the officer of not doing enough to find her sister alive. She thinks that if her sister was white, their mostly white police department would have tried harder.

The Freeway Phantom strikes again almost three months later. The morning before Darlenia Johnson is abducted and killed, her mother tucks in the shirt of her work uniform and reminds her that her packed lunch is sitting on the kitchen counter. They tease each other good-naturedly before sixteen-year-old Darlenia leaves to go to her job at the recreation center. She never makes it, but her friend Christine spots her in an old black car driven by an African-American man.

Eleven days later, Darlenia is found fifteen feet away from where Carol’s body was dumped. Growing bolder, the Freeway Phantom’s next victim is discovered only nineteen days later. Ten-year-old Brenda, a sweet girl who easily forgave and jumped to help others, volunteers to go to the store for her mother. When she doesn’t come back home after an hour, her mother rallies a couple neighbors to search for her.

While she’s away, Brenda calls the house and her little sister Bertha answers. Sobbing, Brenda tells her sister that a white man picked her up and that she thinks she’s in Virginia. Bertha tries to find out more, but her sister abruptly hangs up. When she calls again, their mother’s boyfriend Dan answers. Brenda repeats what she told her sister, and Dan asks to talk to the man. However, Brenda refuses and hangs up at the sound of footsteps. Dan tries to comfort Bertha, who begins to cry.

Much to her family’s anguish, Brenda’s body is found by a random hitchhiker in a matter of hours on the side of US Route 50 in George’s County, Maryland. She was raped and strangled by a scarf still knotted around her neck.

An FBI agent tells a detective on the case that the number used to call the Crockett house was unlisted. They conclude that the killer commanded Brenda to give her family false information to throw investigators off his scent.

Darlenia’s friend Christine does her best to identify the man who took Darlenia and the car he drove. She becomes upset when the detective asks her questions she doesn’t know the answers to. He tries reassuring her that she did everything she could, but Christine feels as if she failed her friend.

The Freeway Phantom grows bolder with his next three victims and tauntingly leaves behind evidence for the police to find. On next week’s episode of Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories, show hosts Carter and Wenndy dive into the madness that concludes the Freeway Phantom’s reign of terror.