Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories Recap: Lovers' Lane
A month after the random attack on Jimmy Hollis and Mary Jeanne Larry, the townspeople of Texarkana don’t give what happened a second thought. For their quiet, safe little town, it is a freak incident and not something to worry about. It was just a jealous ex-boyfriend getting his revenge, right?
But when another couple is attacked and shot dead, community members are unsettled and know something is terribly wrong. After several lethal attacks, they realize their community has become the hunting grounds for a blood-thirsty serial killer.
Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories hosts Carter and Wenndy walk us through the horrifying last moments of the Phantom’s victims, the frustrating and fruitless homicide investigation, local media coverage and the town’s subsequently growing fear.
Members of the community share with each other news of the latest attack. Two people they knew were shot and killed by the Phantom, and no one seems confident that the police will catch the killer before he strikes again. Some pledge to leave town to protect themselves and their families; others claim they’ll lay in wait for the killer on lovers’ lane with a shotgun and take care of the problem themselves.
On March 23rd, 1946, Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore go out for lunch. Their date continues and they are seen meeting up with Griffin’s sister Emily and her boyfriend J.A. Procter for dinner. After their double date ends, they drive to lovers’ lane like Jimmy and Mary.
The next morning, a motorist passes by Jimmy’s car on the side of the road and finds both lovers shot dead inside. Richard is kneeling between the front seats, his pants pockets turned out, and Polly Ann, fully clothed, is sprawled out on the back seat.
Texas City Police Chief Jack Runnels and Bowie County Sheriff “Bill” Presley are the first to arrive on the scene after the motorist phones in the murder and are tasked with leading the ensuing homicide investigation. Because of the location of the crime, law enforcement from various jurisdictions are involved: the Texas and Arkansas city police, the Department of Public Safety, the sheriffs from Miller and Cass Counties and even the FBI.
By mistake, Polly Ann’s body is taken away before it could be definitively determined whether she was sexually assaulted or not. According to a police report, she was killed on a blanket in front of the car and later placed back inside.
The only clues left behind is a bloody patch of sand approximately 20 feet in front of the vehicle and a .32 cartridge shell found in a blanket inside the car. The sand and victims’ clothes are sent to a lab in Austin for blood type testing, and over the course of the next five days nearly 200 suspects are questioned and investigators chase down hundreds of useless tips and false leads.
Unsuccessful and frustrated, law enforcement appeals to the public in an article published by the Texarkana Gazette on March 27 to basically not spread baseless rumors. Three days later, Sheriff Presley and Chief Runnels offer a monetary award to anyone who can give them new information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator(s).
April 13th, 1946, a young man named Paul Martin meets up with popular, straight-A student Betty Jo Booker for the afternoon and then takes her to her gig with the Rhythmaires at the VFW Club. He seems to fancy her, a sentiment her friends believe she doesn’t share. The show ends late that night, but hours later, the band leader Jerry Atkins gets a phone call from one of Betty’s friends. She was supposed to come to a sleepover but never showed.
A news bulletin airs over the radio stating that a teenage male was found shot to death in Spring Lake Park. Curious to get a glimpse, hundreds flock to the crime scene.
Paul Martin was shot four times and more than a mile away from his car. Betty Jo is found dead two miles away from Martin. She was shot multiple times, as well, and with the same kind of weapon that killed Richard and Polly Ann. Newspapers are inconsistent regarding whether she was raped or not.
Investigators work around the clock questioning hundreds of suspects, following any and all leads, but nothing brings them closer to catching the killer. Soon the headline “Phantom Killer Eludes Officers as Investigation of Slayings Pressed” appears in the Texarkana Daily News and the killer gets his nickname.
Jerry Atkins tells police Betty Jo left the VRW Club with her alto Bundy saxophone which wasn’t found at the crime scene. April 25, a man walks into a pawn shop looking to sell a saxophone very much like the one the victim had but flees when the store clerk goes to get his manager. He is arrested and identified by the clerk two days later. However, after rigorous interrogation, police find him innocent of the crime and let him go. The search continues.