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It's been 70 years since terror stalked Texarkana in form of the Phantom

by Greg Bischof | March 24, 2016 at 12:07 a.m. | Updated July 8, 2017 at 9:30 p.m.
Mark Moore, the brother of Polly Ann Moore, revisits the site where the bodies of his older sister and Richard Griffin were found murdered in 1946. Mark was only 14 at the time and remembers traveling with his mother to identify the body. "They identified her initially by her Atlanta High class ring. After that, I wore it for several years."

With the Phantom killings now 70 years in the rear-view mirror, the dread and horror they caused Texarkana may have long since faded, but the interest in those slayings remains ever so rich.

To mark the start of the anniversary of those eight cases of aggravated assault and murder, the New York Daily News recently published an account of those attacks that left Texarkana in a near death-grip of fear during that tense and unnerving spring of 1946.

"He wore a white mask over his head with cutout places for his eyes and mouth. He pointed a flashlight and pistol at us. He came up on the driver's side of the car and told Jimmy something like this: 'I don't want to kill you, fellow, so do what I say.'"

Throughout Texarkana's 143-year history, perhaps no other event has created more sustained interest and intrigue than those grim assaults and slayings seven decades ago.

The actual assaults happened to four couples between Feb. 22 and May 3, 1946. Of the eight victims, five died of gunshots wounds, and three survived being shot or beaten.

The lasting historical impact and legacy of these events, for Texarkana, are evidenced by the national and international attention the crimes drew-and continue to draw.

Around May 2007, a British television crew from London came through Texarkana with a piano that once belonged to the late ex-Beatle John Lennon. The crew conducted a nationwide tour in a memorial tribute to different sites where "senseless killings" took place. One of the places they stopped included a spot off North Park Road in Texarkana,Texas, where law officers found one of the Phantom Killer's victims. A piano-playing session took place there for about an hour.

Around that same time, a Discovery Channel film crew visited Texarkana to make a documentary about the slayings.

Though today is the 70th anniversary of the mysterious killer's first fatal attack, the first attack was actually a disturbing and somewhat sadistic aggravated assault on a young couple which occurred around 11:45 p.m. Feb. 22, 1946. This assault would eventually be attributed to the Phantom Killer and provided the lead-in and ramp-up to the more elevated fatal crimes committed against three other couples in the months to follow.

Earlier on that late winter night in 1946 the assault victims, James B. "Jimmy" Hollis, 25, and Mary Jeanne Larey, 19, had been to the movies and were on their way back to Larey's house in Hooks, Texas. According to a 14-page statement on the attack by Hollis, they parked about 50 feet off Richmond Road on an secluded, unpaved lane about 100 yards from the last row of city houses belonging to the relatively new Beverly residential neighborhood. This site appears to be off what is now the 700 block of Richmond Road near Stevenson Street-an area that still looks relatively secluded.


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Larey recalled that evening in an interview she gave three months after the attack, in the May 10, 1946, issue of the Texarkana Gazette.

"We had been there about 10 minutes when a man walked up," the article states. "He wore a white mask over his head with cutout places for his eyes and mouth. He pointed a flashlight and pistol at us. He came up on the driver's side of the car and told Jimmy something like this: 'I don't want to kill you, fellow, so do what I say.'"

"We both got out of the car on Jimmy's side and stood by the man. The man then told Jimmy, 'Take off your (expletive deleted) britches,'" Larey continued.

She said she told her date to comply.

"I told Jimmy to please take them off because if he did, we wouldn't be hurt." Larey is quoted in the article. "After Jimmy had taken off his trousers, the man hit Jimmy twice on the head. The noise was so loud I thought Jimmy had been shot. I learned later that the sound was his skull cracking."

Hollis' written account, which until recently remained unpublished, further stated the assailant knocked him unconscious, fracturing his skull in three places.

The Phantom Killer tried to rob Larey and attempted to sexually assault her.

"I picked up Jimmy's pants and took his billfold out of his pocket, and I said, 'Look , he doesn't have any money,' but the man told me I was lying and he said that I had a purse, but I told him that I didn't. Then he hit me, I thought, with a piece of iron pipe and knocked me to the ground, but I managed to get up."

The assailant then told her to run, and she first headed for a ditch, but he told her to go down the road, where she spotted another car, according to the 1946 article.

After fleeing westward for a short time, Larey said she saw an older-model car parked on Richmond Road facing in the direction of their car. Hoping someone was inside that car, she looked inside, but found no one. She started running again, but she said her high-heeled shoes made sprinting difficult.

"Just as I got past the car, the man overtook me," Larey said in the article.

The suspect hit her again, causing her to fall once more to the ground, and at that point, Larey said, the masked suspect didn't rape her, but "abused her terribly," according to the article. News reports of that time didn't specify the nature of this abuse, but later police reports would indicate that the suspect used his gun barrel to sexually assault her.

The suspect eventually left Larey as Hollis managed to get up off the ground, stumble to Richmond Road and stop a passing motorist.

"Jimmy made it to Richmond Road and stopped a car," she said in the article. "He (the attacker) might have seen this car's lights and been frightened away," she speculated.

Larey said she continued to run (apparently continuing westward) for what she estimated to be half a mile to a house because she thought her attacker was chasing her and because she needed to get help for Hollis.

Hollis' account states that Larey eventually fled west to a home in the 800 block of Blanton Street, to summon help after an approaching car apparently forced the assailant to retreat from the area.

"The last time I saw Polly would have been about two weeks before this happened to her. She was a person who had a lot of friends. Both Mom and I had to go to Texarkana to identify her and confirm that it was her found in that car."

Hollis, who at the time, worked as an insurance agent in association with his brother at an insurance business, at 3502 N. State Line Ave., had to spend more than a dozen days in recovery at Texarkana Hospital, which then existed in the 500 block of Pine Street. The hospital, which was also known as Pine Street Hospital, was eventually torn down never to be replaced by another structure. The insurance company where Hollis worked is now a parking lot for a used car dealership.

Larey, who lived with her parents in Hooks, also received medical treatment.

The attack, while frightful and severe, drew its share of fleeting attention from the public, but at that time, it seemed to be happenstance and practically drew no sustained attention. However, people would learn to take notice after a drizzly Sunday morning, March 24. That morning, Bowie County Sheriff's deputies and Texarkana, Texas, police would discover the bodies of 29-year-old Richard L. Griffin and 17-year-old Polly Ann Moore.

The couple were in a 1941 Oldsmobile sedan, parked on what is now South Robison Road (officially known as Rich Road and unofficially called "Lover's Lane" back then). They parked about 100 yards south of the highway, where this road branched for a short distance, off U.S. Highway 67 (West Seventh Street).

The roadway configuration has changed somewhat during the last seven decades. Today, South Robison Road intersects U.S. 67 from the north and continues straight south all the way to U.S. Highway 59 and beyond. Back in 1946, it didn't. Presently, motorists leaving Texarkana and heading west on U.S. 67, will see a small street, called Wagner Street diagonally connecting South Robison Road to U.S. 67, just before they arrive at the South Robison Road and U.S. 67 intersection proper. Back in 1946, Wagner Street was actually the part of South Robison Road that connected to U.S 67 from the north. This would make the original South Robison Road connection segment veer slightly east of where today's intersection takes place. Once that original slant of South Robison Road hit U.S. 67, it stopped dead into U.S. 67 without proceeding south.

The portion of South Robison Road today that does intersect U.S. 67 on the highway's south side did exist, but apparently only as a short rural gravel road off-shoot from the highway and didn't proceed north. This would effectively make that short section back then a more isolated and secluded area for couples to park and make out.

Upon finding the deceased couple, law officers discovered that Griffin and Moore had each been shot in the back of the head at least once.

Deputies found Griffin on his knees between the two front seats, with his head resting in his hands. His trouser pockets had been turned inside out in an apparent effort to rob him after his assailant shot him while he was still in the car.

Moore, was found sprawled face-down in the car's rear seat, but she was apparently killed outside the car on a blanket and placed back in the vehicle, according to a police report written by Arkansas State Police Trooper Max Tackett, one of the lead investigators on the Phantom Killer cases.

Photo by The Washington Post/WASHINGTON POST
Pedicab operators wait for fares on the National Mall in Washington.

The couple was last seen around 10 p.m. the previous Saturday night in a West Seventh Street cafe, where they ate dinner with Griffin's sister, Eleanor.

The Bowie County Sheriff's Office started a citywide investigation in conjunction with both the Texas-side and Texarkana, Ark., city police, along with the Miller County Sheriff's Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the FBI.

However, the gunman left very few clues at the scene.

Three days following the murders, the sheriff's office already had questioned about 50 to 60 people about the crime and traced down more than 100 false leads.

Bullets found at the scene matched those fired from a.32-caliber pistol, believed to be a Colt.

Deputies also found a section of ground saturated with dry blood about 20 feet from the car. The sheriff's office submitted a blood-stained portion of sandy soil to the state crime lab in Austin for analysis. The blood may have been that of Moore.

But despite all efforts, results were not conclusive and the two murders remained a baffling mystery, forcing the sheriff's office to eventually post a $500 reward for information. None came.

Rain showers continued throughout most of that Sunday, washing away any potential foot prints left at the crime scene.

Law officers also found no weapons at the scene, leaving them to rule out a murder-suicide.

Investigators did recover a picture of Moore from her purse, which they found lying beside her body in the car. Griffin and Moore had been dating about six weeks.

"The last time I saw Polly would have been about two weeks before this happened to her," Moore's brother, Mark Moore, said. "She was a person who had a lot of friends. Both Mom and I had to go to Texarkana to identify her and confirm that it was her found in that car."

At the time of his death, Griffin had just received his discharge from the U.S. Navy Sea Bees (Construction Battalions) in November 1945. He lived at 155 Robison Courts with his mother, Mrs. R.H. Griffin, and brother, David. Their sister, Eleanor, lived at 152 Robison Courts, according to a 1945 city directory. The building that housed both residential addresses is now demolished, along with most of the rest of Robison Courts.

Polly Moore was working at the Red River Arsenal (now the Red River Army Depot) and lived in a boarding house at 1215 Magnolia St. This home apparently had to be destroyed in later years, to make way for the widening of North State Line Avenue-from two to five lanes.

"Polly lived in Douglassville (Texas) when she graduated from Atlanta High School (in May 1945)," Mark Moore, now 84 years old, said of his sister. "She then started working for the Red River Arsenal and moved to Texarkana, just before Labor Day in 1945."

Polly Ann Moore was wearing her Atlanta High School Class ring at the time of her death, and Mark Moore said he wore it in her memory up until the time he went to East Texas State University in Commerce, Texas.

Like the Hollis-Larey aggravated assault case before it, the Griffin-Moore double slaying also failed to generate enough alarm to ignite a shock-wave of fear that would seize the city. That would happen after a second couple's murder in a wooded area north of Spring Lake Park, three weeks after the Griffin-Moore case. That case will be featured next month in the Texarkana Gazette.


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