Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Phantom Killer: Texarkana Moonlight Murders

An Open Book

"I'm 60 now (and) there's a lot of terror building in these memories. Maybe that's why I'm so scared at night."
— Dorothy Conley, Texarkana resident

In 1970, Youell Swinney filed a request for a writ of Habeus Corpus, contending that he was not represented by an attorney at his 1947 trial.Even though authorities recalled the trial judge advising the defendant to hire a lawyer at that time, "Swinney testifies that he was not advised of his right to an attorney, nor was he told of the possible punishment he could receive if convicted of the auto theft charge," wrote the Texarkana Daily News. A hearing, presided over by the Board of Pardons and Paroles in Texas, was held at the Bowie County Building in 1973. Recollections of surviving witnesses and law officers were hazy at best and, after consideration by the Court of Appeals, Swinney's conviction was overturned. He was released from prison in 1974.

Swinney leaving courthouse with Deputy E.M. Watts. - Courtesy Texarkana Daily News
Swinney leaving courthouse
with Deputy E.M. Watts.
- Courtesy Texarkana Daily News

No one will ever know if Youell Swinney was the Phantom. While the Arkansas State Police obviously believed he was, the Texas Rangers — at least Capt. "Lone Wolf" Gonzaullas — seems to have remained skeptical over the many succeeding years. Gonzaullas did not close the books on the case, but continued to remain personally interested in it, investigating leads for several years afterward. In fact, he traced down several suspects across Oklahoma and various other states into the 1950s. But, all proved without avail. Technically, the case remains open to this day, unsolved.

In October of 1946, after Swinney was in jail awaiting trial, a murder took place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that greatly mirrored the modus operandi of the Texarkana Phantom. A young couple, Elaine Eldridge (from Massachusetts) and her boyfriend Lawrence O. Hogan (from Miami Beach) were slain while parked in a secluded spot near the ocean. Again, a .32 caliber had been the weapon of destruction, although it was believed to have been of a foreign make and not the familiar Colt that the Phantom probably used. There were no fingerprints recovered and the killer escaped into oblivion — again.

One particular man today believes, however, that the Phantom was indeed taken off the streets when Youell Swinney was arrested. The man is Mark Bledsoe, who has spent years researching Texarkana's most infamous shadow. Bledsoe has learned that Swinney, prior to his arrest for car theft, had been accused of sexual perversion. More so, interviews with Huntsville Prison cellmates revealed that the man told them details of the killings unreported in the newspapers.

Bledsoe conducted an interview with Swinney himself in a Dallas nursing home in 1992, a year before he passed away from natural causes. Its memory remains vivid. "When I talked to him he was coherent to a certain degree," the researcher says. "Time has definitely had its effect. I videotaped the interview and it is hard to make out what is being said. You have to go more on the expressions. It made him angry when I started asking about (the Phantom murders). He said, 'I got off for that and I was cleared.'...

Movie poster:
Movie poster: "The Town That
Dreaded Sundown," which
starred Dawn Wells and Ben
Johnson. - Copyright American-
International Pictures.
"It was spooky. He was in a wheelchair, I am getting goosebumps just thinking about it, being in the room with that person who had people in Texarkana so terrified."

After the Season the Phantom, Texarkana settled back into a leisure, but would never forget the memory of those nights in 1946. In 1996, a half century since the moonlight killings, Texarkana Gazette reporter Rodney Burgess wrote:

"Yes, fifty years later, many who remember the scenario from living through it still harbor fears of the unknown...Some witnesses, some friends of the victims, some family of the victims are still too frightened within themselves to allow them to speak freely about that impressionable time in their life. And, too, many still fear retribution from that unknown source of their fear...Even if the main suspect has been dead for a couple of years, that fear remains. Some would say that it is unrealistic. But reality to some was formed 50 years ago and has changed little since."

 

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