Posted on 3/5/18

Texarkana, Texas in 1946 was mayhem. At the time, a serial killer known as the “Phantom Killer” created havoc in the city to the point at which the city ordered a curfew on all residents when it started to get dark. People were constantly looking around to see whether someone was about to do something to them. It was not just the disruption to normal life that made the case sensational; the amount of arrests of suspects and people who “admitted” to being the Phantom Killer gave the case a life of its own.

Hollis and Leary

Jimmy Hollis, age 25, and Mary Larey, age 19, were out in their car on a secluded road in Texarkana one evening in February of 1946. A man attacked them with, according to their claims, a sort of iron bar. He slammed Hollis’s head to the point where Larey heard a crack. The man then attacked Leary and sexually abused her with a gun.

Both survived the attack and later gave statements to the police. Larey described him wearing a mask but seemed to be a tall, white male. Hollis also stated that he was wearing a mask but believed that he was a light-skinned black male. Based on these two leads, police made numerous arrests of over 200 suspects just after this incident.

The Story Continues

Eventually, the Phantom Killer struck again and again and again. In total, he killed five people in a three-month span. He seemed to target young people who were in secluded areas. His attacks seemed well-planned and premeditated to the point wthat he struck only when he was able to get away. His ability to perpetrate the attack and just move on gave him the name “Phantom Killer.”

Eventually, the state of Texas sent in the Texas National Guard, who provided 24-hour patrol of the city. After three months of quiet, the National Guard left.


In total, Texarkana police arrested over 400 suspects, none of whom were ever convicted. At the time, law enforcement proposed various theories: The suspect was a local who had his pulse on the city, or the suspect was from out of town who came in to do his killings and only acted when he could kill and then easily slip away.

Strangely, various people admitted to being the Phantom Killer, though most of those theories were debunked. The only “serious” suspect was Youell Swinney, who had a history of auto theft and other small crimes. His wife Peggy told police that Youell was the killer, though she later recanted that statement. The police launched an investigation on Swinney and believed he was the Phantom Killer, though they never filed murder charges against him.


In any investigation, there are moving parts. People will offer statements and those statements will be recanted or debunked. Police will make arrests and later let those people free. Being accused of a crime does not equal committing a crime. What is believed to be the story in the beginning is not always how the story ends.

Accused of a crime? Contact the law office of Christopher Abel, a board-certified criminal defense attorney.

(image courtesy of Aaron Mello)


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