A cold case is an unsolved criminal investigation that remains open indefinitely pending the discovery of new evidence. There have been numerous unique cases throughout history, some of which still remained unsolved to this day, such as the Jack the Ripper killings, the Zodiac murders, and the Black Dahlia slaying. In this new, regular series, Wicked Horror’s resident true crime expert April Bennett takes a look at one of these cases in an attempt to better understand why it remains open. In this installment, April will be revisiting the infamous Tekarkana murders. This installment will unfold over several weeks. This week, we bring you Part 4. Check out Part 3 here.
Picking up, back in April 1946, at the scene of the third Phantom attack, Sheriff Presley identified the body as Paul Martin from the ID in his wallet. Martin had been shot four times; in the back of the neck, the shoulder, his right hand, and one final bullet in his face. Trails of blood crossing the street indicated that after Martin had been shot he had crawled across the unpaved road before finally succumbing to his injuries.
At the behest of Sheriff Presley, when other officers–and the Texas Rangers, who had arrived on the scene to help and find clues–arrived they found Paul Martin’s abandoned Coupe a mile away with the keys still in the ignition. However, around the same area by the vehicle Sheriff Presley then found a small black date book that he would later discover belonged to Paul Martin. Martin must have dropped it after abandoning the vehicle. For unknown reasons, instead of sharing the evidence with the others at the scene, Presley simply placed the date book into his pocket and carried on with his investigation.
This crime came after just 21 days after the murder of Griffin and Moore, so Presley quickly realized he needed more help. Later that morning he placed a formal request to the resident FBI agent in Texarkana to help process the crime scene. This indicated the entry of the FBI into the Texarkana murders case, another large law enforcement agency to aid the small town. While processing the scene and putting the pieces together of what happened, word of mouth spread like wildfire. Soon, Sheriff Presley and the rest of law enforcement were made aware that Paul Martin was the last person seen with Betty Jo Booker, who was reported missing.
After securing the scene with techniques taught to them by the Texas Rangers and the FBI agent, Sheriff Presley recruited Texarkana residents to search for Betty Jo Booker. Bessie and Chris Brown’s fears were realized when Betty Jo’s body was found 1.75 miles away from Martin’s corpse. She was fully clothed, her coat buttoned, and her body resting on her back with her right hand tucked inside her pocket. Her body was undisturbed and relatively untouched–she looked like she had just fallen asleep. However, Betty Jo had been shot twice, once in her chest that penetrated her heart and once in her face where the bullet passed through her left cheek near her nose. Later examination suggested that the murderer had faced her when he shot her at point blank range.
At the scene, .32 caliber shell casings were found near Martin’s car, the same that had been used in Griffin and Moore’s murders the previous month. The FBI also listed that they found six cartridge cases and four projectiles, which had markings that matched the weapon used to kill Griffin and Moore.
Even though, the following day, the Texarkana Gazette ran the unexciting headline “Murdered Shot to Death” (1946) there was little information given to the public besides everything that had already spread around the town. While most of the details had been shared with residents, local and federal law enforcement made the decision to keep a key detail out of the news.
On April 20th, after the FBI examined Booker’s body, they found that she tested positive for semen and her vagina had marked bruising which reportedly could have been from either penile penetration or penetration from a pistol grip. However, when analyzing Martin’s genitalia for signs of seminal fluid he tested negative, so it is assumed that the two of them did not have sex.
Martin and Booker were both laid to rest on April 16th, 1946 and although their funerals were supposed to be private affairs, many showed up for the young couple. Some were grieving Texarkana residents, but many others were out of towners who retained morbid curiosity about the double homicide. As both Martin and Booker’s families buried their children, six more Texas Rangers arrived on the scene to help catch the elusive murderer who was newly named by the Texarkana Gazette. The newspaper’s latest headline gave the Lovers Lane murderer the title of The Phantom Killer, in their headline that ran two days after the murder: “Phantom Killer Eludes Officers as Investigations of Slayings Pressed” (1946).
Among the rangers who arrived was that of the infamous Ranger Captain Manuel Trazzazas “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, who brought 26 years of experience to Texarkana and had a reputation that preceded him. He pledged to the people of the town that he would stay until he jailed or killed the Phantom and supposedly earned the nickname of Lone Wolf since he had a nasty habit of taking on perpetrators in physical confrontations and exit the fight victorious.
Those around him gave him credit for killing 75 outlaws on his own, but he apparently insisted they were always justified shootings. Upon arriving to Texarkana and making his outlandish promise to the citizens, Lone Wolf Gonzaullas released a special notice which read that they were looking for the Phantom. The public announcement included important details such as where the bodies were found and the fact that Booker’s saxophone, whose absence had ignited Bessie Brown’s suspicion, was missing. The notice made a point that it was a “gold-plated Bundy E-flat Alto saxophone, serial #2535” and urged pawnshops and music stores to please pay attention to anyone who may want to sell Booker’s instrument.
While Griffin and Moore’s deaths caused Texarkana to shake its head in disbelief and grieve, Martin and Booker’s murders sent the town into a spiral of panic. Local hardware stores were selling out of guns, ammunition, dead-bolt locks, and screen door braces. Curfews were placed for the all the residents and young people traveled in groups armed with self-defense pistols. The Lone Wolf even had to deal with the constant rumors that were typical of a small southern town, one of the most notable being that the Phantom Killer was gnawing the breasts of the girls he had murdered.
Simultaneously, local law enforcement as well as their FBI and Ranger cohorts had a revolving door of suspects who were constantly in and out of the station. They arrested locals, even a local African-American man named Sammy, who was known to the community as a gentle soul. However, hope came in the form of a suspect who reportedly asked a sales clerk at a music store on April 20th 1946 if the shop would be interested in buying an “alto Bundy Saxophone.”
The music store and the suspect were in Corpus Christi, 450 miles away from Texarkana, but the sales clerk was familiar with the public notice and was suspicious of the suspect’s odd behavior. He seemed nervous and skittish to her, so she reported the man. He was then arrested in front of a hotel and was found with a .45 caliber revolver as well as bloody clothing. However, when Lone Wolf Gonzaullas sent a Ranger to Corpus Christi, the man was cleared from the suspicion of the murders.
Law enforcement, along with the FBI and the Texas Rangers also unsuccessfully implemented traps on Lover’s Lane trying to lure the Phantom out to cars that looked like his victims’. Local groups also offered up money for any potential leads totaling up to $4,280, which in today’s money is about $53,000. However, these efforts would be for nothing, since the Phantom would soon strike again.
Stay tuned to Wicked Horror for the continuation of our analysis!