In a recent book, the author offers some interesting thoughts concerning serial killers that he believes account for less than “one percent of all murders in a given year.” Citing various authorities, James Presley surmises that serial killers are “made” in the sense that they are a product of their biological, social, and environmental impact and yet make a “personal decision” to kill – the biological aspect issuing from a “genetic accident”, or according to his source, Paul Bloom, an “accident of the genes”. Bad genes coupled with a lousy environment, is likely to create a “bad seed,” apparently.  Quoting some experts, including Robert Ressler and Dr. Shervert H. Frazier, Presley suggests that such killers often engage in a long and active violent fantasy life which they eventually act out on (see, “Thoughts Become Things” Frazier, after being advised of the “basic facts” of the Phantom case, suggested that the killer had likely developed a troubled relationship in his life which led to deep resentment towards that person; as the anger increased in virulence, he eventually fails to cope and “encounters confusion, resulting in a disorganized action pattern”. The killer displaces victims with the person he grew to despise and inflicts his vengeance on them learning more about “the self” which each kill. Presley offers that the resulting “depression” stemming from the earlier social disorganization causes the ultimate violent acts. He goes on to assert that the Phantom killer was likely extremely resentful towards males since he had ordered male victims to pull their pants down before he shot them and preferred “vulnerable couples isolated, at night, helpless before a man with a gun and no scruples.” He quoted Jack Levin’s remarks at an FBI symposium that “Serial killers may be compensating for the inferior role they were forced to play during childhood. Killing gives them everything missing from their otherwise drab, dreary, and mundane existence”. Such killers “feel powerful” as they spread fear and terror throughout the area. (see, “Murderer’s Seeking Publicity: Is It For Their Continued Sadistic Gratification or Something Else?”,

In the book, “The Phantom Killer,” James Presley (2014), the author methodically traces the famous unsolved multiple murders occurring in 1946 in or around Texarkana, located partly in Texas and Arkansas where the “Phantom Killer left five people dead and seriously injured three others. Four of the killings occurred in a “lover’s lane” setting and one at a rural farmhouse. The case was famously investigated by numerous law enforcement agencies including the Texas Rangers.  Although it appears reasonably clear that Youell Swinney and Peggy Swinney (both now deceased) worked in tandem to kill and injure the victims, they were never convicted of the same, and the case remains “unsolved” to this day. Presley is uniquely connected to the area (his uncle, W.H. “Bill” Presley was Sheriff of Bowie County, Texas where most of the murders took place. The author does an excellent job of describing the history of the area and all the players connected to the investigation adding substantial psychological theories he deems applicable to the two main suspects. It is apparent that his historical research was exhaustive- it doesn’t hurt that he holds a Ph. D. in history from the University of Texas, Austin.

The first victims were Mary Jeanne Larey (19) and Jimmy Hollis (25) who had driven to a secluded spot for some romance. They were confronted by a man wielding a gun who ordered Hollis to drop his pants; both were severely beaten (Larey was likely digitally penetrated with the pistol barrel). Next, Polly Ann Moore (17) and Richard Griffin (29) parked their car in a marshy private area after a night on the town and were approached by a gunman who again ordered the male to drop his pants. The killer then shot Griffin twice in the head and Polly twice as well. James Paul Martin (16) and Betty Jo Booker (15) drove to a park region most teenagers from the area were familiar with. They were confronted by a man with a gun. He shot Martin four times, and Betty Jo had been shot once in the heart and once in the head. Each of these events had occurred roughly over a three- week period which caused the public to face the reality that a monster was on the loose. Virgil and Katie Starks lived on a farm in Arkansas about 10 miles from Texarkana. A gunman shot Virgil twice through a window killing him- Katie heroically survived. The details of these murders, the lives of the victims and their families, investigative efforts and achievements (and errors committed by the police- especially during the initial crime scene investigations), and the lives of the two probable killers, are carefully examined by Presley in this 352-page book. As a true crime book goes, this is an excellent read. But it also carries substantial historical value.

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