Thursday, May 5, 2016

Book review: The Phantom Killer

A dark night.. a window cracked open with a breeze blowing in.. a quiet corner in the confines of your home, safely lit with a lamp. Just enough to see around you.. not quite enough to get a good glance into the distance. That, my friends, is the way to read a book. 
But as so often happens in life, my place to read a book is in a bathroom, a lunchroom cafeteria, or at my desk if I’m early enough to work that I can secure time to read a chapter or two..

 While the book may not be new to me, a great read I recently finished was THE PHANTOM KILLER:UNLOCKING THE MYSTERY OF THE TEXARKANA SERIAL MURDERS. It’s the story of a town in terror..
Written by PH.D author James Presley from Texas, the book travels into the past and recounts the before and after effects of the multiple murders that rocked the post World War II landscape of Texarkana.. 

 I have written about the ‘phantom killer’ before. It remains an unsolved case—though so many by this time in history have theories as to the ‘whodunit’ of the story. Multiple killings happening at lovers lane led to an intense national buzz. It was not the first time global media descended on a small time—but given the time and state of America, it is amazing to see and analyze not only the true crime story but the pop culture and journalistic changes that happened because of the series of crimes at the hands of a masked perpetrator.
 
As far as the crime itself, Presley details and documents the follies and attempts at investigating during the early stages of some of the crime scenes. Police mistakes, not accounting for an inventory of evidence.. the lack of DNA.. the fact that small town crimes were the normal calling for a police force. And these big headline murders were too much, at times..
 
Journalism… headline writers had a field day. And once they captured the public’s imagination with the ‘phantom killer,’ all hell broke loose. Literally. More murders and with it fear—people locking windows, staring at neighbors a little more closely.. looking for killers underneath the shrubs. It is a small town mid-20th century vision of the fear that nationally would hit America in the post 9/11 landscape..
 Pop culture.. perhaps you did, or did not know, that there was a movie called THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN made in the 70s.. it wasn’t a ‘true’ account but ‘inspired’ by such. Court cases attempted to stop the film. They did not work. Free form of art won.. and with it, a cult classic horror movie that had little to do with facts. Then came a remake in the 2000s—and the weirdest part? The town shows the original film every Halloween in a field near where the actual real life murders took place decades prior.. Talk about creepy..
 Presley’s book is a must read for those who really into true crime. And even those into psychology and the ultimate state of terror so often people can find themselves in. It sets the stage perfectly well.. the writing style, along with frequent descriptive accounts of the weather on any given day, offers a glimpse into the past. And sort of makes you feel like you’re there.. While you’re not reading the headlines in a newspaper, Presley’s ability to work those true headlines into print gives you the same chills it would have the people of Texarkana so many years ago.
And … the truth the killer was not caught. At least not for the crimes of murder.. perhaps another crime or crimes. Read the book for more on that.

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