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True Tuesday: Killer Legends

Updated on January 15, 2018
Kristina Stancil profile image

Freelance Writer, Novelist, & aspiring Criminologist....member of the Horror Writers Association, MH English, Tiffin U

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One of my favorite True Crime documentaries, Killer Legends does not just take a look at true crime. It takes a look at the connection between crimes, urban legends, and horror movies. The producer starts with explaining his interest in the connection between real crimes and urban legends as a youth growing up in New York. There was the legend of Cropsey, a man who abducted children. For years it was simply a scary story that kids could try to scare each other with…..unfortunately kids began being found dead. The reason he does not go into full detail is because he has another documentary entitled “Cropsey.”

The documentary then jumps into the urban legends about two kids making out in a car until the radio reports that a killer with a hook for a hand has escaped from an insane asylum. The girl is terrified and swears she hears something. The frustrated boy is angry and tears away from the lover’s lane. When he gets the girl to her home and goes to open her door, a bloody hook is attached to the passenger side door. It is this tale that they used to transition into the real life unsolved serial murders in Texarkana. The unknown serial killer wore a white mask and stalked kids are lovers lane in the town. The papers would call this killer, “The Phantom Killer,” and the crimes would be referred to as “The Moonlight Murders.” Several couples parked on lovers lane would be killed. They would not be the only victims of The Phantom Killer, a married couple in their farmhouse would also become victims of this masked killer. Virgil and Katie Starks were going about their normal nightly routine. Mr. Starks was listening to the radio in the living room while his wife prepared for bed. Mr. Starks died instantly but Mrs. Starks was shot in the face but was able to escape to a neighboring farm house for help. The Starks did not fit the pattern of young adults sneaking off for a tryst but were more likely victims of opportunity.

The documentary questions the commonly believed idea that a man named Youell Swinney was the Phantom Killer despite not being arrested for the crime. As a habitual criminal his wife claimed that he had told her that he had been involved with the killings but would later recant when ask to tell the story officially for an arrest report. A professor from the University of Arkansas was interviewed for the purpose of the documentary and he was not satisfied with the common belief Swinney was the killer. Swinney would live to be an old man, in and out of jail, but was never convicted of a violent crime. The professor mentions a Freshman from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville who claimed that he was the killer but committed suicide at school in the fall of 1946 because he could not escape the guilt of the horrible things that he had done. The professor believes the kid’s death nor his claims to have been the Phantom Killer were adequately investigated most likely due to the fact the kid came from a wealthy family. The professor believes that the family was so prominent that it is likely that had the kid been the true Phantom Killer that they would have most likely covered his wrong doings up. (The lead Texas Ranger on the case, Lone Wolf Gonzalez; in my opinion was to glory hungry; to give much credence to a young boy’s suicide.)

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Many of the crime scenes have been over grown since the murders in 1946. Sections of the park were demolished in order to create homes. The producer and researcher had to cross through people’s backyards to get to the Betty Jo Booker crime scene. In an interview with one of the town’s officials they discussed the fact that these horrific murders first inspired a movie in 1976 known as The Town That Dreaded Sundown. They also asked if he was aware of the fact that another movie had been made. He was under the impression that it was simply a remake of the original movie, a movie that most everyone in the town had seen since it has become tradition to show the movie around Halloween every year. They asked him if he thought that the regular showings would inspire a copycat. The official laughed it off but then when he learned that it was a sequel in which, in their interpretation, was a copycat inspired by the showings of the movie he seemed shocked.

It is interesting to note that in speaking to a self proclaimed Phantom expert, Mark Bledsoe, he was one of the last people to interview Youell Swinney before his death. An interview that was recorded. Unfortunately when asked about whether or not the time had come for him to admit whether he was involved with the killings as his wife admitted, the tape suddenly cuts off as if someone accidentally taped over what could have been the answer of whether or not Swinney was involved.

Thus leaving the researchers frustrated and disgusted by the carelessness of someone who claimed to be an expert in the subject.

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The next case they research is the Candy Man and while they discuss the Tony Todd movie that was loosely adapted from Clive Barker’s Cabal, they were really in Texas to investigate the murder of Timothy O’Bryan. The father would claim that he was the victim and not his son. Timothy died after he ate a pixie stick that had been tainted with poison. It’s not sure whether he died in his father’s arms or in the hospital where he was announced dead. The father seemed to relish all of the attention from the funeral and the outpouring of support.

They do go through the idea of the story of a kid dying from being poisoned while his friends have their mouths ripped open by razor blades. Timothy O’Bryan however was not a cautionary tale. He was an actual victim and this poor child followed the rules. He went trick or treating with his friends. He stayed with the group and his dad escorted them. His dad, Ronald had five pixie sticks that were poisoned. He poured the sugary mix down his son’s throat. Ronald claimed that he did not remember where he’d gotten the cyanide laced candy. He distributed the pixie sticks between his son, his daughter, and two of their friends. Many of the people believed that the family was truly victims of tampered candy until the police suddenly arrested Ronald. It would be revealed that an insurance company would call the police upon learning of the death of young Timothy. A large policy was placed on both of the O’Bryan children. He would ultimately be convicted of murder and Texas would put him to death. Shortly before he was executed, Phil Donahue would interview him. He would continue to claim his innocence and that he was the victim not his son. He had not just lost his son but once he was arrested his wife divorced him, taking their daughter with her. When questioned about whether or not he knew that the other inmates called him the “candy man” he stopped talking and the interview would end on Ronald’s sick sadistic smirk.

The former Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted O’Bryan boldly proclaimed him a “lying son of a bitch” and that he hoped he could bring justice, and “die for what he did.” When they listened to an interview with him and O’Bryan claiming he knew where he was going, the ADA snapped, “You’re going straight to hell, buddy!” O’Bryan would become one of the first people to be executed once Texas overturned the prior ban on the death penalty.

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The creepiest story was the story of the clowns. The sightings of creepy clowns in 2016, occurring globally happened after this documentary was released. In the documentary it connects the fact that sightings in the early 1980s happened long before everyone had internet access and during a time when a real life killer clown, John Wayne Gacy was being prosecuted. Gacy was a high functioning narcissistic sociopath who used the visage of a clown for charity purposes. The documentary questions whether or not he used the ruse to scout victims but since many of the victims that were discovered under Gacy’s house were mostly runaways.

© 2018 Kristina Stancil

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