An examination of the spasm of violence popularly dubbed the “Texarkana moonlight murders.”
Texas historian Presley (A Saga of Wealth: The Rise of the Texas Oilmen, 1978) doesn’t much like that name, since the eight murders of late winter and spring 1946 took place in different moon phases—but always deep in the night. As the author notes, Texarkana, split between two states, was a town where crime was constant and violence frequent; still, serial murder was quite another thing. Presley writes portentously of the windup to this savage, strange episode: “The snow melted. The weather grew cooperative. Fears of a roving mad dog evaporated. The war was over. What could happen next?” What could happen did happen: A sociopath scared the town into near-paralysis, drawing the attention of law enforcement officials and the press nationwide. Presley’s narrative takes us through the cat-and-mouse chase that served up dozens of suspects before narrowing in on several likely cases, and he concludes that justice was eventually served, if it wasn’t quite as neat and evidentially definitive as in these days of forensic analysis and DNA testing. Much of the narrative is given over to showing where the investigation was right—surprisingly often, given the paucity of clues and evidence—and where it was wrong, as well as to looking at the key players. The asides into criminal psychology, however, are too plentiful—e.g., “The offender failed to develop a conscience at the critical age and never will”; “He probably didn’t think of it in the way normal persons would have, insuring tragedy for everyone, himself included.” The inexpert prose diminishes the compelling interest of the story itself, though anything with Texas Rangers in it is likely to hold the attention of readers.
A thoroughgoing but occasionally plodding story that awaits a better writer. For now, though, this is the best available account of a crime that, though a cold case, still has people talking.