Disappearance of Virginia Carpenter
Mary Virginia "Jimmie" Carpenter was a 21-year-old woman from Texarkana, Texas, who went missing in Denton, Texas, in the summer of 1948. Her disappearance remains unsolved. Carpenter was last seen by a taxi driver around 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 1, 1948. Numerous individuals have reported seeing her over the years, but none of these sightings have been confirmed. Her mother, Mrs. Hazel E. Carpenter (who became Mrs. Hazel Smith later in life), spent many years helping the police chase down rumors and leads. She eventually gave up hope, believing that her daughter was dead, although she still wanted her daughter to be found even if she was deceased. In 1998, Denton police received an anonymous tip that she was buried at the campus she was supposed to attend, but it turned out fruitless. Countless man-hours and almost a quarter of a million dollars were spent on the investigation. The case is cold but remains open.
Mary Virginia Carpenter
January 25, 1927
|Disappeared||June 1, 1948 (aged 21)|
Denton, Texas, U.S.
|Status||Missing for 71 years and 18 days|
|Home town||Texarkana, Arkansas, U.S.|
|Height||5 ft 3 in (1.60 m)|
|Weight||120 lb (54 kg)|
Speculation of Carpenter's disappearance was that the Phantom of Texarkana had gotten her since she knew three of the victims. The girl's mother convinced herself that Virginia was a victim of amnesia, not knowing who she was or where she was from, which prompted her to give the girl's life story for the second anniversary of her disappearance in the Denton Record-Chronicle; although the year before, she was convinced that her daughter was dead. Bones were found around Denton County in 1949, 1958 and 1960, but they were declared to not be Miss Carpenter. In 1985, Lewis C. Rigler, a Texas Ranger who was a lead investigator in the case, said that he was not surprised that what may have been the most famous missing person case in Texas was still drawing attention.
An only child, Virginia Carpenter was 5 feet 3 inches (1.60 m) tall, weighed 120 pounds (54 kg), and had dark brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing a light white chambray dress with brown and green stripes (some descriptions include red stripes) and silver buttons down the front, a small white straw hat with the brim flipped up and a white feather stuck in the back, red leather platform high-heeled shoes, and a gold Wittnauer watch. Carpenter took with her a red purse, a black pasteboard hat box, and a brown steamer trunk with a matching cosmetics case. According to Mrs. Carpenter, her daughter left with no more than 15 or 20 dollars.
On Tuesday, June 1, 1948, Carpenter boarded the Texas & Pacific Texas Special #31 for Dallas, Texas at Union Station in Texarkana about 3 p.m., and stopped in Denton, Texas around six hours later. She was on her way to the Texas State College for Women (TSCW) campus, which is now the Texas Woman's University, to enroll in the summer course. While on the train, she met Marjorie Webster, a middle-aged school teacher who was also enrolling at TSCW from Texarkana. After arriving at the train station, they both hired a taxi (driven by Edgar Ray "Jack" Zachary) to take them to the college dorms. As her friend was being dropped off at the Fitzgerald dormitories, Carpenter realized that she forgot to check on her trunk at the train station. She asked the driver how much it would be to take her back to the station. He replied 75 cents. Webster asked if she needed to ride back with her, but Carpenter refused, stating "No, I'll go alone. I'll be alright." After arriving again at the station, she went inside to get her trunk but came back a few minutes later claiming that she could not get it. She spoke to a railroad employee named Mr. Butrill who told her the trunk would not arrive until later. Zachary told Carpenter to sign the back of her claim check and that he would pick it up and deliver it to her in the morning. Carpenter agreed and gave him her luggage receipt after writing "Virginia Carpenter, Room 200--Brackenridge", and a dollar for the extra trip.
Upon arriving back at Brackenridge Hall about 9:30 p.m., Zachary said he saw a yellow or cream-colored convertible parked in the front. There was no moon, and the street lights were out due to repair work on a cable. He reported that Carpenter walked up to the vehicle which had two young men standing by it; one of whom was tall, the other short and stocky. She asked "Well, what are y'all doing here?" He said it seemed as though she was surprised to see them. The shorter boy talked to her and lifted her on the curb. Carpenter told Zachary to place her luggage on the ground because the boys will get them for her and to leave her trunk there in the morning as well. After doing that, Zachary drove off but did not hear the rest of the conversation. That was the last anyone had seen Miss Carpenter. Reports claimed that a nightwatchman saw the girl get out of the cab and into the convertible, but Police Chief Jack Shepherd denied it. The next morning, Zachary dropped the trunk off and set it on the front lawn of Brackenridge Hall. After being there for two days, it was taken to the office. Mrs. Mattie Lloyd Wooten, the dean of women of TSCW, later explained to Mrs. Carpenter that it was the first time someone did not deliver luggage to the room.
Three days later on Friday, June 4, Carpenter's boyfriend, Kenny Branham, from Dallas, Texas called Virginia's mother in Texarkana because he could not get a hold of her. Mrs. Carpenter, now worried, called the school and found out that her daughter never enrolled. She then called friends and relatives that her daughter may have tried visiting, but they had not heard from her. On Saturday, June 5, around 12:30 a.m., she called the local authorities and the Denton police to report her daughter missing. The Texarkana police told her to "just go to bed and we'll get on the case in the morning", but she could not sleep, so she and Mrs. Lucille Bailey, a friend who was living with her, left for Denton at 2:10 a.m. Late Saturday night, the girl's uncle and friends went to Denton to help assist the police in their search with any helpful information, but they failed to shed any light.
Airplanes began scanning the Denton area and motorboats were used to search ponds and lakes. Search parties searched the woods as well as tanks, storm drains, creeks, country roads and abandoned wells. The search was now statewide. Police checked out drivers of light-colored convertibles in Texarkana and Denton but came up with nothing. Lewis C. Rigler, a Texas Ranger, entered the investigation on Monday, June 7, by the request of Virginia's uncle, Dr. E.C. Dodd, along with Chief of Police Jack Shepherd and Sheriff Roy Moore. Officers talked with groups and individuals as possible witnesses. Hunters and farmers were asked to be on the lookout for freshly dug dirt or any unusual odors. Pictures and a description of Virginia were sent to the Department of Public Safety, major city police departments, protection officers of major railroad companies, every State Bureau of Investigations, and many other agencies. Miss Carpenter's trunk was eventually opened, but it gave officers no clues. Her handbag was never found. A reward fund for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible started Wednesday, June 9, and by the end of Friday night, it had reached $1,368. Carpenter's picture and description was given to Reward magazine, the official publication of Tracers Company of America which investigates missing people with rewards. Despite having 150,000 police officials as subscribers, little replies came in about Virginia and investigations came out inconclusive. On Friday, July 9, Jack Zachary took a polygraph test which concluded that he had no connection to her disappearance. By Monday, July 12, it was rumored that Virginia had returned home, but her mom confirmed that it was untrue. Chief of Police Jack Shepherd said that Carpenter knew some boys with a cream-colored convertible but he was not able to implicate any of them with her disappearance. Many leads and tips were thoroughly checked but police were no further to finding Miss Carpenter. More rumors had spread that she returned home or that her body or her luggage was found, but they were branded false by Shepherd. The reward money reached around $3,000, most of which was given back to the donors after two years of no helpful information. On June 9, 1955, Virginia was considered officially dead by a Texas civil law. Article 55:41 in the Texas Civil Statute stated that a person who was successfully absent for seven years should be presumed dead.
On October 18, 1959, a three-by-one wooden box was discovered, which contained female bones including a skull, in a smokehouse near an abandoned farmhouse 7.5 miles northeast of Jefferson, Texas in Marion County. The bones, which matched the height and weight description of Virginia, were sent to Austin, Texas for examination. During that time, the previous owners of the farmhouse admitted to digging up the bones from a "Negro" cemetery. The son was a biology student and said he needed the bones. Mrs. Carpenter had hopes that it was her daughter's remains because the bones had a deformity, and Virginia had a deformity in her right leg which made it shorter than the left. Although the remains turned out to be from a white female with a shortened leg, the dental work did not match.
In May 1998, the police were tipped by a man in his 70s claiming that he knew who killed Miss Carpenter and where she was buried. He stated she was buried on the grounds of the Texas State College for Women (TSCW) campus, which is now Texas Woman's University. The area was excavated, but only a leather glove, a rubber boot, and animal bone fragments were found.
Not long after Miss Carpenter went missing, reports of sightings came in from Denton county, south Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. None of the sightings, however, had been confirmed. Two mornings after Virginia's disappearance, a gas station attendant in Aubrey, Texas, which is 10 miles from Denton, saw a girl who resembled Miss Carpenter. He reported his sighting on June 6 after seeing Virginia's picture in that morning's newspaper. He said that a yellow convertible with Arkansas license plates occupied by two boys and two girls stopped at his station.
On Friday, June 11 around 9:00 p.m., a ticket agent named Mrs. James at a bus station in DeQueen, Arkansas saw a girl who resembled Miss Carpenter. The girl got off a bus from Texarkana wearing a red dress and carrying a red purse. She waited in the lobby before departing 10 minutes later with a young man about 25- or 26- years old, weighing about 135 pounds, with light brown hair, and wearing a white shirt with khaki trousers. Mrs. James reported that before the girl met the boy, she seemed nervous by biting her lips a lot and going to the door frequently. She also inquired about local hotels. A few moments after their departure, Mrs. James received a phone call from a woman asking if "Miss Virginia Carpenter" was there. Mrs. James learned the next morning about Carpenter's disappearance and reported her sighting to the police. Bowie County Sheriff Bill Presley and FBI agent H. S. Hallett showed Mrs. James two groups of pictures in which she pointed out Carpenter as the girl she had seen. Police checked hotels and tourist camps but came up with nothing. Later, Mrs. James was uncertain of her identification of the girl.
On Saturday, June 12, a girl matching Carpenter's description was reported riding in a car with two boys in Mena, Arkansas (47 miles from DeQueen). A Michigan tourist in Tucson, Arizona reported seeing a girl matching Carpenter's description on July 8 after seeing her reward poster in a local cafe. By July 12, Mrs. Carpenter said she had checked all leads in the case but was no closer to learning of her daughter's whereabouts.
On Friday, January 14, 1949, Houston Press received a letter written in pencil, signed by Mrs. Gladys Bass from Chireno, Texas who claimed that she and her friends met a girl who was well-dressed and well-educated who had been hitchhiking. The girl told them she was hungry and had no money. "She called herself Virginia. She talked properly, had long brown curly hair that touched her shoulders, and wore a white hat with a feather in it, a striped dress and blue sweater," she wrote. She said while they were eating at a cafe, the girl claimed to have run away. They all departed thinking that she was telling a story. It was not until later they believed that the girl was Carpenter, but the police were unable to substantiate Bass's report.
Since Virginia went missing, different theories have been proposed as the reason for her disappearance, including running away, leaving with a lover, being kidnapped, being murdered, amnesia, or even being sold into a white slavery ring. Psychiatrists and doctors who were consulted, stated she had nothing to run away from but had rather enthusiastically looked forward to the future. It was also suggested that her body could have been weighed down and sunken in Lake Dallas, which was too large and too deep to be dragged. Virginia knew three of the victims who were murdered by the "Phantom Killer", and thus, it was wondered if he had something to do with her disappearance.
Texas Ranger Lewis Rigler concluded she was dead because he believed there was no reason for her to disappear. He said she did not owe anyone any money, she had no criminal past, no jealous ex-boyfriends, no lovers convincing her to run away, and according to a medical exam before her disappearance, she was not pregnant.
Mary Carpenter was born January 25, 1927 in Texarkana. She was a healthy baby, mostly feeding from Holstein milk which was suggested by her maternal grandfather who eventually gave the family a Holstein cow. She began walking at a young age and as her mother put it, she "inherited a bad streak from me of wanting to walk a little too far from home." To keep her from doing so, Mrs. Carpenter would scare her daughter by telling her that big dogs roamed the streets.
When she was three, Miss Carpenter rolled down the back steps at her home and hit a tree. X-rays showed that she had no injuries. Three months afterward, she caught a bad case of influenza and could not walk. Her parents diligently searched for a cause for her illness but medical science at the time could not diagnose her. She got better for a while but then a severe attack left her badly crippled. The family went through many orthopedic surgeons until one in Memphis, Tennessee found an infection in her right hip bone. It left perforations in it similar to tiny pinholes. Virginia was placed in a contraption for a few months that pulled her leg back into proper position. Too young to understand, Carpenter was given internal medicine, a diet, and the task to sunbathe on the hospital's tar roof for two hours a day for two years. She was able to walk better with the use of a steel brace that fitted into the heel of her shoe which then came up to a leather-rolled "saddle" around her hip. Mrs. Carpenter admitted to making the mistake of placing Virginia in kindergarten while she was still in the brace. Virginia soon became self-conscious and lost weight due to a loss of appetite. She was taken out of school but returned a year later when the brace was removed. She was announced "completely cured" by a specialist when she was 12. She was one of only four complete case histories compiled for the American Medical Association.
Not long after going to Arkansas High School with her cousin, her father became seriously ill. He died two years later when she was 15. She was not bright in school, but her teachers described her as a child with an unusual amount of common sense and loyalty. She was a quiet girl and rarely participated in activities because she tired easily and had a limp in her right leg from her childhood disease. She joined the band and became a majorette. Because of her participation in activities, she joined a sorority after receiving a bid from each one. After graduating from Arkansas High in 1944, she went to the University of Arkansas to study journalism. After a year, she came home and told her mother that she wanted to go into laboratory technician training but it required something she did not take in high school (science). She went to TSCW from September 1945 until February 1946 when she had to quit and take care of her mother who became ill. She planned on finishing her schooling within a year.
After her mother became ill, she underwent major surgery. A week later, Virginia was struck with appendicitis and was also operated on. A month later, they were both taken home by an "Aggie" (a student from Texas A&M University) named Mac. Virginia fell in love with Mac, became engaged, and set a date for their wedding. Her grandparents did not approve of the engagement. Three weeks before their wedding date, Virginia broke it off. Virginia's mother said, "I loved Mac because of his fine qualities and because he was so good to me, but I couldn't see their two personalities living together in harmony." Virginia soon started working for a clinic. She wanted to be a nurse but knew that her right leg would not support the strenuous hours of being on her feet. She decided instead to be a technician. Mrs. Carpenter revealed that Virginia wanted to be a technician because medical science did not find a cure for her father. Virginia wanted to return to school but worried about finances. She then took a job at an insurance firm because it paid a better salary. She stayed with the firm until August 1947 when she had enough money to go back to school. She started the next month at Texarkana Junior College. She now had her future planned: she could go to TSCW in the summer which would enable her to attend the technician training in the autumn of 1948.
Ten days before school was out, Virginia went to the annual picnic from Texarkana Junior College at a lake near Daingerfield, Texas. She left with her date and another couple. About 5 p.m. that evening, Virginia came home and said she did not feel well. Mrs. Carpenter said her daughter "was one of the most sunburned persons I had ever seen." Virginia fell across her bed and went to sleep. Hazel woke her for supper but Virginia said she did not feel like eating. She came to the dinner table but fainted. She regained consciousness while her mother was taking her to the bathroom and then she fainted again and fell to the floor. Mrs. Carpenter did not think she would revive. She picked her up and put her in the bed before calling a doctor. While waiting for the doctor, Virginia regained consciousness and then fainted again, due to sunstroke. She was diagnosed with second-degree sunburn. He prescribed her with rest and quiet for a few days. After the third day, Virginia made an effort to take her final exams at school. While there, she told her teachers about her love affair that did not work out and that she fell in love again but the boy did not love her.
In the last few months before her disappearance, she took up sketching and became quite good through the coaching of a friend. Mrs. Carpenter said that a portrait Virginia did from memory of her father was one of the best likeness she had ever seen. Virginia was recovering from her sunburn when she packed for her trip to Denton. Mrs. Carpenter wanted to take Virginia to Denton in the car, but she insisted that she would be fine on the train. On June 1, the day of her disappearance, they ran to the station and caught the train moments before it left. "I was so in hopes we would find the train gone so that I could drive her down the next morning. There was a tinge of disappointment when I saw the train had not left, but she refused to get on until she kissed me goodbye; and as she stood on the rear platform of the train waving goodbye, I wondered if there was anyone more radiant and beautiful. In my heart I offered a silent prayer because she was mine."
- "Year-Old Virginia Carpenter Mystery Is Still Unsolved". Denton Record-Chronicle. June 1, 1949. p. 1.
- "Ex-Ranger haunted by case". The Baytown Sun. July 31, 1985. p. 3.
- "Mysterious Disappearance of Carpenter Girl Unsolved". Denton Record-Chronicle. January 30, 1949.
- "The Charley Project: Mary Virginia Carpenter". CharleyProject.org. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
- "Whereabouts of Miss Carpenter Remains Mystery". Texarkana Gazette. June 11, 1948. p. 1.
- Rigler, Lewis C. (1995). In the Line of Duty : Reflections of a Texas Ranger Private. Denton: University of North Texas Press. pp. 81–90. ISBN 978-0929398990.
- "White Case Recalls Similar Mystery". Lubbock Morning Avalanche. January 27, 1953. p. 10.
- "Is Virginia Carpenter Still Alive?". Denton Record-Chronicle. June 1, 1950. p. 2.
- "Search for TSCW Girl, Who Vanished Tuesday, Continues". The Taylor Daily Press. June 7, 1948. p. 1.
- "Denton Gets Heat Baptism". Denton Record-Chronicle. June 6, 1958. p. 4.
- "Texarkana Girl Still Missing". Texarkana Gazette. June 6, 1948. p. 1.
- "Virginia Carpenter Still Missing; Reported Seen at Aubrey, Texas". Texarkana Gazette. June 8, 1948. p. 2.
- "Officers Continue Working 'Round Clock in Effort to Solve Mystery Surrounding Disappearance of Virginia Carpenter". Texarkana Gazette. June 12, 1948. p. 1.
- "Trail of Virginia Carpenter Ends At Doorstep of TSCW Dormitory". Denton Record-Chronicle. June 5, 1950. p. 2.
- "Mrs. Carpenter to Ask Cab Driver to Take Sodium Penethol Test". Texarkana Gazette. July 12, 1948. p. 1.
- "Reported Return of Virginia Carpenter Labeled 'Untrue'". Texarkana Gazette. July 13, 1948. p. 1.
- "Reward of $3,000 Is Offered For Trace Of Missing Co-Ed". Lubbock Evening Journal. December 1, 1948. p. 7.
- "Missing Girl Rumors False". Denton Record-Chronicle. June 20, 1948. p. 1.
- Rogers, Jay (June 9, 1955). "Missing TSCW Girl Assumed Dead Now". Denton Record-Chronicle. p. 1.
- "Rangers say bones found in east Texas". Denton Record-Chronicle. January 15, 1960. p. 1.
- "Bones Called Not Virginia's". Denton Record-Chronicle. January 20, 1960. p. 2.
- "Police continue bone excavation". New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung. July 8, 1998. p. 4.
- "Girl Resembling Miss Carpenter Reported Seen". Texarkana Gazette. June 7, 1948. p. 1.
- "Missing Girl Reported Seen At De Queen". Texarkana Gazette. June 13, 1948. p. 1.
- "Clue to Missing Girl Sought Over Arkansas". Texarkana Gazette. June 14, 1948. p. 1.
- "Letter Recalls Disappearance of Girl From TSCW Campus". The Austin American. January 15, 1949. p. 2.
- Russell McDermott (May 1, 2013). "Vanished: 1948 case remains unsolved". Texarkana Gazette. p. 7A. Retrieved 8 May 2014.
- Newton, Michael (2013). The Texarkana Moonlight Murders : The Unsolved Case of the 1946 Phantom Killer. ISBN 978-0786473250.
- "Virginia Carpenter's Days of Childhood Are Reviewed". Denton Record-Chronicle. June 2, 1950. p. 1.
- Bob Brock (June 4, 1950). "Virginia Carpenter Found Happiness An Elusive Thing". Denton Record-Chronicle.