History

What Happened to Virginia Carpenter: Oldest Cold Case in Texas Turns 70

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Seventy years ago, on a hot June morning, Virginia Carpenter left her home in Texarkana by train and arrived that evening at the campus of her new college, Texas State College For Women, in Denton. The last person to (reportedly) have contact with Carpenter was the taxi driver who transported her from the train station to the steps of her new dormitory on campus. However, Carpenter never checked into her dorm, nor showed up for the first day of class, and was never seen again.

A Likable, Beautiful Young Woman

Virginia Carpenter

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Twenty-one-year-old Mary Virginia “Jimmie” Carpenter was described by those who knew her as likable, beautiful, and happy. She was looking forward to her new adventure as a lab technician student at Texas State College for Women (now Texas Women’s University). The taxi driver who delivered her to Brackenridge Hall on June 1, 1948 at 9 p.m. claims that upon getting out of his taxi, he observed Carpenter walk up to a light-colored convertible, parked just outside the dorm, and converse with the two male occupants–as though she knew them. The identity of these two men remains a mystery. On June 4, Carpenter’s boyfriend, Kenny Branham of Dallas, called her mother because he had been unable to get ahold of her since she left for Denton. This worried Mrs. Carpenter, who then called local authorities and reported Virginia missing.

Several Leads in the Case

breaks in case
Photo: Flickr/NSW Police

Initially, the taxi driver, Edgar Ray “Jack” Zachary, was the prime suspect. Zachary’s wife told police that he had been at home by 10 p.m. the night of Carpenter’s disappearance. Zachary took a polygraph test in July of 1948, which he passed. However, years later, Zachary’s wife told authorities that she had lied about her husband’s whereabouts that evening and that he didn’t return home until 2 or 3 a.m. the following morning. Zachary was charged with an unrelated attempted rape in 1957. Although never charged in connection with Carpenter’s disappearance, Zachary later passed a second polygraph test and died in 1984.

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