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

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In 1959, a box of human remains was recovered in Jefferson, Texas, about 200 miles from Denton. In the box were bones and a skull from a female who was the same height as Virginia Carpenter. Interestingly, the bones displayed a deformity that Carpenter also had; one of her legs was shorter than the other. However, this lead came to a screeching halt when dental records from the skull failed to match those of Carpenter.

In May 1998, a man in his 70s came forward, claiming to know who killed Carpenter and where her body was buried. This man claimed that Carpenter’s body was buried on the grounds of Texas State College for Women. The grounds were excavated, but nothing was found to support this theory and the two individuals named as the killers were long deceased. 

The Work of a Serial Killer?

serial killer

Photo: Flickr/Fe Iiya

Many who are familiar with the case of Virginia Carpenter feel she may have been a victim of the “Phantom Killer of Texarkana.” This serial killer attacked eight people in the Texarkana area, five of whom were killed. Of these victims, Virginia Carpenter knew three. The “Phantom Killer” was never caught. Some researchers believe the murders were the work of Youell Lee Swinney, who was never charged with any of the crimes.

On June 9, 1955, Mary Virginia Carpenter was declared legally dead under Texas Civil Law. Carpenter’s mother spent much of the remaining years of her own life chasing down leads and helping police to learn more about the case. Mrs. Carpenter tended to cycle between hopeful periods of believing that her daughter had suffered amnesia and wandered off to start a new life, or, in darker moments, that her daughter was, in fact dead. Mrs. Carpenter died in 1980 without the answers in her daughter’s disappearance for which she had hoped.