Texas’s Oldest Cold Case Still Unsolved

The Unsolved Disappearance of Mary Virginia Carpenter

Nicole Henley
Jul 23 · 3 min read

Just over seven decades ago, a 21-year-old woman traveled to the campus of her new college by train and a taxi. However, after being dropped off, she mysteriously vanished without a trace.

On June 1, 1948, Mary Virginia Carpenter set out to the campus of her new college, Texas State College For Women (known now as Texas Women’s University), in Denton. After taking the train, she took a taxi the rest of the way, of which the driver, Edgar Ray “Jack” Zachary, dropped her off at Brackenridge Hall at 9 p.m. According to Zachary, he saw her get out of his cab, then walk over to a light-colored convertible. The vehicle was parked just outside the dorm, and Carpenter proceeded to speak with its two male occupants as if she knew them. Unfortunately, neither of these two men have ever been identified, and Carpenter would never be seen or heard from again.

Mary Carpenter/Wikimedia Commons

On June 4, Carpenter’s boyfriend, Kenny Branham, called Carpenter’s mother out of worry, having been unable to get ahold of her since three days prior. With her mother now also worried, the police were called, and Mary reported as missing.

At the beginning of the investigation, Zachary was looked at as the prime suspect. Reportedly the last person to see Carpenter; his wife told the police that he had been home at 10 p.m. that night. Shortly afterward, Zachary took a polygraph of which he passed.

On June 9, 1955, under Texas Civil Law, Carpenter was declared legally deceased.

In 1959, in Jefferson, Texas, a box of human remain were recovered about 200 miles from Denton, which contained bones and the skull of an unidentified woman. The unknown woman was estimated to have been the same height as Carpenter, and oddly enough, also found to have had one leg shorter than the other, just like Carpenter. In spite of this promising lead, however, subsequent dental records from the skull confirmed the remains as not belonging to the missing woman.

Years later, Zachary’s wife admitted to lying about her husband’s whereabouts the evening Carpenter vanished. She added by saying that he did not come home until around 2 or 3 the following morning. In 1957, Zachary was charged with an unrelated sexual assault. Despite never being connected to Carpenter’s disappearance, Zachary later took another polygraph test and passed it. He eventually passed away in 1984.

In May of 1998, a man in his 70s came forward with claims of knowing who killed Carpenter, and where her body was buried. He claimed her body was buried on the grounds of the very college she planned on attending. After excavating the area, nothing was found to corroborate this claim, and the two individuals named as her killers were also discovered to have been long deceased.


Many of those familiar with Carpenter’s case speculate that she could have fallen victim to an unidentified serial killer. Known as The Phantom Killer of Texarkana, the serial killer attacked eight people, five of whom were killed, in the Texarkana area in the span of several months in 1946. Interestingly enough, Carpenter did know three of the victims of this serial killer. To date, the Phantom Killer has never been caught or named.

Of Misdeeds and Mysteries

True Crime and Unbelievably Real Stories; we aim to shine a light on the forgotten and unknown.

Nicole Henley

Written by

Freelance writer of stories on true crime, unsolved mysteries, marvels of history, and more.

Of Misdeeds and Mysteries

True Crime and Unbelievably Real Stories; we aim to shine a light on the forgotten and unknown.

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