Stanley Nelson of the Concordia Sentinel reports major developments in the investigation of the 1964 murder of a Black man, named Frank Morris in Ferriday, Louisiana.
Federal and parish prosecutors are combining forces in the investigation of the 1964 murder of black Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris and the case may go before the parish Grand Jury.
U.S. Atty. Donald Washington of Lafayette and Concordia Dist. Atty. Brad Burget told The Concordia Sentinel today the joint probe may also include the appointment of a federal attorney as an assistant district attorney in Concordia Parish.
"The DA's potential for a murder investigation is appealing to us," said Washington, who along with First Asst. U.S. Atty. William J. Flanagan of Shreveport met with Burget in Vidalia two weeks ago. Cynthia Deitle, Chief of the FBI's Cold Case Unit, also took part in the meeting by phone from Washington.
All pledged their resolve to Burget in seeing the case through.
The involvement of the DA's office marks the first time since Morris was murdered that local authorities will take an active role in this case. Morris, 51, died four days after the arson of his shop on Dec. 10, 1964, in what the FBI has termed a racially-motivated murder involving the Ku Klux Klan.
"Thank God," said Morris' granddaughter, Rosa Williams of Las Vegas, when notified of the announcement. "My heart is beating so fast right now."
Williams was 12-years-old and living with her aunt in Ferriday just a few blocks from the shoe shop when it was torched almost 45 years ago. She said since that time she and her family had almost lost hope that the murder would be solved, that her grandfather's killers would be identified and the motive revealed.
"I pray about this all the time," she said. "God answers prayers."
In case you are unfamiliar with Stanley Nelson's phenomenal reporting on the Morris case, here's some background:
[O]n a chilly December night in 1964, this good citizen's life was destroyed and the people who depended on him were left devastated. Morris lived in a building attached to the back of his shoe shop. A noise interrupted his sleep and he rose to investigate. Outside, he was greeted by two white men, one holding a can of gasoline, the other a single-barrel shotgun.
Morris was forced back inside the store. One of the men struck a match and Morris' shoe shop on Fourth Street, now known as E.E. Wallace Blvd., was soon ablaze as the flammable chemicals of his trade kept inside Morris' business quickly ignited.
In the back of the shoe shop, Morris' employee heard the commotion. He aroused Morris' sleeping 11-year-old grandson, and the two escaped out a back door, jumped a fence and ran to safety.
Before Morris emerged from the burning building, his clothes in flames, the two men jumped into a dark colored, late model sedan and fled town in the direction of Vidalia, possibly onward to Mississippi. A third man may have been involved as a getaway driver.
Four days later, Morris took his last breath in Room 101 at the Concordia Parish Hospital. He suffered a long, agonizing death with third degree burns over 100 percent of his body. A Baptist minister said he never saw a man so severely burned as Morris, who was blinded by the flames.
This evil is believed to have been the work of the Ku Klux Klan although Frank Morris was not known to be involved in civil rights in Ferriday, a circumstance that adds mystery to his murder. As one local minister said in 1965, "The only type of society which the KKK desires to preserve is a society of hatred and of the devil himself."
The FBI investigated Morris' death but made no arrests. In the 1960s, the FBI was overwhelmed as the Klan terrorized the South. Scores were killed.