July 4, 1964 was the last time Julia Dobbins saw her brother, JoEd Edwards. Eight days later, he went missing. Rumors were that the Klan took away the 21-year-old Black man and murdered him. His mother died in 1990 never having learned what truly happened to her son.
July 4, 1964 was the thirteenth day James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were missing. One month later, on August 4, 1964, the three civil rights workers' bodies were found buried in an earthen dam on the property of a wealthy local businessman, Olen Burrage.
July 4, 1964 was the sixty-third day Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, two 19-year-old Black men, were missing. Eight days later, on July 12, partial remains of Charles Moore were found in the Mississippi River, near Vicksburg, MS and eastern Louisiana. The following day, partial remains of Henry Dee were also found in the river.
July 4, 1964 was the 127th day since fourteen-year-old Catherine Walker ran past the adults at the crime scene on Poor House Road in Woodville, MS to her father Clifton Walker's car. Forever etched in her memory are the shattered windows, bullet holes in the door and her father's blood still visible on the seat and car floor. Catherine's mother Ruby died in 1992 never knowing who murdered her thirty-seven-year-old husband.
In 2005, after forty-one years, Edgar Ray "Preacher" Killen, was convicted on three counts of manslaughter for his part in the murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. In June 2007, after forty-three years, James Ford Seale was convicted on federal kidnapping charges for his part in the murders of Dee and Moore. No one has ever been charged with the murders of JoEd Edwards and Clifton Walker.
Numerous others were involved both in the Chaney, Schwerner Goodman and Dee-Moore murders. By 2007, all other known suspects in the Dee-Moore murders were dead, save one, named Charles Marcus Edwards, who testified against and helped convict James Ford Seale. In 2005 at least nine people were living who were arrested and/or indicted in the 1960s in connection with the murders of civil rights workers. Two weeks ago, just following the forty-fifth anniversary of the Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman murders, Jerry Mitchell reported that more might be prosecuted.
"This case is being actively reviewed by the Civil Rights Division and the FBI," Alejandro Miyar, a spokesman for the division, told The Clarion-Ledger. "Our goal in investigating this case is to lend our assistance to authorities in Mississippi so that they may make a determination whether sufficient evidence exists for a state prosecution."
Five suspects are still alive in the case, including reputed Klansman Billy Wayne Posey, who told Mississippi investigators there were "a lot of persons involved in the murders that did not go to jail."
In February 2007, the FBI announced that it had approximately 100 Civil Rights Era cold cases that it was looking into. Each case seems inevitably to lead to others, including many not on the official lists. When, for example, Canadian documentary filmmaker David Ridgen set out to produce a film about the murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, he soon found himself investigating the murders of Charles Moore and Henry Dee.
As I watched Summer in Mississippi [a 1965 CBC documentary], sequences flew by of the hundreds of frantic searchers from the US National Guard, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and local authorities who'd been ordered to scour the entire state and surroundings for the missing civil rights workers, beating bushes, flying helicopters, dragging swamps and rivers. The whole country was on edge. Would their bodies be found?
Then, a curious silence descends in the 1964 documentary when cigar-smoking white men in shirt-sleeves fish decomposing body parts out of the Mississippi River with sticks and bare hands. We see ribs and a femur, knotted loops of wire or twine, and a transparent, body-size bag being emptied out of the fetid water. The lazy, ever-present Southern droning of katydids is silenced by the penetrating voice of the late, great CBC narrator John Drainie: "It was the wrong body. The discovery of a Negro male was noted and forgotten. The search was not for him. The search was for two white boys and their Negro friend."
I stopped the film and wrote down five words and a question, "wrong body", "Negro male", "forgotten", and then simply, "who?"
Ridgen located Charles Moore's brother, Thomas, who agreed to work with Ridgen and be the main subject in Ridgen's documentary film about their investigation of the murders of Henry Dee and Charles Moore. Ridgen and Moore's work together led to the conviction of James Ford Seale. Their work also led to the other living conspirator in the murder, Charles Marcus Edwards, making an unprompted public apology in the courtroom to the families of Henry Dee and Charles Moore. Edwards apologized again in private, and both Thomas Moore and Henry Dee's sister, Thelma Collins, accepted the apology.
When I first met Thomas Moore and David Ridgen in March 2007, they mentioned another murder they had learned about. During their investigation, they were told by a retired Natchez police chief that there was another murder from 1964 in Southwest Mississippi that could be solved: the murder of a Black man named Clifton Walker.
A few months later, I was in Woodville to meet with a local NAACP official about another case I was researching. As I walked back to my rental car following the interview, a Black woman in her early 70s approached me.
"You a reporter?" she asked.
She wanted to tell me about Clifton Walker and about a number of other murders of Blacks said to have taken place in her tiny southwest Mississippi town.
The following day, by odd coincidence, I got a hold of Mississippi Highway and Safety Patrol documents on the Walker murder. A few months later, a Freedom of Information Act request yielded FBI documents on the case. In the Clifton Walker FBI file, there is passing mention of seven more murder victims. None of these seven names are on the current FBI lists of victims.
Other reporters who investigate Civil Rights Era cold cases have similar experiences.
Jerry Mitchell, who pioneered investigative journalism on this subject over twenty years ago, said in an email:
Working on an unpunished killing from the civil rights era inevitably leads to the discovery of more. I remember while working on the James Ford Seale case, I ran across a story in microfilm that showed that Seale had actually killed yet another African American, running over the elderly man in his truck in 1966, just a day after the man had voted for the first time. Seale was never prosecuted.
In 2007, Stanley Nelson, editor of the Concordia Sentinel, in Ferriday, LA, took a look at the FBI's list of cold cases and was surprised to find a Black victim from Ferriday, named Frank Morris. In December of 1964, Morris' shoe shop was burned, and he was forced inside of it by the arsonists.
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.
Nelson's reporting has helped bring about the recent announcement that the case may go before the Concordia Parish Grand Jury. Nelson hadn't looked into cold cases from the 50s and 60s before the Morris murder caught his attention, but inevitably others emerged. In an email to me, Nelson explained how he learned about JoEd Edwards.
I first heard about JoeEd in the lone article about the Frank Morris case written by John Herbers for the New York Times in December 1964. I called Herbers and he could vaguely remember mentioning JoeEd's name in the story but did remember that a porter from a Vidalia motel had been missing a few months prior to the Morris arson. I started asking around in the black community and found a number of people familiar with JoeEd's case. And the story took off from there and continues to take me in new directions---even this week.
A cousin of JoEd Edwards, Carl Ray Thompson, recalled that he and three friends were were picked up by Concordia Parish Sheriff Frank DeLaughter and taken to the Ferriday jail.
Thompson said DeLaughter beat his three companions with a white fire hose throughout the night. Thompson said the young men screamed so loudly that their voices reminded him of "pigs squealing."
Afterward, according to Thompson, DeLaughter told him and his friends to keep quiet about what happened or they "could all turn up missing like Joe-Ed." Nelson has also been told by a former FBI agent that an informant claimed Edwards was subsequently skinned alive in a secret Ku Klux Klan torture chamber.
There is much, much more of this, of course, and from other years and in other states. In 2005, for example, John Fleming, editor at large of the Anniston Star, discovered that James Bonard Fowler, the Alabama State Trooper who allegedly shot Jimmie Lee Jackson on February 18, 1965, is still alive and well and unrepentant. Jimmie Lee Jackson was the Black protester in Marion, Alabama whose murder sparked the Selma to Montgomery March. Several days after he was shot and beaten, Jackson died of an infection in the Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma. Fleming interviewed Fowler, who, in 2005, admitted to the shooting. Fowler claimed self-defense and was confident he would not be prosecuted. In 2007, however, Fowler was indicted on state murder charges; the trial is currently on hold over procedural issues.
Fleming has recently uncovered new information about the racial murder of Willie Brewster in Anniston, AL and is working on many of the Alabama and Georgia cases on the FBI's list; he has also heard of many others that have not been cataloged. Fleming cited two cases he has not yet looked into deeply, in an email to me:
a case in Perry County [where Jimmie Lee Jackson was killed] of a shopkeeper who shot a teenager in the back for back talking him and a Green County case of a man who had his tongue cut out and [was] left to die.
Fleming also learned of at least one other incident involving Fowler:
I discovered that he had shot another man in 1966, a drunk driver who he got into a fight with after he was arrested. It was ruled self defense at the time.
Nelson said to me:
There's no question that one case leads to another. Individuals who had some information on JoeEd told me about cases of black men who were beaten. This led to some other arsons of black and white businesses and homes and so on. It's hard to keep count, but the magnitude of these crimes is overwhelming and the leads never seem to end.
At one of the 45th anniversary memorials to Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner two weeks ago, Michael Schwerner's widow, Rita Schwerner Bender, said:
she hopes federal authorities will lend their assistance not only to [the Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman] case but also to any other case where enough evidence exists to pursue prosecution. "The clock is ticking," she said. "Time is running out."
I erroneously stated that "Nelson has reconstructed what were likely Edwards’ last hours—being brutally beaten with a firehose, allegedly by then Concordia Parish Sheriff Frank DeLaughter, inside the Ferriday jail." That sentence has been replaced with the current passage, above, detailing allegations of Carl Ray Thompson concerning DeLaughter.