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Living Suspect Identified in 1964 Murder of Frank Morris

2010 Arthur Leonard Spencer and Stanley Nelson

Stanley Nelson (right) interviews Arthur Leonard Spencer at his home in Rayville, La, Summer 2010. Photo by David Paperny, copyright Civil Rights Cold Case Project, 2010. www.coldcases.org

Today my colleague Stanley Nelson has published a remarkable article implicating a truck driver living in Rayville, Louisiana in the 1964 arson murder of Frank Morris, a Black shoe shop owner in Ferriday, Louisiana.

Two people say a Richland Parish truck driver who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan told them he participated in the arson that killed Frank Morris, a black Ferriday businessman, in 1964. A third person, the truck driver's former wife, says she, too, heard what she believes was a credible eyewitness report that placed the truck driver at the scene of the arson when the fire was ignited more than 46 years ago.

2010 Boo Spencer, Arthur Leonard Spencer's son

Boo Spencer, Arthur Leonard Spencer's Son. Photo by David Paperny, copyright Civil Rights Cold Case Project, 2010. www.coldcases.org

The three people, all of them now or previously related to the truck driver, identified him as Arthur Leonard Spencer, 71, of Rayville. They say Spencer was part of a Klan hit squad assigned to ride into Ferriday to torch Morris' shoe shop during the early morning hours of Dec. 10, 1964.

Spencer's son, William "Boo" Spencer, said in several interviews with the Concordia Sentinel that whenever his father recounted the story of the night Morris' shop was set ablaze, he said the Klansmen were shocked that Morris was inside the shop and that he came to the door as the Klansmen were carrying out their crime.

"My dad said they could hear a stirring in the place, then a man came out," said Boo Spencer, 41. Boo Spencer said his father told him the man in the shoe shop -- Morris -- "was doused with gasoline and started to run." Then one of the Klansmen shouted, "Run, nigger, run."

Stanley has also published an accompanying article that details the FBI and DOJ response to these developments; Stanley had been investigating the Frank Morris murder since 2007.

In recent weeks, the Federal Bureau of Investigation intensified its efforts to solve the 1964 arson-murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris, leading a top FBI official to declare last week that the agency "will solve this crime."

The FBI's fresh activity evolved after the Concordia Sentinel began asking the FBI in November 2010 to comment on information that implicated Arthur Leonard Spencer of Richland Parish in the arson of Morris' shoe shop. Morris died at Concordia Parish Hospital as a result of injuries he sustained in the arson four days after his shoe shop was burned on Dec. 10, 1964.

Last week, Cynthia Deitle, chief of the FBI's Civil Rights Unit, declined to confirm that agents were investigating Spencer. She said the FBI "will not rest until the truth is uncovered."...

When The Sentinel neared completion of its news report about Leonard Spencer in late November 2010, the paper contacted the FBI's Deitle for comment. Deitle expressed deep concern over The Sentinel's intention to publish the story at that time.

If The Sentinel published its article implicating Leonard Spencer in the Morris arson/murder, Deitle warned, the FBI investigation of the Morris case and another unsolved civil rights-era murders would be jeopardized. Deitle would not disclose what the other case was.

Later, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin asked The Sentinel to hold off on publishing its story until January. Like Deitle, Austin said publishing the story about Spencer in November or December 2010 would jeopardize the FBI's investigation. He did not say anything about another unsolved civil rights-era murder case.

Stanley and I are colleagues at the Civil Rights Cold Case Project.

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