By Chelsea Brasted | LSU Student
A dozen unsolved civil rights-era murder cases committed in Louisiana and southern Mississippi remain open investigations with the FBI, nearly all more than 40 years old, according to a Department of Justice report recently submitted to Congress.
The U.S. Attorney General's office submitted for annual review in August its status list of the 111 cases representing 124 victims, all African-American, as prescribed under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act of 2007.
Louisiana and southern Mississippi lay claim to at least two-dozen of these murder victims that occurred mostly in the 1960s. Half of these cases have gone cold and moved to inactive status for various reasons, as detailed in the report.
Various legal roadblocks exist, including prosecutors' inability to retroactively enforce certain laws, such as a federal law preventing racially motivated homicide, according to the report. The five-year statute of limitations and the Fifth Amendment protection against double jeopardy also create legal hurdles and roadblocks for the FBI in investigating these cases.
Inherent problems with investigating cold cases, such as deaths of subjects and witnesses, destroyed evidence, or even "members of local law enforcement agencies [who] were either themselves members of the Ku Klux Klan or sympathized with Klan viewpoints" adds to the problem, says the Justice Department.
The report notes that prosecutors have closed 79 cases thus far, including one successful federal prosecution. In 67 of those closures — including a dozen from Louisiana and southern Mississippi — all identified subjects were dead or there was insufficient evidence of a potential violation of a civil rights law.
Because of the running clock aspect of these cases, the FBI is reaching out to civil rights organizations and the citizenry in general to urge reporting of any information about these crimes to the New Orleans and Jackson field offices of the FBI.
The following unsolved murder cases, almost all involving the Ku Klux Klan and Klan sympathizers in local law enforcement agencies, are the 12 remaining on the FBI's active investigation list:
- Louis Allen was shot to death outside his home in Amite County, Miss., on Jan. 31, 1964, after witnessing state representative E.H. Hurst's murder of voting-rights activist Herbert Lee just four months earlier, according to research by the Northeastern University School of Law. Amite County Deputy Sheriff Daniel Jones, Hurst and others pressured Allen to testify that Hurst acted in self-defense. Allen gave the FBI his own account of the murder.
- Benjamin Brown of Jackson, Miss., was a civil rights organizer who, on May 11, 1967, was shot by "stray gunshots from police who fired into the crowd" while observing a Jackson State College student protest, according to the Civil Rights Movement Veterans' website. Brown, who was 21 years old at the time of his death.
- Carrie Brumfield of Franklinton, La., was found shot to death in his car on Sept. 12, 1967, on a deserted rural road, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was shot in the chest once with a .22-caliber revolver.
- Joseph (Joe Ed) Edwards of Clayton, La., was a porter at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia when he disappeared in July, 1964, according to the Concordia Sentinel. A witness saw Edwards' green and white Buick being pulled over by two white men driving a 1964 Oldsmobile sedan on the Vidalia-Ferriday Highway on the morning of July 12. Edwards was never seen again. The Manship School of Mass Communication is assisting in this investigation.
- Isaiah Henry, of Greensburg, La., was savagely beaten on July 28, 1954, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Henry suffered permanent brain damage and died five years later.
- Wharlest Jackson of Natchez, Miss., died Feb. 27, 1967, when a bomb exploded in his truck after he left work at the Armstrong Tire and Rubber Company, according to FBI documents obtained by the Syracuse University Cold Case Initiative and the unresolved civil rights era murder team at LSU's Manship School of Mass Communication. In the weeks prior to his murder, Jackson, a father of five, had accepted a promotion to a position at Armstrong previously only held by whites and he had been warned by the Ku Klux Klan not to accept it. He was also the treasurer for the local NAACP chapter.
- Oneal Moore of Varnado, La., was one of two black deputies hired to appease civil rights demands in Washington Parish, according to the New Roads Daily. Moore and his partner, Creed Rogers, were shot on June 2, 1965, from another car while on patrol. Moore was killed and Rogers was wounded, losing the sight of one eye.
- Frank Morris, a Vidalia, La., shoe shop owner, died after the arson of his business in December, 1964. An investigation by the Concordia Sentinel named implicated the late Concordia Parish chief deputy Frank DeLaughter, who was convicted for police brutality in 1970, and quoted relatives fingering two men, one dead and the other from Rayville, La. The Morris case is currently before a Concordia Parish grand jury, which has until Nov. 28 to complete its investigation. The Syracuse University Law School Cold Case Initiative and the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication unsolved murders team have assisted the Sentinel in its investigation.
- Mack Charles Parker of Poplarville, Miss., was abducted by a white mob from his jail cell on May 4, 1959, where he was being held for allegedly raping a white woman, according to the Civil Rights Digital Library (CRDL). The mob took him across the Louisiana border, beat him and fatally shot him. Although some members of the mob "admitted their complicity … the judge in the case … encouraged the grand jury to return no indictments against the killers," according to the CRDL.
- Johnny Queen of Fayette, Miss., was shot on Aug. 8, 1965. A white, off-duty constable was named in the murder, but the shooting was not connected to any arrest, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
- Marshall Scott Jr. was put into solitary confinement in an Orleans Parish jail, where he died in January 1965 and never received medical care, according to SPLC. No arrests were ever made.
- Clifton Walker of Natchez, Miss., was on his way from working a late shift on Feb. 28, 1964, at International Paper when he turned onto Poor House Road. There, he was ambushed by a group of men who fired shotguns into his 1961 Chevy Impala, according to research by the Northeastern University School of Law. Walker was found the following morning across the blood-soaked passenger seat. His keys were hanging from the open glove box that held a chrome-plated Smith & Wesson .38, which Walker was never able to reach.
The following 12 murder cases that occurred in Louisiana or southern Mississippi, and have been closed by the FBI, a majority since the last report was issued:
- Eli Brumfield, of McComb, Miss., killed on Sept. 12, 1967, and his cased was closed on April, 16, 2010.
- Henry Hezekiah Dee, Parker's Landing, Miss., killed May 2, 1964, and the case was closed on March 15, 2010.
- Marshall Johns, Ouachita Parish, La., killed July 13, 1960 and the case was closed on April 22, 2010.
- William Henry "John" Lee, Rankin County, Miss., killed Feb. 25, 1965, and the case was closed on May 5, 2010.
- Herbert Lee, Amite County, Miss., killed Sept. 25, 1961, and the case was closed on April 16, 2010.
- Albert and David Pitts, Ouachita Parish, La., killed July 13, 1960, and the case was closed on April 22, 2010.
- Lamar Smith, Brookhaven, Miss., killed on Aug. 13, 1955, and the case was closed on April 12, 2010.
- Emmett Till, Money, Miss., 14 years of old and after whom the federal act was named, was horribly mutilated and murdered for whistling at a white woman on Aug. 28, 1955. Two suspects were identified by acquitted by an all-white jury. They later admitted to the murder and died free men. The case was closed on Dec. 28, 2007.
- Selma Trigg, Hattiesburg, Miss., killed on Jan. 21, 1965, and the case was closed on May 2, 2010.
- Ben Chester White, Natchez, Miss., was killed on June 10, 1966, and the case was closed on Oct. 16, 2003.