By Ryan Buxton | LSU Student
Mere hours before a bomb wired to a truck's turning signal exploded and killed Natchez, Miss., resident Wharlest Jackson in 1967, a known member of a violent Ku Klux Klan offshoot was on the hunt for electrical equipment, according to heretofore sealed FBI documents.
Kenneth Norman Head, a member of the intensely racist Silver Dollar Group and resident of Vidalia, La., visited two electrical stores on the afternoon of Feb. 27, 1967 — the same day Jackson was murdered — to look for a throw-switch and doorbell wiring for his daughter's science project.
The new information came from interviews contained in 45-year-old FBI files from the Jackson, Miss., FBI office which had been opened two years earlier by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to investigate the high number of murders and other crimes by the Klan.
Those files, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act as part of the civil rights era murders project at LSU's Manship School of Mass Communication, detail the FBI investigation into the bombing of Jackson, whose truck was rigged with a bomb after he took a promotion at the Armstrong Tire and Rubber Company and accepted a supervisory position no black man had held before.
Head, who also worked at Armstrong, told FBI agents, however, that after he left work around 3:30 p.m. on that gray February afternoon, he joined his daughter Margaret to find materials for her class project on electricity.
He first visited the Western Auto Store in Vidalia where the wiring was out of stock. The store owner directed him to the Miss-Lou Electric Company, where Head received 40 to 50 feet of wire free of charge, FBI reports say.
Head told agents he then returned home, worked on his wife's stalled car, had dinner and worked on his daughter's project until about 9 p.m. when he went to bed.
During most of this time, Jackson's truck was parked and unattended at the rubber plant as he worked. He died around 8 p.m., his truck exploding on his rainy drive home from work. Many residents told investigators they heard a booming sound so loud they thought it was thunder.
FBI examination of Jackson's decimated truck found that "a high-explosive charge had been placed under the cab of the truck."
"An electric blasting cap could be caused to detonate when the left turn signal was turned on by stripping insulation from the turn signal wire, attaching one wire of the cap to the turn signal wire and the other wire of the cap to the ground," the FBI report states.
The turn signal wiring in Jackson's truck was a multi-strand wire with yellow insulation, and that wiring was not factory installed, agents noted.
Ouida Cruce of Vidalia, Head's daughter's science teacher, confirmed to the FBI she did receive the electrical project Head reported working on, "a simulated electrical armature consisting of two dry-cell ordinary flash light batteries, a knife switch and an armature made of our pieces of metal."
The project contained thin red wiring, Cruce reported. She couldn't make it work, so she took it home to her electrician husband, who found the reason: "The wire had some spraying insulation on it," the FBI reported him saying. After it was scraped away, he was able to make the device work somewhat.
When interviewed by FBI agents, Head said he had nothing to hide and willingly submitted a piece of wire to them for the investigation. The reports do not detail findings of any analysis of the wire.
No arrests were ever been made in the case, but the case remains open and FBI is seeking leads.
Editor's Note: This story is part of a series based on investigative research by the unsolved civil rights murders project team at LSU's Manship School of Mass Communication. The information was obtained, for the first time, from 45-year-old FBI files through the Freedom of Information Act and, where noted, from the Concordia Sentinel in Ferriday, La.