Unsolved '64 killing haunts brother Charles Moore was beaten with poles, thrown in river

December 20, 1998|By Stories by Stephanie Saul

MEADVILLE, Miss. - After 42 years as a laborer with the International Paper Co., Charles Marcus Edwards has given his life over to hunting, fishing and Sunday church services.

It seems a peaceful retirement existence that he shares with his wife, Betty, in a double-wide trailer on a pine-shaded gravel road. But Edwards' past is troubled by a violent episode that rocked this small town 34 years ago, a brutal killing that has not been solved.

Memories of that mysterious killing have festered with a stranger some 900 miles away, who once dreamed of returning to Meadville and killing Edwards.

Thomas J. Moore is convinced that on the night of April 29, 1964, Edwards was involved in the abduction and beating death of Moore's younger brother.

The killing of Charles Moore might have been forgotten, like dozens of other cases of black victims of race violence in the South, except for another such case that drew worldwide attention.

The mysterious disappearances of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman in the summer of 1964 had riveted the nation on the civil rights movement.

The three civil rights workers, two of them white Northerners, had vanished while in Mississippi, where they had joined dozens of others in an initiative to promote black voter registration and political empowerment.

Authorities had mounted a massive search for their remains. On July 12, as they scoured a sluggish back channel of the Mississippi River near Natchez, the search took a strange twist.

The search team discovered a headless torso that didn't match the description of Chaney, Goodman or Schwerner. Two days later, it found another headless body, bloated with water and gnawed by turtles.

Both bodies had been bound, tied to a Jeep engine block, then submerged.

Within days, authorities ascertained that the bodies were the remains of Henry Dee, 19, a worker at a nearby lumberyard, and his friend, Charles Moore, 20, a student at Alcorn A&M, a historic black college in nearby Lorman.

News of the discovery of the mutilated bodies reached Thomas Moore while he was on military assignment in Texas, and he mapped a plan of revenge for his brother's killing. For years, the details of the plot concerning Charles Marcus Edwards, the white neighbor he believed killed his brother, stayed with Moore, a Vietnam War veteran. In his mind, he would steal through the woods, shoot Edwards with a rifle, escape and vanish from Mississippi.

"I can sit here and tell you how, with my military experience, infantry, combat, recon, how I in those years purchased a 30-30 Winchester just to make things right," he said. "How I went into detail, how I could blow his head off. My momma said, 'Don't do it.'"

For years after his return from Vietnam, Moore grieved over his brother's death.

"I struggled with that, and it took me a long time to get my mind right," he said. "Not so much the hate, but just trying to understand why. All this stuff hit me after I came out of Vietnam. I was struggling big time. Drinking like a fish. Trying to get it together."

'Justice, not revenge'

"I'm past that stage now. I'm looking for justice, not revenge," he said.

Recently, Moore formally requested a Mississippi prosecutor to reopen the investigation of his brother's death. The prosecutor, Ronnie Harper, has requested FBI files on the killing, as well as records from the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

Like Moore, Edwards grew up poor in this remote southwest corner of Mississippi, once one of white supremacy's tightest strongholds. Their families - one black, one white - did not know each other. But, according to official accounts of events that summer in 1964, the lives of the Edwards and Moore families converged in an inexplicable, violent act of hate.

"The things I was accused of at the time wasn't true," said Edwards, a fit man of 65 whose ruddy face turns darksome when asked about the 1960s, the Ku Klux Klan, his arrest for beating Charles Moore and Henry Dee to death.

Charles Moore's death was a horrible ending to what appeared a promising life, his brother said.

A retired Army command sergeant, Moore is a counselor working with troubled children in Colorado Springs, Colo. He has traveled a long way since, fresh out of this tiny town's segregated school system in 1963, he boarded a Trailways bus and headed for New Orleans. He got a job grooming the football field at Tulane University.

"We had to keep that grass like a carpet," he said. He earned $90 a week, good money in those days.

He wanted to save enough money to build his mother a brick home to replace her unpainted frame shanty. Cracks in the floor allowed cold air to pour in during the winter, mosquitoes during the summer.

"We had to put sheets and blankets in the windows to keep the wind from blowing through," said Moore, who grew up in the 1950s.

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