Girlfriends remember Blanton's lashing out

Nights out included Klan rallies, pouring acid on blacks' car seats

`A wonderful date, isn't it?'

April 27, 2001|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - He took his dates to the drive-in movies, but also to Ku Klux Klan rallies. He obediently took one date home by her midnight curfew, but took another one to a grocery store parking lot so he could pour what he said was acid on the car seats of black shoppers in hopes of burning them.

The incongruous dating life of the young Thomas E. Blanton Jr. emerged yesterday at the 62-year-old's trial on charges of murder in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church on Sept. 15, 1963. One former girlfriend testified about his acts of violence against blacks, and two FBI agents told of how he changed his story about being on a date at a time that coincided with when they believe a bomb was planted at the church.

"His remarks were, `they should kill more of them,'" Waylene Vaughn Wise, who dated Blanton in the early 1960s, said of Blanton's attitude toward blacks.

Wise described several incidents in which Blanton tried to harm blacks.

"All I want is a chance to kill one of those black bastards," Wise quoted Blanton as saying one day when they were in his car and he tried to run over a black man crossing the street.

Wise, then a waitress at the Greyhound bus station lunch counter, met Blanton in 1960 when he stopped in to eat. Except for a period when she temporarily lived in California, they dated until she left Birmingham on Sept. 21, 1963, to join the Army.

She described a man who took her to Klan rallies and Christmas parties, but said she wasn't entirely sure he belonged to the white racist group.

She said Blanton was driving her home one night after a date and, when they passed a group of black men and women standing outside a nightclub, he threw a bottle he had under the car seat at them. A few blacks jumped in front of Blanton's car to prevent him from driving away and threatened to beat both of them, Wise said. Blanton pulled a .45-caliber automatic handgun that he kept in his car and pointed it at them, and the group fled, she said.

Wise said Blanton twice took her to the parking lot of a grocery store that he said was owned by Jews who catered to blacks. He told her he had a kind of acid that would burn skin but not damage upholstery, which he then poured on the car seats of blacks after they entered the store, she said.

"That's a wonderful date, isn't it? That's a good time," Blanton's attorney, John C. Robbins said sarcastically.

Robbins had been unsuccessful in blocking Wise from testifying. The lawyer said the FBI in 1963 tried to corroborate her stories about Blanton's attempts to harm blacks, but came up with no supporting evidence.

After the church bombing, Blanton was among a group of four suspects who came under FBI scrutiny. In 1977, Robert Chambliss was convicted and died while serving a life sentence in prison. Blanton and an alleged cohort, Bobby Frank Cherry, 71, were charged last year, but Cherry has been found to suffer from a form of dementia, delaying his trial.

The FBI interviewed Blanton several times after the bombing, two agents testified yesterday, but he denied involvement.

But, the agents said, several times he altered what he said about his whereabouts during the days before the bombing. Blanton initially said he had been at a drive-in movie with another girlfriend, Jean Casey, on the Saturday night before the bombing, getting her home by midnight, but staying there until about 1:45 a.m. Sunday morning.

The timing is important because an eyewitness who testified in Chambliss' trial said she saw a blue and white Chevrolet parked outside the 16th Street Baptist Church shortly after 2 a.m. Sunday morning. Blanton drove a blue and white 1957 Chevrolet at the time.

Casey, who later married and divorced Blanton twice, is expected to testify today. Prosecutors, who plan to wrap up their case against Blanton today, are expected to play tapes of a wiretap that the FBI planted in Blanton's home, as well as tapes that a Klansman-turned-FBI-informant made of their conversations.

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