Civil rights era killings gain interest

Federal prosecutors look into lesser-known crimes

July 15, 2005|By Ellen Barry | Ellen Barry,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ATLANTA - The trial and conviction last month of former Ku Klux Klansman Edgar Ray Killen has prompted federal prosecutors in Mississippi to re-examine three lesser-known crimes from the civil rights era.

U.S. attorney Dunn Lampton has promised to review evidence in the 1964 killings of Charles Moore and Henry Dee, two young black men from rural Franklin County. Their mutilated bodies were found in the Mississippi River while federal authorities were searching for Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner - the three civil rights workers whose deaths Killen was accused of plotting.

Lampton met Wednesday with Moore's brother, Thomas Moore, 62, and promised that his office would make every effort to prosecute the case.

Lampton also promised to look into the murder of Wharlest Jackson, a black man who died when a bomb exploded under his truck in 1967. Jackson had drawn the anger of white co-workers when he was promoted to a high-paying factory job.

"The cooperation between state and federal government is probably at the best level it's ever been," Lampton said. "Now is the time, if we're going to make a move."

Two major civil rights stories of this summer - the exhuming of Emmett Till's body in suburban Chicago and Killen's conviction on manslaughter charges - inspired Sens. Jim Talent, a Missouri Republican, and Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat, to propose creating a federal cold-case unit with a $5 million annual budget devoted to prosecuting unsolved crimes from the era.

Cases like that of Till, a 14-year-old who was killed in 1955 several days after allegedly whistling at a white woman, and the 1964 killings of the three civil rights workers have attracted attention for decades. But "there are scores, if not hundreds, of people who died whose names will never be known," said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project.

"When they were looking for Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner," Potok said, "they found four more bodies. The same thing happened when they dragged the river for Emmett Till."

Two of them were Moore, 20, and Dee, 19, who were hitchhiking when a group of Klansmen picked them up, according to an FBI report obtained by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Charles Marcus Edwards and James Ford Seale were arrested for the crime. Edwards told FBI agents that Klan members believed the two men were part of a Black Muslim uprising plot, and beat them into unconsciousness, then tied heavy weights to their bodies and dumped them in the river, according to the report.

Neither Edwards nor Seale, who both are still living, was tried in the killings.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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