The Mississippi Burning Case: Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner
Articles and information from Clarion-Ledger investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell regarding the The Mississippi Burning case.
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Bowers: Klansman got away with murder
December 27, 1998
By Jerry Mitchell, Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
The man who once headed the nation's most violent Ku Klux Klan organization admitted he thwarted justice in the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers and said he didn't mind going to prison because a fellow Klansman got away with murder.
"I was quite delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man," Sam Bowers, former imperial wizard of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, said in a secret taped interview he gave more than a decade ago to state archives officials. "Everybody - including the trial judge and the prosecutors and everybody else - knows that that happened. This hurts the imperial authority when they have to stoop to conquer, and I think that I did make them stoop to conquer.''
Bowers' interview, contained on three tapes about an hour each, sheds new light on the Klan's killings of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney in 1964 near Philadelphia.
Bowers' admission that he thwarted justice shows that true justice never took place, said Chaney's brother, Ben Chaney.
Both he and Schwerner's widow, Rita Bender, called for a grand jury inquiry into the matter. "Isn't it time for the state of Mississippi to really inquire into the role it played instead of continuing to duck responsibility?" Bender asked.
Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney were among the many civil rights activists trained to work in "Freedom Summer," registering black Mississippians to vote.
On June 21, 1964, the trio were jailed on traffic charges by Neshoba County Deputy Cecil Price. Shortly after their release, Price and other Klansmen captured them. They were shot and buried beneath a 15-foot earthen dam.
The trio were missing for 44 days, and some branded their disappearances a hoax. Then an informant told the FBI where the bodies were buried.
Other informants named names, but state officials refused to prosecute the case, so federal authorities stepped in, using a conspiracy charge because there was no federal murder statute.
In the U.S. District Court trial in Meridian in 1967, witnesses testified that Bowers ordered the killings of the trio. Klansman James Jordan pleaded guilty to conspiracy and testified against fellow Klansmen. Bowers, Price and five others were convicted of federal charges of conspiracy to violate the civil rights of the trio by killing them, seven others were acquitted and three others had mistrials. The most any Klansman served in prison was six years.
In addition to information from Bowers' taped interview, The Clarion-Ledger has obtained the FBI confessions of Jordan and Klansman Horace Doyle Barnette.
Jordan testified in the case, but the jury in the 1967 trial never heard his confession or that of Barnette, both of whom implicated Edgar Ray "Preacher" Killen as having helped plan the killings.
Barnette claimed Killen initially said that "three civil rights workers were going to be released from jail and that we were going to catch them and give them a whipping." Later, when the group of Klansmen arrived in Philadelphia, Barnette said Killen told him, "We have a place to bury them, and a man to run the dozer to cover them up." "This," Barnette said, "was the first time I realized the three civil rights workers were to be killed."
Jordan said Killen told him "they had three civil rights workers in jail in Philadelphia and that they needed their `asses tore up.' Killen said it had to be done in a hurry since they were being held on a minor charge."
Joe Sullivan, who headed the FBI investigation into the killings, said testimony in the case pointed to Killen as an instigator. "He was the moving force," Sullivan said.
Killen had an alibi for the night the trio was killed, and a jury couldn't agree on his guilt or innocence. A mistrial was declared.
Contacted for comment, Killen denied Barnette's and Jordan's claims that he helped plan the killings. Killen said that Jordan "fabricated more than 90 percent of what he told. He was not a close associate of mine."
He said the FBI regularly harassed him and threatened him because agents believed he was a Klansman involved in the killings. "You name it," he said. "They did it. I never understood why they could lie and it not be against the law."
As for his alibi that night, he said he spent the night preaching two funerals, one for a 2-year-old child. "It wasn't a set-up alibi. It was something unplanned," he said. "Country folks, if we set up, we'd set up with family."
After the killings, Killen said, he learned Schwerner and Goodman were "underground agents with the Communist Party. The CIA had them under constant surveillance."
As for those who killed the civil rights trio, he said, "I'm not going to say they were wrong. . . . I don't believe in murder. I believe in self-defense."
Killen said he didn't know the "main instigator" Bowers was referring to and didn't even know Bowers until they met at the trial. "According to the news media, he was my boss," he said.
Another detail the federal jury in 1967 didn't hear was Barnette's claim that Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, Price and an unnamed city policeman met with Klansmen after the civil rights trio had been killed. Barnette quoted Rainey as saying, "I'll kill anyone who talks, even if it's my own brother."
Rainey said he was visiting his sick wife in the hospital the night the trio was killed, and the jury acquitted him on conspiracy.
Rainey said Barnette is lying in the confession and that he never knew Barnette prior to the trial.
He was never in the Klan, he said. "The damn FBI was paying all those witnesses to lie. I attended some of the (Klan) meetings. They had open meetings, but that was all."
Asked about Bowers' statement about the "main instigator" getting away with murder, Rainey said, "I thought Bowers was the head man on all of that. I never heard of anybody else."
Both Sullivan and Public Safety Commissioner Jim Ingram, who headed the civil rights desk for the FBI, said the real "main instigator" in the killings was Bowers. "He was the one man responsible," Ingram said.
During his interview, Bowers denied direct involvement in the killings, but said that if authorities "had wanted to put a charge on me they could have gotten me for obstruction of justice."
Bowers said he did "everything I could to frustrate the investigation. . . . I was up there doing everything I could to keep those people from talking and everything else."
He did not specify further; however, The Clarion-Ledger, has documented that the White Knights used harassment, intimidation and attempts to influence or tamper with juries in trials.
Bender said Bowers' admission that he thwarted justice "raises the question of what did he do - who got away with it and what did he do to make it happen?"
Bowers' taped interview, reviewed by The Clarion-Ledger, was recorded by Debra Spencer, an oral historian for the state Department of Archives and History in October 1983 and again in January and November of 1984. The tapes are sealed until Bowers' death under his agreement with archives officials.
The reclusive Bowers, who never talks with the media, referred to himself as "a criminal and a lunatic," justifying lynchings and killings as ways to preserve the Southern way of life. "Citizens not only have a right but a duty to preserve their culture," he said.
"By taking someone's life though?" Spencer asked on the tape.
"If that person wants to put his life on the line in order to destroy that culture, yes," Bowers replied.
The FBI blamed the White Knights for not only the killings of the civil rights trio, but seven others in Mississippi, plus dozens of bombings of churches, homes and businesses in the 1960s. Bowers, the Klan leader, was convicted in only one murder, that of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer.
Bowers said he had nothing to do with the deaths, but he expressed pride that most of the killings remained unsolved.
"Every stone in the Watergate conspiracy has been uncovered, exposed to the light of day," Bowers said. "Yet in the Philadelphia case and dozens of other cases in Mississippi, very, very little is known, much of what they think they know is inaccurate. The case has never really been solved in the sense that Watergate has been solved. So, here is a bunch of semiliterate rednecks in the state of Mississippi really putting up a better show against imperial authority than Richard Nixon and the Republican Party did in Watergate."
Bowers confirmed in the interview that a mob of Klansmen had killed the civil rights trio, but he maintained that he and two others who were convicted of conspiracy weren't involved. Bowers did not name those men.
Goodman's mother, Carolyn Goodman, said Bowers' statements show Mississippi should reprosecute the case. "At that time in 1964, the state would never even hear a murder charge. Now in 1998, it's a different matter. People are prepared to look back."
44 Days: Jurors recall holdout vote that let ‘Preacher’ walk away free
May 7, 2000
44 DAYS THAT CHANGED MISSISSIPPI
Part one of a seven-part series
By Jerry Mitchell, Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
It’s a story we think we know well.
On June 21, 1964, Klansmen killed three civil rights workers and buried them with a bulldozer. The bodies weren't found for 44 days.
Three years later, after the state failed to bring murder charges, a jury in federal court convicted seven men, acquitted eight and couldn’t decide on verdicts for three.
What happened behind the doors of the jury room has remained a secret for 33 years.
Just after lunch in one of America's most famous trials, a dozen jurors stood, raised their right hands and swore their votes to convict or acquit would be based on the law and the evidence.
One broke that vow.
Jurors in the 1967 federal civil rights conspiracy trial or their survivors interviewed recently by The Clarion-Ledger revealed that during deliberations a lone juror told others on the panel she could never vote guilty against Edgar Ray "Preacher" Killen for one reason - she could never convict a preacher.
When the trial ended Oct. 20, 1967, seven Klansmen walked away in handcuffs, convicted of federal conspiracy charges in connection with the 1964 killings of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney in Neshoba County. But Killen - identified in testimony as the Klan leader who coordinated those killings - never went to prison, thanks to the holdout juror.
"Damn her," said juror Nell Dedeaux, now 76, of Poplarville. "I know the preacher was guilty. He got away with it."
Contacted by telephone, Killen's wife said her husband was unavailable. However, Killen has maintained his innocence, saying he was at a funeral home that night. "It wasn't a set-up alibi," he told The Clarion-Ledger in a 1998 interview. "Country folks, if we set up, we'd set up with family."
None of the jurors interviewed recalled the holdout's name, but from a photograph Dedeaux identified Willie Arnesen, a Meridian secretary who died earlier this year. Arnesen's son, Donald Vance of Meridian, confirmed his mother held out for a not-guilty verdict.
The deaths of the three civil rights workers are among 18 deaths that have been reexamined by authorities in the South for possible prosecution, with more momentum than ever to pursue murder charges.
The Klan killings of the trio, perhaps the most infamous slayings of the civil rights era, shocked the nation. Federal charges were brought after the state passed on bringing murder charges. The three men were targeted for their Freedom Summer work challenging segregation.
The 11-day trial brought swarms of media from around the globe, with televised coverage of the event. "Tension was in the air constantly," recalled veteran journalist Bill Minor, who covered the trial for the Times-Picayune .
The holdout juror
During the past year, The Clarion-Ledger has tracked down seven jurors who served in the 1967 trial or, in case of their deaths, their families. All jurors said these were the first interviews they had given since their verdicts.
They talked about their deliberations that stretched over three days, their frustrations with the holdout juror, and outside efforts to influence them.
Juror J.P. Hollingsworth, now 82, of Pascagoula recalled that the holdout juror told the rest of the panel she "didn't want to convict a preacher."
Killen's occupation didn't matter to juror Harmon Raspberry, now 86, of Stonewall, who voted to convict: "I felt like because he was a preacher, he ought to know better than the rest of 'em."
Dedeaux recalled the holdout juror saying, "I'm not going to find Brother Killen guilty. I don't believe it. He wouldn't do such a thing. I'll stay here till Christmas."
That attitude still angers Dedeaux, who believes Killen orchestrated the trio's killings.
"He helped them do it," she said. "It was just dirty the way they did those boys."
Dedeaux wasn't the only one upset. So was Langdon Anderson, the jury foreman.
"He was disgusted" that Killen was not convicted, said his daughter, Martha Willoughby of Poplarville. "My dad's attitude was `murder is murder,' and if someone did it, they're guilty."
Juror Lessie Lowery of Waynesboro was also angered by the jury's inability to convict the Baptist minister. "Preacher Killen, he was the one who did a lot of dirt," she said. "Everybody just thought I would vote different than what I did. When you put your hand on that Bible and weigh the evidence, that's something else."
But what jurors recall differs from what Arnesen's son, Donald Vance, says his mother told him.
Vance denied his mother refused to convict Killen because he was a preacher. He said his mother told him she couldn't convict Killen because "he could look you in the eye. None of the rest of 'em could look at you."
Arnesen, however, changed her mind after the verdict, Vance said. "Later on, Mama found out he was a scoundrel and said she was sorry she let him go."
Legal experts say the holdout juror's refusal to convict a defendant because of his occupation violates the oath given jurors.
During the 1967 trial, U.S. District Judge Harold Cox told jurors, "You are to perform this duty of deciding these disputed issues of fact without sympathy, bias or prejudice as to any party or person in this case. The law does not permit jurors to be governed by sympathy, prejudice or public opinion. ... Keep constantly in mind that it would be a violation of your sworn duty to base a verdict upon anything but the law and the evidence in this case."
Pat Bennett, professor at Mississippi College School of Law, said the holdout juror's pronouncement she could never convict a preacher is not based on the law or the evidence. "It would violate her oath," Bennett said.
Threats to jurors
FBI documents, interviews and other evidence obtained by The Clarion-Ledger show that during trials in the 1960s involving Klansmen, attempts were repeatedly made to influence, tamper with or threaten jury members.
The 1967 federal conspiracy trial was no exception.
One night after hearing testimony, juror Edsell Parks of Brandon, now 68, recalled receiving a telephone call at home telling him he "oughta turn those boys a-loose."
"It was somebody I knew," he said.
He would not reveal the man's name or what kind of relationship the two had. "I wouldn't want that in the newspaper," he said.
Anderson was also contacted while the trial was going on, Willoughby said.
Anderson was home less than an hour when a man "said he was calling about the trial and said it was important that certain things be done," she said. "My dad told him he wasn't going to talk about it."
Anderson knew the caller and shared the man's name "in case anything happened," said Willoughby, who wouldn't say who it was. "For a long time after that, my dad always checked under the hood to make sure nothing was planted there."
There were other attempts to influence jurors.
In South Mississippi near two juror's homes, "the week before and during the trial, there were four cross burnings around Lumberton and Poplarville," Willoughby said. "The general consensus was that they were trial-related and were warnings."
Fear of retribution emerged during jury deliberations when one woman said she felt the Klan would firebomb her if she voted guilty.
"I told her, `You ought not to have got on here then,' " Dedeaux said she told the juror, whose name she couldn't recall.
The jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of Killen's guilt.
"We just couldn't agree," Dedeaux said. "I just can't understand people who won't vote guilty when the evidence is there, and the facts are there."
Judge Cox called in jurors and read what is commonly known as the "dynamite charge," urging them to reach a unanimous verdict, if possible.
His words prompted the fearful juror to change her vote to guilty on Killen and seven others identified in testimony as Klansmen, including Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers.
The lone holdout, however, continued to vote not guilty on Killen, for whom a mistrial was declared.
In an interview before his 1996 death, Klansman-turned-FBI-informant Delmar Dennis told The Clarion-Ledger that Killen once told him the Klan had influenced the all-white juries in the 1964 murder trials of Klansman Byron De La Beckwith, which both ended in mistrials.
The remarks of Dennis, who also testified in the 1967 federal conspiracy trial, prompted authorities to subpoena Killen to appear before a 1990 grand jury in Jackson investigating the 1963 killing of NAACP leader Medgar Evers.
Killen told The Clarion-Ledger Dennis' statement was "a lie," saying he had never even belonged to the Klan. He accused FBI agents of using paid informants such as Dennis to concoct lies. "You name it, they did it," Killen said. "They would threaten you if you didn't tell them what they wanted to know. They did things you'd shoot your neighbor for."
The state of Mississippi never prosecuted any of the Neshoba County suspects for murder.
Arnesen's son opposes their prosecution now - just as he did the 1998 reprosecution of Bowers, now serving a life sentence for the 1966 murder of Vernon Dahmer.
"The opposition knew where to put their witnesses and what to say," Vance said. Bowers "didn't have a chance."
Vance said he also opposed the 1994 reprosecution of Beckwith, now serving a life sentence for gunning down Evers in front of his family. "That poor ol' guy Beckwith, I'm sure he was guilty."
"I couldn't have convicted him."
44 Days: Jurors faced death threats, ostracism
May 7, 2000
By Jerry Mitchell, Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
For jurors in Mississippi's most famous multiple civil rights murder case, threats and intimidation didn't stop with guilty verdicts.
In what jurors say are the first interviews they've ever given regarding the case, they talked of their experiences following the federal trial of those charged in the Ku Klux Klan's 1964 killings of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney.
For six weeks after the verdicts, jurors said U.S. marshals guarded their homes. "With a bunch of crazies you didn't know what they might do," said juror Nell Dedeaux of Poplarville, then a nurse with five children. "It was a time to be uneasy."
Shortly after the verdicts, U.S. marshals told the jurors they had been threatened. Dedeaux said jurors were told a defendant said, "We've got dynamite for them if they find us guilty."
The all-white jury indeed found seven Klansmen guilty, a decision that drew praise from a black U.S. marshal who Dedeaux recalled saying, "I never thought I'd see the day that this would happen in the state of Mississippi."
She recalled two U.S. marshals driving her home after the verdict. Taking precautions, they stopped in Hattiesburg and switched cars.
As marshals neared her place, they made a wrong turn, and Dedeaux yelled out, "Wait, stop."
The brakes screeched, and the marshals bolted from the car, pulling pistols from their holsters.
"I wasn't scared until I got home," she said. "I realized then there could be repercussions."
The first came when several neighbors asked why she didn't find Klansmen innocent.
" 'Cause they did it, that's why," she said she told them.
At the school, she told teachers not to let her first-grade daughter leave with anyone else.
Juror Edsell Parks of Brandon, who worked then as a clerk for a natural gas transmission station, remembers the tension he felt with marshals hiding outside his house.
"Those were bad times," he said. "I didn't expect them to come a-shooting, but you never knew."
Juror Lessie Lowery of Waynesboro recalled "the horrible criticism I got after it was over. I didn't vote right was the criticism. When you swear to tell the truth by the evidence presented, that's something else. That's what I did."
While marshals were protecting her home, a caller threatened Lowery's family. "We never knew who it was," said Lowery, who didn't hear the threat of violence herself.
That night, she happened to be working late at her grocery store. "The marshals usually didn't escort me home," she said. "That night, they did. There were marshals all over the yard."
The menacing call had an unforeseen positive effect, she said. "Until I was threatened, a lot of people couldn't understand why I voted like I did."
For Dedeaux, fears of Klan retribution were fueled by her memories of the 1959 lynching of Mack Charles Parker, a black man accused of raping a white woman.
At the Pearl River County Hospital where she worked as a nurse, employees heard the mob attacking Parker at a nearby jail before they killed him and threw him in the Pearl River April 15, 1959. "He was screaming," she said. "He liked to have whipped them all."
Dedeaux knew the mob well. "They all lived right out here," she said, pointing out her window, past a grove of trees.
None of them ever faced charges. "You know, those guys all went free," she said. "They're all dead now."
Dedeaux gazed out again at the unseen killers. "I was hoping they'd get one of them. They never did."
44 Days: State considers pursuing murder charges in case
May 7, 2000
By Jerry Mitchell, Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
To many in the nation, the killings define Mississippi. To many in Mississippi, the killings define a past they'd rather forget.
Yet there's no escaping the names of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, or images of the black-and-white "Missing, Call FBI" poster, a charred station wagon or chuckling defendants in a courtroom.
"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about them," said Pass Christian native Lawrence Guyot, who waved goodbye to the trio a day before the Ku Klux Klan killed them on June 21, 1964. "Every time I see young people, I remember their sacrifice and work harder. I will never forget them."
A 1967 trial led to seven convictions on federal conspiracy charges, including then-Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers. Jurors acquitted eight and couldn't decide on verdicts for three. The most any Klansman served in prison was six years.
Now, 33 years after the trial, with many of the original 18 defendants still living, the state of Mississippi may do what it's never done - prosecute them for murder.
Attorney General Mike Moore's office is piecing together a case from history that's as much a part of the national psyche as Watergate or Vietnam.
Moore said he started thinking about the case after his involvement in the 1998 conviction of Bowers for the 1966 killing of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer.
On Dec. 27, 1998, The Clarion-Ledger reported that Bowers admitted in a sealed interview he thwarted justice in the Neshoba killings and said he didn't mind prison because a fellow Klansman got away with murder: "I was quite delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man."
Bowers didn't name the man, but FBI confessions say Edgar Ray Killen coordinated the killings. The 1967 jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of Killen's guilt, resulting in a mistrial. He says he is innocent.
Revelation of Bowers' words prompted the trio's families to ask Moore and Neshoba County District Attorney Ken Turner to reopen the case.
Two months later, Moore said, he met with Turner: "We started a dialogue, `What if?' I assigned investigators and lawyers."
In recent months, his office has begun to digest 40,000 pages of FBI reports and conduct interviews. "We're getting close to a point where we can decide whether we can put together a case that can be successfully prosecuted," he said Thursday. "Time and deaths have hurt us a lot, but we've definitely not given up hope."
Three prosecution witnesses - Delmar Dennis, James Jordan and Wallace Miller - are dead. So is Horace Doyle Barnette, who confessed his involvement to the FBI.
But the testimony of those witnesses is preserved in the 1967 trial transcript, which Moore has.
Chaney's brother, Ben, said he feels there's enough evidence to pursue the case: "Mike Moore should convene a grand jury."
Goodman's mother, Carolyn, said she also supports the pursuit: "It is a murder case, and a murder case has to be prosecuted. That's what this country is all about."
There are even signs of support in Neshoba County, where the Neshoba Democrat editorialized last week in favor of prosecuting the killers: "Come hell or high water, it's time for an accounting."
Guyot said he's thrilled Mississippi might pursue the case he can never forget. "I'm just so damn proud of that."
44 Days: Stringer recalls ‘elimination’ plan
May 14, 2000
Man who testified in Bowers trial may prove key link again
By Jerry Mitchell, Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
A key witness who helped put one-time Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers behind bars could aid authorities seeking to bring the first-ever murder charges in Mississippi's most notorious civil rights slayings.
Bob Stringer, 53, said he attended several Klan events where civil rights workers were discussed, including one where Bowers talked with reputed Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen about "eliminating" Michael Schwerner. Schwerner was one of three civil rights workers slain in Neshoba County in 1964, the year many out-of-state workers arrived to register black voters for Freedom Summer.
Stringer, now living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, said the meeting between Bowers and Killen took place a month or so before the June 21, 1964, killings of Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney.
Killen, now 75, of Union - who walked free after a 1967 federal conspiracy trial in the case - denies the meeting took place, denies knowing Bowers before their arrests in connection with the trio's killings and denies having any role in the killings.
Both testimony from that trial as well as two confessions from Klansmen involved describe "Preacher" Killen as directing the killings. But those statements also give Killen an alibi for the time of the actual shootings - he was at a funeral home while Klansmen shot the trio and buried their bodies beneath an earthen dam.
In the 1967 trial, held after the state passed on prosecuting anyone on murder charges, a jury convicted Bowers and six other Klansmen of conspiracy. The most any served was six years in prison.
Eight others were acquitted. Killen was among three who received mistrials because jurors couldn't agree on verdicts.
On May 7, The Clarion-Ledger reported that Killen came within a single vote of being convicted. Jurors said the holdout told them she could never convict a preacher.
Last year, state authorities reopened the investigation into the killings of the trio after The Clarion-Ledger reported that Bowers, in a sealed interview, said he was "delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator" go free. "Everybody - including the trial judge and the prosecutors and everybody else - knows that that happened,'' he said.
Bowers didn't name the "main instigator," but a pair of FBI confessions identify Killen as giving orders to Klansmen on what to do and where to go. Killen maintains he is innocent.
Stringer's remarks about a meeting between Bowers and Killen could constitute new evidence to help authorities prosecute the Neshoba County slayings in state court.
In 1998, Stringer's testimony aided in the conviction of Bowers for giving the orders to kill NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer, who died Jan. 10, 1966, defending his family when the Klan firebombed his home near Hattiesburg.
In an interview with The Clarion-Ledger, Stringer said that in 1964 he was a teenager working for Bowers, collecting cash from pinball machines. He said he also typed Klan propaganda for Bowers, distributed it and attended Klan events, even though he was never in the Klan, nor took part in any Klan violence.
"I was his boy," Stringer said. "I always felt Sam was grooming me for something."
Stringer said he remembers seeing Killen at a previous 1964 Klan meeting with Bowers, which FBI reports say took place May 3 inside the historic Boykin Methodist Church near Raleigh.
More than 100 Klansmen sat on wooden pews as Bowers addressed the crowd, documents show.
The topic of the day was the upcoming Freedom Summer, which was headed by the Council of Federated Organizations and which included Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman.
Informants later shared a copy of Bowers' written speech with the FBI.
The 1970 book Attack on Terror quotes that speech in its entirety: "We are here to discuss what we are going to do about COFO's n----- communist invasion of Mississippi, which will begin in a few days. ... Any personal attacks on the enemy should be carefully planned to include only the leaders and prime white collaborators of the enemy forces."
The prime white collaborator Klansmen had their eyes on was Schwerner, who was working with his wife to improve the lives of black Mississippians, both economically and politically. The Klan quickly dubbed him "Goatee" because of the beard he wore.
Klansmen hated Schwerner because of his association with black Mississippians. That he was a Jewish native of New York City added more fuel to their loathing.
Stringer recalled the meeting that day at the wooden church, built before the Civil War. "There were armed guards on the road," he said.
A few weeks later, Stringer said he returned with Bowers to the historic church and its nearby cemetery. This time, Stringer said, only a few were present - him; Bowers; Killen, whom he recognized from the previous meeting; and a man who accompanied Killen, whom he didn't recognize.
Schwerner's name monopolized the conversation, Stringer said.
"Goatee is like the queen bee in the beehive. You eliminate the queen bee and all the workers go away," Stringer recalled Bowers telling Killen.
Killen said Stringer is lying.
"I don't know how much money he's getting to say that," Killen said. "I know I'm not getting any money for telling the truth."
Killen said he never met Bowers until years later. "I am flat denying he and I were associated," Killen said.
He denies being in the Klan, but FBI documents identify Killen's house as Klan headquarters in Neshoba County.
He denies any role in the killings and said it was only later he learned from documents that Goodman and Schwerner were "underground agents of the Communist Party."
Asked what should happen to the trio's killers, he replied, "I'm not going to say they were wrong."
Earlier on the day the trio was slain, Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price jailed them on a speeding charge. A confession by Klansman Horace Doyle Barnette says Killen got in his car and told him where to park and wait for the three civil rights workers being released from jail.
"We have a place to bury them, and a man to run the dozer to cover them up," Barnette quoted Killen as saying.
"This was the first time I realized that the three civil rights workers were to be killed," Barnette told the FBI.
In his confession, James Jordan, who was among the Klansmen who shot Chaney, said Killen told about the imminent release of the trio and that "they would need four or five men from Lauderdale County to go and that there would be several from Neshoba County."
" `Preacher' Killen asked if anyone knew where rubber surgical gloves could be obtained and none were available," Jordan told the FBI. "Someone suggested that gloves could be obtained from Dick Warner's grocery store."
Jordan said he and other Klansmen obtained six pairs of brown cloth gloves. " `Preacher' Killen took the group and showed them the jail where an old woman was sitting in front and also showed them where they could park and see the civil rights workers if they left town by proceeding north," Jordan said. " `Preacher' Killen said that when he got word which way the civil rights workers were going out of town, the group was to go out on the road and the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol would stop them. The group dropped Killen off at the funeral home."
Asked about what Jordan and Barnette said, Killen denied playing any role in the killings. "I know nothing about the gloves. I know it's not true."
Asked about Bowers' statement "the main instigator" got away with murder, Killen replied, "It mystifies me as much as if I'd never heard of the case."
Killen said the earliest he would have met Bowers was when he and Bowers were arrested in early 1967. "I never did know why he was brought in. I didn't know he knew anything."
The first time Killen recalled a conversation with Bowers was eight months later during the 1967 trial.
In an interview with The Clarion-Ledger before his death, Klansman-turned-FBI informant Delmar Dennis recalled a May 1964 meeting where Klansmen clamored to vote to kill "Goatee."
Dennis said Killen interrupted them and told them the "state" had already approved Schwerner's elimination.
The state, Dennis told The Clarion-Ledger, was a reference to Bowers, who as imperial wizard was the only one with the authority to order Klansmen to kill.
Killen said Dennis was lying about this meeting, emphasizing he'd never been in the Klan.
In spring 1997, Stringer said his nagging conscience and his recovery from a gambling addiction caused him to seek to make amends and to meet with the Dahmer family for the first time. He told them shortly before Dahmer's death he overheard Bowers say "something needed to be done about the Dahmer n----- down South."
A year later, Stringer's testimony helped to convict Bowers, now serving a life sentence in the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County.
"Bob's coming forward was the catalyst that started moving the case forward," recalled Dahmer's son, Vernon Jr.
Bowers could not be reached directly for comment, but Shawn O'Hara of Hattiesburg, who served on Bowers' defense team in the 1998 trial, delivered The Clarion-Ledger a signed, typewritten statement that he said was from Bowers.
With regard to the trio's killings, the statement says: "I did not plan to nor murder three boys in Philadelphia, Miss. But I do not regret having to spend six years and seven days in prison since I was falsely accused of their deaths. Therefore, if a person has to pay an unjust price ... to insure Mississippi's greatness is protected, pay the price, pay the price, pay the price, even to shield active patriots."
O'Hara disputed Stringer's claim Bowers met with Killen in 1964 - just as he disputed Stringer's testimony in the 1998 trial against Bowers.
"Why did we let a common gambler testify against an honorable man like Sam Bowers?" O'Hara said.
Informed of O'Hara's remarks, Stringer replied, "I never burned anybody's house down or killed them."
44 Days: Letters to sheriff reveal story behind battle for civil rights
May 28, 2000
By Jerry Mitchell, Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
The never-published letters arrived amid the maelstrom of the civil rights movement, documenting a nation torn apart by hate.
In the summer of 1964, there was no greater maelstrom than the Neshoba County sheriff's office, where swarms of media descended because of the disappearances of three civil rights workers.
By the time the search ended 44 days later, the FBI found the bodies of those workers: James Chaney, a black Mississippian, and Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, two white Jewish New Yorkers. Before the year ended, Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and Deputy Cecil Price were among 21 men indicted by a federal grand jury.
In 1967, a jury convicted Price and six others - and acquitted Rainey and seven others - of federal conspiracy charges. Three had mistrials. Mississippi never tried anyone for murder.
And now the office of Attorney General Mike Moore is investigating whether such murder charges can be brought more than three decades later.
The Clarion-Ledger has obtained correspondence Rainey and Price received at the sheriff's office in 1964.
Rainey, now 77 and living in Meridian, recalled letters and telephone calls his office received in 1964 as being both supportive and threatening.
"We got some of both, best I remember," said Rainey, who insists he had nothing to do with the trio's killings and never even belonged to the Klan.
Through his wife, Price, now 62 and living in Philadelphia, turned down a request for an interview.
John Dittmer, author of the 1994 book Local People on the civil rights movement in Mississippi, said the forgotten correspondence gives a glimpse into the hate of that era, not only from the South, but from places such as Seattle and San Francisco.
"It just shows the depth of racism," said Dittmer.
Six days after the three civil rights workers turned up missing, Rainey's office received a postcard from Detroit - what would later prove to be a hoax.
"Call off your hunt. The boys are here with me - James, Andy & Mickey," the postcard said. "The boys only wonted (sic) a little fun."
A writer from Yazoo City suggested in a July 11 letter that Rainey needed to search where Chaney's mother lived: "You might be able to catch James there."
On Aug. 4, 1964, the truth came. Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney had been executed by the Klan and their bodies buried beneath tons of dirt.
In the months that passed, Rainey received mail from several Klan organizations, including a member of the United Klans of America who said he met Rainey and Price before.
"To men like you, Mr. Price, Mr. (Robert) Shelton (imperial wizard of the United Klans of America) and Mr. Beckwith, I take my hat off to you all," the man wrote. "I know that within my heart you all are doing what is right. Stop these commies and civil rights leaders.
"Mr. Rainey, I would be proud to be a member of your group. I know you all to be men, and I love each of you as a brother."
Enclosed was a card, "You have been patronized by a member of United Klans of America" with a drawing of torch-carrying Klansmen.
In addition to this personal letter from a Klansman, other Klan organizations sent in Klan pamphlets, bylaws and even a poem decrying interracial marriage.
The sheriff's office received The Southern Review, partly owned by Klansman Byron De La Beckwith, convicted in 1994 of killing NAACP leader Medgar Evers in 1963.
The paper, addressed to Price, has headlines such as, "Communist Attack on South Has Begun" and "A Scientist's Report on Race Differences."
The sheriff's office also received a copy of a publication of the National States' Rights Party (identified by the FBI as a Klan-front group), which included pictures of kissing interracial couples captioned, "This is mongrelization."
Also included: an article titled, "Christians Are God's Chosen People - Not the Jews." One article refers to civil rights workers as "human flotsam. They are promised $10 per day, free room and board and all of the sex they want from the opposite members of either race.
"Hundreds of the Secret Police (FBI) have flooded into Mississippi. They are here for ONE reason: to harass, intimidate and FRAME the wonderful White Christian people who are desperately fighting against mongrelization of their people."
The Klan wasn't the only group that sent the sheriff mail. So did civil rights activists.
Not many days after the trio turned up missing, Rainey received a letter from the Council of Federated Organizations that began "Dear Friend" and told him its Freedom Summer project had been mischaracterized as an invasion of Mississippi.
"We believe that this hostility is based upon a misunderstanding of the program, and that an explanation of the project's intent and scope is needed to allay the fears of white people in Mississippi," said the letter, signed simply, "Summer Project Staff, COFO."
After Price and Rainey were arrested in December 1964, they received a telegram of support from 24 people, including four preachers, calling themselves "Others Within Mississippi."
Letter writers, including one from Greenville, S.C., also offered support: "Dear Sheriff, I want you to know that people here in South Carolina are rooting for you and the 20 other men involved in the civil rights charge. I'm not saying that you or the other men had anything to do with the civil rights workers, but they got exactly what they deserved. I wish that you could tell the other men about what I said in my note. I want to wish you all the luck in the world and also the 20 other men in being cleared of the charge. I know if I was on the jury that I would free you of all charges. If I ever get out to Mississippi, I want to look you up. GIVE 'EM HELL SHERIFF."
Some writers assumed law enforcement officers were involved in the killings and reacted angrily.
Rainey received this note: "MURDERER! God will punish you."
And this letter: "We intend to see you squirm as did Michael Schwerner and his friends at your hands and WE will show NO MERCY. Personally I'm after YOU. You fat belly rebel. I'm trading my life for YOURS."
Despite such threatening messages, Philip Dray, co-author of the 1988 book on the trio's killings, We Are Not Afraid, said what's remarkable is how nonviolent the civil rights activists were during the 1960s.
Dray said that's demonstrated by how the trio reacted to the Klan the night they were killed - as shown in confessions given the FBI.
"Even as Mickey Schwerner was being pulled from the COFO station wagon to his death, he was still attempting to peacefully reach out to the men in the lynch mob, assuring gunman Alton Wayne Roberts, `Sir, I know just how you feel,' " Dray said. "Roberts was a violent man, a man of action who was afraid of no one, but he'd never encountered Schwerner's brand of courage."
Some of the other letters received by the sheriff's office in 1964 praised the 21 charged for waging an important fight.
"This letter is to wish all of you people in Mississippi, and the most of all the 21 in your town the best. I am myself with you all the way," a Seattle woman wrote Dec. 8, 1964. "Tell those men for me to stick by their guns and keep up the good work. All wars are won by people with what he believes in, and plenty of guts."
Price got this note from San Francisco: "Hooray! Glad to see white men have `equal rights,' too. No one can be convicted until they squeal on themselves. So keep quiet and no one gets convicted. Too bad it wasn't King who got it" - a reference to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
The letter is signed, "I.M. White" apparently meaning "I am white."
Dittmer said the letters confirm opposition to the civil rights movement outside the South.
That's not surprising, he said. "This was the year George Wallace went north in his presidential race and did extraordinarily well."
The letters also give lie to those who might try to rewrite history, he said. "There's a myth today that everybody supported Martin Luther King Jr. except a few rednecks. If you look at things like Gallup polls, the majority of the white people in the South were opposed to what King was doing in Birmingham, opposed to what he was doing in Selma. Only in recent years has the movement become as American as apple pie."
He suggested the letters also foreshadowed the rise of the anti-government movement that led to the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168.
"When this letter from Seattle says, `tell those men for me to stick by their guns and keep up the good work,' that could be something someone would write today about these things today."
"It's too close to the present."
Photo Caption A letter from a Klansman in Jackson praises Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and Deputy Cecil Price as heroes.
Hooray!! Glad to see some white men have "equal rights" too.
No one can be convicted unless they squeal on themselves.
So keep quiet and no one gets convicted.
Too bad it wasn't King who got it.
I.M. White Addressed to Deputy Cecil Price Dec.28, 1964, from San Francisco
Klan Kidnapping Foreshadowed Murders
September 10, 2000
Informant shares story
"Mississippi Burning" suspects tied to earlier case
By Jerry Mitchell, Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA -Three suspects implicated in the infamous killings of three civil rights workers in 1964 took part in a similar Klan kidnapping of a black teen three weeks earlier, a Klansman-turned-FBI informant says.
Ernest Gilbert told The Clarion-Ledger that then-Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and then-Deputy Cecil Price arrested and jailed 19-year-old student Wilmer Faye Jones, then released Jones to him and other armed Klansmen, who kidnapped Jones.
Gilbert also says fellow Klansman Edgar Ray Killen, also known as "Preacher" Killen, told him to kill the teen, whom the Klan believed had asked a white girl for a date. "Hell, he was adamant about it," Gilbert told The Clarion-Ledger. "I told him, `No, I won't kill nobody, not for something like that.' "
Killen and Rainey have denied any role in the kidnapping and have denied belonging to the Klan. Price could not be reached for comment and has previously declined a request for an interview.
Gilbert's role in the June 2, 1964, kidnapping of Jones has never been made public before now, nor has Killen's alleged role.
These allegations regarding Jones' kidnapping prior to the so-called "Mississippi Burning" case were never heard by jurors in the 1967 federal conspiracy trial who acquitted Rainey and seven others, convicted Price and six others, and couldn't decide on Killen and two others.
At the time of that trial, Gilbert was still FBI informant "JN-30," whose identity the FBI was protecting.
The long-forgotten crime against Jones foreshadowed the unforgettable killings of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, who were also jailed, released and kidnapped by Klansmen before being shot to death.
Two Klansmen involved fingered Killen as the leader who directed them to kill the trio the night of June 21, 1964. Killen has insisted on his innocence, saying he was at a funeral home that evening.
Gilbert's statements could help Mississippi do what it's never done - bring murder charges in the trio's slayings.
"It appears to me to be a very important piece of evidence in our pursuit of charges against those who killed Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman," Attorney General Mike Moore said last week. "We will follow up and investigate that."
Mississippi's ongoing investigation into the trio's killings is among 18 different slayings from the South's civil rights era that have been reexamined by authorities since 1989. So far, there have been 12 arrests, six convictions, one mistrial and one acquittal.
In early 1964, Gilbert had nothing to do with the FBI. He was a Klan leader from Brookhaven, seeking to recruit new members for the burgeoning organization known as the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi - later blamed for 10 killings.
In a recent interview, Gilbert, now 75, told The Clarion-Ledger he recalled being invited by Killen to speak to Neshoba County Klansmen the night of June 2, 1964, at an abandoned school building - the same place the Klan met 14 days later before they burned down a black church and beat its members.
Gilbert said he soon found out he had been asked for another reason - to intercept Jones after the sheriff released him from jail. "We were supposed to kill him," the former Klan leader said.
What Gilbert is telling The Clarion-Ledger matches up with what the FBI learned at the time about Jones' kidnapping, said former FBI agent Joe Sullivan, who investigated the case. "There's no question. I think Jones convinced those guys he wasn't trying to date the girl. That did defuse the reason for having him down there."
An FBI memorandum from Sullivan dated Sept. 25, 1964 - shortly after Gilbert became an FBI informant - confirms Gilbert's purpose for attending the Klan meeting: "Ostensibly the visit pertained to a plan to dispose of a subversive."
That memo, which lists Gilbert as the source of its information, confirms Rainey and Price were present at that Klan gathering: "Rainey was in charge of the meeting, and he and Killen were in Klan regalia. Numerous police officers were in attendance."
That memo also says Klansmen discussed Jones' arrest and decided to form an action squad, including Killen and four others.
Gilbert explained to The Clarion-Ledger that Klansmen were upset with Jones because they believed the black teenager asked a white female worker for a date.
Jones, now 54, wouldn't grant The Clarion-Ledger an interview, but his FBI statement at the time records his recollections.
In a July 23, 1964, statement to the FBI, he said Rainey and Price freed him from jail at midnight and watched as five armed men kidnapped him.
Jones said he didn't know his captors, but said they referred to one man with them as "Preacher."
In an Aug. 3, 1964, statement to the FBI, Killen denied any involvement in Jones' kidnapping and said he had gone once to the county jail months ago to minister to an inmate there, but hadn't been back.
Eight days after Killen made his statement, Rainey told FBI agents he arrested Jones because he suspected the youth of stealing a high school graduation ring he was wearing.
Rainey told the FBI he didn't release Jones to Klansmen: "I have no knowledge of Jones having been picked up by any local citizens who allegedly forced him to leave Neshoba County. My only reason for letting Jones out at midnight was so that he could go home and meet his obligation to report for military service."
FBI agents found no proof for Rainey's claim, Sullivan told The Clarion-Ledger. "Rainey wouldn't turn him over to a hit squad if he was thinking about his military obligations."
Asked last week about Jones' kidnapping, Rainey replied, "I don't remember anything like that."
He denied having any role in any kidnapping.
The FBI first learned of Jones' kidnapping in July 1964 from resident Florence Mars, who learned of the crime from a friend of Jones' mother.
FBI agents then found Jones in Chicago and brought him back to Mississippi for interviews.
Sullivan said he was immediately struck by the similarities Jones described to FBI agents and what they believed had taken place in the trio's killings.
In his 1964 statement to the FBI, Jones described his "Number One" captor as 35 to 40 years old, 180 pounds, and "black hair which was thick and hanging over his forehead a little, a flesh-colored mole about the size of an eraser on a pencil, just below his cheek bone on his left cheek."
Upon reading the FBI statement recently, Gilbert said, "That's me. I put a gun in his back and told him to get in the car."
Jones sat in the front seat between two armed Klansmen, Gilbert said.
As they drove away, Jones told the FBI "Number One" tried to get him to admit he called the white girl and told him he was sent from Alabama to kill him.
"I didn't want him to know I was from Mississippi," Gilbert told The Clarion-Ledger. "I didn't have no intention of killing him. I fought in the war, but I ain't no murderer."
According to FBI reports, Klansmen drove Jones to an abandoned farm in Neshoba County not far from a present-day golf course near Silver Star Casino.
Headlights shone in Jones' face as he said Klansmen interrogated him, asking him if he belonged to the NAACP, had been involved in civil rights activities or tried to date a white girl.
To each question, Jones answered no.
Gilbert told The Clarion-Ledger he confronted Jones: "I told him, `You know, you're fixing to die, and I want to know the truth.' He told me, `I did not call that girl. She called me.' I asked him, `What kind of girl is she?' He said, `I don't really know.' "
After Jones' responses, Klansmen huddled at the rear of the car where he couldn't hear.
Gilbert told The Clarion-Ledger Killen asked him to shoot the teen and said that he replied, "Let me tell you one damn thing, Killen, you got a gun, and you got me into a damn mess. I tell you what you do, you kill him."
With those words, Killen backed off, Gilbert said. "Killen got upset because I didn't kill him."
After the Klansmen ended their private discussion, Jones said Klansmen told him he should thank the "Preacher" for saving his life. Jones also said Klansmen "mentioned they had planned to shoot me and throw me in a well."
Klansmen insisted Jones leave town or die, Gilbert told The Clarion-Ledger. He said he and Killen took Jones to his mother's house where he could pick up clothing to travel to Pascagoula, where he had relatives.
Gilbert said he threatened to kill Jones if he fled: "You go in the house. You get your clothes. If you try to run, I'm going to go in, and I ain't gonna leave nobody alive."
Gilbert said he and Killen then took Jones to a bus station, where he was given bus fare for the trip.
Before Jones left, Gilbert said, he warned the teen he'd be killed if he returned to Neshoba County.
Jones told the FBI the man called the "Preacher" pulled $7 from a wad of bills.
Gilbert said he believes he may have also given Jones money that day.
"I certainly didn't believe in killing him because he was scared to death," Gilbert told The Clarion-Ledger. "That's why he's alive today. God was there with him."
Gilbert's recollections could be used in a trial, legal experts say.
"Proof of other offenses is admissible if it goes to modus operandi," said Aaron Condon, professor emeritus of the University of Mississippi School of Law.
Jones' arrest, release and kidnapping "would go to show proof of intent - that this is the way the Klan operated and this is the way they intended for it to happen," Condon said.
Pat Bennett, professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, said when she was a prosecutor she always liked proof of previous similar acts.
Authorities can seek to introduce such evidence under exceptions to court rules that bar most evidence of other crimes, she said. "It might come in to prove identity because the civil rights workers are dead and can't identify who was involved. Or the state could try to show Klansmen were planning this and were looking for an opportunity to carry out the crime."
A month after Jones' kidnapping, Gilbert's experiences in the Klan prompted him to turn informant.
A Klansman came to him and confessed involvement in the 1964 killings of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore. The two teenagers were beaten to death before being tossed into the Mississippi River, Gilbert said. "I couldn't live with it. I wish I never had been in the Klan. It messed my life up."
For Sullivan, the kidnapping of Jones represented a break FBI agents had been looking for in the summer of 1964, clearly revealing how the Klan worked in Neshoba County. "This was really part of a pattern. In this case, it was supposed to be a similar episode to that of the three civil rights workers. Gilbert spoiled their plans."
Film’s Scene No Act for Mississippi Teen
September 10, 2000
By Jerry Mitchell, Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA - It is a real-life event portrayed in the 1988 fictional film Mississippi Burning.
FBI agents conceal the identity of a key witness by placing a cardboard box over his head with one hole that allows him to see.
That really happened to 19-year-old Wilmer Faye Jones, who directed FBI agents to an abandoned farm in Neshoba County where Klansmen had discussed killing him on June 2, 1964.
It is an event the 54-year-old Jones still doesn't want to discuss. Through friends, he declined a request for an interview.
At the time of the kidnapping, he had just returned to live with his mother and stepfather in Philadelphia. Days earlier, he had graduated from a high school in Pascagoula, where he lived with relatives.
The July 23, 1964, statement Jones later gave the FBI describes the events that took place:
On June 2, 1964, he stood out among Philadelphia teens because he wore a goatee. Some people, such as the Klan, believed it meant Jones was a radical or a communist.
Jones rode a bicycle to a recreation center in town, where a constable questioned him about the graduation ring he was wearing.
"He then said that he thought the sheriff was looking for me," Jones said. "I asked him, `What for?' and he said, `I think you know what for.' "
Jones said the constable took him to meet Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and Deputy Cecil Price, who then took him to Thompson's Drug Store.
There, Jones said, Rainey asked a white female worker if Jones had called her and asked her for a date.
"He's the one, I think," she said.
"She's lying," Jones replied.
He explained he had called her regarding resizing his ring but had not asked her for a date.
Rainey and Price then drove Jones to jail. On the way, Rainey asked, "N-----, didn't you call up that white girl and ask her for a date?"
Jones said that, when he replied no, Rainey slapped him. A second denial brought a second slap, Jones told the FBI.
Rainey asked what he was taught in Pascagoula, and Jones said he replied, "History, economics and different subjects."
"I'm talking about integration, segregation, and what they taught you about that kind of stuff in school," Rainey told him.
Jones replied he wasn't taught integration.
Jones said Price asked him about his goatee and whether he was a black Muslim or civil rights activist.
Jones said no.
Price then pulled out a pocket knife and sliced off some of his whiskers, Jones said.
After being in jail six hours, Jones said he was released at midnight.
He said he walked onto the sidewalk, where armed men ordered him into a car and handcuffed him.
As the five armed men drove him away, Jones said he noticed Rainey, Price and the jailer still at the door with Rainey waving goodbye.
Contacted for comment last week, Rainey said he remembered nothing about this incident but that he certainly wouldn't have had anything to do with a kidnapping.
Price could not be reached.
After five armed Klansmen kidnapped him and threatened to kill him, they dropped him at a bus station and ordered him to leave town, Jones told FBI agents.
Upon arrival in Pascagoula, he mailed his mother a letter: "Mother, I don't know how this thing came about, but don't worry about me."
After explaining what his kidnappers had done, he warned his mother to "be careful with the white people you talk to up there. They said they might have some men watching you all."
Jones' mother is dead now, but his stepfather, Harvey Brown, 75, recently recalled the horror she felt.
"My wife like to went into shock when he was taken off like that," Brown said.
"Everybody was scared," he said.
The feeling it was open season on each black citizen spread throughout the community, he said. "Back in the '60s, we weren't no more than a rabbit."
Jones was not involved in civil rights activities and had not asked a white girl for a date, Brown said.
More than a month after his kidnapping, the FBI found Jones living in Chicago.
On July 23, 1964, agents returned him to this town and had him describe what the Klan had done.
Then-FBI agent Joe Sullivan found the Klan's accusation against Jones wasn't true.
"They apparently had an exaggerated story from the girl in the store and accused him of wanting to date her," said Sullivan, who now lives in New York City. "She later recanted on that."
He recalled the FBI used a box to conceal Jones' identity - one of two scenes based on Jones' kidnapping that appears in the film Mississippi Burning. In another, a sheriff and a deputy watch a black teen, just released from jail, abducted by a group of white men.
Sullivan said he remembers Jones guiding agents to a farm with a deep well where Klansmen threatened to hurl him to his death.
"We went to look at the place where they took him. We could hear the rattlesnakes in the well."
Preacher helped conceal Klan killings, friend says
July 19, 2001
By Jerry Mitchell, Clarion-Ledger Staff Writer
LOUISVILLE - A longtime friend of Edgar Ray Killen's said the reputed Ku Klux Klan leader told him Killen removed evidence from the scene where Klansmen killed three civil rights workers in 1964.
Now, more than two decades after George Metz said that conversation occurred, the 72-year-old former newspaper correspondent could become a key witness against Killen if authorities seek state murder charges in the June 21, 1964, shooting deaths of Michael Sch-werner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney.
Killen said shells were left behind after the killings, Metz said. "He said he went over there and cleaned it up after the fact."
Despite saying he removed evidence, Killen insisted on his innocence, Metz said. "I believe (Killen) is basically honest. He's just lying about the killings. He can't tell the truth about that."
Metz's statement represents the first possible evidence of Killen's involvement in concealing the crime - what could be breakthrough information that enables Mississippi authorities to pursue murder charges for the first time.
"Our office definitely plans to talk to Mr. Metz," said Attorney General Mike Moore, whose office is investigating the case. "We will follow up on it immediately."
Metz is the fourth potential new witness The Clarion-Ledger has found since 1999, when state authorities reopened the investigation into the killings, dubbed the "Mississippi Burning" case.
Repeated attempts to contact Killen for comment were unsuccessful, but the 76-year-old preacher has repeatedly insisted he had nothing to do with the killings.
Testimony links Killen
Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, who were involved in the work to register black voters, were reported missing on the first day of a season of violence, during which Mississippians were beaten, brutalized and their churches burned. Forty-four days later, a horrified nation watched as their bodies were exhumed from an earthen dam.
Two participants in the killings told the FBI in 1964 that after the trio were jailed in Neshoba County, Killen recruited Klansmen, told them where to go, what to do, where to intercept the trio after they were freed from jail and, finally, how they would be buried.
State officials passed on prosecuting the case and let federal authorities pursue the case. In 1967, 18 men were tried on federal charges of conspiring to deprive the workers of their civil rights - the only charge available to authorities. Seven, including Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, were convicted; eight were acquitted; and three, including Killen, received mistrials.
In 1999, authorities reopened the Mississippi Burning case after The Clarion-Ledger reported that Bowers said in a secret interview with an archives official: "I was quite delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man. Everybody - including the trial judge and the prosecutors and everybody else - knows that that happened."
Two participants' confessions described Killen as the instigator who told Klansmen what to do.
In a 1999 interview with The Clarion-Ledger, Killen denied any involvement in the killings, saying he spent the night of the killings at a funeral home with parents who lost a 2-year-old child: "We stayed till the morning hours. It wasn't a set-up alibi. Country folks, if we set up, we'd set up with family."
Testimony at the 1967 trial verifies there were shells on the ground where Klansmen shot the civil rights workers that dark night in rural Neshoba County.
According to the trial transcript, James Jordan, now deceased, testified that after the shootings he heard a fellow Klansman say, "Better pick up these shells."
U.S. District Judge Harold Cox asked Jordan if all the shells were picked up that night. "I don't know," Jordan replied.
As for Killen's whereabouts that night, Jordan testified that after Killen instructed fellow Klansmen about intercepting the trio as they left the jail, he asked Klansmen to drop him off at a funeral home in Philadelphia. "He said that he had to go there because if anything happened he would be the first one questioned," Jordan said.
It took FBI agents three months after finding the bodies to learn where the men had been killed - in a ditch alongside Rock Cut Road, just west of Mississippi 19.
FBI documents show agents combed the scene of the slayings for evidence but found none.
In the 1967 trial, Klansman-turned-FBI-informant Delmar Dennis, now deceased, said Killen was a Klan leader who discussed killing Schwerner. Defense lawyers criticized Dennis as a paid informant.
Scene of the crime
Metz said he remembered when he was visiting at Killen's house in Union about two decades ago that Killen talked about cleaning up the scene of the killings.
At the time, Metz said, he was working for the state Department of Audit. He can't recall when the conversation occurred but said it probably took place between 1974 and 1980. "I talked to Killen a lot of times when I'd be in the area."
Metz said Killen mentioned that a man had called him the morning of June 22, 1964, and that he went with the unnamed man to the scene, where they supposedly found footprints, cigarette butts and shell casings.
"He said they went up and smoothed the ground out of heel prints and picked up anything that was left," Metz said. "Killen showed me the place. It was just a few feet different from what I thought."
Metz recalled that Killen said the cleanup was the first he knew of the killings and that there was no way he would have taken part in slayings so close to his home.
Metz said he never shared the story of the cleanup with authorities. At the time, he said, Killen was a valuable source for him in an unrelated investigation.
Veteran journalist Bill Minor described Metz as credible, saying Killen's sharing such information with Metz is no surprise: "He was the only guy among us who could speak to the Killens and so forth. They thought he was one of them."
Shells from the guns used in the killings could have been key evidence against the Klan killers, said former FBI agent Jim Ingram, who supervised the agency's testimony and evidence in the 1967 trial.
The statement of Metz, who had plenty of contacts in law enforcement and the Klan, adds to the solid case the FBI had against Killen, Ingram said. "His statement is very credible because this went down the line with what the FBI discovered. This goes right along with what was found in the FBI investigation regarding the shells."
Metz said he has known Killen for decades: "I could be a character witness for him. I like Killen."
In the 1967 trial, 11 jurors concluded Killen was guilty, but one holdout told fellow jurors she could never convict a preacher, and Killen walked free.
He dodged that conspiracy charge but failed to dodge a different charge in 1974 when he went to prison for threatening a woman - a conviction for which Killen has said he was framed.
Life has changed little for Killen since his release. The Union man told The Clarion-Ledger in 1999 that he continues to cut timber, preach Sundays and teach that God supports racial separation.
Moore said Killen remains a key target in the ongoing investigation into the trio's slayings. Since 1989, authorities across the U.S. have have re-examined 20 killings from the civil rights era.
In the wake of those investigations, there have been 23 arrests and seven convictions - the first in Jackson with the 1994 conviction of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 murder of Medgar Evers and the latest with this year's conviction of Thomas Blanton for the 1963 murders of four girls killed in a church bombing in Birmingham.
Prosecuting the killers
Metz opposes authorities prosecuting the Mississippi Burning killings because too many years have passed. "They can indict anybody still living and get a conviction. I hope they don't do a damn thing," he said. "It should have been prosecuted at the time."
Chaney's brother, Ben, of New York City, said the passage of years should never negate the pursuit of justice. "Everybody in this country knows who committed these murders," he said. "The evidence is quite clear. Mike Moore should prosecute."
Just as other crimes of the past have been successfully prosecuted, this new evidence from Metz along with the existing evidence should be placed before a Neshoba County grand jury to decide, said Schwerner's widow, Rita Bender of Seattle. "The information that `Preacher' Killen participated in the removal of evidence from the site of the slayings, combined with the other testimony against him in the federal trial, indicates strongly that he was a member of the lynch mob. He should be indicted and tried."
POTENTIAL WITNESSES AGAINST EDGAR RAY KILLEN
The FBI's case against reputed Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen is a strong one, former FBI agent Jim Ingram said.
And potential new witnesses discovered by The Clarion-Ledger, he said, make the case even stronger against Killen, who has maintained his innocence in the June 21, 1964, killings of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney.
Legal experts say jurors could hear from all these people - dead and living - if Mississippi brings its first murder charges in connection with the trio's killings. That's because under court rules, the testimony of a deceased witness is preserved as long as that witness has been cross-examined. Here's a list of what people have stated or testified regarding Killen:
What he said: In the early 1960s, Stringer said he was working for Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, typing Klan propaganda. Stringer said that in spring 1964, Bowers discussed Schwerner (nicknamed "Goatee" by the Klan) with reputed Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen. Stringer said Bowers told Killen, "Goatee is like the queen bee in the beehive. You eliminate the queen bee and all the workers go away."
Killen has said Stringer is lying: "I don't know how much money he's getting to say that. I know I'm not getting any money for telling the truth."
What he said: Klansman turned FBI informant Gilbert said that weeks before the Klan kidnapped and killed the workers, he was invited to take part in a similar Klan kidnapping of a black teen. Gilbert said then-Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and then-Deputy Cecil Price arrested and jailed 19-year-old student Wilmer Faye Jones, then released Jones about midnight to armed Klansmen. After taking Jones to a remote place, Gilbert said Killen told him to kill the teen, whom the Klan believed had asked a white girl for a date: "Hell, he was adamant about it. I told him, `No, I won't kill nobody, not for something like that.' "
When Killen persisted, Gilbert said he suggested Killen shoot Jones himself, prompting Killen to back down.
Rainey has denied any involvement in either Jones' kidnapping or the civil rights workers' killings. Killen has denied any involvement in their killings but hasn't commented on Gilbert's allegations.
What he said: Retired journalist Metz recalled that Killen said he and an unnamed man cleaned up the scene of the slayings, getting rid of possible evidence such as footprints, cigarettes and shell casings.
Killen could not be reached for comment.
What she said: The widow of Meridian Police Sgt. Wallace Miller said Killen visited them several times in Meridian, chatting with her husband at the kitchen table. Shortly after the three civil rights workers turned up missing in 1964, she said her husband and Killen conversed privately in a back room - the only time they did that.
SGT. WALLACE MILLER
Age: Now deceased
What he said: The Klansman turned FBI informant testified about that meeting in the back room, where he said Killen shared all the details of the murder plot, including the fact that he had gotten together the Klansmen that carried out the killings.
At other times, Miller said Killen talked of "whippings and beatings" to control black citizens.
Miller testified that at a spring 1964 Klan meeting some members talked of whipping Schwerner: "Mr. Killen told us to leave him alone, that another unit was going to take care of him, that his elimination had been approved ... by the Imperial Wizard."
As for the June 16, 1964, burning of Mount Zion Methodist Church - five days before the killings - Miller said Killen "told me they burned the church to get the civil rights workers up there, referring to Schwerner."
Age: Now deceased
What he said: Jordan, who admitted he was part of the killing party, testified he went to the Longhorn Drive-In in Meridian just before 6 p.m. and saw Killen who "said he had a job he needed some help on over in Neshoba County, and he needed some men to go with him."
News came that two or three men were on the way, and Jordan said Killen told Klansmen they needed about six or seven men.
Jordan said he recruited Klansman Alton Wayne Roberts and at Killen's request he stopped at a grocery store to get gloves.
Once Klansmen assembled, Jordan said, "Rev. Killen said they had three of the civil rights workers locked up, and we had to hurry and get there, and were to pick them up and tear their butts up."
When they arrived in Philadelphia, "Rev. Killen came from around the corner, told us that he would take us by and show us the jail and then we would be told where to wait until they (the workers) were released," Jordan testified.
Klansmen then dropped Killen off at a funeral home, Jordan said. "He said that he had to go there because if anything happened he would be the first one questioned."
Age: Now deceased
What he said: Killen swore him into the Klan in March of 1964 at Cash Salvage Store in Meridian, testified Dennis, a Klansman turned FBI informant. "After the swearing-in ceremony, he explained that it was an organization of action, no Boy Scout group, that we were here to do business. He said there would be things that the Klan would need to do and would do and among those would be the burning crosses, people would need to be beaten and occasionally there would have to be elimination.
"He meant killing a person. He explained that any project that was carried out by the Klan had to be approved by the Klan, that no person was to do anything on their own and if they did, they would not receive any protection or any money or any help whatsoever from the Klan."
In Klan meetings twice in the spring of 1964, Schwerner's name arose with Klansmen saying they wanted to eliminate him, Dennis testified.
He testified Killen "said that we were not yet organized in a klavern, and it would not be necessary for a local klavern to approve that project, that it had already been approved by the state officers of the Klan and had been made a part of their program and it would be taken care of."
At a June 16 Klan meeting, Killen called to order the more than 75 Klansmen gathered, Dennis said.
When one Klansman mentioned seeing a heavily guarded meeting at the all-black Mount Zion church, "Killen asked if the group thought that anything should be done about it, and some person in the group suggested that there probably were civil rights workers in the church or it would not have been heavily guarded, and it was agreed that something would be done," Dennis testified. "Edgar Ray Killen asked for volunteers."
The armed group returned an hour later, Dennis said. "Wayne Roberts had blood on his hands or knuckles, and he told me he got this when he was beating a n-----."
Grand jury indicts Killen in ’64 killings
Jan. 7, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
PHILADELPHIA — A grand jury here indicted Edgar Ray Killen Thursday in the four-decade-old slayings of three civil rights workers, the first-ever state charges in a crime that came to be called “Mississippi Burning.”
Deputies arrested the 79-year-old Killen on Thursday evening, and authorities said they may arrest more suspects in the June 21, 1964, killings of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. They wouldn’t specify who.
Arraignments of those indicted are slated for 11 a.m. today at the Neshoba County Courthouse.
Killen and seven other suspects in the slayings are still alive. Killen has insisted he is innocent.
Just because those responsible for the killings appear frail now does not mean “they deserve one ounce of sympathy,” said retired Neshoba Democrat Editor Stanley Dearman. “They’re still killers — they’re just old.”
Goodman’s 89-year-old mother, Carolyn of New York City, said she never thought she’d live to see the day that charges were brought. She gushed with joy at the news: “That’s good news, very good news.”
For more than 40 years, this town of fewer than 10,000 has borne the stigma of those killings, said local lawyer Fent Deweese, a member of the Philadelphia Coalition, a multiracial organization that has urged Attorney General Jim Hood to pursue prosecution. The killings were memorialized in the 1988 movie Mississippi Burning, the title derived from the FBI investigation.
“It’s always there, the scarlet letter,” Deweese said, referring to the famous Nathaniel Haw-thorne story. “You can’t hide it.”
On a gray day that grew colder by the minute, grand jurors gathered in the warmth of the courthouse to consider charges against suspects who resemble grandfathers.
Two of them appeared Thursday to testify before the grand jury. One of them, Billy Wayne Posey, told reporters, “After 40 years to come back and do something like this is ridiculous.”
The other, Jimmy Arledge, had no comment, but his attorney, James McIntyre of Jackson, talked for him.
“I think this is a sad day for Mississippi,” said McIntyre, who represented then-Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey in the 1967 federal conspiracy trial. “This is going to open up old wounds. People (across racial lines) will look at one another differently. I never thought it would surface again.”
A prosecution on murder charges will only “help the feelings of a few,” rather than the 2.8 million who live in Mississippi, he said.
In addition to Killen, Arledge and Posey, four other suspects from the 1967 federal trial are still alive: Sam Bowers, Pete Harris, Jimmy Snowden, Richard Willis and Olen Burrage.
In that 1967 trial, jurors convicted seven, including Bowers, Arledge, Snowden and Posey; acquitted eight, including Harris, Willis and Burrage; and deadlocked on Killen and two others, leading to their mistrials.
On Thursday afternoon, another older man walked into the courthouse, a 72-year-old man who has pushed for prosecution of the case since 1989 and who smiled as he watched grand jurors leave.
“This does my heart good, me and my pacemaker,” Dearman said. “It feels like a weight has been lifted off the community.
“Some local people say, ‘Why do they keep bringing this up? It’s just bad for the county.’ The damage we’ve done to the county is not because of the media or the people who wanted justice, but the people who conceived, engineered and carried out this crime. They’re the ones who deserve the credit for the notoriety.”
After the indictments Thursday, many of the members of the grand jury chatted amiably and waited for officials to complete paperwork.
Unlike the 1967 trial, where the jury was all white, grand jurors included black and Choctaw members. Many of them were middle-aged, and some of them weren’t even born when the killings took place.
They fulfilled a dream Dearman expressed in a 1989 editorial: “Come hell or high water, it’s time for an accounting.”
But local support for his idea didn’t gain momentum until last year when the Philadelphia Coalition that urged Hood to prosecute the killings.
In 1999, the attorney general’s office reopened the case after The Clarion-Ledger published excerpts from a secret interview given by Bowers, a one-time Imperial Wizard who headed the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the nation’s most violent white supremacist organization in the 1960s.
In that interview, Bowers admitted he thwarted justice in the trio’s killings. Bowers is now serving a life sentence in a Mississippi prison for ordering the 1966 firebombing in Hattiesburg that killed Vernon Dahmer Sr.
Testimony in the 1967 federal trial identified Killen, also called “Preacher,” as the one who got the orders from Bowers to kill Schwerner. Testimony also showed Killen coordinated the Klansmen’s activities the night the three workers were kidnapped and killed.
Jurors say they deadlocked 11-1 in favor of Killen’s guilt when a lone holdout told them she could never convict a preacher.
In his interview, Bowers said he didn’t mind going to prison on federal conspiracy charges because a fellow Klansman got away with murder. “I was quite delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man,” he said, alluding to Killen.
Killen remarked in an earlier interview about the trio’s killers: “I’m not going to say they were wrong. ... I believe in self-defense.”
In 1964, a Neshoba County grand jury never had the chance to indict because Gov. Paul Johnson asked federal authorities to pursue the case.
Philip Dray, co-author of the 1988 book We Are Not Afraid, which details the case, was amazed to learn of the indictments.
The disappearances of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman on the first day of summer, June 21, riveted a nation that watched, waited and wondered, only to learn 44 days later that they had been killed and their bodies buried 15 feet beneath an earthen dam.
“There was something about the case that was haunting, partly because it involved abduction and partly because they (Klansmen) almost got away with it,” Dray said. “It was a titanic showdown between the federal government and the Klan.
“The fact there is still more resolution in this case is a remarkable thing. It sort of takes your breath away.”
Killen Pleads Not Guilty in Civil Rights Killings
January 8, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
PHILADELPHIA — Four decades after Edgar Ray Killen allegedly engineered the killings of three civil rights workers here, the reputed Klansman pleaded not guilty Friday to three counts of murder in the first-ever state charges in the case.
The 79-year-old sawmill operator mumbled through much of the hearing until Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon asked him for his plea. Killen, who also is a Baptist preacher, replied in a strong voice three times, “Not guilty,” one for each murder charge.
The judge ordered Killen held without bond and told him he had enough assets to hire his own attorney.
Killen is the only one charged in the 1964 slayings. He was identified in a 1967 federal conspiracy trial as having coordinated the Klansmen’s actions that night. Of the 18 tried in the 1967 trial, seven besides Killen are still alive.
Attorney General Jim Hood said grand jurors had the opportunity to indict more. “We presented everyone who was living ... for potential indictment, and they came and indicted Edgar Ray Killen,” he said.
After Killen’s 11 a.m. arraignment Friday, the scene turned chaotic when the Neshoba County Courthouse was evacuated following a bomb threat that turned out to be false.
Killen’s brother was seen striking a WJTV-Channel 12 cameraman.
“Get all of your shots now,” J.D. Killen, 63, told the cameraman. “We’re going to make sure you’re not around for his funeral. My brother’s innocent.”
The scene resembled the one in 1967 outside the federal courthouse in Meridian when Alton Wayne Roberts, later convicted in the federal conspiracy trial, slugged CBS cameraman Laurens Pierce.
More than 20 local and national media representatives descended Friday on the 7,300-resident town where on June 21, 1964, three young men working to register black voters disappeared. The bodies of James Chaney of Meridian and Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, both of New York, were discovered 44 days later, buried 15 feet beneath an earthen dam.
The state relinquished the case to the FBI, which subsequently charged 19 people with conspiracy. The jury convicted seven, acquitted eight and deadlocked on three, including Killen, resulting in their release.
In 1999, the attorney general’s office reopened the case after The Clarion-Ledger published excerpts from a sealed interview state archives officials had with Sam Bowers, a one-time Imperial Wizard who headed the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the nation’s most violent white supremacist organization in the 1960s. The paper obtained a copy of the interview that was not to be published before his death.
In the interview, Bowers admitted he thwarted justice in the trio’s killings. He is now serving a life sentence in a Mississippi prison for ordering the 1966 firebombing in Hattiesburg that killed Vernon Dahmer Sr.
Apparently alluding to Killen, he said: “I was quite delighted to be convicted and have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man.”
Testimony in the 1967 federal conspiracy trial identified “Preacher” Killen as the one who got the orders from Bowers to kill Schwerner.
Chaney’s brother, Ben, of New York City said he’d still like to see further investigation into the role of the state and the now-defunct Mississippi Sovereignty Commission that spied on Schwerner and his wife three months before the Klan killed the trio.
Schwerner’s widow, Rita Schwerner Bender, said Friday, “I believe this is an opportunity to understand the consequences of government-sponsored racism ... If we can teach that by this case to the present generation, justice will be served.”
Leroy Clemons, co-chairman of the Philadelphia Coalition, a multiracial group that has urged Hood to pursue prosecution, still hopes other suspects may be charged at some point in the future. “I don’t think it’s over,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more arrests.”
Former Secretary of State Dick Molpus, who also has pushed for prosecution, said, “This trial will be a historic turning point for Neshoba County and Mississippi. Decent people in our state are ready to work on real issues that transcend race.”
As Crime Victim, Hood Understands Wanting Justice
January 9, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
Attorney General Jim Hood cannot forget the killing.
It still haunts him, invading his dreams.
It is the killing of his first cousin, Glen Ford, in 1976.
A relative woke him that night, bawling and telling him Ford had been killed. Hood, just 14, sat in his bed, stunned. He had hunted all the time with Ford, and now he was dead.
“As a victim, you never forget,” said Hood, who talked about his cousin’s death after a Neshoba County grand jury returned an indictment in perhaps Mississippi’s most infamous triple murder: the June 21, 1964, killings of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman.
“A murder is even worse because you want to be mad at somebody, and that’s what drove this case,” he said. “There are people who say this will tear up Neshoba County and Mississippi, but the whole reason for me presenting the case to the grand jury was driven by my experience as a victim. I feel like everybody has a right to a day in court.”
In October 1976, Ford and his pregnant wife went to a restaurant-bar in Tupelo with a deputy and his wife. Ford ran into the man in the bathroom, and the two argued. Something about deer hunting.
Later, when Ford left with his wife and friends, the man sat in his truck with a 12-gauge shotgun, just 30 feet away, and shot Ford in the back, Hood said. At the time, Ford was holding his wife’s hand.
But at trial, Hood said, “the guy claimed self-defense.”
“It was bad,” Hood said. “My cousin was a rough-edge country guy like me.”
Witness after witness said bad things about Ford. “They tried his character,” Hood said.
Jurors returned a compromise verdict of manslaughter instead of murder, and the man served seven years in prison.
Hood believed justice wasn’t done. He knew about the law because his father was a county prosecutor.
His family became a crime victim again in 1973 when someone burned their house in Houlka to the ground. The arsonist was never caught.
Yet as a teenager Hood never aspired to follow his dad. “My grandfather was a doctor, so I wanted to be a doctor,” he said.
But he changed his mind and went to law school.
“I do believe the good Lord opens doors and shuts them,” he said. “My wife was pregnant so we moved home, and I ran for district attorney in 1995 and won.”
He served eight years as district attorney for Benton, Calhoun, Chickasaw, Lafayette, Marshall, Tippah and Union counties, making it his policy to let families present their cases to the grand jury.
“Murder has no statute of limitations, and (those affected) never forget one of their family victims who’ve been murdered,” Hood said of the Neshoba County case. “I want to know 20 years from now when the dust settles that I’ve done all I could do.”
On Sept. 14, Goodman’s mother, Carolyn, and his brother, David, met with Hood and the Philadelphia Coalition, an organization that pushed for prosecution.
“Sometimes you try a case, even if you think you’re going to lose because it’s important,” David Goodman told Hood. “This country, Mississippi and Neshoba County want to see something done.”
He gave Hood telegrams then-President Lyndon Johnson had sent his family along with eulogies from the funeral.
Carolyn Goodman shared stories of Andy wanting to go to Mississippi and help register people to vote.
“My son didn’t die here,” she said. “He’s always been here, and he’s always in your heart and always will be.”
Hearing her speak moved Hood. “I knew it was my duty as a prosecutor to present this case to a grand jury,” he said. “I was not going to change my policy as attorney general. It all boils down to having been a victim myself.”
Experts: Killen Tape Could See Trial
May 1, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
Edgar Ray Killen, accused of collaborating with law officers and others in the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers, boasted a decade later that he had law enforcement support to carry out violence.
The statement is on a tape of a telephone call Killen made June 21, 1974 — exactly 10 years after the Klan’s June 21, 1964, slayings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.
Legal experts say the tape, discovered by The Clarion-Ledger in an old court file, could be used as evidence against Killen when he goes on trial June 13.
In 1975, that tape and other evidence persuaded a jury to convict Killen, a sawmill owner and part-time preacher, of making a threatening telephone call. He served five months in prison.
In the Newton County Circuit Court trial, Marvin Ware testified he helped spy on a woman whose estranged husband suspected she was having an affair with Killen. Ware said he saw Killen and the woman come out of a motel room. He said Killen then tailed him in his car.
Killen used the license number to track down Ware and called Ware and his wife, Mary, who taped part of one call.
In his call to Mary Ware, who has since died, Killen urged her to get her husband to turn himself in “to the local law and get them to bring him to me, and I might then consider talking to him, right after I stomp him.”
He suggested law enforcement helped look for her husband: “Did you know that every city around here was looking for that car that night?”
Don Cochran, who helped prosecute the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls and is now a professor at Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, said if Mississippi prosecutors seek to prove Killen collaborated with law enforcement, these statements become relevant. “He’s saying he can stomp someone while the cops are watching,” Cochran said.
In a 1999 interview with The Clarion-Ledger, Killen said he had a role in the state’s 1958 arrest of Clennon King when King tried to become the first known black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi. “We had plainclothesmen there,” Killen said. “When they pulled back their coats, they had .45s underneath. That’s why (King) went berserk.”
Records of the state’s now defunct segregationist spy agency, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, show plainclothes officers surrounded King much of the day he was arrested June 5, 1958, after he was refused admission to Ole Miss.
Cochran said these two statements combined show Killen is saying his relationship was so close with law enforcement officers he could give them orders or conspire with them to carry out violence between 1958 and 1974 — a period that includes the 1964 killings.
Cochran said he believes these statements are admissible — just as was footage prosecutors introduced in the 2002 murder trial of Bobby Cherry for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls.
In that trial, the judge ruled jurors could watch the 1957 footage of Cherry beating the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth after the black preacher tried to enroll his children at an all-white Birmingham school.
Under court rules, “evidence of other crimes, wrongs or acts” are not admissible to prove a person’s character, but they may be admitted for “other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge (and) identity.”
Prosecutors introduced the footage to show Cherry’s motive since the bombing took place a few days after desegregation of Birmingham public schools, Cochran said.
With regard to the 1964 killings, the tape of Killen’s phone call would provide evidence regarding the plan he reportedly carried out with law enforcement, Cochran said.
Stanley Dearman, a former reporter for The Meridian Star, said Killen’s relationship with law enforcement was so close in 1964 he rode in a patrol car and hung out at the Meridian Police Department, where many officers were in the Klan.
Also on the tape, Killen talked of collaborating with “outlaws.”
“I wish you could hear these outlaws laugh when I told them what I wanted,” Killen told Mary Ware. “I want that revenge. I like revenge ... so I have already give(n) his location. I gave his tag number. I gave your phone number where you live on Lake, Route 1. A white Oldsmobile 88, ’67 model, DHK 084.”
He said he’d made arrangements in case he died: “If I die at 8 o’clock tonight, that son of a b---- will be dead at 9. You hear?”
Killen’s lawyer, Mitch Moran of Carthage, insisted such a remark is not a threat. “It’s like giving someone conditions, such as ‘I’ll kick your a-- if it’s the full moon and the cows are mooing,’ ” he said.
White supremacist Richard Barrett of Learned said he believes Killen’s talk of “outlaws” refers to Klansmen: “It would be hard to think otherwise.”
Former FBI agent Jim Ingram, who investigated the killings, would not comment, but in a past interview has said Klansmen “many times referred to themselves as outlaws because they knew they were.”
Billy Roy Pitts now decries his days in the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, headed by Sam Bowers. Testimony showed Bowers gave the orders to kill Schwerner.
Pitts said Bowers sometimes used the term “outlaws” for Klansmen who could carry out violent acts for him, “who could get the job done.”
Cochran said what Pitts says makes sense: “The Klan had their own language and spoke in code. ”
District Attorney Mark Duncan would not comment about the tape.
Defense lawyer James McIntyre questioned its relevancy.
He said Killen is being selectively prosecuted: “The state has sat idly for 40 years while crime has increased 4,000 percent. They’re prosecuting an old man nearly in the grave, but allowing other murderers to run free.”
Preacher Refused Plea Deal in ’75
May 1, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
Reputed Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen could have avoided a 1975 trial for threatening a woman over the telephone if he’d agreed to call the family, apologize and promise to never bother them again.
“All I asked of him was to not call back,” said Marvin Ware of Lake, whose late wife Mary was threatened by Killen.
Killen refused the plea agreement and went to trial, resulting in his conviction and a five-month prison term.
Now, 30 years later, that trial has drawn interest from Mississippi authorities who are prosecuting Killen, now 80, for the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers.
Authorities have examined the court file in Decatur that included his indictment and other documents in the 1975 case. But The Clarion-Ledger has found a court file authorities never saw.
That file includes a transcript of the trial and a cassette tape of Killen’s threat, revealing details that haven’t been made public in three decades.
Killen was born in 1925, days when Jim Crow dominated and when the Klan enjoyed a resurgence. He grew up poor in rural east central Mississippi, which seemed far removed from the nation’s “Roaring Twenties.”
He started young in sawmills and soon operated one of his own.
In the 1975 trial, Ware testified he agreed to help spy on a woman whose estranged husband suspected she was having an affair with Killen, who was also a part-time preacher.
On the night of June 19, 1974, Ware and another man named Albert Stamper parked in a white 1967 Delta 88 Oldsmobile at the National Guard Armory, about 150 feet from the motel-cafe “to see if the preacher was hanging out with this boy’s wife,” Stamper testified at trial.
Ware testified he saw the wife and Killen emerge from the same motel room. Ware said Killen headed to the cafe and then got in his Buick.
Stamper ducked down so as not to be seen. “I was ashamed of what I was eyeballing,” he testified.
Ware said after Killen left in his car, he drove away, only to be followed by Killen, who tailgated a few feet behind him.
“We would drive fast. He would drive fast,” Stamper said. “We would drive slow. He would drive slow.”
Ware said he and Stamper went to the husband’s house to report what they’d seen and called Killen’s wife, Lucille (who has since died), to ask her if he was there.
“What business of yours was that to call his wife?” defense lawyer Travis Buckley asked.
“Because he followed me out like that,” Ware replied.
The next night, Killen called Ware and asked him about the kind of car he drove. “I told him a ’65 blue Delta 88,” Ware testified. “I didn’t state whether I had a white car because that was my wife’s car.”
When Killen continued to talk, Ware said he hung up.
The next morning, the telephone rang. Mary Ware testified her daughter answered it.
“She was standing up there, and her hand was just shaking, and I knew something was wrong,” she said. “I thought probably somebody in the family had died, so I took the phone, and I said, ‘Who is talking, please?’ He said Edgar Ray Killen.”
That evening Killen called again, she said. “He said he was going to kill my husband, and if I loved him, I had better kiss him one last time because it would be the last time I would ever see him,” she testified. “He said people didn’t do things like he had done and get away with it without being ... killed.”
During that conversation, she said she grabbed her daughter’s JC Penney cassette recorder and taped what Killen was saying.
“I looked at your house for the first time,” Killen said. Your husband “didn’t have on a light last night. He was scared to death, and you tell him he had good reason. ...
“Folks die for things that he did, honey. Did you know that? ... I don’t make no mistakes and get the wrong man. ... Your life is too sweet and precious to throw it away on one sorry son of a b---- like that. You hear? ... You tell him that he is exactly right, that he is dead.”
She testified Killen shared the description of her car, the license tag number and telephone number.
“Tell him that’s the first thing I would like for him to do if you get to see him again is prepare to meet his Maker,” Killen says on the tape.
After the call ended, she said she stored the tape in her dresser drawer in her bedroom.
Months later — after Killen was charged — she gave the tape to her mother-in-law for safekeeping, she said. “We had a German shepherd dog that came up poisoned.”
Killen provided an entirely different story to jurors of what happened June 19.
He testified Marvin Ware and the husband in question “came on my premises at the sawmill in Newton County,” he said. “They used an air gun to shoot seven windshields out of my vehicles.”
He said he pursued them to the motel “to see that they didn’t go back up and do other damage.”
Asked if he contacted authorities, Killen replied no.
He admitted calling Marvin Ware the night of June 20 but denied calling Mary Ware the next day. “I deny to the jury that’s my voice,” Killen said.
In a 1999 interview with The Clarion-Ledger, he repeated that denial. “They all lied there,” he said.
Buckley, Killen’s lawyer at the time, admitted his client’s guilt. After a jury found Killen guilty, he had a hearing on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Buckley testified he told his client, “You are going to be convicted if you get up there and say to that jury that is not your voice on that tape recording because I happen to know to the contrary.”
Buckley, who died in 1999, represented Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers in the 1967 conspiracy trial and in the 1998 murder trial in which Bowers was convicted of masterminding the 1966 firebombing that killed NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer.
After listening to the tape, white supremacist Richard Barrett of Learned, a friend of Killen’s, said there’s no doubt the voice is Killen’s.
Mitch Moran of Carthage, Killen’s attorney in the civil rights slayings, questioned the 1975 conviction of Killen: “I can’t see how you can get convicted of a felony on that.”
Although Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon was district attorney in the case, defense lawyers say he has been fair in handling Killen’s upcoming murder trial. “He’s going to follow the law,” said defense lawyer James McIntyre of Jackson, who has known the judge for four decades.
In 1967, Killen came within a single vote of being convicted on federal conspiracy charges in the 1964 killings. The jury deadlocked when a lone holdout told other jurors she could “never convict a preacher.”
He almost walked free again in his 1975 trial when a lone holdout told other jurors she didn’t believe a preacher could do this, but she was finally convinced Killen was guilty.
After jurors delivered their verdict in the courtroom, juror Lillie Mae Windham recalled someone speaking to them as they left, saying, “We know where every one of you live.”
Neshoba Slayings: Mississippi’s Past On Trial - ‘Mississippi’s best hope’
June 12, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
Their faces stare from the FBI reward poster — Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner.
They became the best-known martyrs from the nation’s civil rights movement, yet less is known about them than the Klansmen who killed them.
This is their story.
OXFORD, Ohio — It is after midnight when Rita Schwerner hears the knock and the words, “Something’s happened.”
She trudges from her room at Western College for Women, where she, husband Mickey, his buddy, J.E., new friend, Andy, and other civil rights workers have been training for a summer project aimed at eliminating second-class citizenship for minorities.
She and Mickey married in 1962, living in New York City. Rita pursued a degree in English at Queens College, and Mickey worked with the poor on the city’s Lower East Side.
She found herself drawn to Mickey’s love for life, a social worker who bonded well with teenagers. When he wasn’t working, he played baseball and loved to watch W.C. Fields’ movies. He had graduated from Cornell University, where he had succeeded in integrating his college fraternity.
Both of them had taken part in protests, but the sight of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls inspired them to join the struggle.
When the couple applied to work for the Congress of Racial Equality, Mickey wrote, “I have an emotional need to offer my services in the South.”
Rita shared his passion and wrote, “My hope is to some day pass on to the children we may have a world containing more respect for the dignity and worth of all men than that world which was willed to us.”
After Rita graduated in January 1964, the couple left in their VW Beetle for Mississippi, a place they called the “decisive battleground for America.”
They worked in Meridian. The telephone rang all hours with threats — so many Rita hated to answer because this caller might be like the last one who scared her, saying, “That Jew-boy is dead.”
Still, they remained optimistic. Mickey called the children “Mississippi’s best hope.”
Mickey, J.E. and Andy were supposed to stay with Rita, but when they learned of a church burning, they returned to Mississippi early.
The caller tells her Mickey and the others failed to return at 4 p.m. She checked the hospitals, jails, law enforcement and the Justice Department.
CANTON — A black man strolls into Pleasant Green Christ Holiness Church, no one suspecting he secretly works for the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, the state’s segregationist spy agency.
Agent X, hired through Day Detectives, listens as Clarence McCullough of Jackson encourages the 45 people to make the new protest a success.
Three young black men walk in wearing overalls with the CORE emblem. Agent X notes their new blue station wagon. After learning CORE owns the wagon, he jots down the license tag: H-25503.
The tag for the 1963 Ford Fairlane goes on a list of 136 cars “observed in vicinity of CORE and NAACP meetings in Canton.” The commission and the white Citizens’ Council circulate the tag numbers to law enforcement.
MERIDIAN — James Earl Chaney, J.E. to his friends, smiles at the sight of children entering the new Meridian Community Center.
He sees their eyes light up as they spy more than 10,000 books on the shelves. Rita reads to the children 10 and younger.
Ever since October, J.E. has been involved in the burgeoning civil rights movement.
At age 16, the principal suspended him from school for refusing to remove an NAACP button. A year later, a second conflict led to J.E.’s expulsion.
He tried to join the Army until his asthma disqualified him. He apprenticed with his father, a plasterer, but quit last year when they had a dispute.
In the movement, the 21-year-old J.E. has found a purpose. He and Mickey have become fast friends and go almost everywhere together.
Mickey sometimes calls him “Bear,” and he calls J.E.’s younger brother, Ben, “Cub.”
In April, Mickey and Rita ask CORE to hire J.E. because “he is in on all major decisions.”
MERIDIAN — A state lawmaker brings Mickey to the attention of Erle Johnston, executive director of the Sovereignty Commission: “He is a white male who very often wears the CORE overalls with the emblem. As of now he has not been identified, but an investigation will be made.”
Commission agent Andy Hopkins develops a dossier on Mickey and Rita, listing their address, phone number, past addresses, tag number for their 1959 Volkswagen and their driver’s license numbers. Hopkins reports Rita bought a Singer sewing machine. The couple’s phone is tapped.
“Their purpose,” Hopkins writes, “is evidently to contact local Negroes for the purpose of encouraging them to register to vote.”
The report describes them: “Michael Henry Schwerner ... white male ... brown hair, brown eyes, weight: 175 pounds, height: 5’ 8”,” and “Rita Schwerner ... white female ... green eyes, brown hair, weight: 95 pounds, height: 5’.”
Hopkins shares this with officers at the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department and Meridian Police Department, many of whom belong to a group known as the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
NEW YORK CITY — At Queens College, Andy Goodman and other students hear about the “Mississippi Project.” They hear about the need for hundreds of students to travel south to register Negroes to vote, establish freedom schools, improve education, educate the white community about changes and conduct a “massive legal offensive against the official tyranny of the state.”
Allard Lowenstein, a professor from the University of North Carolina, says the project will use students and trained personnel, including lawyers, social workers, teachers, nurses and artists.
He tells students, “There is a great danger in coming to Mississippi.”
That warning fails to deter Andy, who goes home and asks his parents if he can go.
His mother, Carolyn, fears he could be beaten, but she signs the papers for him to go. Refusing to let him go would contradict all she’d taught him about the importance of being involved politically.
That influence has been showing in Andy’s life.
While working on a report on poverty at Walden High School, Andy traveled to West Virginia with his best friend, Ralph Engleman, where they talked with people in a town gone bust. Before they left, they discussed the poverty with state lawmakers.
After high school, Ralph is part of a Nashville sit-in in 1961 and joins protests in Birmingham two years later.
The sight of German shepherds attacking protesters in Birmingham incenses Andy, and Ralph’s stories of joining something bigger make him want to go South, too.
Their upbringing has been mostly in white society, but they feel some connection to black culture through music, listening to Miles Davis’ trumpet and Ray Charles’ contagious What’d I Say.
Over the past several years, the boyishly handsome Andy has been drawn to the theater, portraying Marc Antony in a high school version of Julius Caesar and performing in a Gilbert and Sullivan musical. More recently, he was in an off-Broadway production called The Chief Thing.
But Andy’s decision to major in anthropology at Queens College signifies a shift in his career plans.
In applying to work on the Mississippi Project, Andy writes he has “a good deal of experience with racial and religious prejudice.”
He hopes to work on voter registration this summer and spend next summer in Mexico, working with peasants.
He wants to start June 20. He leaves the end date blank.
PHILADELPHIA — A cross burns on the courthouse lawn, one of a dozen across Neshoba County.
Twenty days later, 64 crosses light up across Mississippi, signaling the Klan’s return.
A few days later, posters appear, giving 20 reasons to join the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan of Mississippi, which believes in “total segregation of the races and the total destruction of communism ...
“We do not accept Jews, because they reject Christ, and ... are at the root-center of what we call ‘communism’ today. ... We do not accept Turks, Mongols, Tarters, Orientals, Negroes. ... The issue is clearly one of personal, physical SELF-DEFENSE or DEATH for the American Anglo-Saxons.”
MERIDIAN — J.E. and dozens of others wearing “Freedom Now” T-shirts picket outside Woolworth’s department store, encouraging Negro shoppers to go elsewhere.
When they protest again two days later, the police arrest everyone involved, including Mickey, who is sitting in a nearby car.
As protests continue, “Cub” joins them. On May 25, police take Mickey to the station, where Klansman Billy Birdsong says, “You must be that communist, Jew, nigger-lover they call ‘Goatee.’ ”
When Mickey gets home, he tells Rita the cops say they’re watching every step they make.
At a meeting, Delmar Dennis hears fellow Klansmen suggest a project for Mickey. “We’ve got to get Goatee,” one Klansman says. “I make a motion that we go and get him.”
“What do you mean by ‘go and get him?’ ” a second asks.
“I mean beat the hell out of him and the niggers,” a third replies.
Another Klansman agrees.
“Let’s vote on eliminating Goatee,” one Klansman says. “Amens” can be heard.
Their recruiter silences them: “Don’t you bother Goatee.”
Schwerner’s elimination has “already been approved by the state,” he says. “State” approval means Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers has endorsed Goatee’s execution.
The recruiter pulls a paper from his pocket. “This is his elimination order,” he says. “If you go over there now, you may mess things up.”
LONGDALE — Mickey and J.E. travel to Mount Zion Methodist Church in Neshoba County.
They’ve made dozens of visits here, and members have been debating whether to start a freedom school.
After a long conversation, the church leaders, including Bud Cole, tell Mickey and J.E. they want such a school to help their children learn.
That same night in Jackson, night riders hurl bricks through the windows of the office of the Council of Federated Organizations. The next night, those bricks injure two preachers.
A week later, a threatening call comes from a man who says he’s from the KKK.
Another undercover informant, this one called Agent Y, reports back to the commission: “Fear of physical harm is an extreme concern at this time.”
RALEIGH — Inside Boykin Methodist Church, Bowers tells fellow Klansmen, “The events which will occur in Mississippi this summer may well determine the fate of Christian civilization for centuries to come.”
Bowers encourages them to join law enforcement officers in carrying out these goals:
“We must roll with the mass punch which they will deliver in the streets during the day, and we must counterattack the individual leaders at night. ... These attacks against these selected individual targets should, of course, be as severe as circumstances and conditions will permit.”
JACKSON — Agent X tells the Sovereignty Commission two carloads of civil rights workers left Mississippi last night for Oxford, Ohio.
“Other people were to leave this area today,” he says. “They expect to return to Mississippi ... a few days prior to” July 1.
He doesn’t know the locations of the freedom schools, but offers hints on finding out more: CORE keeps its trash in the corridor at the rear.
Two days later, he reports all students who are going to help with freedom schools across Mississippi will be trained first in Oxford, Ohio. A few days later, Agent X gets his orders to head there.
OXFORD, Ohio — Andy is among more than 250 volunteers pouring in for orientation at Western College for Women.
Before leaving New York City, he spoke with friends about his trip to Mississippi. They said he was brave but expressed concerns. Andy told them he’d be all right.
He welcomes this new experience. He meets other volunteers and veterans J.E. and Mickey, who encourage him to join their work in Meridian.
The next day, Bob Moses, who is leading the Freedom Summer project, tells volunteers, “Don’t come to Mississippi this summer to save the Mississippi Negro. Only come if you understand, really understand, that his freedom and yours are one. ... Maybe we’re not going to get very many people registered this summer. Maybe, even, we’re not going to get very many people into freedom schools. Maybe all we’re going to do is live through this summer. In Mississippi, that will be so much.”
LONGDALE — Seventy-five members of the Neshoba and Lauderdale County Klans gather at an empty gym.
Former Neshoba County Sheriff “Hop” Barnett says he saw guards at Mount Zion Church, three miles south. One Klansman says “Goatee” and the other civil rights workers are probably there.
The recruiter asks for volunteers. Klansmen pile into cars and descend on the church. The Neshoba Klan guards one exit, the Meridian Klan guards another.
Just after 9:30 p.m., the church’s board meeting adjourns. Klansmen attack as the eight adults and two children walk toward their cars in the parking lot.
They snatch church leader Bud Cole from his car and ask him where the guards were. “We don’t have guards in our church meeting,” he replies.
“You’re a damn liar,” the Klansman says. He and others beat and kick Cole, striking his jaw, head, neck and back and knocking him unconscious.
A man in a police uniform orders Cole’s wife, Beatrice, to walk down the dirt road with him. She asks if she can pray. A Klansman with a club says, “It’s too late to pray.”
She falls to her knees anyway: “Father, I stretch out my hand to thee, no other help I know. If thou withdraw thyself from me, O Lord, whither shall I go?”
The beating stops. The Klansmen leave, and she rushes to her husband, cradling his bloody head in her lap.
OXFORD, Ohio — Training continues.
Staffers drill volunteers on safety: Never go out after dark, never go out alone, watch for cops without badges.
They’re also trained in nonviolent techniques. Staffers and others play the angry mob, hitting and kicking students, who curl into fetal positions to absorb the blows.
Jackson lawyer R. Jess Brown tells students, “The white folk, the police, the county sheriff, the state police — they are all waiting for you. They are looking for you. They are ready; they are armed. They know some of your names and your descriptions even now, even before you get to Mississippi. They know you are coming, and they are ready.”
Afterward, Brown loads his luggage into a 1957 Cadillac belonging to Agent X, who drives him to the airport.
Before the night ends, Agent X tells the Sovereignty Commission the locations of each freedom school in the state and that “the first load of students leaving for Mississippi will leave on June 21.”
OXFORD, Ohio — Andy calls his mom to tell her he’s headed to Mississippi to help out his new friends, Mickey and J.E.
News has come of the burning of the Mount Zion church J.E. and Mickey had visited.
Mickey decides to head back, but Rita is asked to stay and assist with training.
The next morning, about 4 a.m., Mickey kisses Rita goodbye. He, J.E., Andy and fellow volunteer Louise Hermey load their suitcases into the 1963 blue Ford station wagon and speed into the darkness.
MERIDIAN — After catching a horror movie the night before, Andy gets up early enough to write and mail a postcard.
It’s one promise he made to his mother in exchange for his coming here — always sending her a note to let her know where he is:
“Dear Mom and Dad, I have arrived safely in Meridian, Mississippi. This is a wonderful town, and the weather is fine. I wish you were here. The people in this city are wonderful, and our reception was very good. All my love, Andy.”
Mickey tells Louise they’re heading off to investigate the church burning and that they’ll be back by 4 p.m.
At 10 a.m., they head for the church. When they arrive, only rubble remains. Bud Cole, who bears the marks of a severe beating, tells them the whole story.
To ensure they return by four, they head for Meridian.
PHILADELPHIA — They just pass the city limits sign when Deputy Cecil Price spots the license tag: H-25503.
Over the police radio, he blurts, “I’ve got a good one — George Raymond.” Price mistakes J.E., who is driving, for the CORE leader in Canton, where the commission first got the tag number.
Price stops and arrests the three and takes them to the Neshoba County Jail. J.E. is held for speeding, Mickey and Andy “for investigation regarding the rumor that the deputy had heard of the church burning.”
MERIDIAN — With the trio in jail, Klansmen set their plan in motion.
At Akin’s Mobile Homes, the recruiter tells Klansman James Jordan and others that civil rights workers are in jail and need their “asses tore up.” It needs to be done in a hurry, he says, because they are being held on minor charges.
At his suggestion, Klansmen round up more men, and Klansman Wayne Roberts gets six pairs of brown cloth gloves from a local store.
Their work done, they head north on Mississippi 19.
MERIDIAN — Mickey isn’t back by 4 or 4:15.
Volunteer Louise Hermey checks the clock, looks out the window and waits another 15 minutes.
She calls the COFO office in Jackson, where workers say Mickey might have had a flat tire: “Wait until 5, and then start calling around.”
When the clock reads 5, she begins to call. She dials area hospitals, jails and various numbers Mickey has in a small index file.
Outside, cars circle the community center.
About 5:30 p.m., Louise reaches the Neshoba County Jail, where the jailer insists Mickey and others aren’t there. She continues calling all night.
PHILADELPHIA — A car stops near the courthouse, and the recruiter inside doublechecks with Klansmen to make sure they have their guns. They do.
He gets out and checks the jail to see if the civil rights workers are still there. They are.
He talks with Klansmen in another car and tells one of them about the jailed trio: “We have a place to bury them, and a man to run the dozer to cover them up.”
He shows Klansmen a place to watch for the departing trio and asks them to drop him off at the funeral home because he’ll be the first one questioned.
After 10 p.m., Price releases the trio from jail: “See how quick y’all can get out of Neshoba County.”
They head south on Mississippi 19 in their station wagon. Three cars follow.
Spotting the pursuers, J.E. hits the gas, and a high-speed chase ensues down Mississippi 19. He swings a hard right onto a gravel road toward Union, and when Price flashes his lights, he pulls the wagon over.
Price walks over and says, “I thought you were going back to Meridian if we let you out of jail.”
He orders them into his squad car. While they’re switching vehicles, Price smacks J.E. with his blackjack.
Klansmen follow Price’s car down a gravel path known as Rock Cut Road, and they stop at a remote location.
Wayne Roberts jerks Mickey out of Price’s car and barks, “Are you that nigger-lover?”
“Sir, I know just how you feel,” Mickey replies.
Roberts shoves a .38-caliber pistol into Mickey’s chest and pulls the trigger. Mickey slumps into the ditch.
Roberts jerks Andy out, standing him next to his dead friend.
There are no words. Roberts places the gun against Andy’s chest and pulls the trigger. Andy falls.
Hearing the gunfire, James Jordan runs up and yells, “Save one for me.”
J.E. sees the fate awaiting him and bolts. When Klansmen see their prey running free, they open fire.
They apparently beat J.E. before finishing him off. Jordan announces, “You didn’t leave me nothing but a nigger, but at least I killed me a nigger.”
Klansmen transport the bodies to a dam, where they’re buried 15 feet deep in an earthen tomb.
Back in town, Sheriff Lawrence Rainey announces to the returning Klansmen, “I’ll kill anyone who talks, even if it was my own brother.”
Miles away, members of the mob drive the station wagon to the edge of a boggy creek and set fire to it. The dim glow lights the sky.
OXFORD, Ohio — Bob Moses kneels to hear the message from a staff member before standing.
The crowd hushes as he speaks: “Yesterday morning, three of our people left Meridian, Mississippi, to investigate a church burning in Neshoba County. They haven’t come back, and we haven’t heard any word from them.”
Rita explains her husband is missing along with J.E. and Andy. She shares the details she knows — their arrests, their release by Deputy Cecil Price.
She writes their names on a blackboard, followed by the words: “Neshoba County — disappeared.”
She asks volunteers to contact their congressmen.
The mood turns somber, and Jane Adams, one of hundreds of students, writes in huge letters: “FEAR.”
PHILADELPHIA — Commission agent Andy Hopkins arrives to talk with Sheriff Rainey and Deputy Price about news of beatings and a church burning.
Hopkins is puzzled no one reported the fire, but notes the sheriff previously shot two black men, making some Negroes “reluctant to report matters.”
The topic on everyone’s mouths today, though, is the three missing civil rights workers.
Rainey and Price tell Hopkins they have no idea where these people are.
“There is no reason to believe that the three subjects that have been reported missing have met with foul play,” Hopkins concludes, “however, this cannot be excluded as a possibility due to the present racial situation.”
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. James Eastland suggests to President Johnson the missing men are part of a publicity stunt.
“There’s not a Ku Klux Klan in that area. There’s not a Citizens’ Council in that area. There’s no organized white man in that area,” Eastland says. “Who could possibly harm them?”
PHILADELPHIA — Commission agent Andy Hopkins tramps through the edge of Bogue Chitto swamp and sees the burned-out shell of a station wagon.
“There was no evidence of bullet holes, blood stains or anything else that would indicate that the occupants had met with foul play,” he writes.
Hopkins reports the trio may have been spotted in Alabama or Louisiana. The wagon “could very easily be part of a hoax,” he says. “Everything indicates that the person that parked the car wanted it to be found soon.”
Hopkins passes word on to Gov. Paul B. Johnson, who talks with Sen. Eastland, who tells President Johnson he has new proof the disappearances are a hoax.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tells the president his agents are chasing down all leads, including that the trio might have burned the station wagon themselves “to create an incident that would inflame the situation.”
CINCINNATI — Rita arrives at the airport, anxious to return to Mississippi.
No one in the movement wanted her to travel there alone. The question was who would join her. The choice: Alabama native Bob Zellner, a tough movement veteran.
Inside the airport, they see Fannie Lou Hamer of Ruleville, whom Rita admires for her compassion and strength in speaking up about police brutality.
As they speak, reporters recognize Rita, run up to her and tell her the trio’s station wagon had been found, almost destroyed by flames.
She stands speechless. Fannie Lou leads her to a nearby bench where they sit. Fannie Lou wraps her huge arms around Rita’s small frame. Tears trickle down their cheeks.
For all the times Rita had been told Mickey was dead, now she knows he really is.
PHILADELPHIA — Price tells Hopkins nothing was unusual about the trio’s arrests.
Although Price is a Klan member, Hopkins reports he can’t confirm rumors of “a KKK in Philadelphia. ...
“People in Philadelphia are extremely upset over this matter. Most of the businessmen and good citizens still believe that this is a hoax perpetrated by the missing parties.”
PHILADELPHIA — Rita comes with Zellner to see the burned-out station wagon and to hear from Sheriff Rainey what had happened.
The numbness she feels has obliterated any fear.
After evading armed men in pickups, the two meet Rainey, sitting in the back of his sheriff’s car. A top Highway Patrol official sits next to Rainey in the front.
Rita says she believes the sheriff knows where Mickey and the others are.
The patrol official says the sheriff knows nothing about what happened because he was at his wife’s hospital bedside the night of the disappearances. The official says Price released the trio from jail at 10 p.m. and who knew where they chose to go after that?
Rita shakes her head in disbelief. She feels the sheriff’s office played a role in Mickey’s death. Wasn’t it obvious the arrests were part of a setup?
Rainey rests his right arm on the back of his seat, saying he knows nothing about the missing men.
“You’re lying,” she shoots back. “I’m not going to give up until I find out what happened. And if you don’t want me to find out, you’ll have to kill me, too.”
Rainey becomes red-faced, clenching his fingers into a fist, telling her he doesn’t know why she’d assume he knew anything.
She starts to speak when the sheriff tells her to shut up.
“I’m not going to shut up,” Rita replies. “I’m not going to leave until you tell me what happened to my husband.”
She finally sees the familiar station wagon that looks anything but familiar. Set on blocks, the soot-covered vehicle has no tires, no windows and no seats.
She stands there, staring at the charred remains of what she and Mickey once traveled in on the small roads across Mississippi. The feeling of his certain death sweeps over her.
JACKSON — Gov. Johnson tells reporters for all he knows the missing men are in Cuba.
Standing next to Alabama Gov. George Wallace and Jackson Mayor Allen Thompson, he jokes, “Governor Wallace and I are the only two people who know where they are — and we’re not telling.”
A reporter looks up and spots Rita Schwerner: “That’s the missing civil rights worker’s wife.”
When Rita approaches, the governor and the others duck inside the governor’s mansion.
Away from the mansion, she talks to Allen Dulles, the president’s envoy, who extends his hand and offers his sympathy.
Fighting back tears, she says, “I don’t want sympathy. I want my husband back.”
WASHINGTON — Word comes to Rita while she’s working with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party — the bodies of Mickey, J.E. and Andy have been found.
On television, she sees the same images over and over: the earthen dam where the three were buried and Price among those carrying the bodies to a Jackson hospital.
The numbness she felt for 44 days gives way to sorrow, but the tears never come. She doesn’t want anyone to see her cry.
The Klan posts fliers all over the Neshoba County Fair: “Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman were not civil-rights workers. They were Communist Revolutionaries, actively working to undermine and destroy Christian Civilization.”
WASHINGTON — Rita and the Chaney family want to bury J.E. and Mickey side by side in Mississippi, friends in death as they were in life.
But segregation laws in Mississippi keep that from happening. Mickey returns home to New York, and J.E. winds up in an all-black cemetery south of Meridian.
At the funeral in Meridian, Dave Dennis, who was supposed to travel that day with the trio but was sick, gets up to speak. CORE leaders asked him to deliver a calm speech, but when he sees Ben Chaney, “Cub,” in the audience, he feels he can no longer lie.
“What I want to talk about right now is the living dead that we have right among our midst, not only here in the state of Mississippi, but throughout the nation. Those are the people who don’t care,” he says. “I not only blame the people who pulled the trigger or did the beating or dug the hole with the shovel. I blame the people in Washington, D.C., and on down in the state of Mississippi.”
Grieve for little Ben, he says, but not J.E.
“He lived a fuller life than many of us will ever live,” Dennis says. “He’s got his freedom, and we’re still fighting for ours. I’m sick and tired of going to funerals of black men who have been murdered by white men.”
The veins jut out on his neck.
“Don’t just look at me and go back and tell folks you’ve been to a nice service. Your work is just beginning,” he says. “Those neighbors who were too afraid to come to this service, pick them up and take them down to register to vote! Stand up! Hold your heads up! Don’t bow down anymore! We want our freedom NOW!”
For Rita, what follows is a blur — Mickey’s funeral, Andy’s funeral, the news media crowding her and finally the arrests.
In 1967, 18 men go on trial in Meridian on federal charges of depriving Mickey and the others of their civil rights. She doesn’t attend, fearing the outcome will be the same as in 1955 when an all-white jury freed Emmett Till’s accused killers.
The jury convicts Bowers, Price and five others; acquits eight, including Sheriff Rainey; and deadlocks on three. Jurors deadlock 11-1 in favor of Edgar Ray “Preacher” Killen’s guilt after a holdout says she could “never convict a preacher.”
In the decades that follow, the secrets of what happened the summer of ’64 slowly trickle out.
In 1989, Rita gets her first glimpse of Sovereignty Commission records that show the state’s role.
She learns about Agent X, whom civil rights workers — and the Sovereignty Commission’s Johnston — identify as R.L. Bolden, who went to prison in the late ’70s for scheming to defraud the government of job training funds.
Bolden denies he was Agent X, but admits he attended a civil rights meeting for Day Detectives. “I told (Ralph Day) the next day there wasn’t nothing that really went on except what was in the paper,” he said. “He then asked me to do something else. I said, ‘No, I’ll not do anything against anybody in my race.’ ”
In 1998, more secrets emerge. Sam Bowers tells an interviewer he was “quite delighted to be convicted (in the 1967 trial) and have the main instigator of the entire affair walk out of the courtroom a free man” — a reference to Killen.
Upon hearing this information, Rita and the families of J.E. and Andy urge Mississippi authorities to reopen the case. They do.
In 2005, authorities bring the first-ever murder charges in the case, arresting Killen, now 80, accusing him of being the Klan recruiter who helped carry out the killings.
This week, for the first time, Rita will come face to face with the man accused of helping kill Mickey and their friends, J.E. and Andy.
She will be joined by families who have shared in this tragedy: the mother of Andy, Carolyn Goodman and the brother of J.E., the one Mickey called “Cub.”
There will be other “family members,” too, those who worked with her in the civil rights movement.
For her, bringing the case into the courtroom isn’t about retribution or closure. It’s about acknowledging responsibility: “Individuals who plot and commit violent crimes are responsible for their actions, but a government which creates an atmosphere in which violence is encouraged is also responsible for the resulting horror.”
She hopes the trial, regardless of outcome, can start a conversation on race: “The responsibility goes beyond Mississippi — this is a discussion which we all need to engage in as we struggle to create a more just society in America.”
Neshoba Slayings: Mississippi’s Past On Trial - Mr. X ‘unsung hero’ in slaying of 3 men
June 12, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
The secret has endured a decade longer than the identity of “Deep Throat”: Who is Mr. X?
Who is the man who told the FBI where the bodies of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were buried in 1964?
Now, more than 40 years later, the secret is revealed: All information leads to no one else but Maynard King, a late Highway Patrol officer from Philadelphia.
Veteran Mississippi journalist Bill Minor compares the news of Mr. X’s identity to the recent admission by W. Mark Felt that he was Deep Throat, the source who helped Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward crack the Watergate case. “It ranks right there at the top (with Deep Throat),” Minor said. “I don’t know anything else to compare it with.”
Former FBI agent Don Cesare, who was involved in handling Klansman turned informant Delmar Dennis in the FBI’s investigation into the trio’s killings, would not reveal Mr. X’s real name, but what he has said leads to no other conclusion than King.
Cesare previously said Mr. X was a Mississippi Highway Patrol officer and that he attended Mr. X’s funeral along with then-FBI agents John Proctor and Joe Sullivan, both of whom are now deceased.
In a recent interview, Cesare confirmed he attended King’s 1966 funeral — the only law enforcement funeral he said he attended in his days in Mississippi. He said Proctor and Sullivan also attended.
Barry Bradford, a history teacher from Adlai Stevenson High School in Illinois, said he spoke with Cesare in January in connection with a National History Day project by his students related to the June 21, 1964, killings, called the Mississippi Burning case by the FBI. (The students represented Illinois at the National History Day finals.)
Bradford said they contacted Cesare in Colorado Springs to learn more about the Mississippi Burning investigation and to determine if Mr. X was alive and, if so, whether he could be a witness in this week’s trial of Edgar Ray Killen.
Bradford said Cesare told him Proctor and Sullivan knew who Mr. X was. Although the two agents never shared the name of Mr. X, “I asked them in such a way that they confirmed my suspicions,” Bradford said Cesare told him.
Cesare described Mr. X as a Mississippi Highway Patrol officer, adding he had attended Mr. X’s funeral along with Proctor and Sullivan, Bradford said. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind. I know who Mr. X was,” Bradford said Cesare told him.
Asked about his conversation with Bradford about Mr. X, Cesare denied telling Bradford he knew who Mr. X was or of sharing any details regarding Mr. X. He said King’s name, however, did come up along with others.
Said Bradford: “Maynard King’s name was never mentioned.”
Philip Dray, co-author of the 1988 book on the case, We Are Not Afraid, said interviews with Cesare, in addition to other clues, make it obvious King was Mr. X.
In this dark chapter of Mississippi history, where the governor called the trio’s disappearances a hoax and where law enforcement played a role in the killings, Maynard King became “one of the unsung heroes of the time,” Dray said. “He’s a man who probably spent several hours figuring this out and wondering, ‘What should I do?’ The fact he chose to do the right thing shows he was very brave.”
King’s family never knew of his role as Mr. X until informed by The Clarion-Ledger, but they say they’re glad to know he played such a positive role.
“It makes you proud of him,” said King’s grandson, John, who lives in Madison. “It gives you a lot of peace of mind to know he did the right thing. I’d like to think if it’d been me, I’d have done the same thing.”
Other clues reinforce the fact King was Mr. X.
Proctor told Dray and his co-author Seth Cagin that Mr. X was “an officer of the law in Neshoba County” who acted as an intermediary for a Neshoba County citizen who knew where the bodies were buried.
The book also said King shared a list of Klansmen with Sullivan, who headed the Mississippi Burning investigation.
In an interview before his death in 2002, Sullivan confirmed Mr. X was an intermediary, passing on information from a citizen. “He was the only one from Neshoba (County) who talked,” he said.
After King died of a heart attack on Sept. 8, 1966, King’s widow received a consoling letter from then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, saying he was sad to hear of the loss of an officer of King’s quality.
King worked at the Highway Patrol office in Meridian, a few miles from Sullivan’s room at the Holiday Inn North, where the Hampton Inn is now located.
Sullivan said he first met Mr. X at the June 23, 1964, gathering of law enforcement officers and volunteers to search for the missing trio.
King developed a close relationship with Sullivan, who described Mr. X as a friend.
When the search failed, Sullivan turned to Mr. X for help. “I’d touch base with him, or he’d touch base with me,” Sullivan said. “I’d give him questions and if he had answers, we’d meet.”
They often met in a remote location, he said. “We’d meet out in the open, or we’d meet on the street corner or somewhere where we weren’t under observation.”
He said Mr. X would share information about the Klan or information such as “whose neighbors were friendly with who.”
As the relationship between agent and informant deepened, Sullivan said he invited Mr. X to come by and see him.
That happened the night of June 30, 1964.
Contrary to books that have portrayed this meeting as taking place in a motel room, Sullivan said the pair actually met over dinner at the restaurant in the Holiday Inn.
Sullivan called Mr. X “a steak man.” (Former radio operator Robert McQueen of Meridian recalled King loving steaks so much he often grilled them outside the Highway Patrol office.)
Sullivan wouldn’t reveal much of his conversation that night other than to say Mr. X told him at one point the bodies of the trio were buried deep inside a dam on the Old Jolly Farm in Neshoba County.
Sullivan never said whether King was Mr. X, but called the highway patrolman “a good police officer, an upfront legitimate police officer. He was neighborly with all of Neshoba Countians. He was not a klucker.”
King held similar respect for the FBI agent.
According to family members, King called Sullivan “the smartest guy I ever met in my life.”
Despite the revelation of King’s role, one secret remains — the name of the Neshoba County citizen who gave King the information on where the trio’s bodies were buried. “That one,” John King said, “I’m afraid we’ll never know.”
Neshoba Slayings: Mississippi’s Past On Trial - KKK wizard greets Killen as trial unfolds in slayings
June 14, 2005
Long jury process continues today
By Jerry Mitchell
PHILADELPHIA — When accused killer Edgar Ray Killen arrived Monday morning at the Neshoba County Courthouse, a well-wisher from out of town immediately greeted him.
“Anything I can do,” said J.J. Harper of Cordele, Ga., imperial wizard of the American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who clasped Killen’s fingers in a handshake as the 80-year-old defendant exited a white Mercury Grand Marquis.
As Killen, who uses a wheelchair because of a tree-cutting accident earlier this spring, was wheeled into the courthouse about 8:45 a.m., someone was heard yelling, “Good luck, preacher!”
Jury selection resumes at 8:30 a.m. today at the courthouse in the case against Killen, the sawmill operator and part-time preacher who’s pleaded innocent to three counts of murder in the June 21, 1964, Klan killings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.
Twenty-eight of the more than 120 potential jurors who appeared Monday have been asked to return, joined by 57 new potential jurors.
Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon said he expects testimony won’t begin until Thursday in the trial that could last two weeks.
In January, Harper requested permission to demonstrate on the courthouse lawn in support of Killen.
At the time of the request, the Web site of the American White Knights showed a hanging post with three nooses holding the severed hands of African Americans.
The post read “Murder in Mississippi,” but the word “Murder” was crossed out in red with the word “Justice” written over it.
On Monday, the Web site opened to a page featuring a sunset reflected on the water.
But inside the site, readers could peek at “Kristian Kids Korner” and an article saying Killen’s trial is “illegal” and that if he “is found guilty of any crime, so-called ‘Christians’ will pay the price.”
Harper was joined in the courtroom Monday by several others, one of them wearing the same Klan cross on his coat lapel. None of them would speak to reporters.
Moments after a bailiff sat the Klan group next to an African American, the Klan group moved, only to have a black potential juror come and sit next to them.
One of Killen’s lawyers, James McIntyre of Jackson, didn’t appreciate their presence. “I don’t want them here,” he said.
Chaney’s brother, Ben, sat behind the Klan group much of the morning.
While the presence of the Klan didn’t surprise him, he said he was pleased to see a jury diverse in age, race and income. “It reflects Mississippi and Neshoba County.”
What also pleased him was the no-nonsense approach of Gordon, who urged potential jurors to give Killen and the state a fair trial “and let the chips fall where they may.”
When Gordon asked potential jurors if they were related to Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, no one in the jury pool raised his hand.
Ben Chaney could have raised his hand because he knew his brother, James Chaney, not as the civil rights worker, nor as the legend or martyr who gave his life.
“He was my brother,” Ben said.
The brother who beat him up if he changed the TV channel off football. The brother who took him to get haircuts. The brother who got him his first football uniform.
At one point, Gordon asked potential jurors to tell whether they were related to Killen. Three raised their hands.
One man with the same last name said he was a distant cousin.
“How distant?” the judge asked.
“I don’t know,” the man answered.
“Guess you missed the boat,” the judge joked.
The judge dismissed all three relatives.
Although the killings have inspired heated opinions here for nearly 41 years, nearly 11 potential jurors told the judge Monday they have a strong opinion in the case. Eventually all of them were dismissed.
Under case law, jurors may have opinions on a case but can’t have such a fixed opinion that evidence is needed to remove it.
The lack of opinion surprised Aaron Condon, professor emeritus for the University of Mississippi School of Law. “But it surprised me they got jurors in the O.J. Simpson case who said they knew nothing about the case.”
Neshoba Slayings: Mississippi’s Past On Trial - Victim’s mother describes their final visit; defense team begins
June 19, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
PHILADELPHIA — Clutching her daughter’s arm with one hand and her cane with the other, Fannie Lee Chaney took small unsteady steps to the witness stand.
But there was nothing unsteady about her memory about the events leading to the June 21, 1964, killings of her son and his friends, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.
The 82-year-old mother of James Chaney, whom the family called J.E., described how the trio visited her house the night before and how she fixed breakfast the next morning for J.E. before he readied to leave with the others.
She recalled her son, Ben, 11 at the time, sitting “on the steps, crying, wanting to go (too).” J.E. promised to take Ben out when he returned Sunday night, she said. “But J.E. never come back.”
Before another year passed, she left Mississippi after a series of threats, including one to dynamite her house and another to put her “in a hole like James was.”
Barring unforeseen delays, the jury in the case is expected to begin deliberations Monday to determine whether Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old sawmill operator and part-time preacher, played a role in the killings of the three, who were jailed, released into the hands of waiting Klansmen and then killed and their bodies were buried in an earthen dam.
Last week’s testimony from witnesses, dead and living, identified Killen as a Klan leader who discussed “eliminating” Schwerner, who directed Klansmen to get volunteers and who showed Klansmen where to wait on the jailed trio.
In 1999, Killen told The Clarion-Ledger he had nothing to do with the killings and never joined the Klan, but his lawyers told jurors last week to assume Killen belonged to the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, blamed by the FBI for at least 10 killings in Mississippi in the 1960s.
At 8:53 a.m. Saturday, the state rested in the first-ever murder trial brought in the case. The defense began its case about 30 minutes later, and defense testimony will continue when the trial resumes at 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Two of Killen’s younger siblings, Dorothy K. Dearing and Oscar Kenneth Killen, testified Saturday that Killen was at their parents’ house until 4 or 5 p.m. on June 21, 1964, for a Father’s Day celebration.
The civil rights workers had been arrested by then and the plans begun for their abduction. They sat in a jail cell until after 10 p.m., when they were released and chased down by their killers.
During cross-examination, District Attorney Mark Duncan asked Oscar Kenneth Killen about his brother being in the Klan.
“I’ve heard more talking about your daddy and granddaddy in the Klan, not him,” the younger Killen replied. “Until he tells me so, I won’t believe it.”
He told Duncan, “I’d like to ask you one question.”
When the judge told him he couldn’t, he piped up, complaining about the paid FBI informants in the case: “Most all the stuff you have on him is paid-for stuff.”
Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon halted the remarks, told the jury to ignore them and asked the jury to not hold them against the defendant.
Duncan said later of the remarks: “Consider the source.”
He said he knows his family’s racial views well enough to know they would have never joined the Klan.
He said his dad was once asked to join but turned down the invitation, telling his family, “I’m not going to join anything where you don’t show your face.”
The last defense witness Saturday, the Rev. Kermit Sharp, described Edgar Ray Killen as a friend, neighbor and fellow minister he’s prayed with. He described Killen’s character as “very good.”
Klansmen killed the trio just a few miles from Killen’s house on what was then a gravel road.
Asked about the name of the road, Sharp said, “We called it Killen Road.”
“Does that end with an ‘n’ or ‘g’?” asked Attorney General Jim Hood, who is trying the case with Duncan.
Gordon chastised Hood for the remark.
Hood asked Sharp if he thought those who killed the trio should pay.
“All sin will answer in some payment,” Sharp replied.
“Should those who committed the crime be held responsible?” Hood asked.
“I suppose so,” Sharp replied.
After testifying, Fannie Lee Chaney sat in the courtroom, her mind drifting back to her son, J.E.
“His life was snuffed out just like that, and for what?” she asked. “It still hurts.”
Neshoba Slayings: Mississippi’s Past On - Trial Papers reveal officials’ contacts with Klan
June 20, 2005
Interviews indicate former senator tried to hinder FBI probe of civil rights killings
By Jerry Mitchell
Top Mississippi leaders kept close ties with those accused of being killer members of the Klan, discouraging and discrediting the FBI investigation into the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers, The Clarion-Ledger has found.
Interviews and documents show those identified as Klansmen had contact with then-Gov. Paul Johnson and then-U.S. Sen. James Eastland. Mississippi’s segregationist spy agency also kept contact with the leaders.
With regard to those blamed for the killings of three civil rights workers, Paul Johnson said in a 1970 interview with the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library, “These Klansmen — of course I knew them very well — most of them had supported me when I ran for governor.”
Gov. Johnson’s personal papers at the University of Southern Mississippi include a list of major supporters from his 1963 gubernatorial campaign that includes Edgar Ray Killen, now being tried for the June 21, 1964, murders of civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney. Killen insists he is innocent.
In what historians have called one of Mississippi’s most racist campaigns, Paul Johnson joked to crowds in 1963 that the NAACP stood for “n-----s, alligators, apes, coons and possums.”
Johnson won, and when he was inaugurated in January 1964, he used words decidedly different than in his campaign.
“Hate or prejudice will not lead Mississippi while I sit in the governor’s chair,” he told the crowd. “If I must fight, it will not be a rearguard defense of yesterday, it will be an all-out assault for our share of tomorrow. … God bless you all, everyone of you, all Mississippians both black and white.”
Those remarks helped Johnson’s speech make the front page of The New York Times. The article was headlined “New Mississippi Governor Gives Anti-Hatred Vow at Inaugural.”
But what the Times failed to note were the Klansmen there in support of Johnson, former highway patrolman Ken Fairly said in an interview before his death.
Despite his support for Johnson, Killen insisted in a 1999 interview with The Clarion-Ledger that his closest relationship was with Eastland: “He was a second father to me.”
He said he still has several cigars that flew on Air Force One — cigars that President Lyndon B. Johnson had gotten in Jamaica and then given to Eastland. “Jim gave me some,” Killen said.
After the trio turned up missing in the summer of 1964, Eastland repeatedly told President Johnson it was all a hoax.
It wasn’t the first time Eastland tried to discourage the FBI.
Before 1964, “we had started an infiltration of Klan-type groups in Mississippi,” former FBI agent Joe Sullivan said in an interview before his death. “Eastland got wind of this, and he complained to Hoover.”
In the days that followed, Gov. Johnson told President Johnson that he believed FBI agents wouldn’t find the missing trio “anywhere, except perhaps in another part of this country.”
To a crowd at the Neshoba County Fair, he said, “There are 803 missing people in New York, and somebody needs to get there and find them.”
Days after that remark, FBI agents uncovered the bodies of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney from an earthen dam not more than a mile from that fair.
The Klan distributed brochures at the fair, claiming the trio were communists killed by their own.
Former Sovereignty Commission member Horace Harned of Starkville claimed the trio were agents of the Communist Party: “Most people down here feel like they got what they deserved. They came here looking for trouble, and they got it.”
Killen said he had no motive to kill the trio because he didn’t learn they were communists until later. Asked what should happen to the trio’s killers, he said, “I’m not going to say they were wrong.”
Although he enjoyed Klan political support early, Gov. Johnson began to lose that support by fall 1964 when he called the Klan a subversive organization and fired two highway patrolmen who refused to leave the group.
Klansman-turned-FBI informant Delmar Dennis said in an interview before his 1996 death that the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — blamed by the FBI for at least 10 killings — felt betrayed by the governor and talked of assassinating him.
In his 1970 interview, Gov. Johnson took credit for the Klan’s demise in Mississippi, but he also praised the white supremacist group: “As long as you had the better class people in it, they were able to do a lot of things that were a big help to the state of Mississippi.”
The former governor defended the motives of Klansmen involved in the trio’s 1964 slayings, saying they “did not actually intend to kill these people.”
He then shared a bizarre story of what he claimed took place: “They were going to hang these three persons up in a big cotton sack and leave them hanging in the tree for about a day or a day and a half, then come out there at night and turn them loose. They thought they’d more or less scare them off.
“While they were talking, this Negro, the Negro boy from over at Meridian (Chaney), he seemed to be the ringleader of the three … He was acting kind of smart aleck and talking pretty big and one of the Klansmen walked up behind him and hit him over the head with a trace chain … The chain came across his head and hit him just above the bridge of the nose and killed him as dead as a nit. After this boy had been killed, then is when they determined, ‘Well, we’ve got to dispose of the other two.’ So that’s actually the —”
The interviewer said, “I don’t believe that story came out at the trial. Did you hear about this later?”
“Very, very few people know,” Johnson replied.
“You heard it from the people at the time?”
“Well, yes, at the time.”
Chaney’s brother, Ben, of New York City, said the former governor’s remarks make him believe there was some kind of conspiracy.
“There’s a serious need to investigate state officials who prevented speedy recovery of bodies and who prevented prosecution,” he said. “Not to do so is a farce.”
FBI agents have debunked Johnson’s tale as hogwash, including the agent who led the investigation. “I have never heard this story before. The evidence totally contradicts this story,” Sullivan said. “These guys were out to kill them.”
Killen said he learned Schwerner and Goodman were “underground agents of the Communist Party” from U.S. intelligence, hinting the information came from Eastland, who headed the Senate Internal Security subcommittee.
Although Killen’s lawyers confirmed last week that Killen was in the Klan, Killen said, “Eastland said there was no Klan in Mississippi. He was honest.”
For Killen to say there was no Klan is like mobster Carlo Gambino saying there is no Mafia, said Philip Dray, co-author of the 1988 book We Are Not Afraid. “The Klan is a secret society. You only acknowledge its existence to fellow members.”
Neshoba Slayings - The Verdict
June 22, 2005
COUNT 1: Schwerner
•Michael Schwerner, 24: Shot at close range in the chest with a .38-caliber pistol.
COUNT 2: Chaney
•James Chaney, 21: Shot in the back as he attempted to flee. Shot twice more — in the head and the abdomen — and possibly beaten.
COUNT 3: Goodman
•Andrew Goodman, 20: Shot at close range in the chest with the same .38-caliber pistol used to kill Schwerner.
Ex-Klansman convicted in ’64 killings
By Jerry Mitchell
PHILADELPHIA — On the 41st anniversary of the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers, a seven-woman, five-man jury found reputed Klan leader Edgar Ray Killen guilty of manslaughter.
The 80-year-old sawmill operator and part-time preacher, wearing an oxygen tube, showed no reaction as the verdict was read at 11:25 a.m., convicting him in the June 21, 1964, killings of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman.
After the nine white and three black jurors left the room, Killen’s wife rushed to him and hugged him. Deputies then wheeled him away in his wheelchair to the Neshoba County Jail. As Killen left the courthouse, he swatted at microphones.
Schwerner’s widow, Rita Bender, was visibly moved by the verdict. “It didn’t hit me until I saw them take him away,” she said.
Killen will be sentenced at 10 a.m. Thursday and faces up to 20 years on each of three counts of manslaughter. His lead counsel, Mitch Moran of Carthage, said of the possible punishment imposed by Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon: “Whatever the sentence is, he (Killen) will die in prison.”
Moran plans to appeal the conviction and said he’ll cite the prosecution’s use of transcript testimony.
Chaney’s brother, Ben, never thought he’d see the day come. “I’m glad they took him away,” he said.
A fellow preacher vouched for his friend during defense testimony, but Killen was unable to dodge conviction as he did in 1967 on federal conspiracy charges when a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of guilt. The holdout refused to convict, telling fellow jurors she could “never convict a preacher.”
Although Killen’s other attorney, James McIntyre of Jackson, said Killen was being singled out because he was a preacher, the jury didn’t buy that argument.
Killen’s verdict marks the 22nd conviction involving slayings from the civil rights era, starting with the 1994 conviction of Byron De La Beckwith for the 1963 murder of NAACP leader Medgar Evers.
Mississippi has led the nation in those reprosecutions, having successfully prosecuted five different cases since 1989.
Nationwide, 29 killings have been re-examined, leading to 27 arrests.
Killen’s conviction could be one of the last involving these crimes of the past because prosecutors said the cases appear to be getting too old to prosecute.
Former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who won two convictions in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four girls, said key witnesses in the prosecution of Bobby Cherry died just a few months after his conviction.
“I think we’re obviously coming to the end of the road,” Jones said. “Every day that passes, we lose a witness or a potential defendant. Time is not on our side with these cases. Hopefully, though, there are some cases still out there that we can pursue.”
Among the cases still being re-examined is the 1955 slaying of Emmett Till, whose main accusers, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, are dead.
Others were involved in carrying out that slaying, and state and federal authorities are trying to see if they can prove who else was involved. The FBI hopes to wrap up its investigation within the next few months, but unless more evidence arises, the case could wind up like so many others from that era — unpunished and unprosecuted.
Of the 41 killings listed on the National Civil Rights Memorial, two resulted in murder convictions in the 1950s and 1960s.
Killen’s verdict has special meaning for Jewel McDonald, an African-American native of this town whose mother and brother were beaten by some of the same Klansmen who killed the trio. “Our tears were going everywhere,” she said. “A burden has been lifted.”
Some white residents shared similar feelings. “I’m overjoyed,” said Stanley Dearman, retired editor of the Neshoba Democrat. Dearman first called for justice in this case 16 years ago. “For the first time in a long time, I feel liberated because of the burden of injustice and the burden of three murders,” he said.
Leroy Clemons, co-chairman of the Philadelphia Coalition, said the verdict “signifies this county is dealing with its past and is ready to move on to the future. It signifies there has been change.”
The coalition also released a statement Tuesday, saying truth must be sought because Klansmen did not act alone in the trio’s killings: “The state of Mississippi loaded and aimed the weapon.”
The coalition pushed for justice, and a new slate of officials prosecuted it — District Attorney Mark Duncan and Attorney General Jim Hood. They were aided by Special Assistant Attorney General Lee Martin and investigator Jim Gilliland, who both helped put one-time Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers behind bars in 1998 for ordering the 1966 killing of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer.
On Tuesday, Hood rejected talk by some that this trial and others are “atonement trials,” saying prosecutors pursued the case, not to settle social woes but because the victims deserved justice. “This fell into our laps,” he said. “We wish the state had been able to do this 41 years ago.”
Prosecutors said they weren’t disappointed by jurors returning convictions on manslaughter instead of murder. “We were asking a lot to have the jury convict someone of murder when three of our four main witnesses were dead,” Duncan said. “The jury held Edgar Ray Killen accountable.”
Former Secretary of State Dick Molpus, who apologized to the families on the 25th anniversary of the killings, said he hopes the verdict will provide some comfort to the Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner families.
“History was written today because of the moral principled leadership provided by the local multi-racial Philadelphia Coalition and because District Attorney Mark Duncan and Attorney General Jim Hood had the courage to seek justice,” Molpus said. “Should this have been 40 years ago? Absolutely. Is there work left to be done? Clearly. But this is one huge step for redemption for Neshoba County and Mississippi.”
’64 confession kept from Killen jury
July 17, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
What jurors in the Edgar Ray Killen trial didn’t hear could have prompted at least some of them to vote Killen guilty of murder.
On June 21, the 41st anniversary of the Klan’s killings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, a Neshoba County jury found Killen guilty of manslaughter. Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon later sentenced him to 60 years.
During the trial, jurors heard that the late Klansmen Wayne Roberts and James Jordan were among the men Killen recruited from Meridian the evening of June 21, 1964, before returning with the Klansmen to Philadelphia. What jurors didn’t hear was those two men shot and killed the trio.
Informed of that, juror Warren Paprocki replied that knowing Killen recruited those two killers would have been “the last link. I would have found (Killen) guilty of murder.”
Paprocki said he knows the information would have made a difference to other jurors, and juror Troy Savell agreed.
Hearing jurors’ remarks, Assistant Attorney General Jacob Ray said, “I hate that. I wonder how many others felt the same way.”
Interviews with jurors show just how in the dark they remained about the details of the Klan’s killings of the trio, a lack of details they say kept them from finding Killen guilty of murder.
Killen’s lead counsel, Mitch Moran of Carthage, said he wanted to let the jury know the whole story, and that’s why he tried to introduce the 1964 confession of Horace Doyle Barnette, who took part in the trio’s killings.
In the 1967 federal conspiracy trial, an FBI agent read Barnette’s statement into the record when Barnette refused to testify. But jurors only heard the names of Barnette and James Jordan, who pleaded guilty, in the statement. For the names of the others Barnette identified as being involved, a “blank” was substituted. The trial ended with the convictions of seven, the acquittals of eight and the mistrials of three, including Killen.
Moran explained: “I just felt like the jury had a right to know it all.”
Although Killen could have been implicated by Barnette’s statement, Moran said the statement shows Billy Wayne Posey, convicted in the 1967 federal trial, played a major role, but wasn’t indicted by the state, while Killen played a minor role and was indicted by the state.
When Moran sought to introduce the confession in Killen’s trial through the FBI agent’s 1967 testimony, prosecutors objected.
When Moran said he’d be happy to fill in all the blanks so jurors could hear the names of all involved, prosecutors still objected.
Attorney General Jim Hood later bemoaned the fact jurors hadn’t heard Barnette’s statement, but he said he objected to admission of the statement at the time, worried it would conflict with Jordan’s testimony, which jurors already had heard.
The judge concluded the statement was hearsay and excluded it from evidence because Barnette didn’t testify in the 1967 trial and, therefore, wasn’t cross-examined.
He is now dead, as are the FBI agents who took his statement.
As a result, jurors never heard how Roberts grabbed Schwerner from the back of Neshoba County Deputy Cecil Price’s patrol car, stuck a gun to his chest and fired. Jurors never heard how Roberts grabbed Goodman from the car and shot him, too. Jurors never heard how Roberts and Jordan shot Chaney as he tried to flee.
Nor did jurors hear Barnette describe how Killen showed Klansmen where to wait for the civil rights workers and told them, “We have a place to bury them, and a man to run the dozer to cover them up.”
Barnette then remarked in the statement: “This was the first time I realized that the three civil rights workers were to be killed.”
Upon hearing this statement, Paprocki replied, “Holy cow. Why weren’t we allowed to hear that?”
Neshoba Slayings: Mississippi’s Past On Trial - ID’ing other killers priority
June 26, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
Prosecutors announced last week the only two triggermen in the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers are dead.
But the work of world-renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden and Mississippi state forensic pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne has revealed other triggermen may have been involved in the June 21, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.
“There are still bullets in the body of James Chaney,” Baden said. “They could be matched to the weapons that did it.”
Baden and Hayne studied autopsy reports, testimony, photographs, FBI reports, X-rays and other documents in the trio’s killings. Prosecutors originally planned to call the pair to testify in the murder trial of Edgar Ray Killen, but when the defense stipulated to all the medical evidence, jurors — and the world — missed out on their discoveries.
Last week, a Neshoba County jury convicted Killen of manslaughter in the killings. Afterward, Chaney’s younger brother, Ben, called on authorities to pursue the seven other suspects still alive in the case, but authorities said that was impossible unless new evidence arose.
Informed Friday of what pathologists had found, Ben Chaney called these discoveries “the potential new evidence the attorney general and district attorney have been asking for. I think my family and I need to talk about the ramifications and what steps need to take place to move forward with further prosecution.”
Attorney General Jim Hood said he doesn’t know anything about Chaney being shot more than three times.
He said all the statements authorities received make no mention of any triggermen besides James Jordan and Wayne Roberts. One statement does mention Roberts emptied his gun into Chaney.
But he pointed out that on such a dark night, it might be difficult for those present to know exactly who did fire their guns. “There are questions we just don’t have answers to unless somebody decides to come forward,” he said.
One possibility to help make a determination about how many gunmen were involved, Chaney said, would be exhumation and another autopsy. That’s what the FBI did recently in its reinvestigation of the 1955 killing of 14-year-old Emmett Till, discovering potential bullet fragments.
While it seems unlikely that bullets could be matched with a murder weapon from 41 years ago, odds have been overcome in previous cases.
In 1990, then-prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter found the .30-06 rifle used to kill Medgar Evers in the closet of his late father-in-law, who had been a judge. The rifle became key evidence against the owner of that weapon, Byron De La Beckwith.
Books and movies have portrayed the trio as being executed by two Klansmen, Roberts and Jordan: Roberts grabbed Schwerner, 24, and shot him once, then grabbed Goodman, 20, and shot him once. Jordan then joined Roberts in killing Chaney, 21, who was struck by three shots. Ballistics confirmed the bullets removed from the bodies came from two different weapons.
But what Baden found by studying X-rays of Chaney’s body was he was shot at least five times and perhaps six.
Dr. William Featherston of Jackson did the original autopsy and removed three bullets from Chaney’s body, but Baden said X-rays show two other bullets struck Chaney and are still there.
Because Featherston was a hospital pathologist, “he had no training in forensic pathology,” Baden said.
He recalled President Kennedy’s 1963 autopsy, performed by a hospital pathologist who had never worked on a body with a gunshot wound. In 1977, Baden led the forensic pathology investigation for the Congressional Select Committee on Assassinations, concluding the Kennedy autopsy was a “forensic disaster.”
With regard to the trio’s killings, what Baden and Hayne found in their investigation sheds light on what happened that night.
Hayne examined the X-rays of Schwerner and Goodman and discovered what may be an additional bullet in each body: “The radiologist said there were bullet fragments in the head and neck area of each.”
Although the pathologist at the time discounted that claim, Hayne described each in his report as a “potential gunshot wound.”
Assuming Schwerner and Goodman were each shot twice, “there were at least nine shots fired that night, maybe more,” Baden said. “The thing to remember is that 90 percent of the time people miss when they shoot. With this happening at night, there could have been a lot more shots fired than nine.”
The confession by Klansman Horace Doyle Barnette makes no mention of Chaney running to escape Klansmen, but that appears to be what happened, Baden said. “It all makes sense that he ran and was shot in the back at a distance.”
The pathologist removed that bullet from the right abdomen, but the bullet actually entered from the back, Baden said.
Two other shots struck Chaney in the arms, and another shot hit Chaney in the head, Baden said. “Somebody came up to him after he’d been shot to give the coup de grace in the chest area.”
According to the autopsy report, Chaney had his left arm broken in one place, “a marked disruption” of the left elbow joint and a right arm broken in two places.
The fracture to Chaney’s right wrist suggests either a bullet that passed through or possible blows, Baden said. “It could have been caused by a blunt object like a baseball bat, but the deformed left upper arm is due to shooting.”
If prosecutors do decide to pursue others, they’ll need to exhume Chaney’s body, Hayne said. “If there’s a question of additional shooters, you’d want to get all the projectiles.”
In addition to Edgar Ray Killen, seven other suspects in the 1964 slayings are still living:
- Jimmy Arledge, 68, of Meridian. He was convicted in the 1967 federal conspiracy trial involving the slayings and sentenced to three years.
- Billy Wayne Posey, 70, of Meridian. He was convicted in the 1967 trial and sentenced to six years.
- Pete Harris, 71, of Meridian. He was acquitted in the 1967 trial.
- Jimmy Snowden, 71, of Hickory. He was convicted in the 1967 trial and sentenced to three years.
- Former Philadelphia policeman Richard Andrew Willis, 81, of Noxapater. He was acquitted in the 1967 trial.
- Olen L. Burrage, 76, of Philadelphia. He was acquitted in the 1967 trial. The bodies of the three civil rights workers were buried on his property.
- Sam Bowers, 80, of Laurel.He was convicted in the 1967 trial and got 10 years.
Possible weapons found in ’64 slayings
July 20, 2005
Additional people could face charges if bullets are a match
By Jerry Mitchell
A man who bought two guns from a suspect in the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers is willing to have those guns tested to see if they may have been used in the slayings, his lawyer says.
Less than an hour after a jury convicted Edgar Ray Killen of manslaughter in the June 21, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, prosecutors told reporters the only two triggermen in the case, Wayne Roberts and James Jordan, were dead.
But the work of world-renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden and Mississippi state forensic pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne has revealed the possibility of additional gunmen. Baden said two additional bullets still in Chaney’s body could be matched to weapons.
Chaney’s brother, Ben, of New York City, who met Tuesday with Baden, said exhumation is a possibility the family will have to consider.
Additional people could face murder charges in the killings if the bullets could be matched to specific guns.
Baden said it’s possible the two guns the Kentucky man purchased could be responsible for the additional bullets in Chaney. The only way to confirm that would be to test those weapons against the bullets, he said.
Dick Downey, a lawyer from Franklin, Ky., said his unnamed client bought a .30-30 Winchester rifle and a Star 9mm pistol in the late 1960s from a suspect in the trio’s killings. If those weapons turn out to be the ones used, “he wants to turn them over and will make all disclosures,” Downey said.
After reading the June 26 Clarion-Ledger article on the discoveries of Baden and Hayne, Downey said he discussed the matter with his client. “He became concerned there might be a possible connection,” he said.
The suspect who sold his client the guns — one of the eight acquitted in the 1967 federal conspiracy trial — since has died, Downey said.
Those acquitted in the trial were then-Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, Bernard Akin, Frank Herndon, Herman Tucker, Travis Barnette, then-Philadelphia policeman Richard Andrew Willis, James T. “Pete” Harris and Olen L. Burrage. (All but Willis, Harris and Burrage are dead.)
That would mean the guns came from Rainey, Akin, Herndon, Tucker or Barnette.
Rainey’s one-time lawyer, James McIntyre of Jackson, said Rainey moved to the Franklin, Ky., area after the 1967 trial and “could have sold a couple of guns.”
The former sheriff became police chief for a small town there, he said. “The NAACP was raising hell, and he finally had to resign. He came back and opened a garage, working on automobiles.”
Downey wouldn’t say if the gun seller was Rainey.
Testimony at the ’67 trial placed Rainey in Meridian, where his wife was having surgery, before returning late that night to Philadelphia. Horace Doyle Barnette’s confession to the FBI said Rainey met the Klansmen after the killings, telling them, “I’ll kill anyone who talks, even if it was my own brother.”
Books and movies have portrayed the trio as being executed by two Klansmen, Wayne Roberts and James Jordan: Roberts grabbed Schwerner, 24, and shot him once, then Goodman, 20, and shot him once. Jordan then joined Roberts in killing Chaney, 21. Ballistics confirmed bullets removed from the bodies came from two different .38-caliber pistols.
The FBI never recovered those murder weapons, but Killen’s recent trial revealed what may have happened to at least one of them.
Former Klansman and Meridian police officer Mike Hatcher testified Killen gave him a revolver to destroy the day after the trio’s killings.
Contacted for comment, Hatcher wouldn’t talk about the make of the gun or whether he had followed Killen’s instructions to get rid of the gun. “Better to let that die,” he said.
Dr. William Featherston of Jackson did the original autopsy and removed three bullets from Chaney’s body, but Baden said X-rays show two other bullets struck Chaney in his arms and are still there.
Chaney was shot in the back and in the head before being given “the coup de grace in the chest area,” Baden said.
According to the autopsy report, Chaney had his left arm broken in one place, “a marked disruption” of the left elbow joint and a right arm broken in two places.
The fracture to Chaney’s right wrist suggests a bullet, a sixth, passed through or possible blows, Baden said. “It could have been caused by a blunt object like a baseball bat, but the deformed left upper arm is due to shooting.”
Attorney General Jim Hood has said all the statements authorities received make no mention of any triggermen besides Jordan and Roberts. One statement mentions Roberts emptied his gun into Chaney.
But Hood pointed out it might be difficult for those present to know exactly who fired their guns on such a dark night. “There are questions we just don’t have answers to unless somebody decides to come forward,” he said.
In his 1964 confession to the FBI, Jordan describes the various guns Klansmen had that night: Horace Doyle Barnette had a .30-caliber rifle; Wayne Roberts, a snub nose gun, possibly an English .38-caliber pistol; Jimmie Snowden, a sawed-off shotgun; Billy Wayne Posey, a pistol, make and model unknown; and Jimmy Aldridge, a long-barreled pistol.
In addition to what Baden found in Chaney’s body, Hayne examined the X-rays of Schwerner and Goodman: “The radiologist said there were bullet fragments in the head and neck area of each.”
Although the pathologist at the time discounted that possibility, Hayne described each in his report as a “potential gunshot wound.”
“There were at least nine shots fired that night, maybe more,” Baden said.
Killen free on $600,000 bond - Allowed to leave prison while conviction appealed
Aug. 13, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
PHILADELPHIA — An 80-year-old Klansman convicted of orchestrating the killings of three civil rights workers in 1964 left the Neshoba County Courthouse a free man Friday after posting a $600,000 bond.
Greeted by his wife and friends, Edgar Ray Killen emerged from the Neshoba County Detention Center wearing his cowboy hat and wouldn’t speak to reporters.
While the courtroom was packed with his supporters, others showed up to oppose his bond, including Jewel McDonald, a member of the Philadelphia Coalition that pushed for justice in the case. “Anybody that has caused the deaths of three people doesn’t deserve bond,” she said.
Mississippi has won praise for Killen’s conviction. Now she worries the bail will undo all that, she said. “We’ve just gone back 41 years.”
Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon said Friday he had little choice but to grant an appeal bond to Killen, convicted of manslaughter in the June 21, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner. “Bail is a matter of right,” the judge said, pointing out state law says unless a person is convicted of felony child abuse or murder, he is “entitled to bond.”
Gordon — who sentenced Killen to 60 years in prison — said the state had simply failed to prove the sawmill operator posed a flight risk or a danger to the community as required under the law. He said he can’t treat Killen any differently than those who have already come before him or who will come before him in the future.
District Attorney Mark Duncan said the state plans to appeal and asked for a stay until the state Supreme Court can rule on the petition, but Gordon denied the request. The judge said the transcript is nearly complete, and the high court should be able to take up Killen’s appeal within a year.
Duncan said he’s confident Killen’s conviction will be upheld: “His day will come.”
The Neshoba County circuit clerk’s office said the following helped Killen post bond: his brother, Bobby, Frank Richardson, Ray and Jean Hamil and Henry and Marcia Bassett. Henry Bassett testified Friday he didn’t believe Killen posed a danger to flee or a threat to the community.
Several dozen friends and family packed one side of the courtroom to Killen and warmly greeted him after the judge gave him bond. Asked what he thought of Killen’s release, Henry Bassett replied, “I’m not the judge. We have an almighty judge. I’m going to go with God’s laws.”
Schwerner’s widow, Rita Bender of Seattle, said Killen getting bond “conveys that race crimes are still not understood with the seriousness they deserve.”
While the statute says defendants are entitled to appeal bond, it also says the judge can deny bond on the basis of “the nature of the crime,” she said.
Goodman’s mother, Carolyn, said she hopes Killen survives long enough to serve time in prison once his appeals are concluded.
Killen’s release causes people “to feel pain one more time,” said Alvin Sykes of Kansas City, who heads the Emmett Till Justice Campaign that helped reopen the Till case.
Sykes acknowledged Killen’s release on bond is part of the judicial process. If Killen had been convicted of murder, he said, this wouldn’t have been an issue.
Sykes has suggested legislation U.S. senators are now pushing to create a cold cases unit within the Justice Department to pursue crimes of the past
On Friday morning, deputies wheeled Killen into the courtroom, where he saw a sea of supporters. Dressed in a yellow jail jumpsuit that said Neshoba County, Killen appeared cheerful, smiling and waving to family members and friends.
Defense lawyers called seven of those friends, who testified they believed Killen posed neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.
While swearing to tell the truth, Killen used his left hand to hold up his right. He testified he has been losing use of his right hand and has had to feed himself with his left hand.
Killen, who sat Friday in a wheelchair, broke both legs in a tree-cutting accident in March. “My head got knocked flat by a falling tree,” he said. “They (doctors) were amazed I’m conscious.”
He complained about a lack of medical care at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County but acknowledged he’d been seen by doctors. “They checked me through the line like a cattle auction,” he said. “I’m very unhappy with the treatment I’ve received.”
He told Gordon he is in constant pain and the cot he rests on has injured the pins in his leg. “I can barely sleep,” he said. “I still don’t understand how I could lie in severe pain for 24 hours, and no one even bring me an aspirin. I’m not a drug addict.”
He complained about being unable to have a pillow. “I know the court is not going to like this, but I bribed a black convict, and he got me one out of the trash can,” he said.
Department of Corrections officials denied Killen’s claims of poor care. “As far as I know of I think that he’s received the best medical service that’s possible out there,” said spokesman Nic Lott. “I don’t know of any complaints from Mr. Killen or his family.”
On Friday, the prosecution called two jailers who testified about a remark Killen made.
When asked by jailers whether he had any suicidal thoughts, the part-time preacher told them, “I’ll kill you before I kill myself,” Neshoba County jailer Kenny Spencer testified.
Fellow jailer Willie Baxter corroborated his account, and both testified they believed the remark was a threat.
Asked about the remark, Killen replied, “I didn’t make the comment.”
But if he did, he said, “It’d have to be joking. I don’t do those things.”
If Killen did level a threat, it wouldn’t be the first time. In 1975, a Newton County jury convicted him of making a threat over the telephone.
Duncan introduced Killen’s indictment and conviction to show Killen poses a threat. He quoted from Killen’s threat: “That son of a b---- will be dead by 8 o’clock. ... I like revenge.”
After that conviction in 1975, Killen called and threatened the jury foreman, according to a Newton County official.
Duncan argued Killen has shown a pattern of behavior throughout the years of threats and inciting violence. “He has essentially gotten to be free of bond for the past 40 years, and it’s time for him to start serving the sentence.”
The state plans to appeal Killen’s release and requested a stay until the Supreme Court could rule, but Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon denied the motion. He said the court should be able to take up Killen’s appeal of his conviction within a year.
Author: Killen was indifferent to killings But in ’76 interview, he denied complicity
Aug. 20, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
The Klansman convicted of orchestrating the slayings of three civil rights workers maintained his innocence but said he saw nothing wrong with taking part in the killings, an author says.
Author Patsy Sims said Edgar Ray Killen in a 1976 interview denied any role in the June 21, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, then remarked, “Had I done it, I wouldn’t have any regrets.”
Aaron Condon, professor emeritus at the University of Mississippi School of Law, said the remarks attributed to Killen can be used to show “his attitude toward violence and that he would hurt other people if they got in his way.”
Attorney General Jim Hood said the interview constitutes new evidence that Killen poses a danger and said he’ll include it to try and convince the state Supreme Court to revoke the $600,000 appeal bond that Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon gave Killen, convicted of three counts of manslaughter for orchestrating the killings.
Killen’s attorney, James McIntyre of Jackson, said he was unfamiliar with the interview but that the high court can’t consider anything the state failed to present at the bond hearing.
Condon said he isn’t aware of such limits when the court is “considering a matter of setting bond and determining whether the judge has exceeded his authority.”
If the high court were to find Sims’ interview and other evidence inadmissible, the state would be willing to hold another evidentiary hearing, said Hood, who was unable to attend the Aug. 12 bond hearing because he was ill.
He plans to ask for oral arguments in the case before the Supreme Court.
Briefs on the appeal bond are due Aug. 30, but McIntyre said defense lawyers need more time: “I feel extremely confident the court is not going to overrule Judge Gordon’s decision in granting bond.”
Hood disagreed. “I believe we have a good chance of getting the bond revoked,” he said, pointing out Killen has been convicted not only for killing three people but also for threatening a woman.
In an interview last week, Sims said she talked with Killen in 1976 and used much of that interview for her 1978 book, The Klan.
Although she interviewed Killen nearly three decades ago, the Klansman’s endorsement of racial violence remained unchanged in 1999 when The Clarion-Ledger interviewed him. In the ’99 interview, Killen said he wanted to shake hands with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin.
In her interview with Killen, Sims asked, “How many would have thought if you had done it (the killings), it would have been a good thing?”
She said he replied, “I really don’t know, but the majority at the time, because feelin’ was high, real high.”
The truth is most people in the 1960s didn’t support the killings, said Neshoba County native Fent Deweese, 15 when the trio was killed.
Sure, some people did take part in this heinous act, he said. Sure, many people then had the wrong feelings about race, he said. “But to say the majority supported these killings is a gross misrepresentation,” he said.
Despite the fact FBI agents discovered the trio’s bodies Aug. 4, 1964, Killen told Sims, “They never did prove they found the bodies.”
Sims said Killen told her the White Knights had been framed for the killings. “I never did see a one of the three (civil rights workers),” she said he told her. “Never did. But after the arrest ... I did a lot of research at that time, and if you can look at the files, J. Edgar Hoover had a file that Mister Schwerner was an underground, active agent for the Communist Party. So was Mister Goodman.”
In The Clarion-Ledger interview, Killen made a similar remark, saying he didn’t have a motive to kill the trio because he didn’t know until later that Schwerner and Goodman were communists.
Killen described reacting physically in Washington, D.C., when he went inside a restaurant with black patrons, she said.
“I don’t mind tellin’ you when they started, you know, comin’ in and sittin’ down in the booth next to ...,” Killen was quoted as saying. “I would almost choke to death.”
In The Clarion-Ledger interview, Killen said he held the same views on race he’s had his whole life, adding he opposes racial intermarriage: “I’m as strong for social separation as I ever was.”
Killen also said he didn’t know Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, convicted of authorizing the trio’s killings, until they met at the October 1967 federal conspiracy trial in which the jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of Killen’s guilt, resulting in his mistrial.
That remark contradicted what he told Sims: “I knew Sam before they arrested him (in December 1964).”
Her interview with Killen took place Aug. 4, 1976, the 12th anniversary of the FBI finding the trio’s bodies. “Dates keep repeating themselves in this case,” Sims said. “It’s so bizarre.”
Killen threatened a woman over the telephone on June 21, 1974, the 10th anniversary of the killings, and a Neshoba County jury convicted Killen on the 41st anniversary of the trio’s deaths.
Hood vowed to do everything he could to put Killen back behind bars: “We worked too hard to let this fella out of the pen after he’s been walking around for 40 years.”
Reporter: Killen threatened to kill him in 2000
Aug. 20, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg has interviewed terrorists from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaida, but he wasn’t prepared for what happened to him when he encountered Klansman Edgar Ray Killen about four years ago.
When the reporter at large for The New Yorker tried to interview Killen in 2000, the elderly man pulled a shotgun and threatened to kill him, he said.
Killen is now out on a $600,000 bond while he appeals his manslaughter convictions for orchestrating the June 21, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, but Goldberg said he believes Killen belongs behind bars. Although the 80-year-old Killen is in a wheelchair while he recovers from a March tree-cutting accident, Goldberg said, “The trigger finger still works.”
Defense lawyer James McIntyre of Jackson responded that Killen “is not a man of violence.”
Attorney General Jim Hood is asking the state Supreme Court to revoke Killen’s bond, saying he poses a threat to the community. Hood revealed this week in documents that before the trial in June, Killen’s brother, J.D., had allegedly threatened the trial judge — something the brother has denied.
McIntyre questioned Hood raising the issue of threats that weren’t introduced before the lower court: “The Supreme Court is not a court of record. It’s a court of review.”
Aaron Condon, professor emeritus at the University of Mississippi School of Law, said although the high court is not supposed to go outside the record in a trial, he said he doesn’t know of any such limits when it is considering a bond matter.
Goldberg’s article on his encounter with Killen appeared in the Jan. 17 issues of The New Yorker, and Hood said he plans to include it in the appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Reached by telephone in Israel, where he is covering the withdrawal of Gaza, Goldberg described his visit with Killen.
He called Killen’s house, trying to set up an interview because Mississippi authorities had reopened the case. “I spoke to his wife and said I would come by,” he said.
After receiving an ambivalent response, he decided to go by the house and “just knock on the door,” he said. “If he (Killen) doesn’t want to talk, he doesn’t want to talk.”
Goldberg said Killen greeted him with a shotgun, saying, “My gun’s clean and ready.”
In his New Yorker article, Goldberg described the sight of Killen: “He was leathery and bent over, but his arms were roped with muscle. He seemed to be living proof that time does not temper rage.”
The subject of the trio’s killings arose, and he said Killen remarked, “The whole thing’s over a long time ago.”
When he mentioned the suggestion by some to build a memorial to the trio, he quoted Killen as saying, “To who? The dead guys?”
Killen got angry, he said, and shouted, “Never! It’ll never happen.”
At this point, he said Killen asked him to leave, saying, “I’m not a man of violence, but if you don’t get off my property right now, I’m going to shoot you dead.”
Goldberg said of that day: “When someone threatens to kill you, I interpret that to be a threat. Just because you’re old doesn’t mean you can’t be nasty.”
McIntyre said Killen was “just trying to protect his property. The Constitution says you have a right to bear arms. If a fellow’s a trespasser, he wasn’t invited.”
If Goldberg were truly in fear for his personal safety, “he would have reported it to a law enforcement agency,” McIntyre said.
In June, CourtTV broadcast Killen’s trial to millions of homes. Goldberg said those watching the trial would “see this old man and say, ‘How harmful can he be?’ This is why there’s no statute of limitations on murder. Someone who can commit murder at 40 can commit murder at 80.”
He said he learned from the experience that Killen’s “temper has stayed with him throughout the years. Yes, he’s less of a threat in hand-to-hand combat, but a rifle is a rifle.”
Killen seen walking on his own without wheelchair
Sept. 3, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
A deputy said Friday he saw convicted killer Edgar Ray Killen walking unaided and filling up his truck with gas on Wednesday.
Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon released the 80-year-old Union sawmill owner on a $600,000 bond Aug. 12 pending his appeal on his manslaughter conviction in the 1964 deaths of three civil rights workers. The Klansman testified from his wheelchair at his appeal bond hearing about the pain he was enduring in prison because of his injuries from a March tree-cutting accident in which both his legs were broken.
“He was walking with no problem. I was very surprised,” said Connie Dwayne Hampton, chief deputy for the Winston County Sheriff’s Department, explaining that he saw Killen at a Conoco gas station on Mississippi 16 in Philadelphia.
A Neshoba County jury convicted Killen in June of manslaughter for orchestrating the June 21, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.
Gordon mentioned Killen’s medical condition in discussing the reasons he freed Killen on an appeal bond.
Killen’s lawyer, Mitch Moran of Carthage, disputed the sighting, saying Killen remains in a wheelchair and even received physical therapy Friday.
The vehicle Killen normally drives anyway, he said, is his wife’s white LTD.
Attorney General Jim Hood has appealed Killen’s release on bond to the state Supreme Court. Because of Hurricane Katrina, the deadline for briefs has been postponed until Tuesday.
In backing his argument to put Killen back behind bars, Hood submitted a sealed document — which defense attorneys say contains details regarding an alleged threat to kill Gordon by Killen’s brother, J.D. (He is appealing his simple assault conviction for knocking over a television photographer in January.)
Gordon has said several days before the June murder trial began he learned of the threat from a Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol investigator, who had learned from an “undercover snitch.”
The judge said the statement attributed to J.D. Killen was that “he had a gun, and that was the gun he was going to use to take me out.”
But the judge said J.D. Killen later shook hands and expressed no animosity. The judge said he didn’t take the threat seriously.
J.D. Killen has said the accusation he made a threat is “totally wrong. They’re trying to set me up. I have never threatened anyone.”
Moran said J.D. Killen was set up by authorities. “The whole thing was conspired by Jim Hood,” Moran said.
Several authorities posed as criminals and approached J.D. Killen about paying to kill Gordon, Moran said. “He told them he didn’t have the $4,000.”
J.D. Killen also reported the matter to a law enforcement official, Moran said.
To set up the defendant’s brother and fail to mention his role in that set up, Moran said, is an “ethical violation.”
Asked about Moran’s remarks, Hood responded Friday, “Due to the court’s order regarding disclosure of the sealed document, we will address the issues after we file our brief next Tuesday.”
In paperwork filed with the court, Hood argued Edgar Ray Killen poses a threat to the community because of his involvement in the deaths of the trio and for his 1975 conviction for a threat over the telephone.
Moran said his client should remain free on appeal bond as the law allows. “If you screw the law for one case, it will screw the law for everybody.”
The lawyer said Edgar Ray Killen remains in poor medical condition: “I think he had a minor stroke in jail. He can’t write with his arm.”
White supremacist Richard Barrett, who heads the Learned-based Nationalist Movement, said of the supposed sighting of Killen: “You’re supposed to get out of a wheelchair. They want you to get up and get around.”
Barrett said plans are still a go to hold the “Killen Appreciation Day” on Sept. 18 on the Neshoba County Courthouse lawn.
“Someone needs to have the last word, and it needs to be Killen,” he said. “The fact he’s out of jail and the prosecution has failed is in effect the last word. I hope he has a chance to say that last word in his own words in a dignified, respectful setting.”
Killen ordered back to prison - Circuit judge revokes appeal bond for 80-year-old reputed Klansman
Sept. 10, 2005
By Jerry Mitchell
PHILADELPHIA — A reputed Klansman convicted of orchestrating the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers is back in prison after a judge concluded Edgar Ray Killen was far healthier than his prior testimony suggested.
“I feel fraud has been committed on this court,” Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon said in revoking the $600,000 appeal bond for Edgar Ray Killen, who spent Friday night at Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Rankin County.
The 80-year-old sawmill operator broke both legs in a March tree-cutting accident. He recovered enough to face a murder trial in June in Neshoba County for the killings of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman.
During that trial, Killen sat in a wheelchair, breathed oxygen and had a nurse tend to him. The jury convicted him of manslaughter. Gordon sentenced him to 60 years in prison.
At the Aug. 12 bond hearing, Killen held his right hand up with his left hand to be sworn in to testify, saying he couldn’t raise his right hand or use it. He testified he was in constant pain and permanently confined to the wheelchair, except for sleeping.
On Sept. 3, The Clarion-Ledger reported that Connie Dwayne Hampton, chief deputy for the Winston County Sheriff’s Department, said he recently saw Killen at a gas station “walking with no problem.”
In a Friday morning hearing, Hampton and several other deputies testified that they saw Killen driving around in various places, from Union to Philadelphia to the House community. One deputy said at a checkpoint on Labor Day that Killen shook hands with him, with his right hand — the same one Killen testified he couldn’t use.
Killen’s physical therapist testified Killen had asked for treatment for his knee, but not for his right arm when he came in for therapy after the Aug. 12 hearing.
Gordon found it difficult to believe how Killen couldn’t use his right arm and legs Aug. 12, but could be driving a few weeks later. “That’s incredible to me,” he said.
The defense will appeal the ruling, said Killen’s attorney, James McIntyre of Jackson. “Just because he is getting better and he’s driving a car, that’s not enough to revoke bond.”
The Nationalist Movement, a white supremacist group, had planned a “Killen Appreciation Day” for Sept. 18. Killen had told organizers he would attend if able to physically and legally.
By agreeing to appear at “a day set aside to commemorate someone who had been convicted of three violent crimes — seems to me that’s grounds to deny bond,” Gordon said. “This trial involved the death of three persons who died in a cruel, heinous and atrocious manner. They were murdered.”
Schwerner’s widow, Rita Bender of Seattle, praised the judge’s decision: “This ruling is extremely important for the people living in and around the community because it sends the message that racial violence will be punished.”
As a result of Killen’s imprisonment, “Killen Appreciation Day” is being cancelled, said Richard Barrett of Learned, who heads the Nationalist Movement. Killen, however, is getting the last word in his fight against communism and integration, he said. “That has never changed and never will change.”
Gordon’s initial decision to grant bond drew some criticism, McIntyre said, but “now a lot of people are raising sand” about Killen returning to prison.
Attorney General Jim Hood said he agreed with the judge’s decision but would not comment further.
Documents Hood filed with the state Supreme Court allege Killen’s brother, J.D., talked of a $3,000 payment to kill Gordon if the judge failed to release Killen on an appeal bond. J.D. Killen has denied making the threat, and Gordon has said he didn’t take the threat seriously.
Asked after the hearing if he was upset by the ruling, J.D. Killen replied, “We’ve got another day.”
Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said Killen will remain in an isolated cell and in administrative protective custody — as he was after his June 21 conviction.
Killen needs another six months of physical therapy, his doctor testified Friday. Epps said officials will be happy to provide therapy or anything else the doctor orders.
Reached at her home in New York City, Goodman’s mother, Carolyn, who will turn 90 in less than a month, said, “What we’re looking for is justice, and I think we got it.”
Mississippi Burning Killings: A Timeline of Events
June 16: Klansmen beat members of Mount Zion Methodist Church in Neshoba County and burn down the church building.
June 21: Civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney travel in their station wagon to investigate. They’re arrested and jailed, then released. Returning home, they’re killed by more than 20 Klansmen.
June 23: FBI agents find the burned-out station wagon 13 miles northeast of Philadelphia in a swamp.
Aug. 4: FBI agents find the trio’s bodies buried 15 feet beneath an earthen dam.
Dec. 4: FBI arrests 21 suspects in connection with the trio’s killings. The 19 men charged with conspiring to deprive the trio of their constitutional rights include: Olen Burrage, Otha Neal Burkes, Edgar Ray Killen, Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, Deputy Cecil Price, Billy Wayne Posey, Jerry McGrew Sharpe, Jimmy Lee Townsend, Herman Tucker, Bernard Akin, Jimmy Arledge, Horace Doyle Barnette, Travis Maryn Barnette, James “Pete” Harris, Frank Herndon, James Edward Jordan, Alton Wayne Roberts, Jimmy Snowden and Oliver Warner Jr. Earl Akin and Tommy Horne are arrested on charges of withholding knowledge of a felony.
Dec. 10: U.S. Commissioner Esther Carter dismisses the charges because Horace Doyle Barnette, who confessed, isn’t present to testify.
Jan. 15: FBI arrests 18 in connection with the trio’s killings. Original defendants Earl Akin, Burkes, Horne and Warner aren’t indicted. Philadelphia Patrolman Richard Willis is added as a suspect.
Feb. 25-26: U.S. District Judge William Harold Cox of Jackson dismisses felony charges against all defendants except Jordan. Cox rules the law does not make murder a federal crime and that only the three defendants who are law officers — Rainey, Price and Willis — can be tried on the charges.
March 28: U.S. Supreme Court reverses Cox’s decision.
Oct. 7: Cox dismisses indictments again, agreeing with defense lawyers who claimed the pool of potential jurors didn’t include enough minorities or women.
Feb. 28: A federal grand jury indicts a new group of 19 defendants: Sheriff Rainey, Deputy Price, Philadelphia Patrolman Willis, Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, E.G. “Hop” Barnett, Olen Burrage, Edgar Ray Killen, Billy Wayne Posey, Jerry McGrew Sharpe, Herman Tucker, Bernard Akin, Jimmy Arledge, Horace Doyle Barnette, Travis Maryn Barnette, James “Pete” Harris, Frank Herndon, James Edward Jordan, Alton Wayne Roberts and Jimmy Snowden. Jordan’s case is separated from the others.
Oct. 9: A jury begins to hear the case against 18 remaining defendants, minus Jordan.
Oct. 12: Jordan testifies to the details of the killings and later pleads guilty to conspiracy.
Oct. 18: Case goes to jury.
Oct. 19: Jury informs Judge Cox of deadlock. Cox issues a “dynamite charge,” ordering jury to continue deliberations.
Oct. 20: The jury convicts Arledge, Bowers, Horace Doyle Barnette, Posey, Price, Roberts and Snowden of conspiracy. The jury acquits Akin, Travis Barnette, Burrage, Harris, Herndon, Rainey, Tucker and Willis. E.G. Barnett, Killen and Sharpe receive mistrials.
Bowers and Roberts receive 10-year sentences; Price and Posey, six years; Arledge, Snowden and Horace Doyle Barnette, three years. By 1970, their appeals exhausted, they go to prison. Mississippi never tries the men for murder.
Dec. 27: The slain trio’s families call for reopening the case when The Clarion-Ledger reports one-time Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers admitted he thwarted justice in the case, saying he didn’t mind going to prison because a fellow Klansman got away with the murders of the three civil rights workers.
Feb. 25: Attorney General Mike Moore reopens the case.
December: Moore’s office receives 40,000 pages in FBI reports on the case.
May 7: The Clarion-Ledger reports that the jury that heard the federal conspiracy trial in 1967 deadlocked 11-1 in favor of Edgar Ray Killen’s guilt with the holdout telling other jurors she could “never convict a preacher.”
May 14: Bob Stringer, who testified against Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers, told The Clarion-Ledger that he attended a Klan gathering where Bowers talked with Edgar Ray Killen about “eliminating” Michael Schwerner.
Sept. 10: The Clarion-Ledger reports that Klansman-turned-FBI informant Ernest Gilbert said Edgar Ray Killen and two other suspects implicated in the slain trio’s killings in 1964 took part in a similar Klan kidnapping of a black teen three weeks earlier.
April 15: Former deputy Cecil Price, who was cooperating with authorities, dies in freak accident. Moore drops investigation before leaving office in 2004.
July 19: Former newspaper columnist George Metz tells The Clarion-Ledger Killen told him he cleaned up the crime scene after the slayings.
May 26: The multiracial Philadelphia Coalition calls on state authorities to prosecute the killings, if possible.
May 29: Attorney General Jim Hood asks for federal assistance in investigating the slayings.
Jan. 6: A Neshoba County grand jury returns first-ever state murder indictment.
June 13: Edgar Ray Killen goes on trial.
June 21: A Neshoba County jury convicts Killen on three counts of manslaughter. Circuit Judge Marcus Gordon sentences Killen to 60 years in prison.
Aug. 12: Judge Gordon frees Killen on $600,000 bond after he testifies he is in constant pain, can’t use his right hand and is permanently confined to his wheelchair, except for sleeping.
Sept. 3: The Clarion-Ledger reported that a deputy said he saw convicted killer Edgar Ray Killen walking unaided and filling up his truck with gas a few days earlier.
Sept. 10: After hearing testimony from the deputy and others who saw Killen walking around and driving across town, Judge Gordon revokes Killen’s bond, saying, “I feel fraud has been committed on this court.”
Dec. 3: The Clarion-Ledger, which obtained the nearly 40,000-page FBI case file, reports that six suspects are still alive in the trio’s killings and that there is potential new evidence against one of those suspects, Billy Wayne Posey.
June 22: The Clarion-Ledger reports that the FBI is reexamining more than 100 killings from the civil rights era but not the trio’s slayings.
June 21: The Justice Department announces it is looking again at the trio’s slayings.
Oct. 18: The Clarion-Ledger reports that the FBI interviewed Larry Ellis about admissions Killen made regarding the trio’s killings as well as other killings.
Nov. 22: World renown pathologist Dr. Michael Baden said an exhumation of James Chaney’s body would give authorities two bullets to examine against potential murder weapons.
Nov. 23: The Clarion-Ledger reports that the FBI has been told that Edgar Ray Killen bragged that his property was never searched, despite having evidence against those involved in the Ku Klux Klan's killings of three civil rights workers in 1964.
Wiretaps Targeted Victim's Family
March 9, 2003
FBI records in '64 slayings shed light on case still open today
By Jerry Mitchell
Summer had just started in muggy Mississippi in 1964, and three civil rights workers couldn't be found.
FBI agents trudged through fields, stomped through briars and waded through creeks, hoping to find clues into the disappearances of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman.
Ten days into that search, the FBI conducted wiretaps. That came as no surprise, because agents had already wiretapped the telephones of seven different suspects in the Sept. 15, 1963, Birmingham church bombing that killed four female youths.
What may seem surprising today is who the targets of these new wiretaps were - family members of one of the missing men, according to FBI records obtained by The Clarion-Ledger.
"It's outrageous," said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch, who is finishing a trilogy of books on the civil rights movement. "I didn't know the FBI would go so far as to wiretap one of the families."
The Schwerner family, however, and some officials have known of the wiretapping for decades.
Renewed attention to the wiretaps comes as a backdrop to the revelation that Mississippi authorities reinvestigating the June 21, 1964, Klan killings of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman have never seen the FBI's informant files in the case - files experts say could prove critical to reprosecution, just as they have in other cases.
Authorities reopened the case in 1999, but Attorney General Mike Moore says the lack of additional information and witnesses makes the first-ever state murder charges in the case unlikely.
Edwin L. Worthington, special agent in charge of the FBI in Mississippi, said the FBI can't turn over its informant files because it must protect the identity of sources, just as reporters do.
Worthington said if Moore wants agents to contact informants to see if they'd be willing to cooperate now, agents would be willing to do so.
Moore, he said, has not made such a request.
"I talked to him, and he told me they didn't have any information that would be helpful to me, but if they did they would be glad to turn it over to me," Moore said Friday. "I asked him to turn over any and all information that would help us in this case."
Nine days after the trio's disappearances, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover signed a memo justifying wiretaps: "It is necessary to know if any contacts are made with either the parents or the wife of Michael Schwerner, which would give any clue as to the whereabouts of the missing individuals."
It is followed by the signature of Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, serving in place of Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who was overseas.
"I would have signed that without hesitation," Katzenbach said after viewing a copy of the document. "The pressure to get results was very big."
As for why the FBI decided to wiretap a victim's family instead of potential suspects, he said, "I don't know why there weren't any wiretaps on any of the suspects. You would have thought there would be."
A day after the trio turned up missing, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission, the state's segregationist spy agency, began to investigate - the same commission that had spied on Schwerner three months earlier and passed that information on to Meridian police, many of whom were Klansmen.
Commission agent Andy Hopkins spent much time talking to then-Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and then-Deputy Cecil Price, both later identified as suspects in the killings and both now dead. Hopkins, who is now dead, then reported back to Gov. Paul B. Johnson Jr., who headed the commission, "There is no reason to believe that the three subjects that have been reported missing have met with foul play; however, this cannot be excluded as a possibility due to the present racial situation in Mississippi."
The next day, Sen. James Eastland - who regularly received information from the commission - spoke with President Lyndon Johnson, saying he believed the missing men were part of a publicity stunt.
"I don't think there's a damn thing to it. ... There's not a Ku Klux Klan in that area. There's not a Citizens' Council in that area. There's no organized white man in that area," said Eastland, who headed the Senate Judiciary Committee that approved the FBI's budget. "Who could possibly harm them?"
Later that day, FBI agents found a burned-out station wagon the three were last seen driving.
Hopkins reported to Gov. Johnson that some or all of the trio had supposedly been spotted in Alabama and Louisiana. There was no proof of foul play, not even the trio's burned-out station wagon, "which could very easily be part of a hoax," he said, because it was found so close to the highway.
Before the day ended, Eastland spoke with the governor and then called the president, saying he had new information that the disappearances were a hoax.
Hoover, who had a close relationship with Eastland, told the president FBI agents were chasing down all leads, including that the trio might have burned the station wagon themselves "to create an incident that would inflame the situation.
"The basis for that is that the setting this car afire within sight of a highway - it was only a few feet off the highway and burning it, leaving the license tags on the car was not a thing a person would do who probably had committed a murder and had killed three."
Hoover also told the president there had been several supposed sightings of the trio.
The claim Schwerner had contacted his family crept into a July 3 Sovereignty Commission report: "It has been reported to the FBI and to the state officers who are conducting this investigation that Schwerner has contacted a member of his family since his alleged disappearance."
Documents show the wiretap of the Schwerners' family started July 1, 1964, and stopped Aug. 10 - six days after the bodies of Schwerner and the two others were found.
Documents also show the FBI requested a wiretap on the residence of Schwerner's wife, Rita, "at such time as she becomes permanently situated,"
but documents are unclear on whether the wiretap actually took place.
Now a Seattle lawyer, Rita Bender said she and other family members learned about the wiretaps in the 1970s from an unrelated court case.
"It was offensive that the family became the target of surveillance, with the suggestion that we would hide information as to Mickey's whereabouts," she said.
This revelation didn't surprise them, said Schwerner's brother, Stephen, of Yellow Springs, Ohio. "Hoover thought the whole movement was communist-inspired and tried to stop it."
Family members took no action, and the matter drew little notice.
Branch said he thinks "Hoover didn't want to be investigating people that would upset Jim Eastland. He could see how desperately Mississippi officials didn't want to solve this case."
Katzenbach defended Eastland, saying he believed the senator didn't care that much about the race issue, except as it affected him at the ballot box: "He sure as hell didn't want three people killed in his state that way. He wasn't that kind of a man."
By 1969, some U.S. senators began holding hearings, criticizing the FBI's use of wiretaps.
In response, FBI officials wrote a June 23, 1969, memo explaining wiretaps the agency had conducted in recent decades.
In that document, the FBI said Katzenbach wanted the wiretaps of Schwerner's family because he "was concerned that the disappearance of the three civil rights workers might be a hoax and that Schwerner's parents ... might attempt to exploit the disappearance."
The memo said Hoover sought the wiretaps "only because Katzenbach forced the issue."
Katzenbach, who now lives in Princeton, N.J., called the 1969 memo "real bull-----. ... The idea I would believe this was a hoax, I mean, that's crazy."
He responded that the very language the FBI document attributes to him sounds suspiciously like Hoover himself.
"He's got an embarrassing situation, and he wants to blame somebody who wasn't there," he said.
Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Halberstam called the 1969 memo's attempt to cover up what Hoover had done "despicable and pathetic."
That Hoover would wiretap isn't surprising because he often believed in a communist conspiracy, and the politics of Schwerner's family were left wing, said Halberstam, author of The Children, a 1998 book on the civil rights movement.
With pressure from President Johnson to solve the case, Hoover opened the first FBI office in Jackson on July 10, 1964, sending hundreds of agents to crack the case, Halberstam said.
Less than a month later, agents found the trio's bodies buried beneath an earthen dam. That wouldn't have happened without the FBI's diligence and hard work, which involved as many as 300 agents scouring the state, said former FBI agent Jim Ingram, who oversaw the 1967 federal trial of 18 suspects in the trio's killings.
That trial resulted in seven conspiracy convictions, eight acquittals and three mistrials.
Ingram said he didn't learn of the wiretaps on Schwerner's family until years later. "The Justice Department wanted to assure themselves that this was not a missing-persons thing," he said. "Sen. Eastland kept saying the civil rights workers would `show up alive one day, and they're being hid out.' "
In 1964, the FBI feared the Klan had instituted its own wiretaps on phones in Neshoba County, said Deke DeLoach, one of Hoover's top lieutenants at the time.
Just before agents dug up the earthen dam believed to contain the bodies, he said he told agents to relay their success over the telephone in code.
Finding one of the bodies would be signified by saying an oil well had been uncapped, he said.
DeLoach doesn't remember the FBI using wiretaps in the case and certainly not on a victim's family. "I can't conceive they used one against the Schwerner family. That would be ridiculous."But two FBI documents confirm just that.