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|Flesh found by fisherman in 1964 may have been remains of JoeEd Edwards|
Longtime commercial fisherman Milton "Ouddie" Boothe of Harrisonburg recalled the day in 1964 when he "laid a seine close to the bank" of Old River at Deer Park in Concordia Parish.
"It got hung on an ice box," Boothe, 82, told The Sentinel at his home on Sunday afternoon. "I pulled the lid off. Meat came floating up."
Boothe said he knew right away it was human flesh.
Shortly after her father hauled in the rancid catch, Boothe's daughter, Elsie, said she arrived at the Old River boat ramp at Deer Park with a load of ice -- which she did routinely when her dad was fishing -- to cover the day's catch.
"I saw buzzards circling," she said.
Boothe said he pulled the flesh out of the water, put it in a bucket and brought it to Harrisonburg. There, he said he gave it to Catahoula Parish Sheriff J.Y. McGuffee.
Elsie said they heard at the time that the flesh was part of the body of a black man in Concordia who was missing.
Boothe said he later asked the Catahoula sheriff about the remains.
He said McGuffee shrugged and said, "It disappeared."
Boothe didn't know what to make of that but apparently McGuffee or someone else had notified the FBI of Boothe's catch because in 1967, FBI agents asked Boothe to show them the location of the ice box where the human flesh had been concealed.
By September 1967, documents indicate the FBI thought the flesh was that of Joseph "Joe-Ed" Edwards, a black employee of the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia whose 1958 Buick was found abandoned on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. in July 1964. FBI documents also reveal that Edwards' disppearance may have been linked to an event or misunderstanding involving a white woman at the motel during the height of civil unrest involving the Civil Rights movement and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.
WHARLEST JACKSON MURDER
The FBI's interest in Edwards' disappearance came after the Feb. 27, 1967, car bomb murder of Wharlest Jackson, 37, of Natchez, who was treasurer of the town's NAACP chapter. The father of five and a Korean War veteran, Jackson had been promoted a month earlier on January 29 to a position of chemical mixer at the Armstrong Tire & Rubber plant.
Armstrong was one of the largest employers in the region, second only to International Paper Company which had 1,400 men on the payroll in the mid-1960s. Built in 1939, Armstrong was enlarged in 1946 and underwent a $5 million expansion in 1960. By 1964, the plant employed 1,100 men.
Jackson's new job as chemical mixer had been held only by white men since the plant had opened. First hired in 1955, Jackson earned the promotion due to seniority over two white men who also applied for the post at a time when new Civil Rights laws mandated equal job opportunities for blacks as well as the integration of public facilities and schools.
Slightly more than an hour after the 8:11 p.m. explosion during a cold February rain, Natchez police detective Charlie Bahin notified the FBI of Jackson's death. Local authorities covered what was left of Jackson's green 1958 half-ton Chevrolet pickup as the FBI prepared to send two of its top crime scene explosive specialists from headquarters in Washington, D.C., to Natchez, along with dozens of agents. The blast, which was heard throughout town, ripped the hood and cab roof from his pickup.
The heavy rain had two devastating effects, according to FBI reports, it washed away evidence immediately after the explosion, and it limited potential witnesses who stayed inside during the afternoon.
Immediately, the FBI gave the investigation the code name "WHARBOM," and FBI lab experts determined within a short time, despite the rains, that "a high-order explosive was detonated under the cab portion of the truck, outside the frame, and directly beneath the driver. Fragments of wire which appear to be wire from an electrical blasting cap were recovered from the scene of the explosion indicating that such a blasting cap may have been connected to and activated by the electrical wiring system of the truck. Portions of the wire to the brake light, taillight, and left rear turn indicator light which was originally located on the inside of the left frame are missing as a result of the explosion."
The FBI quickly began to investigate a link between that bombing and another one outside the plant in August 1965 that seriously injured George Metcalfe, president of the Natchez NAACP and, like Jackson, an Armstrong employee. Metcalfe survived and following a year-long recovery returned to work at Armstrong.
Jackson and Metcalfe routinely rode to work together but on the date of the explosion that killed Jackson their shifts had changed and Metcalfe was at home when Jackson was killed.
New information on the disappearance of Joseph Edwards, the arson/murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris in December 1964, and other arsons, beatings and murders was compiled as a result of WHARBOM. That's because the FBI realized, documents say, that law enforcement in Concordia Parish across the Mississippi River was assisting the Ku Klux Klan in its acts of violence and that one of the leading suspects in the Metcalfe and Jackson bombings lived in Vidalia and was the leader of a militant, violent offshoot of three Klan organizations known as the Silver Dollar Group.
Also of interest were Adams County Klansmen associated with Unit 900 of the United Klans of America in Natchez. Klansmen on both sides of the river, including some of the most violent, were employed at Armstrong and at International Paper.
FBI files on the WHARBOM probe -- totaling 10,000 pages -- recently obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by the Syracuse University College of Law Cold Case Justice Initiative, coupled with a two and one-half year investigation by The Sentinel, provide never before printed information on Edwards' disappearance and the Klan/law enforcement connection to his death.
SEARCH FOR SKELETAL REMAINS
A 1967 FBI document notes that commercial fisherman Milton "Ouddie" Boothe, once contacted, volunteered to assist the FBI in a search of the area near the Deer Park landing "for skeletal remains." A short time later the bureau launched a scuba diving operation at Deer Park.
The watery site where Boothe had found human flesh in 1964, Boothe recalled on Sunday, "had turned to ice boxes" by 1967, adding that it appeared to him the place had become a dump site that also contained "foot tubs and barbed wire." He said if any more containers with flesh were found, he never heard about it.
A man named George Fenton, who lived at Deer Park, told FBI agents that in 1963 "he placed 40 refrigerator cabinets in the river in front of his camp to encourage fish to locate in the area. Fenton advised that no cabinets were stolen prior to being sunk." Fenton told the FBI that he "recalled no suspicious activity around that area in July 1964."
Three days after assisting the FBI in the scuba diving operation, Boothe said he received a phone call from Concordia Parish deputy Bill Ogden, who, the FBI later learned had told a Ferriday minister in July 1964 that Ogden and deputy Frank DeLaughter had pulled Edwards' Buick over on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy.
Ogden told the preacher that a complaint had been filed against Edwards for disturbing the peace at Haney's Big House, a Ferriday lounge famous for showcasing some of the best blues musicians and singers in the South, including B.B. King and Ray Charles before they were famous. Lounge owner Will Haney told the FBI, however, that since Edwards had not been in his club he could not possibly have created a disturbance.
The preacher said Ogden told him that once Edwards' Buick came to a stop that Edwards jumped out and ran. The two deputies chased Edwards to the top of the Old River levee in the vicinity of the bowling alley near Ferriday, but Edwards got away, although his car remained parked on the highway for two weeks.
Boothe told The Sentinel that Ogden, in the telephone call after the diving operation, asked him what the FBI was looking for. Boothe said he told the deputy that agents were "hunting for ice boxes, I guess. That's all they found."
In an FBI document from 1967 in reference to this call, Boothe told agents that he deliberately "misinformed" Ogden of the "nature and location of the probe." The document says Ogden told Boothe that "he was not worried" about the diving operation since "it was not far enough down the river."
The landing at Deer Park was located about 17 miles south of Vidalia, and five miles south of the Morville Lounge, a gambling and prostitution establishment shut down in January 1967, but the subject of a federal probe which resulted years later in convictions against a number of men, including DeLaughter and Sheriff Noah Cross.
FBI records also reveal that DeLaughter indicated to deputy Raymond Keathley in July 1964 that Edwards had been killed. DeLaughter told Keathley no one would be bothered again by that "nigger who smarted off to the girls at the Shamrock Motel."
While the FBI, documents show, suspected the sheriff's office was involved in Edwards' disappearance, it also suspected auxiliary policeman for the Vidalia police department. The city-owned patrol car was an unmarked white 1964 Olds with two antenna on the trunk and a flashing red light which was spotted by a witness as it pulled Edwards' Buick over in the vicinity of the bowling alley. Minutes later, the white Olds was seen heading to Ferriday at a high rate of speed with "a number of occupants" in the vehicle, while Edwards' unoccupied Buick remained park on the highway.
The father of Edwards' fiancee said he noticed Edwards' Buick parked on the highway and stopped to inspect it. He saw what appeared to be blood on the floor below the driver's seat.
Vidalia Police Chief Johnnie Lee "Bud" Spinks told the FBI in 1967 that the department had four patrolmen, three radio operators, and in 1964 had started an auxiliary police unit to "assist in traffic control during sporting events in Vidalia and also assist in any emergency situation."
One of those four patrolmen, John Henry, provided the FBI a list of the auxiliary force. Four men listed had been identified by the bureau as members of the Silver Dollar Group, one the leading suspect in the Jackson/Metcalfe bombings.
Milton Wisner, a Vidalia police department radio operator in 1964 who was no longer on the force in 1967, told the FBI that the department "had several revolving red lights in a cabinet for use on the dashboards of vehicles belonging to the Vidalia Police Auxiliary."
Milton "Ouddie" Boothe said he never considered contacting the sheriff's office in Concordia Parish about the human flesh he found at Deer Park in 1964 due to a lack of trust.
"Too many bad things were happening there," said his daughter, Elsie.
(Stanley Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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