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Story Archives: DeLaughter's pipeline to KKK secrets led to Klan trial
|DeLaughter's pipeline to KKK secrets led to Klan trial|
In December 1965, the head of the Ferriday-Clayton Klan was kicked out for divulging Klan secrets to Concordia Parish deputy Frank DeLaughter.
So serious was the matter that a Klan trial of Exalted Cyclops James Lee Scarborough of Ferriday was convened in Clayton with four fully-robed, hooded, armed Klansmen serving as "executioners" -- charged to carry out the Klan's sentence should Scarborough be found guilty.
Klansmen detested informants and divulging a Klan secret could result in death. Just four months earlier in 1965, Mississippi Klansmen beat Earl Hodges of Franklin County so severely that he died of a heart attack. Klansmen believed Hodges, a former White Knight, was informing to the FBI, according to bureau documents and a Sentinel investigation.
Just what secrets the 44-year-old Scarborough may have been divulging wasn't fully revealed almost five decades ago but there were clues. The man who accused Scarborough of ratting out the Klan was himself an informant.
Such was Klan life: a whirl of bickering, boasting, mistrust and duplicity. Paranoia led to destructive battles inside Klan units in which Klansmen turned on each other. In Concordia, these factors helped flame a feud between Klansmen and DeLaughter.
E.D. Morace, a 38-year-old Ferriday mechanic, served as Klan Investigator for the Ferriday-Clayton unit of the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, also known as the Old Originals. His position, as defined in the Old Originals' constitution, was to investigate racial-related complaints and to insure Klan secrets were protected. He could authorize attacks and retribution when he felt either was warranted. And he did this work while secretly informing to the FBI himself, bureau records indicate.
The man Morace put on trial -- James Scarborough -- was a welder at International Paper Co. in Natchez. He lived at the end of Iowa Street along the railroad tracks in Ferriday. Former residents who remember him told the Sentinel that he lived quietly.
Retired FBI agent John Pfeifer, a Marine veteran, told the Sentinel that Scarborough often spread false rumors about the bureau, part of the Klan's ongoing propaganda to attack anyone or any agency working to enforce civil rights laws.
"I went to see James Scarborough one time and I told him I was sick and tired of him knocking the FBI and claiming that we were wiretapping all their meetings," said Pfeifer.
An agent in Concordia for more than a decade beginning in 1966, Pfeifer was acquainted with DeLaughter, too. His investigations into parishwide prostitution, gambling and police brutality led to a prison sentence for the deputy in the 1970s.
Federal grand jury and court records show that DeLaughter was a protector and enforcer for gambling and prostitution operations, collected protection money for the sheriff's office from those interests and beat individuals accused of betraying or threatening the livelihoods of the ringleaders of vice.
Although gambling and prostitution were illegal, it was common in Concordia throughout its history but flourished in the 1950s and 1960s when a few lounges transformed into casinos and brothels.
In November 1965 a parish grand jury indicted DeLaughter and two gamblers -- Judsen Lee "Blackie" Drane, 37, and Ed Fuller, 38 -- for almost beating to death a local casino employee, William Cliff Davis, as punishment for allegedly stealing a slot machine motor and selling it for whiskey. Because some Klansmen had been beaten in casino/lounges owned by Drane, the Davis beating intensified bad feelings between the Klan and the gamblers.
Pfeifer says political motivations and protection of gambling and prostitution interests were among the reasons DeLaughter was so heavily involved in the KKK.
"He and some of the other deputies were ward heelers, keeping up good relations between any group of potential voters, even the Klan," Pfeifer said.
DeLaughter's corrupt and violent ways are legendary in Concordia Parish today. He was known as "Big Frank" because of his 6 ft. 4 in., 250-pound frame.
A four-year Sentinel probe revealed that DeLaughter was known to recruit young men into the Klan and to leave cards at businesses with the phrase, "You have been visited by the Ku Klux Klan." Even his sister, who operated a restaurant and lounge, once ran an advertisement in the Sentinel praising the Klan.
"One of the main reasons DeLaughter joined the Klan was for intelligence gathering purposes," Pfeifer said. "The sheriff's office needed to know what the Klan was up to and whether it would affect gambling and prostitution interests."
In early 1965, two nightclubs -- one owned by Reef Freeman, the other by Jack Aswell -- were torched after being accused by the Klan of prostitution. Also threatened with arson were the operators of the Morville Lounge, a Carlos Marcello-connected casino at Deer Park, which was also a house of prostitution. The lounge's operators paid the sheriff office $200 a week in protection money, according to federal court transcripts obtained by LSU Manship School of Mass Communication journalism students assisting the Sentinel in research.
The lounge was never torched, but was ordered closed by newly-elected District Attorney W.C. Falkenheiner in early 1967.
Just days after the William Cliff Davis beating, Morace charged that Scarborough through an intermediary was divulging Klan secrets to gamblers and pimps who ultimately informed DeLaughter. According to FBI records provided by the Syracuse College of Law Cold Case Justice Initiative, Morace told the bureau that in the fall of 1965 gamblers accused two Ferriday-Clayton Klansmen of burning a warehouse owned by Blackie Drane.
One of the two accused Klansmen was Coonie Poissot, also an FBI informant who linked DeLaughter to the 1964 arson murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris, FBI records show. A friend of Poissot's told the Sentinel that Poissot, who died in 1992, confessed in the early 1970s that he was involved in the Morris arson. Poissot also fingered DeLaughter, Drane and Fuller in the beating of Davis, the Ferriday jail prisoner.
In fact, Poissot told the bureau he and other Klansmen had been severely beaten at the Morville Lounge, whose gambling operations were controlled by Blackie Drane, court records show. Poissot said he retaliated by positioning himself on top of the Mississippi River levee where he shot "six rounds into the roof" of the lounge with a 30.06 rifle.
"That shooting happened," Pfeifer said.
The Davis beating, the shooting into the Morville Lounge and the Klan trial of Scarborough all occurred during a 30-day period.
Poissot also had a secret role in the trial of James Scarborough when he served as an executioner along with three other Klansmen. FBI records indicate that about 20 KKK members were in attendance at the trial in Clayton held in November 1965. None knew the identities of the hooded and robed executioners, who at one point pointed cocked rifles at a Klansman who attempted to leave the trial.
Morace told the FBI that Klan members convinced him to give Scarborough more time to prepare his defense. He said a decision was made a few days later to demote Scarborough from the leadership position and that he be "eased out of the Klan."
In 1967, Scarborough wouldn't discuss the trial with the FBI, but did discuss with agents DeLaughter's involvement in the beating of William Cliff Davis. A trial date in the beating had been set in Concordia Parish for January 1966, but nothing ever happened in district court, possibly because Davis had disappeared. Coonie Poissot told the bureau that DeLaughter had paid Davis to leave town. Threats from DeLaughter would also explain Davis' disappearance, retired FBI agent Pfeifer said.
Poissot left the parish, too. In December 1965, FBI records show he thanked the Ferriday-Clayton Klan for protecting him when DeLaughter was out to get him. Poissot witnessed DeLaughter's search for Davis prior to the beating, Pfeifer said.
Scarborough told agents in 1967 that it was generally believed DeLaughter had killed Davis.
But Davis was not dead. In 1970, he testified in federal court about the beating. DeLaughter, Fuller and Drane were all found guilty in a jury trial.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|