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|James Ford Seale convicted; his Concordia Parish past|
The man convicted June 14, 2007, with the 1964 deaths of two 19-year-old men in Mississippi was employed as a policeman by the Town of Vidalia in the 1970s and was also involved in two plane crashes during that decade, one of which was the deadliest in Concordia's history.
James Ford Seale, 71, piloted a plane that collided with another in 1970 at the Concordia Parish Airport resulting in the deaths of five people, including a prominent doctor. Seale was the lone survivor and only eyewitness to that crash. Two years later, a crop duster Seale was piloting crashed on Ballina Plantation near Ferriday.
Seale was indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this year with two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy related to his role in the abductions and slayings of two African American men in 1964 in Mississippi — Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charlie Eddie Moore, both 19 years old at the time.
Former Louisiana State Trooper Johnny Blunschi of Ferriday said he remembered when Seale served as a police officer in Vidalia. Blunschi was also on the scene following the two plane crashes involving Seale.
"We knew each other," Blunschi said of Seale. "All police officers know each other." But Blunschi said he never worked a case with Seale nor knew anything about Seale's work as a policeman.
Captain Frank Webb of the Vidalia Police Department said he remembered when Seale worked as a police officer in Vidalia.
"I was working in Ferriday at the time," Webb said. "I was acquainted with him. I knew who he was, but didn't know a lot about him." Webb said he never worked with Seale.
"I came on as an alderman in 1976," Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland said Tuesday. "I did not know the man (Seale) nor know of him." But Copeland said he understood that Seale was a policeman in Vidalia in 1975 and that Seale lived briefly on Peach Street.
In September 1975, a former Vidalia city judge was convicted of DWI in Seventh District Court in part on testimony given by Seale, who as a Vidalia policeman arrested the judge. According to an account of the judge's trial in the Concordia Sentinel in 1975, Seale testified that he was parked in his patrol car along Hwy. 84 at the old Shamrock Motel, now the Budget Inn, before the arrest was made.
Five years earlier on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 1970, Seale was the lone survivor of the parish's deadliest air disaster ever, a two-plane crash that Seale later told The Sentinel could have been avoided if the Concordia Parish Airport near Vidalia had a control tower. Seale's life was spared, according to the paper, "when his single-engine Cessna miraculously landed on the airstrip at the Concordia airport after colliding with a twin-engine Bonanza" with five people aboard, all of whom perished.
"It just wasn't my time to go," Seale told The Sentinel in an interview just a few days after the deadly crash. According to The Sentinel article, Seale was hospitalized briefly in a state of shock after the crash which claimed the lives of Dr. Charles Colvin, 42, Ferriday; Chris Cumbus, Natchez, who was the pilot of the Bonanza; Steve DuCrest, 31, St. Joseph; Linda McClendon, 24, Montgomery, AL; and her cousin, Barbara Ann Coggins, 30, Bessermar, AL.
Cumbus was flying the men to Texas to deer hunt, and then he was to fly the women to Montgomery, AL.
The Sentinel story notes: "Seale is the only known eye-witness to the crash." Seale was taking off in his plane at 7 a.m. heading toward the Mississippi River when he crashed into the other plane that was coming from the opposite end of the airstrip on a foggy morning. Seale said he had just lifted off when he spotted the Bonanza "about 20 to 25 feet from me coming straight head-on toward me and when I saw it I immediately pushed my controls forward to a dive, but it was not in time to avoid the collision." He said: "Just what collided with what, I can't say for sure. I would have been under the right wing of the twin, but I could not tell for certain that the twin was in level flight or descending or for that matter, whether or not the twin was in a return or not."
Seale said the collision clipped his plane's left wing. He said he initially thought there was nothing "wrong without the Bonanza," but it later went down near the airport.
Blunschi, the former State Trooper who is also a pilot, said he drove a fire truck to the crash scene minutes later.
The Bonanza belonged to the late Fred Schiele, who later was elected sheriff. Schiele said he loaned the plane to Colvin. Scheile said the Colvin group had left the airport early in the morning and a short time later returned. "Why? I don't know," he said.
Seale was taken to Jeff Davis Hospital in Natchez, now known as Natchez Regional, and released later in the day. He said he was en route in his plane from Vidalia to Lake Mary near Woodville, MS, "to pick up a farmer to take him over into the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River to check on some cotton pickers he had running over there."
Two years after the fatal two-plane crash at Vidalia, Seale was piloting a cropduster that crashed in a soybean field on Ballina Plantation on Saturday, June 24, 1972 in which he suffered a broken wrist, cuts and bruises. Seale said a strong wind forced a wing to dip downward causing the crash.
Blunschi arrived on the scene shortly after the crash.
"He was lucky to have walked away from that crash," Blunschi said of Seale, noting that the plane went down nose first.
The guilty verdict against Seale, who the prosecution said was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, indicated they were convinced that Seale conspired with others to abduct, interrogate, beat and murder Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charlie Eddie Moore, both 19 years old at the time. Seale and his co-conspirators allegedly believed that Dee might have had knowledge about African Americans importing firearms to Franklin County.
According to the indictment, on May 2, 1964, Seale and his accomplices abducted Dee and Moore and drove the men into the Homochitto National Forest in Franklin County, MS, where the Klansmen beat the victims and interrogated them at gunpoint. Seale and the other Klansmen then allegedly bound the two men with duct tape.
The Klansmen allegedly then drove the victims to Parker's Landing in Warren County, MS., on a route that took them through Louisiana. Once at Parker's Landing, the Klansmen secured Dee to an engine block and threw him into the Old Mississippi River, drowning him. The Klansmen next secured iron weights to Moore, and also threw him into the water.
Several months after the kidnappings and murders, divers recovered from the river the badly decomposed remains of the two young men. No one has ever been prosecuted for the murders of Dee and Moore.
Seale pled not guilty in the case.
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