Are you for armed guards at schools?|
|A criminal network may have enabled Morris' killers|
In Concordia in the 1960s, no statement better reveals the state of justice in the parish than one written by the late publisher of this newspaper in a March 1967 front page story.
The story was about a Bossier City man who had been found guilty of simple burglary in Seventh Judicial District Court in Vidalia.
The revealing statement written by Sam Hanna was that the Bossier City man's conviction came during Concordia Parish's "first jury trial in over 10 years."
In the months following the murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris, times here were changing in a sweeping fashion. While the federal government was busy searching for Morris' killers, FBI agents were turning up much information on the problems of gambling and prostitution that a loose network of criminals was promoting locally. And the feds were finding that a handful of men who wore badges were enabling these criminal enterprises.
Hanna, who had owned The Concordia Sentinel for only about 15 months in March 1967, was turning out story after story on crime in the parish. He had much to write about because there was a new District Attorney (William "W.C." Falkenheiner) in office, a World War II veteran who was on a mission to clean up Concordia.
That first jury trial Hanna wrote about followed a story he'd written two months earlier in the Jan. 5, 1967, edition of The Sentinel.
The story began this way: "Dist. Atty. William C. Falkenheiner filed a padlock suit Tuesday to close the Morville Bar in a move to stamp out prostitution in Concordia Parish.
"Falkenheiner's move came less than a month after he was sworn into office after campaigning on an anti-vice campaign last fall."
In the suit, Hanna wrote that Falkenheiner said the Morville Bar was located on property where "for a period of several years prostitution has been carried on, conducted, continued and permitted on the said premises..." owned by several defendants.
Slot machines were in just about every bar in the parish, black-owned and white-owned. From Vidalia to Ferriday the roadside was populated by bars, Shootings were common. Gambling, prostitution and fighting were as common as church on Sunday morning.
People died on a regular basis.
Near Frank's Shoe Shop in Ferriday was Haney's Big House. As bluesmen rocked Will Haney's joint on weekends, others played the slots and gamblers from as far away as Memphis played poker in matches that lasted for days.
In this "wide open" atmosphere of Concordia, criminal enterprises flourished and enjoyed protection from certain men who worked for law enforcement.
It was this climate, coupled with Ku Klux Klan activities, that drew the FBI from across the river in Natchez where agents had been for a number of months. There, the Ku Klux Klan and the FBI were at war. In fact, the FBI actually had an office in Natchez for a period of time.
When two white men set Frank Morris' shoe shop on fire during the early morning hours of Dec. 10, 1964, the bureau wasted little time in sending several agents to town. The bureau's Jackson and New Orleans division headquarters were already connecting the dots between the Ku Klux Klan and law enforcement.
For whatever reason Morris was attacked, the FBI knew to look at the usual suspects, some of whom wore badges and had long been on the FBI's radar screen.
As Hanna began to write about Falkenheiner's crusade against this criminal element in Concordia, Clyde Ray Webber began a huge task of cleaning up a mess in the Clerk of Court's office. Webber was appointed as clerk by Gov. John McKeithen. The clerk's office was in shambles, records were in disarray and some couldn't be found.
Hanna, Falkenheiner and Webber, coupled with the FBI and State Police investigations, made a difference in the future of Concordia. Properly recorded documents in the clerk's office, an energized District Attorney's office and a newspaper man reporting on a DA's fight against crime were part of the change. A well-organized effort by ministers to fight these problems helped win public support and encouraged reluctant witnesses who otherwise would have refused to cooperate.
For more than 10 years, FBI agents openly and secretly made Concordia Parish a second home. As all of the events circulated, blacks were making a concerted effort for civil rights. It was a time of new direction.
On Sept. 18, 1967, three candidates challenging the incumbent sheriff turned out for a debate as the tide began to turn. From the audience, this question was asked: "If you have a deputy who becomes notorious for misconduct, what will you do?"
Although the deputy was not named, not a person at the meeting had any trouble identifying that man. Many older parish residents can name him today and a couple of others, too, who could carry the description of "notorious."
On Oct. 18, 1967, Falkenheiner prepared to bring the Grand Jury into session to continue his investigation into crime, prostitution and gambling. Among the witnesses to be called was a representative of Life Magazine who was subpoenaed to produce evidence reported by that publication that Carlos Marcello-controlled crime existed in the parish.
Marcello was long reputed to be the crime boss of New Orleans. It was believed that the magazine's report was based on State Police raids conducted in Concordia in 1966 when arrests were made for prostitution, pandering and gambling.
At one point in the 1960s, slot machines were destroyed by the State Police and dumped into the Mississippi River.
These local and state efforts, coupled with an FBI presence, chipped away at this organized criminal influence. But for reasons not clear, federal agents never arrested anyone for the murder of Frank Morris.
Now they are back at it. And although there has been a four-decade lull in the investigation, the FBI has more tools, more forensic abilities, better communications and witnesses who may be more forthcoming. But it's a race against time. Morris' killers are aging if they are still alive at all.
Those men who operated in the shadows of Concordia, are once again being sought. As are those who may have enabled their evil deed.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|