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|Retired FBI agents unsure who killed Morris, Edwards|
Five retired FBI agents -- four who worked in Concordia and one who worked in Natchez in the 1960s -- say they are unsure who killed Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris or Vidalia motel employee Joseph "JoeEd" Edwards four decades ago.
But all agree that the Ku Klux Klan was involved and that there were several suspects.
The identities of the murderers of the two men remain illusive today, although for the past two years the FBI has been re-investigating the Morris murder.
A two and one-half year Sentinel probe has revealed -- through witness interviews and FBI documents -- that Edwards, 25, was kidnapped on the side of the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. in July 1964 and later tortured and murdered. Evidence also indicates his body, though technically never discovered, was dumped into a body of water.
Various witnesses speculate that the dump site could have been one of several places -- the Blue Hole near Lake St. John, Old River at Deer Park or Old River near Lake St. John, a bar pit along the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. or the Mississippi River. The FBI believed human flesh found in an ice box by a commercial fishermen in Old River at Deer Park in 1964 was part of Edwards' remains.
Six months after Edwards disappeared, Morris, 51, died after the arson of his shoe shop in Ferriday on Dec. 10, 1964.
Four of the retired agents who discussed the cases with The Sentinel are ex-Marines, one a Navy veteran. All were involved in Klan investigations in the Concordia-Natchez area during the mid-1960s.
Paul Lancaster, the Navy veteran, is now 78 and lives in Baton Rouge. A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Lancaster was the resident agent in Alexandria in 1964 and recorded two lengthy interviews with Frank Morris in the Concordia Parish Hospital in the hours before Morris died. He said although Morris saw his attackers, he did not identify them. Lancaster said he is unsure if Morris knew the men by name.
Billy Bob Williams, 74, a native of New Mexico who now lives in Portland, Ore., became an FBI agent in 1962 and was assigned as a resident agent in Natchez in July 1964 during the height of the Civil Rights-era.
"One day this black woman (Bernice Conner) came in to the RA (Resident Agency) in Natchez and she was in tears," said Williams. "She said the Klan had gotten her son (Edwards), said the family had been looking for him but couldn't find him. She said he was going to work at the motel (Shamrock) in Vidalia but didn't get there. She said his car was found on the highway between Ferriday and Vidalia and I believe she said the driver's door was open.
"Klan informants said the Shamrock had a good-sized prostitution operation going on there. We learned that the child of a white prostitute drowned in the pool at the motel and the word was that Edwards was with the prostitute and the Klan found out. We were told that he had been taken to a remote area, to a Klan torture house and skinned alive, and his body disposed of in the river."
Other witnesses have provided other scenarios for Edwards' disappearance, but all point to the likelihood that the motive for Edwards' murder was the belief that he was dating a white woman or propositioned a white woman.
Don McGorty, 72, was a collegiate basketball player, a captain in the Marine Corps and arrived in Ferriday in 1964. Assigned to the New Orleans' FBI office, he was sent to work with Lancaster out of the smaller office in Alexandria. McGorty was responsible for the territory east of Alexandria to Vidalia and investigated the Morris murder.
"One of the beliefs about Morris' murder was that the men who did it came across the river from Natchez," he said, adding that there was little doubt that the Klan was responsible.
In 1966, McGorty was reassigned to New York City and two new agents arrived in Ferriday having been directed by the FBI to plant their feet in Concordia and advise everyone that they were here to clean up the criminal activity.
Theodore Gardner, 71, and John Pfeifer, 77, soon became familiar faces. Gardner moved on after six months, later becoming assistant agent-in-charge in New Orleans and agent-in-charge in Portland, Ore. He later retired from the FBI and went to work for Jack Valenti as head of the anti-piracy division of the Motion Picture Association of America.
Gardner said Concordia Parish Sheriff's Office deputy Frank DeLaughter often tried to intimidate FBI agents.
"He was always trying to do something behind our backs," Gardner said. A known Klansman, DeLaughter was also an imposing figure at 6-4, 250-plus pounds.
Gardner said DeLaughter would posed as a State Trooper and "make phone calls to the spouses of FBI agents saying that their husbands had been taken to the emergency room of the hospital."
Pfeifer, meanwhile, spent 12 years in Concordia and is still remembered today for his lengthy investigation into the Morville Lounge, a gambling and prostitution establishment at Deer Park. Pfeifer's probe resulted in the arrests and convictions of a number of men, including DeLaughter.
Considering the Morris case, he says, "There were two motives -- that he (Morris) was smuggling dope and 'uppity' with white women." Other motives being viewed today by the FBI are that Morris was allowing interracial sexual liaisons and prostitution to take place in the back room of his shoe shop, that he had offended DeLaughter, another white man or a white woman, or that he was simply too successful with his thriving shoe repair and dry goods business that catered to both black and white clientele at the height of the Civil Rights movement.
Pfeifer's sense of humor belies the tense times he endured as a resident agent. He recalled an incident at the Morville Lounge which occurred when the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights-movement and riots in major cities were causing upheaval coast-to-coast.
"The Klan has decided to stand up for white womanhood when they heard this terrible rumor that a black prostitute was working at the Morville Lounge," said Pfeifer. "They decided to take action by raiding or burning it down. After they arrived, those inside the lounge heard a ruckus going on. Outside they saw a cross being burned and guys running around in bed sheets. Those inside got out their shotguns but nothing happened" and a potential confrontation fizzled.
But the event was significant said Pfeifer: "It was the first anti-whore protest in Concordia Parish."
(Stanley Nelson can be reached at email@example.com)
|Frank Morris Murder Series|