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|A drowning, a kiss triggered Joseph Edwards murder|
James Buford Goss was calm by the time he talked to Vidalia's police chief at the old Concordia Parish Courthouse on the morning of Friday, July 10, 1964. He had been furious the night before.
Goss told the chief that Joseph "Joe-Ed" Edwards, a black porter at the Shamrock Motel, had assaulted his close friend Iona Perry, a 22-year-old white woman who worked as a registration clerk at the motel. He said Edwards had grabbed the arms of Perry, who suffered from a crippling disease, and kissed her against her will.
Goss said that when he checked into the Shamrock the night before, Perry began to cry and told him what had happened. She begged him not to tell anyone, and Goss had no intention of telling a soul. He planned to take matters into his own hands and give Edwards a beating. But unable to locate Edwards, his anger had dissolved somewhat by the next morning and he determined that rather than take the law into his own hands, he should report the matter to police.
Chances are Goss, who was 44, would have done some damage had he found Edwards. He had a massive frame, standing 6 ft-6 in., and weighing 265 pounds. He towered over Edwards who was a foot shorter and 105 pounds lighter.
Goss was a Louisiana Probation Officer, and was known as an outgoing man who never met a stranger, according to his daughter, Kay Goss of Shreveport. Joseph Edwards, according to family and friends, had an outgoing personality, too, liked to have fun, enjoyed gambling and loved being with women.
Two days after the alleged kiss, Joseph Edwards disappeared and hasn't been seen in 46 years. The FBI initially considered Goss a prime suspect but that would change. In time, local police and the Ku Klux Klan seemed the likely culprits, according to FBI documents.
Goss told the FBI that when he filed his complaint to Vidalia Police Chief Bud Spinks at the courthouse, that some Concordia Parish sheriff's deputies and the sheriff were at the courthouse then, too. Two of the deputies -- Bill Ogden and Frank DeLaughter, who later became two of the FBI's prime suspects -- would blame the murder of Edwards on Goss.
Until he died 11 months ago in June 2009 at the age of 89, James Buford Goss cursed the names of Ogden and DeLaughter. Goss' daughter, Kay, said when her dying father thought of the deputies he would speak two words: "Those bastards."
Iona Perry, who is married and has a different last name today, declined to talk about Joseph Edwards with The Sentinel. She is presently undergoing medical treatment in South Louisiana, according to her husband.
"She said she told what she knew back then," her husband told The Sentinel. "Whatever she said then is all she knows."
Goss, according to FBI records and a three-year Sentinel investigation, may have unwittingly filed his complaint a few days after law enforcement officials in the parish learned that Edwards may have secretly been seeing a white woman at the Shamrock. In 1964 Concordia, that made Joseph Edwards a problem.
Three years later, James Goss described to the FBI the events which led to his complaint about Edwards to the Vidalia police chief. The FBI, records show, would find plenty of suspects and would conclude that Edwards was abducted and murdered in a local Klan/law enforcement action. What put Edwards on the police and the Klan's radar, however, was not the unsolicited kiss he allegedly gave Iona Perry, but it was the death of a four-year-old boy in the Shamrock swimming pool just days earlier. The boy was the son of the white woman with whom Edwards was allegedly involved.
The story of Joseph Edwards murder is found in FBI documents in the case file of Wharlest Jackson, who was killed in a carbombing in Natchez in 1967. The file -- known as WHARBOM -- was obtained by The Sentinel and the Syracuse College of Law Cold Case Justice Initiative through the Freedom of Information Act.
The Sentinel has been investigating the Edwards murder for the past three years and during the past months has located several people with information that appears to be pertinent. They include Iona Perry, the Shamrock clerk; Kay Goss, the daughter of James Goss; a commercial fishermen who retrieved what was believed to be part of the remains of Edwards out of a Concordia lake, and a former Catahoula Parish deputy who saw those remains and put them into storage.
The Edwards murder was not on the list of unsolved Civil Rights-era murders the FBI announced it was reviewing three years ago. One that was on the list and that has been reopened is the murder of Frank Morris of Ferriday, who died four days after the arson of his shoe shop in December 1964. Morris' murder came six months after Edwards' disappearance.
Whether the FBI is investigating Edwards' murder is unclear. When asked about that on Monday, Cynthia Deitle, the FBI's Civil Rights Unit Chief, said she had "no comment."
Joseph Edwards was a man, friends and family recall, who loved life and was always on the move. Cousin Hattie Thompson Bethley of Clayton remembers him always being "jolly, joking all the time. He liked to play, he put his clothes in the cleaners, dressed nice and liked nice things."
Cousin Carl Ray Thompson, who said he and Edwards became best friends when they were children, grew up together in Sibley, Miss., attended school together and "stayed together."
Edwards' sister, Julia Dobbins of Bridge City, La., said her brother enjoyed gambling and "was always carrying on."
Many friends of Edwards told The Sentinel that Edwards like to flirt with women and during his brief employment at the Shamrock began spending a lot of time with a white woman. These friends say they warned him of the dangers during the tumultuous times of 1964 when black men were being kidnapped, beaten and murdered by Klansmen, but they said Edwards appeared unfazed by their warnings.
Edwards, as it turns out, could not have been at a worse place at a worse time. At the very same time Edwards was working at the Shamrock, a violent Klan cell known as the Silver Dollar Group (SDG) was organizing at the Shamrock cafe, according to FBI records. Earcel "Sonny" Boyd Jr. of Portland, Ore., who says his father was a member of the Silver Dollar Group, has told The Sentinel that he ate a hamburger at the Shamrock cafe in April 1964 and visited with Joseph Edwards while Boyd's father and other Silver Dollar Klansmen met in an adjoining room.
In 1967, when the FBI began a probe into Edwards' disappearance, documents show that employees at the Shamrock said Edwards was involved in some questionable activities. One male employee told agents that Edwards was prostituting black women to white male guests of the Shamrock. The employee said Edwards told him he was earning a $5 tip for every trick.
At a time when blacks were denied access to public places and public facilities, the employee told agents that the black prostitutes gained access to the motel from a side street and that Edwards had a pass key that he secretly used to unlock empty guest rooms for this activity.
This worker and a female employee said Edwards was also pimping white women for Nellie Jackson, the black madam who for decades operated a legendary brothel on Rankin Street in Natchez called "Nellie's."
Yet Edwards' alleged involvement in prostitution and with a white woman came into clearer view on June 27, 1964, when a four-year-old white child named David Anthony Dodd drowned in the Shamrock pool. The Concordia Sentinel reported in its July 3, 1964, edition that the child's mother, identified as Mrs. Herbert Rushing of Yuma, Ariz., along with her husband, the child's step-father, were guests at the motel when the four-year-old's body was discovered in the pool.
While the boy's body was being transported across the Mississippi River Bridge from Vidalia to Natchez, Adams County Sheriff Odell Anders told the paper that the "child's eyes opened" on the Mississippi side of the bridge, giving Adams County authorities jurisdiction in the child's death. The child never regained consciousness and died. A coroner's inquest determined that David Anthony Dodd died of an accidental drowning.
But in 1967, when the FBI was taking a closer look at Edwards' disappearance, agents learned more about the drowning. Documents show that Mrs. Herbert Rushing, the child's mother, told agents that her husband, the child's step-father, "had made several prostitution dates for her through" Joseph Edwards at the Shamrock.
Nellie Jackson, the brothel owner in Natchez, told agents that although she didn't know Edwards, she did know Mrs. Rushing and that Mrs. Rushing told her that Edwards had attempted to save the child but almost drowned himself and she (Mrs. Rushing) had to save Edwards. Jackson told agents that Mrs. Rushing told her that she "deeply appreciated" Edwards' attempt to save her little boy, that she had attended school with black students and that she "did not think Negroes inferior."
Retired FBI agent Billy Bob Williams of Portland, Ore., who worked in Natchez in the mid-1960s, told The Sentinel that "word filtered back (from informants) that Edwards had been with a white prostitute at the time her child had drowned at the Shamrock pool. We learned that the Klan had found out about it and that they got him later." In the crowd gathering around the swimming pool at the Shamrock as the mother awaited the Foster Funeral Home ambulance was deputy Bill Ogden, according to documents, who later told agents that was the day he became acquainted with Joseph Edwards.
On Saturday, July 4, 1964, just a week after the pool incident and two days after President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Edwards joined family members in Clayton at the home of his grandparents to celebrate the holiday. His sister, Julia, said that was the last time she saw her brother.
Five days later on Thursday, July 10, James Goss checked into the Shamrock where Iona Perry, the clerk, told him about being kissed by Edwards. For the next 45 years that incident and the events it triggered haunted him.
During the last two years of his life, Kay Goss said she and her father spent hours together and he often talked about Concordia Parish. "My dad said the deputies tried to pin Joseph Edwards' death on him and that the FBI hounded him over this," Kay Goss told The Sentinel in a series of interviews during the past months.
"My daddy would make friends with anybody," she said. "He liked to talk and he had a big heart for people. He told me that when he started staying at the Shamrock that he met this crippled girl who was a registration clerk. He said she was very pretty that he admired her for working and not letting her handicap get her down."
In FBI records, Iona Perry, the clerk, told agents she had been using braces and crutches since she was 11 years old. She began work as a clerk and telephone switchboard operator at the Shamrock in 1964.
FBI records show that James Goss told agents that he liked Perry immediately: "I was first attracted by her courage and her determination to work and earn her own way." The two, he said, grew close.
Goss said when he checked in at the Shamrock on Thursday, July 9, 1964, that Perry started to cry. She told him, Goss said, that Edwards had "grabbed her arms and kissed her on the lips."
Iona Perry told agents in 1967 that Edwards may have gotten the wrong impression when the two had a conversation a few days earlier in 1964. She said Edwards told her he dated white women and asked her if she would date a black man. Perry told agents that although she would not date a black man she told Edwards that she "didn't know" whether she would or not.
She said later that Edwards "got fresh" and kissed her. She said she quickly rebuffed his advances and Edwards begged her not to tell anyone.
Goss told agents in 1967 that he was furious at Edwards over the matter, that he drove Perry to her apartment in Natchez around 10:30 p.m. and returned to the Shamrock looking for Edwards, but learned that he had left moments earlier. "I was very mad at Edwards for his insult to Iona and if I would have found him that night I would have beat him with my hands," he said in his statement to the FBI. But, he said, "I would not have killed him."
At the courthouse in Vidalia the next day, Friday, July 10, 1964, Goss filed a complaint against Edwards with Vidalia police chief Bud Spinks. "Spinks said he would look into it," Goss said in his statement to the FBI. Goss said he left Vidalia at 2:30 p.m. and spent the weekend at his parents home in Ruston, La.
Either that day or the next, records show, Spinks and Natchez policeman J.G. Wisner visited Perry at a rooming house in Natchez. Perry said that when she refused to press charges against Edwards, Spinks told her "Edwards would be taken care of."
A key FBI informant and high-ranking Klansman, E.D. Morace of Ferriday, later told the bureau that Spinks went to Vidalia Klansman Raleigh Jackson "Red" Glover, and told him "something had to be done about Edwards."
Glover, according to FBI documents, was a regular at the Shamrock cafe and was head of the Silver Dollar Group. Glover was well known for his hatred of blacks, records show, and had been involved in violence against blacks in the previous months.
FBI documents show that during the early morning hours of July 12, 1964 -- two days after Goss complained to Vidalia Police Chief Bud Spinks -- a witness observed Edwards' green and white Buick on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. being pulled over by an unmarked white 1964 Oldsmobile sedan with "a flashing red light" on the dash and "two short wave antennae on the trunk." The witness said he saw "a large white male" in the driver's seat of the white Olds and "one or two men standing near the driver's door of the Buick."
At that moment, future stories on this case will show, Joseph Edwards was in the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.
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