Whatever happened to Joseph Edwards? Was he Silver Dollar Group target?
by Stanley Nelson - posted Thursday, December 13th, 2007 @ 8:19 am
Six months before Frank Morris was murdered in Ferriday in December 1964, a two-toned blue and beige 1958 Buick was found abandoned on Hwy. 84 between Ferriday and Vidalia.
The owner of the vehicle was 21-year-old Joseph Edwards of Clayton. A co-worker was the last person to see Edwards alive. He hasn't been seen since.
Edwards, known as "Joe-Ed" to his friends, and Morris, the 51-year-old shoe shop owner from Ferriday, may have drawn the ire of a group of Klansmen who often met at the Shamrock Motel cafe in Vidalia. Each man's rumored association with white women may have marked them both.
Shortly before Morris was murdered in Ferriday in December 1964, investigators with the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol and an FBI agent were searching for Joe-Ed Edwards. The investigators were contacted after Edwards' mother told the FBI that she was certain her son was in trouble and feared he was dead.
Bernice Conner was 52 in October 1964, lived in Natchez and said she hadn't seen her son in four months. Joe-Ed lived most of the time with his grandparents, Jake and Mary King, who resided along Hwy. 900 between Clayton and Lake Concordia.
The grandparents didn't know where Edwards was either. Edwards' girlfriend, Olga "Algueree" Taylor, hadn't seen her boyfriend since July. All were frantic with worry.
Edwards vanished on Sunday, July 12, 1964, and was last seen at his job as a porter at the Shamrock Motel, where in the late fall of 1964, a group of Klansmen may have planned the murder of Morris. About a week after Edwards was reported missing, his 1958 Buick mysteriously turned up along Hwy. 84 near the bowling alley, the site today of Ray Cater's business.
Morris' shoe shop may have been set on fire six months later, according to FBI documents, because he was believed to have taken white women into his small bedroom in the back of his shoe shop located at 415 Fourth Street (Hwy. 84) in Ferriday. Witnesses interviewed by the FBI also said that Morris was rumored to have allowed white men and black women, and black men and white women, to use his back room for sexual liaisons.
These activities would have been more than enough to get a black man killed in Concordia Parish in 1964. And, says the first cousin of Joe-Ed, it may have been the reason Edwards turned up missing and has not been seen for 43 years.
In fact, Carl Ray Thompson of Clayton believes that Edwards' body may have been dumped not too far from where his car was found abandoned along Hwy. 84.
As boys growing up in Sibley, Miss., Thompson and Joe-Ed were close, spent the night with one another often and were inseparable. Thompson's family moved to Concordia Parish in 1954.
John Herbers, a reporter for The New York Times, visited Ferriday in December 1964, to write about the death of Frank Morris and the arson of his shoe shop. In his story -- which appeared in the paper's Christmas Eve edition of The Times -- Herbers reported that "a 21 year old Negro employee at a Vidalia motel, Joseph Edwards, vanished in July and is still missing. His car was found abandoned in Ferriday."
Herbers is now retired and lives in Bethesda, MD. He told The Sentinel that he remembered little about the Edwards' case but that it was being talked about when he was in Ferriday in December 1964.
Herbers also wrote in the article that "Concordia Parish has had some racial incidents in recent months but they attracted little attention" because Natchez and southwest Mississippi were a hotbed of Klan activity. Don Whitehead wrote in his 1970 book on Klan violence in Mississippi that Morris' murder was planned over coffee at the Vidalia Shamrock by Klansmen who were angry that Klan leaders had called for a 90-day moratorium on violence.
Whitehead said a half dozen of these men formed the Silver Dollar Group, made up of men who were not afraid of the FBI nor of burning churches, and beating and killing black people. Each man in the Silver Dollar Group, which may have eventually numbered 20, carried a silver dollar minted in the year he was born. Members, sources told Whitehead, took great pride in believing they were the meanest Klansmen in all of Mississippi and Louisiana.
Is it possible that these men, before they formed the Silver Dollar Group, had already killed and disposed of Joseph Edwards because he may have been seeing white women?
Carl Ray Thompson definitely believes his first cousin Joe-Ed Edwards went missing because of his affairs with white women. Thompson, 68, doesn't know about Morris, however.
According to Professor Paula C. Johnson of Syracuse University College of Law, the "suggestion that Frank Morris was killed due to liaisons with white women must be viewed with great skepticism."
Johnson is supervising law students researching the murder of Morris. She added,"The Klan routinely used ruses such as rumors of interracial sexual relations as a basis to escalate the violence against black men. Even if the Klan members believed these rumors with respect to Joseph Edwards or Frank Morris it reeks of a racist rationalization for killing a human being."
The disappearance of his first cousin has haunted Thompson throughout his life.
"Joe-Ed told me he had many close escapes" while working at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia, says Thompson. "I begged him to quit that job. To be frank, Joe was fooling with them white women in Vidalia while he was working at that motel."
Not long before he vanished, Edwards told Thompson, "There are some men that want to put me away."
"He was a porter and had a key to the rooms," said Thompson. "A white man busted into the room and caught him with a white woman. He said there were some men who wanted to kill him right then but the white woman said she would tell if they hurt him."
This situation frightened Thompson so much that he "quit going anywhere with Joe-Ed. I begged him to stop doing that and to quit that job."
Documents obtained by The Sentinel reveal that an unidentified black woman who worked in the kitchen at the Shamrock in 1964 may have been the last person to see Edwards alive.
Bernice Conner told authorities that the owner of the Gulf Oil Station on Hwy. 84 in Ferriday towed her son's vehicle to a location not identified in the report. Investigators also learned that the vehicle had been purchased from Perkins Auto Company in Vidalia.
Thompson said Joseph Edwards had been employed as a porter at the Shamrock for more than two years when he seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. But, in a harrowing experience around the time Joe-Ed's car was found, Thompson feared his own life was in danger.
Thompson was arrested in Clayton for theft, a crime he said he did not commit. He said three friends of his told him they planned to break into a store, which they did shortly afterward.
"I saw them later with ice cream walking to the Tensas River to go swimming," said Thompson, who said he refused their offer to share their stolen bounty.
Later, Thompson, along with the three young men, was taken to the Ferriday city jail. Long ago closed, but still standing between The Sentinel office and the Ferriday Fire Department on Tennessee Street, the facility houses two large jail cells -- each about 13 ft. x 15 ft. -- and four small cells, each measuring about 10 ft. x 10 ft.
In a small front room near the entrance to the building, said Thompson, Concordia Parish Sheriff's Office deputies Frank Delaughter and Bill Ogden beat his three companions throughout the night. Both former deputies are dead.
Each man, said Thompson, was separately taken from a jail cell to the front room, forced to straddle a chair backwards with his hands cuffed around the back frame. Each was required to lower his head over the back of the chair with his chin resting just above the top of the back frame.
Once positioned, each was beaten with a strip of fire hose for an hour or longer. All three, said Thompson, screamed so loudly that their voices reminded him of "pigs squealing."
Thompson said Ogden accused him of organizing the break-in.
"You're the head of it," Ogden told him..
As Thompson listened to the screams of each man, he said he came close to passing out when he was taken to the chair.
Delaughter, a towering man who was said to have weighed 300 pounds, leaned down so close that cigarette smoke from his mouth drifted into Thompson's face.
"He accused me of breaking in the store, but I said 'Mr. Frank, I know you're going to beat me but I didn't break in that store,'" said Thompson.
For some reason, Thompson wasn't beaten.
The next day all four young men were forced into the back seat of the deputy's car and driven to the parish jail in the old courthouse at Vidalia. When they passed the bowling alley where Joe-Ed's car had only recently been found, Thompson said Delaughter asked if anyone was related to Joseph Edwards. One of the young men pointed to Thompson.
Delaughter eyed Thompson through the rear view mirror and indicated that Thompson and the others might face a similar fate as Joe-Ed.
"That's what we understood," said Thompson.
Delaughter said if anybody talked he'd "teach us all a lesson."
Thompson learned later that his father had gone to visit Joe Pasternack Sr. at his hardware store in Ferriday. There, George Thompson told Pasternack of his son's plight.
Pasternack picked up the phone and called the sheriff's office, asking why Thompson was being booked into the parish jail.
"My daddy heard Mr. Pasternack say, "You got nothing on that kid. He better be back in Ferriday in an hour.'"
Thompson said he was surprised to see deputy Bill Ogden come to his cell and unlock the door.
"He told me 'you better hit the stairs running,'" said Thompson. "And I did. I left Vidalia running."
But before he got far, a sheriff's deputy -- a black man whose name Thompson can't remember -- picked him up in a police cruiser and delivered him safely to Ferriday.
Not long after Edwards' car was found, Thompson heard that "Joe-Ed's body was put in that hole near the bowling alley."
That hole was a bar pit dug to provide dirt fill for construction on the Ferriday-Vidalia highway during the late 1940s or early 1950s. Soon it filled with water and became a fishing hole, known to some as "the blue hole," said Thompson.
He said junk and other debris were later thrown into the hole over time. Two or three other bar pits were also dug in that area. Some have been filled in.
Thompson said the police chief in Clayton told him around the time Joe-Ed's car was found that Edwards was "being held hostage in Mississippi."
But that didn't seem likely, said Thompson.
He was told that a necktie arranged in the form of a noose was found on the steering wheel of Edwards' abandoned Buick