Emergency room nurse said Frank Morris 'smelled like gasoline'
by Stanley Nelson - posted Thursday, April 24th, 2008 @ 8:17 am
Frank Morris "smelled like gasoline," said the emergency room nurse when interviewed by the FBI.
The nurse, who isn't identified in redacted FBI documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, said she asked Morris what happened to him during the early morning hours of Dec. 10, 1964.
He answered: "I have been burned. I think someone threw something in my shop and blowed it up."
Just moments earlier, Morris, dressed in an undershirt and boxer shorts, was in bed in the back room of his shoe shop at 415 South First Street (Hwy. 84) in Ferriday when he heard the sound of breaking glass. When investigating the sound, he confronted two men outside the front of his store -- one with a single-barrel shotgun, the other with a can of fuel, possibly gasoline or some other highly-flammable chemical. One of the men threw a match igniting an inferno.
The men, possibly accompanied by others, fled as Morris made his way through the shoe shop out a back door. Witness said he was in flames.
Ferriday police officers George Sewell and Timmy Lofton drove by just as Morris emerged from the shop. The two officers transported Morris to Concordia Parish Hospital.
"We got there fast," said Sewell. "I hit the pedal."
Sewell, 66, recalled recently that when he first saw the shoe shop in flames that there was debris in the street, including glass and pieces of cinder blocks.
"It looked like the building blew up like a bomb," said Sewell.
Morris was escorted inside the emergency room, and the two officers quickly returned to Morris' shop where fire department personnel and a crowd of onlookers had assembled.
The emergency room nurse working the 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. period said she recognized Morris because he was the "local shoe repairman."
Morris was completely nude and "burned from the top of his head to his toes."
When the doctor Morris requested couldn't be reached, the nurse contacted Dr. Charles Colvin, who was 36 years old at the time. As she awaited Colvin's arrival, she said Morris, who was 51, complained that he was cold.
Because "the nerve endings had been burned," she said he probably didn't feel much pain but was chilled after coming in from the cold December night.
Morris, she said, followed her directions "without any apparent difficulty." She noted that the tip of one of his fingers was missing, "but the bone was there." A missing piece of a finger found near the shop after the fire was collected by the FBI and sent to the agency's lab in Washington, D.C., where it was identified as belonging to a black man.
"He was burned so badly," Maxine Hawkins, one of the nurse's who attended Morris, told The Sentinel a few months ago. "It was pitiful. He was burned all over his body."
Hawkins, 88, was one of two nurses who recalled Morris' four-day stay at the hospital.
Another nurse, Rosemary Edwards, also expressed vague memories of Morris' stay at the facility.
"I can remember how badly he was burned," she said. "You couldn't recognized him it was so bad."
Sometime after 1:30 a.m. on that cold December morning, Dr. Colvin received a call from the hospital reporting Morris' condition. He dressed and raced to the facility where he found Morris laying on an examination table covered by a sheet.
Colvin said 100 percent of Morris' body was covered third degree burns.
"It was apparent" from the outset, Colvin told the FBI, that Morris "would not survive the injuries."
Colvin asked Morris what happened and was told that Morris "was forced to stay" in the building "while it was set on fire by a man with a shotgun. Morris indicated he was told to get back inside."
The doctor checked on Morris two to three times daily during his four-day stay at the hospital before his death.
At some point early on he urged Morris to tell officials all he could about the fire "so that the individuals responsible could be arrested."
Although many individuals interviewed by The Sentinel have indicated they believed that Morris knew his attackers but was afraid to name them, newly-obtained government documents seem to indicate that while Morris may have recognized the men he may not have known them by name.
While some witnesses recall that Morris said his attackers were "two white friends," one witness told the FBI that Morris told her he didn't know "he had a white enemy."
The doctor said Morris was alert and didn't appear to be in shock. And while several witnesses said Morris was clearly blinded by the fire, Colvin said Morris' "eyes began to swell" almost immediately from the burns and other trauma to his body.
A private nurse hired by the Morris family told the FBI that when people came to see him that they all identified themselves by voice to Morris, many asking if he understood who they were.
Until the last 48 hours, Colvin said there "was no damage to Morris' mind or to his vision" and felt that Morris "recognized and understood all the things that he saw and heard during the first two days in the hospital."
As time progressed "Morris' condition deteriorated, until it was necessary to perform an operation on Morris so that he could breathe" and that "the last 48 hours of Morris' life he was in a coma and was not responsive to any questions."
The doctor didn't know what type of chemical caused the burns to Morris but said that he didn't believe "the burns were caused by Morris just running through a sheet of flames, but by a longer exposure to the fire."
Not once, said Colvin, did Morris "say anything as to the identities of the persons responsible for the fire, nor the reason for it."
In a strange twist on this entire period of the history of Concordia Parish, Colvin himself died six years later in a two-plane crash at the airport at Vidalia. As the FBI was busy investigating Morris' murder in late 1964, the agency was also searching for the killers of two young men from Meadville, MS -- Charles Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, both 19. Not long before Morris' murder, the badly-beaten bodies of the two teens were found bound and tied to an engine block in an offshoot of the Mississippi River near Parker's Landing.
On Nov. 18, 1970, Colvin and four others died when their twin-engine Bonanza collided with a single-engine Cessna. The Cessna made a miraculous landing on the airstrip and the pilot, the only survivor of the crash and the only eyewitness, walked away.
This pilot was James Ford Seale, who last summer was convicted and sentenced to three life sentences in the deaths of the Meadville, Miss., teenagers in 1964.