Civil Rights-Era Crimes Reviewed

Times Staff Writer

The trial and conviction last month of former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen has prompted federal prosecutors in Mississippi to reexamine three lesser-known crimes from the civil rights era.

U.S. Atty. Dunn Lampton has promised to review evidence in the 1964 killings of Charles Moore and Henry Dee, two young black men from rural Franklin County. Their mutilated bodies were found in the Mississippi River while authorities were searching for Andrew Goodman, James E. Chaney and Michael H. Schwerner -- the three civil rights workers Killen was convicted of killing.

Lampton met with Moore's brother, 62-year-old Thomas Moore, on Wednesday and promised that his office would make every effort to prosecute the case. In preparing for the meeting, Lampton said he reviewed the case file and concluded that more work should be done.

Lampton also promised to look into the murder of Wharlest Jackson, a black man who died when a bomb exploded under his truck in 1967. Jackson had drawn the anger of white co-workers when he was promoted to a high-paying factory job.

"The cooperation between state and federal government is probably at the best level it's ever been," said Lampton. "Now is the time, if we're going to make a move."

Two major civil rights stories of this summer -- the exhuming of Emmett Till's body in suburban Chicago and Killen's conviction on felony manslaughter charges -- inspired Sens. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) to propose creating a federal cold-case unit with a $5-million annual budget devoted to prosecuting unsolved crimes from the era.

Talent said he was "very pleased" with the response to the bill, which now had 22 co-sponsors, including Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.) "I've had a lot of people come up to me on the Senate floor and say 'This makes such good sense,' " he said.

Cases like the slaying of 14-year-old Till, who had been visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955 when he was killed after allegedly whistling at a white woman, and the 1964 killings of the three civil rights workers, have attracted attention for decades.

But "there are scores, if not hundreds, of people who died whose names will never be known," said Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project.

"When they were looking for Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, they found four more bodies," Potok said. "The same thing happened when they dragged the river for Emmett Till."

Two of the bodies found were Charles Moore, 20, and Dee, 19, who were hitchhiking when a group of Klansmen picked them up, according to an FBI report obtained by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

Charles Marcus Edwards and James Ford Seale were arrested. Edwards told FBI agents that Klan members believed the two men were part of a Black Muslim uprising plot and beat them into unconsciousness in a national forest, according to the report. Neither Edwards nor Seale was put on trial.

Charles Moore's brother, a retired Army sergeant major who lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., said he was drawn back to his brother's case while watching the Killen trial.

At the invitation of a documentary producer from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., he drove back to Franklin County.

The suspects in the killings -- Edwards and Seale -- are still alive, Thomas Moore said.

He said he was impressed by Lampton, a fellow military man who took office days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Thomas Moore said Lampton told him that, with his intensive anti-terrorism work finished, he and his investigators were free to turn their attention to his brother's case.

"I have more optimism than I ever have in the past 41 years," Thomas Moore said. "I'm satisfied that was the guy I needed to talk to. Of all the other people, this was the guy."

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