As Sullivan Morris stood at the bedside of his 51-year-old son in Room 101 of the Concordia Parish Hospital in December 1964, he shook his head in disbelief.
There lay Frank Morris, a man who just hours earlier operated one of the most successful businesses in Ferriday. Sullivan Morris knew about the shoe repair business. For decades, he'd operated such an enterprise on Pine Street in Natchez.
Sullivan Morris was born in the late 1800s and he found the shoe repair business a good way to make a living. He taught the craft to his own son, Frank Morris, who prospered. Now Sullivan Morris looked down at the scarred body of a man who appeared a stranger.
On three occasions over a four-day period, this father -- a short man who wore glasses that rested on the tip of his nose -- came from Natchez to Ferriday to visit his son. Everytime he saw him, he wondered: Why?
Why during the early morning hours of Dec. 10, 1964, did two men -- maybe more -- set Frank Morris' shoe repair shop on fire and force him to remain inside as flames exploded around him?
In the aftermath, Morris' attorney and friends provided the FBI a glimpse at the finances of a remarkably successful businessman, whose operation was continuing to grow as was his personal net worth.
Frank Morris was born Oct. 3, 1914, in Vidalia to Sullivan Morris and Charlotte James. When Frank Morris was three, his mother died.
Sullivan Morris lived at 36 East Woodlawn Street in Natchez. Retired in 1964 after a lifetime in the shoe repair business, he told the FBI that his son "lived a large part of his growing years" with his paternal grandmother and her husband, Ellen Moody and Nathan Moody of Vidalia, where he attended Bloomfield High School. It was also during this time, that Sullivan Morris began teaching his son the shoe repair business.
During those three visits to the hospital, Sullivan Morris said "Frank was never able to talk to him," but told agents that his son "had never been in any kind of trouble to his knowledge, that he was well liked, had never participated in any civil rights movements, and he had no idea why anyone would want to hurt him."
Frank Morris had made his living in the shoe repair business for more than three decades. This had been his life's work, and he did well for himself, and provided employment for others while offering a valuable service to his scores of customers, white and black.
The late Lloyd Love had been Morris' attorney since 1948, and on Feb. 3, 1965, FBI agents visited Love to get a handle on the state of Morris' finances. Morris' assets totaled $33,933, including $17,000 in property and $16,993 in insurance claims. Morris had more than $1,800 in three accounts with two banks in Ferriday.
Morris owned the piece of land on which his shop was located and Lloyd said the title appeared "free and clear of any liens."
In Morris' succession, filed by Love on Jan. 6, 1965, the attorney noted that Morris was "relatively free from debt" and his "current obligations...are relatively small..."
There were two heirs to his estate -- his ex-wife, Edna Williams Brown, and Morris' only child, Clementine Morris. Edna Brown and Morris divorced in 1947. Clementine Morris, according to documents, was the daughter of Frank Morris and Rosie Hewing.
Morris' income and net worth exceeded that of most residents in Concordia Parish. This was a time when the highest paid public official -- the sheriff -- made about $10,000 a year.
In 1964, gas cost 30 cents a gallon, a new car $3,500, a loaf of bread 21 cents, and the average income was $6,000 per year. A postage stamp cost a nickel.
Lloyd said Morris' estate had debts of less than $10,000. He owed to equipment suppliers, such as Fayscott Landis Machine Company of St. Louis, Missouri. Factoring for inflation, Morris' estimated net worth of $23,000 in 1964 would equal about $150,000 today.
Love recalled that in all of the years he'd known Morris that only once did he face a "financial difficulty." That was from 1948 to 1952 and "the reasons for the difficulty was due to the fact that the entire area was undergoing a transition and money was 'tight.'"
During the last years of Morris' life, he employed a man named Snoot Griffing to assist him in the shoe repair business. Morris had also employed a man named Richard Kennedy, commonly known as "Rick," who was 76 in 1964 and lived in the rear of Haney's Place on Fourth Street.
For four years Kennedy lived in Morris' shop and during that time he "kept the premises cleaned up and Morris permitted him to sleep on a cot in the building. He moved out of the shop and into his present living quarters several months ago."
Since March of 1964, Morris employed a cook, who said her duties "consisted of cooking the noon meal only and cleaning up his room behind the shoe shop. Sometimes she would wash out some clothes for his grandson."
She usually arrived at the shop at 9, worked until 10 to 11 a.m. and was paid $7 weekly.
Morris often made trips out of town, some for business, some for pleasure. One witness said that earlier in 1964 Morris went to Chicago "to buy second hand shoes to have shipped to his shop in Ferriday."
A friend said Morris made out of state trips at least twice a year and once went to New York City. At these locations, Morris went "to the biggest shop repair shop in town" to scout "new ideas in shoe repairing and...brought (these) ideas back to Ferriday to put into operation in his own shoe shop."
A man who had known Morris since 1934 said Morris always looked for "some new method of repairing shoes" or was in the market for "a new machine for his shop."
Said another witness: "Morris had a good business in his shoe repair shop and he was the only repair shop in town. He also did a fairly good business selling clothing. He also sold cheap jewelry including both wrist and pocket watches."
When other Ferriday merchants shut down on Thursday afternoons, Morris stayed open.
Morris' work ethic, his study of the shoe repair business, his expertise in the field and his sidelines -- such as leather work and clothing items -- kept his customers coming. Why two or three men, or maybe more, decided in 1964 to shut him down with a five-gallon can of fuel and a match has never been solved. Jealousy of Morris' financial status is one of several possible motives for his murder.
After an intensive three-year investigation in the 1960s, the case was closed, but was reopened by the U.S. Department of Justice last year.
Sullivan Morris, who mourned Frank Morris' death in 1964, died himself without ever knowing who killed his son and why.