Federal officials will discuss the status of the investigation into the 1964 murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris on Friday, according U.S. Attorney Donald Washington of Lafayette.
Washington and members of his staff along with officials with the Justice Department and the FBI will take part in the discussion on the Morris case in a conference call.
"We've moving on a list of tasks that were assigned back in January and going to see where we are on that list and what is next," Washington said on Tuesday. "While I can not discuss specific aspects of this open investigation, I can say that it is ongoing and active and we are moving forward."
Morris, the 51-year-old shoe shop owner in Ferriday, died on Dec. 14, 1964, following the arson of his business four days earlier. Morris was sleeping in a small room in the back of the shop when awakened by the sound of glass breaking around 2 a.m. When he went to the front of the building to investigate, two to three men forced Morris at gun point to remain in the building as it was torched.
The probe into Morris' death was reopened 18 months ago and FBI investigative files of four decades ago were reviewed.
"We initially determined viable subjects in file materials and then had to find out who was still alive," said Washington. "We have conducted interviews and are continuing to work this case."
There is a "fear in a lot of these cases," said Washington, that maybe "we have let too much time pass. Evidence disappears. Witnesses die. Memories fade."
It's a concern, he said, that was discussed "by the U.S. Attorney community at our annual meeting." At some point, said Washington, a determination will have to be made whether a cold case is a continuing viable investigative matter or a matter of history.
"One thing we're all looking at is are we making the right use of our resources," he said.
The Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act of 2007, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), was signed by the President Tuesday. The new law requires the Attorney General to "designate individuals in the Justice Department's Federal Bureau of Investigation and Civil Rights Division to investigate and prosecute violations of criminal civil rights statutes that occurred prior to January 1, 1970, and resulted in death."
The FBI agent originally assigned Morris' case has been transferred but "will continue to be of help" on the probe, said Washington.
"He'll (the agent) be involved in our discussion on Friday," said Washington.
But because agents presently assigned Morris' and similar cold cases must also work current cases, no one agent as of yet has devoted all of his time to a civil rights-era cold case probe.
"At the end of the day, I'd have to say that if an agent were working full-time on this case we probably would have gotten where we are today sooner," said Washington, but he said a "great deal of effort" has been and will continue to be put forth.
Morris' murder has been connected to the murder of Wharlest Jackson on Feb. 27, 1967, and the attack on George Metcalfe on Aug. 27, 1965, who was maimed but survived. Both men were members of the Natchez NAACP -- Metcalfe president and Jackson treasurer -- and both were employed at Armstrong Tire and Rubber Company in Natchez. Both were victims of car bombs.
A militant offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan — possibly involving members of the White Knights, Original Knights and United Klan from Concordia Parish, and Adams and Franklin counties in Mississippi — was linked to the attacks on these three men. Known as the Silver Dollar Group, these Klansmen were considered the most violent of all Klan groups and were well connected with law enforcement.
Because the group was formed during a meeting at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia in 1964, the Silver Dollar Group may have also been responsible for the disappearance of Joseph "JoeEd" Edwards, a porter at the Shamrock who went missing in July 1964 and has not been seen since. His car was found a few days after his disappearance on the road behind the old bowling alley on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. Bloodstains were found inside.
Washington assembled a group of federal officials in Ferriday in January to discuss the Morris case, including four members of his staff -- William J. Flanagan, First Asst. U.S. Atty., based in Shreveport; Katherine W. Vincent, Asst. U.S. Atty., Civil Chief, based in Lafayette; and Mike Campbell and David Hudson, both of Shreveport.
Also in Ferriday for the meeting were Todd B. Cox, FBI Supervisory Special Agent based in New Orleans; Baron H. Lambert, FBI Special Agent based in Alexandria at the time; and Paige M. Fitzgerald, Special Litigation Counsel, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
Fitzgerald prosecuted James Ford Seale last summer for the May 1964 murder of Charles Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee.