Although Concordia Parish sheriff's deputy Frank DeLaughter had been a suspect in two racially motivated murders in 1964 as well as numerous brutal beatings over the years, the FBI had been unable to stop his reign of terror.
But during the mid-1960s a FBI agent recently assigned to Concordia developed a strategy to put DeLaughter behind bars and remove him from law enforcement. By 1970, John Pfeifer's work had paid off -- Frank DeLaughter's 15-year career in law enforcement ended when he was sentenced to prison for police brutality. Never again would he wear a badge.
Pfeifer's strategy earned the approval of Joseph Sullivan, the legendary FBI major case inspector who led the bureau's successful efforts in solving the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Miss. By 1967, Sullivan was leading the effort to find the murderers of Wharlest Jackson, the treasurer of the Natchez NAACP and an employee of Armstrong Tire, who had accepted a position previously held by white men only. No arrests have been made to date in Jackson's murder in which the Ku Klux Klan was believed responsible.
The FBI says it is presently reinvestigating the carbombing that took Jackson's life.
As a result of Jackson's murder in 1967, the FBI and the Department of Justice decided not only to investigate that crime but to also probe other unsolved murders, arsons, beatings and crimes in Adams County, Miss., and Concordia Parish, La., two communities connected by a bridge across the Mississippi River. In addition to Klansmen, police officers like DeLaughter were also believed involved in some of these crimes.
According to the Wharlest Jackson case file -- labeled WHARBOM by the FBI -- the investigation became known as a "special," a massive federal probe involving scores of agents as well as clerks, stenographers and other personnel. Both the New Orleans and Jackson, Miss., FBI division offices were involved, while the Jackson, Miss., office led the probe under the direction of one of the FBI's top troubleshooters -- inspector Joseph Sullivan, who died in 2002 at the age of 85.
The WHARBOM file was provided The Sentinel by the Syracuse College of Law Cold Case Justice Initiative.
Only one man was arrested and convicted in connection with the WHARBOM special -- deputy Frank DeLaughter, nicknamed "Big Frank". The 6 feet, 4 inches tall, 250-pound deputy once told an acquaintance that "he thought no more of killing a man than he did a rabbit," according to FBI records.
FBI records also show that outgrowths of WHARBOM included probes into the 1964 Concordia killings of Joseph Edwards, a 25-year-old porter at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia in July, and of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris, 51, in December.
Morris' case had been opened by the FBI in 1964 before going cold in 1965. The bureau looked at the Edwards murder briefly in 1964, according to FBI records, but quickly terminated that probe, citing "the lack of federal violation."
While no arrests or convictions have resulted in those murders to date, a Concordia Parish Grand Jury convened on February 8, 2011, to look into the arson that claimed Morris' life. Both the Morris and Edwards murders were believed the result of Klan/law enforcement actions and DeLaughter was considered a prime suspect in both cases, according to documents. The FBI reopened the Morris case in 2007 and has added the Edwards murder to its cold case investigation initiative.
For John Pfeifer, an ex-Marine sent to Concordia in 1966, putting a plug in the Klan violence and ending the longtime pattern of corruption in the sheriff's office became major goals.
The FBI and Justice Department could establish no federal violations in the 1964 murders of Morris and Edwards, and the sheriff's office, the lead law enforcement agency in the parish, refused to investigate the crimes. FBI records show that Sheriff Noah Cross (1908-1976) even refused to acknowledge that crimes had been committed. Cross served time in federal prison in the 1970s after being convicted on perjury charges involving the Morville Lounge, a mob-operated brothel and gambling den at Deer Park whose operators paid the sheriff's office protection money, according to court records.
Not long after arriving in Concordia in 1966, Pfeifer learned of a story involving a white man named William Davis, who almost died as a result of a brutal beating in the Ferriday jail at the hands of DeLaughter and two other men on Oct. 20, 1965. A parish Grand Jury indicted the three men -- DeLaughter, casino operator Judsen Lee "Blackie" Drane (1928-1997) and Drane's top employee and enforcer, Ed Fuller (1927-1975), who in the fall of 1964 was the Exalted Cyclops of the Sligo Unit of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Adams County, Miss.
According to Sentinel articles in late 1965, the men pled not guilty and a trial date was slated for January 1966. But the case never went to court. Yet Pfeifer knew that the beating by DeLaughter -- a police officer -- violated federal law.
At the time, W. D. "Wana" Gibson of Catahoula Parish was DA and Roy Halcomb of Ferriday was assistant district attorney.
Pfeifer told The Sentinel that he and another agent were sent to Concordia to wrap up some loose ends on different investigations and he soon learned that "one of the things that hadn't been resolved yet was the opinion of the local district attorney concerning the beating of that poor guy (Davis).
"We wanted to get cases like that off the books totally -- either something was going to be done about it or not," said Pfeifer, who alerted his superiors to the federal potential of the case. "The prosecutive decision didn't rest with the United States Attorney usually. It rested with the Department of Justice in Washington, so that's why we had to send this brief report in so the bureau in Washington could notify the people in the Justice Department. If the local authorities were going to prosecute then it would be no federal prosecution."
Pfeifer said "we were assured" by local officials "that this was a very aggravated case and it was going" to be prosecuted. "I remember that very clearly." Yet the case remained dormant.
In 1967, when the WHARBOM probe was opened, Pfeifer decided to bring the Davis case "to the attention of Inspector Sullivan. I told him, 'you know there's a really nice case sitting on somebody's desk somewhere (in Washington) that could be activated in federal court.'
"I explained this case to him, what the facts were and if he wanted to get one of these guys (witnesses) to roll and open up and give a truthful story about it this was probably the only wedge to charge DeLaughter with police brutality."
Pfeifer said Sullivan sent the case "up the chain" and was "able to convince the Justice Department to authorize the filing of the charges. That's how the trial happened to come into being."
DeLaughter, who died in 1997 at the age of 69, became the only man arrested and convicted in connection with WHARBOM. He was sentenced on June 18, 1970, to one year, six months suspended, four years supervised probation, for violation of Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 242 when "acting under Color of Law " he "Assaulted and Beat William Davis..."
The WHARBOM special also resulted in two other achievements: The neutralization of violent Klansmen throughout the region and the identification of one of the most violent Klan cells in the South during the 1960s. This Klan offshoot was known as the Silver Dollar Group, whose members pledged the violent opposition of integration of schools and public facilities.