LSU forensic anthropologist Mary H. Manhein will return to Concordia Parish this summer to search for skeletal remains near the site of the discovery of a human skull in 2002.
Manhein is in the process of trying to identify the skull and has taken a DNA sample from the sister of Joseph "JoeEd" Edwards. Edwards has been missing since 1964 and is believed to have been murdered by the Ku Klux Klan.
Based on the preliminary study of the age of the skull, Manhein said it's possible it could be the remains of Edwards.
"We won't know until we fully look into it," said Manhein. "We know it was someone and we want to try to put a name to this person."
Edwards, who was 25 when he disappeared 45 years ago, lived with his grandparents on Hwy. 900 just outside of Clayton. Bloodstains were found inside his two-toned blue and beige 1958 Buick, which was discovered near the bowling alley on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy.
He was last seen at his job at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia on July 12, 1964. The Shamrock was a known Ku Klux Klan hangout at the time and was where Edwards, a black man, was employed as a porter and handyman.
U.S. Atty. Donald Washington told The Sentinel that "there is no file" on Edwards, which Washington said means that an investigation into his disappearance was apparently never launched 45 years ago by the FBI for reasons unclear today.
"We don't know why there was no investigation," said Washington, although he noted that tidbits on Edwards' disappearance are found in other documents, including the file of Frank Morris, the Ferriday shoe shop owner who was murdered in the arson of his business, which was also his home, six months after Edwards' disappearance. No arrests were ever made in Morris' case despite an intensive investigation more than four decades ago.
Manhein said a more intensive search of a site in Clayton is being planned for this summer with a team of anthropology students.
"It wouldn't hurt to look again," said Manhein, who came to Clayton in 2002 after the Concordia Parish Sheriff's Office reported the discovery of the skull at Clayton. The skull is missing its lower jaw and has a small hole in the forehead.
Manhein said the skull is that of a black male, possibly a Native American. She plans to dig and sift through a debris-filled lot near the site where the skull was discovered.
"We hope to work with the sheriff's office and we're going to need a backhoe," she said. "We were here only for an afternoon a few years ago and we plan for a more indepth search this summer."
Sheriff Randy Maxwell pledged to help Manhein and her anthropological team in every way possible.
"This unidentified person was someone's son, brother or father," he said. "If we can help a family solve the mystery of where their loved one's remains are located, we want to do that."
Known as "The Bone Lady" for her work in forensic anthropology, Manhein's lab at LSU has been designated by the Louisiana Legislature as the central repository for unidentified human remains and missing person data. The facility is known as FACES -- the Forensic Computer Enhancement Services.
Manhein said the first lab to process the Clayton skull was unable to extract DNA.
"I've sent it to another lab," she said. "We're not going to take 'no' for an answer."
She said the age of the skull and "weathering" makes the work difficult.
"The skull wasn't in a box," she said. "The bone was out in the elements. Organic material has been replaced by inorganic material due to leaching in and out of bones. That's how fossilization occurs."
Knowing that "weatherizing degrades DNA," Manhein said "if we are unable to get nuclear DNA we'll try for mitochondrial DNA."
A few months ago, the FACES lab took a DNA sample from Julia Dobbins of Bridge City, La. Dobbins is Edwards' sister and she recalls going with her mother, Bernice Conner, to Ferriday in the summer of 1964 after her brother's car was towed to the Gulf Station.
A source from Ferriday who asked not to be identified told The Sentinel that the service station's owner, Cecil Beatty, was contacted by Concordia Parish Sheriff's Deputy Frank Delaughter to tow the car to Ferriday.
The FBI was first notified of Edwards' disappearance when Bernice Conner walked into the bureau's newly-opened office in Natchez in the fall of 1964 and spoke to Billy Bob Williams, an FBI agent who has since retired and now lives in Portland, Ore. Williams said Conner "was very upset and said the Klan had got her boy."
Williams notified the FBI's New Orleans' office, which handles Louisiana investigations. An Oct. 26, 1964, Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol (MHSP) report found in the McClain Library at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg identifies two MHSP officers --- Gwin Cole and H.T. Richardson -- along with FBI agent H. Warren Tool, as having briefly looked into Edwards' disappearance.
Williams said the FBI was told by an informant that Edwards was skinned alive. Other sources say Edwards was kidnapped, taken to Mississippi, tortured, and shot numerous times before his body was chained and thrown in the river.
Relatives and friends have told The Sentinel that Edwards was sexually involved with white women while working at the Shamrock. A female employee of the Shamrock told MHSP that she once watched a white woman and Edwards separately enter a unit of the Maple Courts, a group of bungalows located beside the Shamrock.
Edwards' sexual involvement with white women was dangerous in 1964, said retired FBI agent Williams.
"This situation considering the racial climate and the Klan at that time would certainly have put any black man's life at risk who was involved with a white woman," said Williams.
To make matters even more dangerous, the son of a deceased Ku Klux Klansman told The Sentinel he recalled meeting Edwards in April 1964 at the very time Klan members were assembled in an adjoining room at the Shamrock Motel cafe.
Earcel "Sonny" Boyd Jr. says his father -- Earcel Boyd Sr. -- and other Klansmen were organizing the notorious Klan offshoot known as the Silver Dollar Group while he and Edwards chatted in the cafe three months' before Edwards' disappearance.
The FBI believed this militant Klan cell was responsible for the arson/murder of Morris in 1964, the car bomb murder of Natchez NAACP secretary Wharlest Jackson in Natchez in 1967 and the car bombing which seriously-injured NAACP president George Metcalfe in Natchez in 1965.