Coonie Poissot

COONIE POISSOT, with daughter Jonenne, in 1989.

Two daughters of a man who was a Concordia Parish Klansman in the mid-1960s have different views of their father, one of the FBI's top informants in the 1964 murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris and other Klan violence.

One daughter, Shawnee Poissot Miranda, 47, who lives in Texas, says her father -- Orvin Clarence "Coonie" Poissot -- was a con artist who hated African-Americans, lived a life of crime and left in his wake broken homes and broken lives. She also says that Poissot once claimed to have "killed a black man for the Klan."

Another daughter, 38-year-old Jonenne Poissot Owens of New Mexico, says her dad had many faults and lived a mysterious life but treated her with kindness and love during his final years.

But the sisters agree that their father was a secretive man always on the move, was addicted to speed (amphetamines) and provided pills to each when they were in their teens.

Shawnee and Jonenne had different mothers and came to know one another as adults. Their distant lives drew closer in recent weeks after Shawnee, while doing genealogical research on the Internet, discovered an article on The Concordia Sentinel website about their father's involvement in the Ku Klux Klan.

She immediately called Jonenne and the two talked until 11 p.m. The next day, February 19, Jonenne called The Sentinel. Later in the day, Shawnee called. In these and subsequent interviews each shared intimate details of their father. Each lived with Poissot with their mothers during the first four years of their separate lives and later separately reunited with him when they were teens.

The sisters believe Poissot, who died in 1992, fathered more than 13 children and was married at least six times. "Nobody really knows," said Shawnee.

What is known, according to FBI documents obtained by The Sentinel and the Syracuse University College of Law Cold Case Justice Initiative, is that Poissot provided the FBI key information on other Klansmen who were suspects in the arson/murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris in 1964 and in the attempted murder of George Metcalfe in Natchez in 1965. At the same time he talked about others, he denied any participation in the violent crimes he described.

Poissot told the FBI he was living in Concordia in 1964 and joined the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (OKKKK) Ferriday-Clayton unit in 1965. He said during a six-month period he attended Klan meetings and took part in Klan projects. He also told agents that:

-- On the night of the shoe shop arson he was riding with Concordia Parish Sheriff's Deputy Frank DeLaughter in his patrol car. He said DeLaughter, a known Klansman, said Morris needed "a good lacing (whipping)," because he had refused to repair DeLaughter's cowboy boots without payment in advance.

-- Klansmen Raleigh Jackson "Red" Glover and Kenneth Norman Head, both of Vidalia, told Poissot they were involved in the Metcalfe bombing. Poissot said Glover boasted of planting the bomb, while Head said that he and another man were the lookouts.

-- Certain officers within the Ferriday and Vidalia police departments and the sheriff's office were alerted and assisted when a Klan project was going down.

-- The Ferriday-Clayton OKKKK unit had an agreement with the Tallulah unit to do "each other's dirty work." Poissot explained that local acts of violence were performed by the outside Klan unit.

Poissot told the FBI, agency records show, that he went with a wrecking crew twice to Tallulah with Concordia Klansmen on a project for the Tallulah Klan to murder tire store owner Mose Williams Sr., a black man active in voter registration. He said on each occasion there were too many people in the area of the shop to shoot Williams without being seen. Yet in October 1965, Williams' store was burned to the ground. Poissot said he knew nothing about that.

Poissot also said that the Tallulah Klan on behalf of the Ferriday-Clayton Klan was to burn down the Morville Lounge, a Mafia-operated gambling/prostitution den near Deer Park where Poissot said a number of local Klansmen, including himself, had been beaten. He said the project was never carried out.

SHAWNEE - BORN 1963

While these events were taking place, Shawnee, born in 1963, was spending much of the first four years of her life living with Poissot and her mother, Phyllis, in a red station wagon and cheap motels in Concordia Parish and Natchez.

"I never had toys as a child because there was never any room for toys," she said. "Naturally because of my age I don't remember much but I know we moved around."

Two events, however, stand out.

"We were living in a motel and Coonie was broke and all we had to our names were the clothes on our back, some more clothes in a bag and a quart of milk," she said. "Coonie in anger took scissors and cut up all of our clothes and then took the milk that my mother had for me and poured it out."

She said once "he put my mother and me out on the side of a highway and left us."

By the time Shawnee was four, her mother had had enough and broke up with Poissot. A few years later, Shawnee said Poissot showed up to visit in Texas and asked her mother if Shawnee could spend a couple of days with him.

"He literally kidnapped me for about two weeks," said Shawnee. She said she was returned to her mother after an incident in Louisiana.

"Coonie went to see his sister and was upset over his father being put in a nursing home," she said. "I stayed in the backseat while he went inside. The next thing I know is I hear gunshots and Coonie comes running back to the car and we speed off."

Once back home in Texas, she had no desire to see her father again.

JONENNE -- BORN 1972

Shawnee's sister, Jonenne, now 38, is a lieutenant at a correctional institute for adult male offenders in Los Lunas, N.M., where she supervises other officers, a job she says is the "most rewarding" of her life.

Her mother, Hazel, met Coonie Poissot, a truck driver, at a truck stop in 1968 in Deming, N.M., about two years after Poissot and Shawnee's mother split up. Hazel was 19, Poissot was 38.

After a courtship, the two later married in Juarez, New Mexico, said Jonenne, who was born in a charity hospital in Shreveport in 1972. "My dad was on the road when I was born and I took ill the first few weeks of my life. My mother moved us to Canutillo, N.M., when I was an infant of two months old. My earliest photograph that I have of myself is that of when we moved to Canutillo into my grandparent's house."

Like Shawnee, Jonenne said her parents were together until she was four when Poissot, as he did so many times in his life, moved on without a good-bye. "My mother didn't want him around anymore by then," she said.

"I often cried for my dad when I was a child," said Jonenne, "and secretly through my adolescent years. While growing up, my mother never said anything negative about my father, only that he loved me the best way he knew how."

Though she missed her dad, Jonenne said she believes now it was for the best due to Coonie's wandering and secretive lifestyle.

SHAWNEE & COONIE 1976

In 1976 in Texas, Shawnee's life took a tragic turn when her mother, Phyllis, died. This was around the time Jonenne's mother and Coonie separated and divorced.

Shawnee recalls overhearing an aunt, who had three children of her own, discussing the fact that she could not care for both Shawnee, now 13, and a younger sibling, who was eight.

"I understood my aunt's situation," Shawnee said, who felt she had only one person to turn to. "I loved my aunt dearly, so I started hitchhiking and decided I would look for Coonie." She found him in Baton Rouge.

"Some people took me in and they contacted Coonie," she recalled. "That's the only way you ever got to Coonie -- through channels. When I first saw him he wanted to hug, and suddenly I realized that I didn't want to hug him. That set the tone for the rest of our time together."

During this period she said she learned of his criminal dealings and of his hatred for all races other than white. "Every word out of his mouth was a slur," she said. She said Poissot was so restless that he "always had his hand in his pocket rattling change. He never sat down for long. He was always moving."

Part of the reason for this, she said, was his addiction to speed, a fact the FBI knew about when it recruited him as an informant following the carbombing murder of black Armstrong Tire employee and NAACP treasurer Wharlest Jackson of Natchez in February 1967.

Poissot, who was born in Urania, La., on Nov. 1, 1930, had told FBI agents in San Antonio, Tex., in 1966 about "many acts of violence allegedly committed in the Natchez, Miss.-Vidalia, La., area" by Klansmen, FBI records show. Days after the Jackson murder, an FBI teletype noted that Poissot in 1965 was a "vagabond...associated with gamblers, thieves and pimps," and at the time a "tough talker who was associated with rowdy, vicious Klansmen" in Concordia and was "pill-popper" who was addicted to speed.

In the 1970s when Shawnee was in Baton Rouge, she said Coonie asked her to shoplift for him and also recalled that he carried a silver dollar in his pocket, one which he never spent although he was often without money.

One day she asked him about it. "He said he would tell me one day but never did," she said.

When told about the Silver Dollar Group (SDG), a violent Klan cell dedicated to the violent opposition of civil rights, Shawnee said she would not find it hard to believe that Poissot had been a member of the group. SDG members carried a silver dollar, most minted in the year of their birth, as a sign of unity in purpose. FBI documents show that during the height of the Silver Dollar Group's power that Poissot was associating with SDG leaders on almost a daily basis and involved with them in Klan projects.

"My brother, who died not long ago, idolized Coonie and said that Coonie had been assigned the number 8 in the Klan," said Shawnee. "My brother and uncle also said that Coonie had killed a black man for the Klan." She said she doesn't know if they were referring to Frank Morris.

She also doesn't know what to think of Poissot's role as a paid informant for the FBI though she has no doubt that he would have known the details of what was going on in the Klan. "Whether he was doing it to try to throw something off on someone else or just for the money, I don't know, but I imagine a lot of it was self-serving to Coonie," said Shawnee.

She said she believes without question today that her father "was a bad man." His life, she said, "shames me," though she says she feels neither love nor hate for him today.

"The late time I saw Coonie was in a motel located near the Tornado Lounge in Bossier City when I was 15 (in 1978)," she said.

When she was in her 30s, she said Poissot called her once or twice but by then she had withdrawn all interest in his life.

JONENNE & COONIE 1989

In 1989, a decade after Shawnee bid Coonie good-bye in Bossier City, 17-year-old Jonenne and her mother, Hazel, moved to Las Cruces, N.M., where Jonenne learned that Poissot was living 45 minutes away in El Paso, Tex. They were reunited, said Jonenne, and for the next four years Poissot doted on her.

"The man I knew then was loving and caring," she said, "and he was light-hearted and fun to be around." Yet she said Poissot was also a "speed freak. He gave pills to me." And, she added, his behavior was erratic.

Unlike Shawnee, Jonenne said she had no clue that her father had belonged to the Klan although she said "he once slapped a black man with his open hand, but your (Sentinel) articles are the first I had ever heard of his participation in the Klan. I was taught by my mother to treat everyone based on their actions and integrity of those actions, not base my opinion of people on skin color."

Although she believes Poissot was capable of violence, she said the "memories I have of him in my late teens did not depict him as a violent individual. He was loving, carefree and young at heart."

She also doesn't know why "he spent parts of his life in criminal pursuits. I know he loved the chase. I guess that would explain why he would be a wanderer too, the chase, and perhaps, the adrenaline of the chase."

Jonenne doesn't know if money or saving "his own skin" were the reasons for his informing to the FBI, but she hopes he did it because "it was morally and ethically the right thing to do."

Coonie Poissot died on Sept. 10, 1992, at the age of 61.

Just as he left a dozen or more children and many women in the wake of his wandering life, Poissot wasn't tied down in death either. Jonenne said her father was cremated, his ashes sprinkled along Trans-Mountain in the Franklin Mountains of El Paso, Tex., so that today all traces of a restless drifter are gone.

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