In 1967, the FBI instructed special agent John Pfeifer to locate a truck driver and former Klansman named O.C. "Coonie" Poissot concerning the beating two years earlier of a prisoner in the Ferriday jail.
While living in west Texas in 1966, Poissot became an FBI informant.
The leading suspect in the beating was Concordia Parish deputy Frank DeLaughter, who had a notorious reputation for violence. He was called "Big Frank" because of his 6 ft., 4 in., 250-pound frame.
"I very clearly remember looking for Coonie in 1967," said Pfeifer, an Ohio native who arrived in Concordia in 1966 and served more than a decade here. "Coonie was somewhere in Texas and was a key witness in a police brutality case against DeLaughter."
After Pfeifer located Poissot, he told agents about the Klan, DeLaughter, the sheriff's office, bombings, prostitution and gambling, according to FBI records provided The Sentinel by the Syracuse College of Law Cold Case Justice Initiative. He even implicated DeLaughter in the murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris, who died as a result of the arson of his business in December 1964.
Poissot, who the FBI reported was a speed addict and likely involved in Klan violence himself, was not considered a suspect in the arson although he had been closely associated with DeLaughter and with known criminals in the parish. He was an active member of the Ferriday-Clayton unit of the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, according to FBI records.
The Sentinel reported in January that Poissot later confessed to a friend that he was involved in the Morris arson and also implicated a Rayville man, Arthur Leonard Spencer. One of Spencer's sons as well as Spencer's ex-brother-in-law separately told the newspaper that Spencer informed them he was involved in the arson. Spencer told the Sentinel he had nothing to do with the Morris arson and had never heard of Poissot.
A parish Grand Jury convened in February 2011 to initiate a probe into the Morris murder. Federal officials will not comment on the status of the investigation.
The DeLaughter-Poissot relationship ruptured in November 1965 -- 11 months after the Morris arson -- when DeLaughter and two other men were indicted by the parish grand jury for the October 20 beating of a white prisoner, William Cliff Davis, in the Ferriday jail, FBI records indicate. Immediately after he was indicted, DeLaughter began a process FBI agents discovered he'd carried out many times before -- silencing witnesses such as Coonie Poissot, often by running them out of the parish.
In December 1965, Poissot fled Ferriday armed with a .22 caliber revolver, but not before thanking Klansmen at a meeting in Clayton for "saving my life" when DeLaughter was out to get him, FBI documents say.
A native of Brookhaven, Miss., DeLaughter was hired by the Town of Ferriday in 1956 as a jailer and dispatcher for the fire department. Later he became a Ferriday policeman and by the early 1960s was working as a deputy for the sheriff's office, which had its own jail in Vidalia. Yet DeLaughter continued to interrogate prisoners in the Ferriday jail.
Pfeifer said the configuration of the Ferriday jail was "a series of steel cages side by side with no ability to view to the side. So if a prisoner was beaten, DeLaughter could always say the guy was drunk, fell down and hurt himself and there were no witnesses who could actually see what was going on."
On the other hand, Pfeifer said prisoners in the parish jail in the old courthouse could see into other cells where the jailer and his family resided on the same floor.
"Too many potential witnesses there," said Pfeifer.
Pfeifer said Ferriday police, especially Police Chief Bob Warren, didn't like what DeLaughter was doing in the town jail.
"Let's face it," Pfeifer said, "there was real animosity between the Ferriday police and the sheriff's deputies. It was mostly due to Frank DeLaughter and the totally uncontrolled things he was doing. They knew he was protected by the sheriff, so what could they do?"
Davis was employed by Judsen Lee "Blackie" Drane, the owner of two lounges in the parish whose company supplied vending, jukebox and pinball machines, as well as illegal slot machines. Davis was a pinball and slot machine mechanic at Little Casino, one of Drane's clubs on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. When Drane became suspicious that Davis had stolen a slot machine motor and sold it for whiskey, he went to DeLaughter.
"Blackie and Ed Fuller were in the car when DeLaughter apprehended Davis" at the King Hotel, said Pfeifer. Fuller was an associate of Drane's and a Klansman. Poissot witnessed DeLaughter's search for Davis in the bars and gambling joints on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy., Pfeifer said. Poissot later fingered the three in the beating, according to FBI documents.
DeLaughter followed his usual routine when he brought Davis to the Ferriday jail for interrogation where he and Fuller beat him. Pfeifer said Davis was later moved to Drane's warehouse because of Charles DeLaughter, the deputy's nephew and the Ferriday policeman on duty at the jail that night in October 1965.
"He (Charles DeLaughter) told them to 'get the hell out of my jail' and stop beating that poor guy (Davis) to death," Pfeifer said. "They had been using cattle prods on him in the city jail and the guy of course was screaming."
Pfeifer described the beating as exceptionally savage, like beating a "scarred, maltreated dog" found half dead on the side of the road. He said Davis was a "'kick-around' guy who did menial jobs for pennies. You'd call him a homeless guy these days, just getting by with a few bucks to buy booze and survive."
An informant told the bureau that at Drane's warehouse DeLaughter and Fuller "wrapped a towel around a board" and beat Davis "in the face, neck and sides" until he passed out.
"They were scared to death they had just about killed Davis in Blackie's warehouse," Pfeifer said, "so they hauled him to the sheriff's office and put him a cell and called the sheriff and said, 'What do we do with this guy? He might die on us.'"
Deputy Raymond Keathley told agents in 1967 that when he arrived at work in Vidalia the next morning the jailer led Keathley to Davis' cell. Keathley said Davis' "face was swollen and covered with blood," one eye closed and the other nearly closed.
Pfeifer said DeLaughter was told to transport Davis to an alcohol rehabilitation center near St. Francisville. Davis testified in federal court in 1970 that out of fear he signed admittance papers on DeLaughter's orders.
Pfeifer said that in 1966 the District Attorney's office indicated it would follow up on the November 1965 parish grand jury indictment of the three men in the Davis beating.
"But nothing ever happened," Pfeifer said.
In 1970 a federal jury convicted the three in the case. Each was sentenced to one year behind bars, six months suspended, and four years supervised probation.
As a convicted felon, DeLaughter could no long carry a gun or work in law enforcement.