By Kevin Thibodeaux
Special to the Sentinel
The LSU Unsolved Civil Rights-Era Murders student project team recently gained access to some 10,000 pages of FBI investigative reports relating to the carbombing murder of Wharlest Jackson in Natchez in 1967.
The cache includes FBI reports from the Jackson, Miss., field office made available for the first time under a Freedom of Information Act request to the National Archives and Records Administration nearly two years ago. The Jackson murder remains one of 39 cases still under investigation by the FBI in response to the Emmett Till Act passed by Congress in 2007.
The FBI file on the Jackson murder investigation is known as "WHARBOM."
The Frank Morris and Joseph Edwards cases in Concordia Parish also remain open, although the U.S. Department of Justice is set to close some of the remaining cases this year, possibly half. Morris operated a shoe shop in Ferriday until his arson murder in December 1964. Edwards disappeared in July 1964.
Two other area cases still open at this time include the 1964 murder of International Paper Company employee Clifton Walker in Woodville, Miss., and the 1965 shooting of Johnny Queen, a disabled resident of Fayette, Miss., who shined shoes for a living.
The LSU Manship School team has been working with the Concordia Sentinel on these cases since the summer of 2009 and has retrieved more than 35,000 pages of documents relating to Ku Klux Klan activities in Louisiana and southern Mississippi since 2010. Many of the files had not been made public prior to the students’ FOIA requests.
Members of the LSU team are students Ben Wallace of Tyler, Texas, Andrea Gallo of Lafayette, Morgan Searles of Baton Rouge, Kevin Thibodeaux of Lafayette, and Brian Sibille of Lafayette. The team is directed by James E. Shelledy, former editor of The Salt Lake Tribune who is a professional in residence at the Manship School of Mass Communications at LSU.
The information collected from LSU's cold case project reveals facts about the investigation into Jackson's murder and others as well as the agency's probing of the violent KKK-offshoot, the Silver Dollar Group.
The Jackson field office reports also contain considerable material on Edwards, a porter in his mid-20s who was working at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia when he went missing. It is believed Edwards was abducted and murdered in 1964 in a joint effort by parish lawmen and Klan members. His body has never been located, although the Jackson, Miss., FBI files contain a map where FBI agents believe it may have been dumped into Deer Park lake south of Vidalia.
Documents from the FBI's investigation underscore that one of the key suspects in the murder of Jackson, Raleigh J. "Red" Glover of Vidalia, was paranoid the FBI was following him. In a scenario reminiscent of a movie script, Glover even asked an FBI informant to help him discover a suspected Silver Dollar Group (SDG) mole, the documents revealed.
Glover was the leader of the SDG and personally recruited each member. As a token of membership, Glover presented each with a silver dollar. Many of the coins were minted in the year of member's birth.
Documents also detailed Klan members own convoluted moral code. Late into the FBI's investigation into Jackson's death and the Natchez/Concordia Klan, factions began to develop between the members who sided with Glover and those opposed to him.
Members were upset with Glover over an extramarital affair and his alleged theft of a fellow member's chain saw and another man's pasture mower for which he was arrested. Around this time, several Klan members became more open with the FBI concerning its Glover investigation.
The documents uncovered Glover as the prime suspect and mastermind in the carbombing attempted murder of George Metcalfe, a prominent African-American activist in Natchez at the time for whom, some believe, the Wharlest Jackson bomb was intended.
Jackson and Metcalfe were leaders in the Natchez NAACP and both worked at Armstrong Tire in Natchez, where Glover was also employed. The bomb that seriously injured Metcalfe in 1965 was planted beneath the hood of his car, while the bomb that killed Jackson in 1967 was planted beneath the driver's side of his pickup. Both men's automobiles had been parked at or near the Armstrong plant when the bombs were planted.
Some of the documents center on a fish fry at Lismore in Concordia Parish in June 1965 at which members of the Silver Dollar Group were believed to have begun experimenting with explosives in preparation for the attempt on Metcalfe's life two months later. Metcalfe survived, but suffered lifelong injuries in the explosion. Although documents shed tantalizing details about the FBI's investigation, the bureau never made an arrest in the Jackson murder.
LSU team members also met with supervisors of the FBI's hate crime unit that is looking into the reopened cold cases. More than three-fourths of the more than 100 cold cases reopened in 2007 have now been closed.
This is the fourth formal Cold Case team at the Manship School, according to Shelledy. He said the average time a student spends on this project is a year.
A total of 13 students have been a part of the project since its formal inception in the Field Experience capstone class in the fall of 2010, not counting the two summer interns, Matt Barnidge and Jay Stanford, who worked with Sentinel editor Stanley Nelson on the ground in Concordia and Natchez in 2009.
Shelledy said the semi-annual trips to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., were initiated in the spring of 2011.