Joseph 'Joe-Ed' Edwards

While more than half of the unsolved civil rights era murders have been closed by the FBI, two local cases are still being investigated and a third has been added to the list for review.

The U.S. Department of Justice, in a report to Congress this week, said of 109 cases involving 122 victims that more than half -- 56 -- have been closed.

While the cases of Frank Morris of Ferriday and Wharlest Jackson of Natchez remain active investigations, according to the FBI, a new name has been added to the cold case list as an open case, that of Joseph Edwards. The 25-year-old porter at the Vidalia Shamrock motel disappeared in Concordia Parish on July 12, 1964, and is believed to have been murdered by the Klan.

"It makes me feel better to think they might care," said Julia Dobbins, 66, of the FBI's decision to investigate her brother's disappearance.

She said seven of Edwards' 11 siblings are still alive and range in age from 46 to 72.

"This gives me more hope for closure," she said, adding that it was important to her family to know what happened and who killed her brother.

According to FBI records, Edwards' mother, the late Bernice Conner, reported her son's disappearance to the Vidalia Police Department on July 19, 1964, after finding his 1958 Buick abandoned in front of the bowling alley on the Ferriday-Vidalia Highway. Edwards was seen at the Shamrock 90 minutes prior to his disappearance, according to FBI records.

On July 21, Conner also filed a missing person's complaint with the Natchez Police Department. 

Six months after Edwards disappeared, Morris died after his shoe shop was torched. In 1967, Wharlest Jackson was killed when a bomb planted beneath the driver's side of his pickup exploded not far from his place of employment, the Armstrong Tire Plant in Natchez.

All three murders are believed to have been planned and/or committed by the Silver Dollar Group, a militant and heavily-armed cell of 20 hardcore Klansmen opposed to civil rights and integration. Each member, records show, carried a silver dollar minted in the year of his birth as a sign of membership and unity.

In the report, the FBI said its cold case initiative has involved outreach efforts in communities and with law enforcement, academia and media. Additionally, the report notes that the FBI has engaged in a new practice in newly-closed cases: to detail its investigative efforts and findings in letters to be hand delivered by agents to the family members of victims.

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