(Editor's Note: Canadian filmmaker David Ridgen wrote, produced and directed the award-winning 2007 documentary for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation -- "Mississippi Cold Case." The film is about the 1964 murders of Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore, both 19, of Meadville, Miss., and the 2007 prosecution of James Ford Seale in those homicides.)
BY DAVID RIDGEN
In southwest Mississippi, in the spring of 1964, the Klan had a theory that blacks were running guns into Franklin and Adams County in order to start what they characterized as a "Muslim insurrection."
Charles Marcus Edwards, a sworn member of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who lived in the Kirby community (in Franklin County, Miss.) at the time, implicated African-American Henry Hezekiah Dee as a possible gun runner. Edwards felt that because Dee wore a black headscarf he was suspicious. Dee lived down the street from Edwards and would pass by the Edwards house on foot from time to time.
On May 2, 1964, Dee was spotted in Meadville and the call went out to available Klansmen for help. They wanted to act on Edwards' assertion. White Knights Klansmen Charles Marcus Edwards, James Ford Seale, Clyde Seale, Curtis Dunn and Archie Prather were part of the call that day. In a truck and James Ford's Seale's Volkswagen, they headed toward the spot where Dee was reported to have been seen.
By the time the five Klansmen assembled and arrived, Henry Dee had been joined by his friend Charles Eddie Moore. Together they were trying to hitch a ride home across from the Tastee Freeze at the edge of town. Dee was heading to the lumber mill in Roxie where he worked to pick up his pay check, and Moore was heading home just up the highway a few miles.
James Ford Seale decided to approach the two boys on his own, while the rest of the Klansmen stood by watching from a distance in the truck. Seale pretended to be a revenue agent searching for bootleggers. Dee and Moore got in Seale's Volkswagen. He drove them into the Homochitto National Forest, followed by the other four Klansmen.
Dee and Moore were tied and beaten with bean sticks. Seale hit them in the head with a carbine. They were interrogated and asked about the gun running, and who was involved in it. At one point during the beating one of the boys cried out that perhaps the Reverend Clyde Briggs of the Roxie Baptist Church might know something. Perhaps the guns were in the basement of his church.
The beating continued until Dee and Moore were bloody and unconscious. Four Klansmen left, leaving Seale to "guard" Dee and Moore in the forest.
A call was made for help and WKKKK members Ernest Parker and Jack Seale drove from Natchez to help bundle Dee and Moore into the trunk of Parker's car. The boys were driven by James Seale, Ernest Parker, and Jack Seale to Parker's Landing on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River, off an old ox-bow lake.
The Klansmen removed Dee and Moore, who had miraculously survived the long drive in the trunk, and chained them to a Jeep motor block and heavy train rails and wheels. One by one, Dee and Moore were rowed into the Mississippi and dropped overboard while still alive.
With the help of Klan informants and by working in tandem with the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol and other local authorities, the FBI would eventually create thousands of documents from their investigation into the Moore and Dee case. There would be two arrests of reported Klansmen.
On November 6, 1964, James Ford Seale and Charles Marcus Edwards, two of the seven suspects, were handcuffed and taken to Jackson, the state capital, for questioning. They were released less than 36 hours later on $5,000 bond. There would be no grand jury called by Lenox Foreman, the district attorney of the time, and therefore no court proceedings despite voluminous evidence, partial confessions and admissions, and the cooperation of several reliable Klan informants. The case would languish in limbo for decades.
Thomas James Moore (victim Charles Moore's brother) is the kind of larger-than-life character that documentary filmmakers like me dream of. A retired command sergeant-major, a Vietnam veteran, born on the 4th of July, a man who thought he was fighting for a certain kind of country, but a country that never served him or his family any justice. A liberal-minded voter, he's a man of piercing gaze and fearsome manner with a passion for the music of legendary blues guitarist BB King.
Thomas is also a man absolutely tortured by shame and feelings of guilt that he didn't do enough to protect his brother or personally bring his killers to justice at the time. Growing up, Thomas would finish schoolyard fights for Charles and guard him zealously when they played football. Charles would have been a doctor or a lawyer. Thomas often says that before Charles's murder, Thomas would have referred to himself in less flattering terms: "I was a party boy, you know; I just wanted to have a good time."
But all that would change.
In early June 2005, Thomas Moore received the Fed-Ex letter with my proposal for a documentary film and a request that he return to Mississippi with me to personally investigate his brother's case. What was the point, thought Thomas, of giving more quotes to reporters or spending another thirty minutes in his brother's graveyard for the benefit of another Connie Chung's cameras? Nothing could bring his brother back or erase his guilt. Within a week, Thomas would agree to return to Mississippi with me to make a film.
We knew that one of the alleged killers, Charles Marcus Edwards, was still alive. I had called him on the phone a few months earlier. His current wife had hung up.
Edwards was one of the two men who had been arrested for the murders of Moore and Dee back in 1964, but then released. We would learn from members of his congregation that Edwards was a respected Deacon at a Baptist church. All the other alleged perpetrators, seven in all, were reportedly dead. This included James Ford Seale, the other man who had been arrested along with Edwards. Seale's son told an Associated Press reporter in September 2005 that his dad had died "six or seven months ago".
In Natchez, we met with the local District Attorney, a man named Ronnie Harper. It was about 9:30 am. Harper seemed pleased to see us. Almost immediately he told us that it was his information that James Ford Seale, one of the alleged main perpetrators of the murders arrested with Charles Edwards in November 1964 was still alive. By noon we'd confirm Seale's continuing existence in dramatic fashion and on-camera, without even looking for him.
We'd stopped at a Roxie, Mississippi gas station and by chance, on this eventful stop, Thomas met up with a smiling cousin of his named Kenny Byrd. Thomas was mentioning to him the purpose of the trip -- to investigate the case and to confront Charles Edwards -- and that it was too bad James Seale was dead. Kenny Byrd casually interrupted and pointed across the road. "Uh, uh," he said. "James Ford Seale lives right over there in a mobile home, one of them mobile homes".
James Ford Seale's trial began on May 30, 2007. A jury of four blacks and eight whites was selected, with three white alternates.
Charles Marcus Edwards was the star witness. He told the jury that he and James Seale had picked the boys up, beaten them, and that James Seale told him later that he, James Seale, had personally participated in transporting the boys across state lines and in murdering the boys. While still under oath, Edwards stood up on the stand and addressed Thomas Moore in front of a packed courtroom:
"I want to say something to Thomas Moore and the Dee family. I can't undo what I done over 40 years ago. But I ask for your forgiveness for my part in this."
The courtroom was stunned and silent.
On June 14, 2007, at 6:30 p.m., James Ford Seale was convicted on a charge of conspiracy and two counts of kidnapping where the victims were not released alive.
On June 15, 2007, less than 18 hours after Seale's conviction, Thomas Moore (victim Charles Moore's brother) and I headed one more time down the Bunkley Road in Meadville, Mississippi. We passed the Bunkley Baptist Church with its well-mown, impossibly green lawn and turned left on Rand Lane.
On the rough red-dirt road, stood the home of Charles Edwards. We stopped. Thomas got out of the van and walked up the driveway.
Thomas Moore offered Charles Edwards his hand, and forgave him.
On August 24th, 2007, Edwards' friend and Klan accomplice James Seale, was sentenced to three life terms in the federal penitentiary.