Natchez Klan leader E.L. McDaniel, who became an FBI informant, told the bureau in 1967 that Klansmen from Ferriday and Natchez may have been responsible for the arson murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris because of complaints that Morris was flirting with white women.
True or not, even the suggestion was enough to cost a black man his life in 1964.
While many men were suspects in Morris' murder, by 1967 the FBI considered five men to be of particular interest. All were Klansmen, all were implicated by at least one source and all are now dead. One suspect was Concordia Parish Sheriff's Office deputy Frank DeLaughter.
McDaniel implicated four men in the murder -- E.D. Morace and James L. Scaroborough, both of Ferriday, and Tommy Lee Jones and Thore L. Torgersen, both of Natchez. McDaniel identified the men as members of the Silver Dollar Group (SDG), a militant Klan cell made up of Klansmen from three Klan groups -- the Original Knights, the White Knights and the United Klans of America. The purpose of the SDG, according to the FBI, was to fight desegregation with violence.
After the fire, Morris suffered four agonizing days in the Concordia Parish Hospital, his body scarred from head to toe with third degree burns. Before he died, he left a few clues about the murder, revealing that he was awakened by the sound of glass breaking as he slept in a room in the back of the shop.
At the front of the building he said he encountered two men -- one holding a shotgun, the other a gasoline can. Morris told some visitors at the Concordia Parish Hospital that the men were "two white friends." He said one appeared to throw a match and suddenly the shop burst into flames.
Retired FBI agent Paul Lancaster, who interviewed Morris hours after the fire, told The Sentinel in 2009 that Morris would not identify his attackers by name. "I have no idea who they were," Lancaster said. "If I had known, I would have gone after them."
While it's unclear who physically committed the murder, men who may have been involved still live among us, according to Syracuse law professor Janis McDonald, who has been investigating the murder along with Syracuse law colleague Paula Johnson and volunteer law students.
"Murder charges can be brought not only against those who actually set the fire and killed Frank Morris but also against those who helped in any way," she said. "Those who knew about the plans and assisted in the preparations or even those who were members of the group who planned specific murders may be found guilty of his murder. I would suggest that it is far better to come forward and cooperate with the FBI in the investigation before it is too late."
The FBI's intensive probe into the Morris murder stalled by the middle of 1965, but was re-energized in 1967 with McDaniel's information which came about as a result of the FBI investigation into the carbombing murder of Wharlest Jackson, a black employee of Armstrong Tire in Natchez and an official with the Natchez NAACP.
The FBI reopened the Morris case in 2007 and Concordia Parish Dist. Atty. Brad Burget began a review of the FBI's file in 2009 in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney's office.
In 2008, The Sentinel and the Syracuse University College of Law Cold Case Justice Initiative separately requested through the Freedom of Information Act the release of the Jackson case file. The Sentinel's request was approved by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in March 2009.
The Sentinel was notified by NARA that of the approximately 10,000 pages in the file, that 9,928 pages would be released in full, 17 pages withheld in full and 155 pages released with redactions. Since that time college students directed by Syracuse professors McDonald and Johnson photocopied and provided The Sentinel thousands of pages of the Jackson probe, code named WHARBOM.
While the FBI interviewed numerous suspects it is unclear today why no one was ever arrested.
In August 1967, Klan leader E.L. McDaniel was interviewed by agent Benjamin F. Graves. McDaniel had recently been recruited by the Jackson, Miss., field office as an informant identified as JN-224. One of the men McDaniel fingered in the murder -- E.D. Morace -- was at that time a Klan informant, too, recruited by the New Orleans' field office and known as NO-1325.
The first Mississippi man recruited into the Louisiana-based Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in 1962, McDaniel helped form the Mississippi-based White Knights in 1964 and by August of 1964, just four months before the Morris murder, the 30-year-old was Mississippi Grand Dragon of the United Klans of America (UKA).
UKA membership was skyrocketing at the time, according to the House un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which investigated the Klan in the 1960s. HUAC concluded that the UKA's membership surged because it did a better job than other Klans in exploiting certain portions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, portraying the bill "as the beginning of the extinction of the white race and the start of Negro domination of the South..."
McDaniel told agent Graves that two weeks prior to the murder of Morris in 1964 that he saw E.D. Morace at Cornett's Restaurant in Ferriday. Records show that Morace was long associated with the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (OKKKK) and in 1964 served as Klan Investigator for the OKKKK in northeastern Louisiana. According to HUAC, a Klan investigator fielded complaints from Klansmen involving blacks and whites and then rejected or approved action on those complaints.
It was also known, according to FBI and Congressional documents, that "wrecking crews" were called upon by Klan leaders to handle projects -- ranging from cross burnings to murder. In some cases, a wrecking crew from outside a town or parish where a project was planned was called in to do the job.
McDaniel said Morace told him at Cornett's that he needed to meet with him privately. A week later the two men found a quiet spot at the Dixie Lanes Bowling Alley on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. According to FBI documents, Morace told McDaniel that he had asked "some of the Mississippi boys to whip 'Old Frank', who operated the shoe shop in Ferriday." But Morace said the Klansmen wouldn't do it without McDaniel's authority, according to McDaniel.
McDaniel told the FBI that he told Morace he'd investigate the complaints but said he never intended to. He also said he never granted the authority Morace sought.
WHARBOM documents reveal that Morace, who died in 1970 at the age of 43, told McDaniel that Morris "had flirted with and made smart remarks to white women" at his shop. McDaniel said he was told by Morace that it was imperative that the beating occur "the following Thursday night" because "the law would be on the other side of the parish."
The Sentinel has been unable to ascertain the whereabouts of Concordia Parish sheriff's deputies on the night of the fire. However, Klansman Jack Seale, who was implicated but not arrested for Klan-related murders in Mississippi in the 1960s, told the FBI in 1967 that Morace ruled the Louisiana Klan group in 1964 "with an iron hand," and was in constant communication with the Concordia Parish Sheriff's Office. Seale said when Morace wanted deputies "out of the area" at a particular time he delivered the message by saying that he wanted them "to go fishing."
Records show that the lone patrol car for the Town of Ferriday was spotted by witnesses near Vidalia around the time of the fire. In the minutes before the arson, Town of Ferriday police officers George Sewell and Timmy Lofton were sitting in that lone patrol car parked at the corner of Hwy. 84 (Fourth Street) and Louisiana Avenue at the main intersection in town across the street from King's Hotel. At some point after midnight on Dec. 10, 1964, Kenneth Walsworth got off work from Holsum Bakery. Friends with both officers, Walsworth said he often got into the back seat of the patrol car and visited with the two men.
Lofton is dead, but Sewell and Walsworth, both 23 in 1964, recalled the night of the fire in a Sentinel interview in the spring of 2008. Sewell said it was a custom that a couple a times a night officers would drive the patrol unit -- at the time a 1965 white Pontiac -- on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. to "blow the soot out. That leaded gas would carbon up the valves. We were also young and bored. Sometimes we drove out that way just to see who was at the bars. We weren't supposed to leave town."
While out of town, Sewell recalled they got a radio call from Junior Harp. Sewell said Harp lived with his wife in the apartment above the police and fire station and answered the phone at night.
"He said there was a fire at Frank Morris'," said Sewell. "We raced back to town. I slowed down in front of Frank's place and I thought, 'Lord, this was no fire, this was an explosion.' There was glass and pieces of cinder blocks all over the place. It looked like somebody had thrown a stick or two of dynamite."
Sewell said as the men slowly passed the front of the shoe shop that Morris emerged from the back of the shop completely naked, his hair on fire and the bands of his t-shirt and underwear smoldering. An employee of the Billups Service Station told the FBI in 1964 that Morris "came running toward gas station from direction of (his) shop." Morris was on fire, the man said.
He said in 1964 that "two Ferriday city policeman drove to the station" and took Morris to the hospital in their police car. The Billups' employee said Morris made no "protest whatsoever upon seeing police officers, walked directly to the police car and entered (the) car under his own power."
Walsworth told The Sentinel in 2008 that he got in the front seat with Sewell and Lofton as they transported Morris to the hospital. Sewell and Walsworth told this newspaper that they saw no cars leaving town as they approached the shoe shop. They also said Morris did not identify his attackers.
Jake Davis of Ferriday told The Sentinel in January 2008 that he and his brother were employed by Morris to clean the shop in the evenings. Davis, who was 13 in 1964, said that on the night of the fire three white men stormed into the shop, cornered Morris, and began shouting at him. He said "they were yelling about a woman. By the way they were talking, the woman's husband was one of the men in the store. He was a tall man. He was taller than the others."
Davis said Morris appeared shaken and sent them home. Neither he nor his brother told the FBI what they saw in 1964 because their mother feared for their lives, Davis said.
According to FBI documents, during the day on December 9, 1964 -- just hours before the 2 a.m. fire on December 10 -- Morace called E.L. McDaniel and said the Morris beating had been called off.
"The rabbit hunt is off. Forget about it," McDaniel said he was told by Morace. But the next morning, McDaniel said he drove through Ferriday and observed the charred remains of the shop.
A few days after the fire, McDaniel said he ran into Morace in Ferriday and asked him why Morris was killed. He said Morace replied: "That smart son of a bitch (Morris) made us kill him." McDaniel said Morace indicated that gasoline may have been poured on Morris.
In his interview with the FBI, McDaniel said Morace then made an unusual request: If Morace, Tommy Lee Jones, Thore Lee Torgersen and James Scaroborough were arrested that McDaniel "should get a bondsmen and get them out of jail." Jones and Torgersen were both from Natchez and Scaroborough from Ferriday. The three men, all dead, worked at International Paper and were identified as Klansmen by HUAC in its report on the Klan in December 1967.
When questioned by the FBI, Torgersen and Scaroborough denied any knowledge of the Morris fire. Jones, however, when interviewed on September 29, 1967, told the FBI that he "would not confirm nor deny any participation" in the Morris murder, FBI records show. But he said that if he "was ever arrested for this crime," officers would also have to arrest deputy Frank DeLaughter. He declined to give any details, but said DeLaughter was more involved with Klan activities than the FBI realized.
Klansman Jack Seale told the FBI that Jones confided to him that the FBI considered him a suspect but Seale said Jones denied "any participation" in the murder. Seale said Morace stated he didn't know if Jones was involved but emphasized that he, Morace, wasn't.
In November 1967, the FBI arranged to have three informants -- each apparently unaware that the other was an informant -- sit down for coffee at Cornett's Restaurant in Ferriday. The three men included Morace, Seale and a third Klansman, JN-230.
JN-230 and Seale told Morace that they had heard Morris was hit with a flame thrower, but Morace told them the flame-thrower was out of service at the time. JN-230 said Morace described the flame thrower as 30 inches in length, 12 inches in width, 12 inches in depth, operated on a 12-volt battery and capable of shooting "gallons of gasoline on a building in a few seconds."
JN-230 said at the time of the Morris murder that he and others believed Scaroborough, Jones, Torgersen and Morace "had done the job." But Seale told the FBI that he believed Morace knew details of the Morris murder but may not have participated in carrying it out.
E.L. McDaniel told the FBI in 1967 that he had not told the FBI earlier about Morace's comments concerning the Morris murder because he thought he was the only individual who knew who "participated in the job" and feared for his life if the men learned he was informing.
Contacted by The Sentinel in 2008, McDaniel said he had suffered a stroke and due to memory loss was unable to discuss the Morris murder or past events. In the 2003 award-winning book, "Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy," author Paul Hendrickson interviewed McDaniel about the Klan and reported that McDaniel suffered his stroke on August 29, 1999.
A former Washington Post reporter and now an English professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Hendrickson told The Sentinel that during his interview of McDaniel that the former Klan leader suffered some physical paralysis but was mentally "damn alert. He could stonewall and would do so quickly."
When told that McDaniel had been a Klan informant, Hendrickson said he was astounded.
"Wow!" he said. "That is amazing, a big surprise. But does this suggest he was coming clean or saving his own skin?"
In 1967, E.D. Morace and another Klansman told the FBI a story greatly different from McDaniel's and separately pointed to yet another suspect in the Morris murder -- deputy Frank DeLaughter. That story will be reported soon.