It's a long shot at best, but an LSU forensic anthropologist will lead a team of assistants and anthropology students to Clayton on Tuesday in a scientific search for Joseph "JoeEd" Edwards, missing and believed kidnapped and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan 45 years ago.
Do Edwards' remains rest near a site in Clayton where seven years ago a human skull, yet to be unidentified, was found?
LSU's Mary Manhein, who did a ground survey of the immediate area along Shady Lane in 2002, will return to Clayton on Tuesday to renew her search while she awaits word from a lab on whether DNA can be extracted from the skull.
Manhein will bring a team of five to seven to assist her, while an ABC Nightline crew along with correspondent John Donvan will follow Manhein as they focus on her work and specifically hone in on her quest to help solve the disappearance of JoeEd Edwards.
Manhein was first made aware of the Edwards' case when contacted in 2008 by law students from Syracuse University College of Law's Cold Case Justice Initiative. The students, who research and investigate Civil Rights-era murders, work under the supervision of law professors Janis McDonald and Paula Johnson.
Known as "The Bone Lady," Manhein has for years assisted law enforcement in identifying human remains and determining the cause of death. But it's more than science that will bring her back to Clayton next week.
"I can not stand for a case to be unsolved," said Manhein. "I can not bear it. We have remains at our lab that don't have names but somewhere there are families who would like to bring these remains home."
For more than 25 years, Manhein has dedicated her life to forensic anthropology and to "sending these remains home. I am tenacious and determined to find an answer."
Edwards, 25-years-old when he went missing on July 13, 1964, lived with his grandparents on Hwy. 900 (Red Gum Road), about four miles from where the skull was found in Clayton in 2002. He was last seen by a kitchen employee at the Shamrock Motel cafe in Vidalia, where Edwards worked as a handyman and porter.
His two-toned blue and beige 1958 Buick was discovered along the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. near the old bowling alley at a point about eight miles from Clayton. The Rev. Robert Lee III, 95, of Clayton said blood was found inside the car.
Weeks after his disappearance in 1964, Edwards mother, now deceased, told the FBI in Natchez that the Klan had kidnapped and likely murdered her son.
U.S. Attorney Donald Washington of Lafayette, who is spearheading a new investigation into the December 1964 arson murder of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris, said the FBI does not possess a file on Edwards' disappearance.
While Morris' case file is in excess of 800 pages, Washington said he doesn't know why "there was no investigation" into Edwards' disappearance 45 years ago.
The skull found in Clayton is missing its lower jaw and has a small hole in the forehead, said Manhein. She said the skull appears to be that of a black male, although she said it could possibly be Native American.
Manhein's lab at LSU has been designated by the Louisiana Legislature as the central repository for unidentified human remains and missing person data. She is director of the facility known as FACES -- the Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement.
Manhein had worked more than 1,000 forensic cases and has authored the books -- "The Bone Lady: Life as a Forensic Anthropologist," and "Trail of Bones."
A few months ago, FACES personnel took a DNA sample from Edwards' sister -- Julia Dobbins of Bridge City, La. That sample can be matched against any skeletal remains found in Clayton, including the skull, if DNA can be extracted from the remains.
Dobbins said she is thankful for Manhein's efforts.
"It makes me feel really good to see people who care enough to want to find out what happened to my brother back in 1964," said Dobbins. "A lot of our family, grandparents, brothers and sisters, and others are gone. A few of us are left."
She said her mother, Bernice Conner, who died almost two decades ago, spent the remainder of her life hoping and praying that her son's fate would become known.
"She never knew," said Dobbins.
Manhein says she thinks there is a 30 to 40 percent chance that DNA can be extracted by the skull.
"We're wanting to get nuclear DNA, but if that's not possible we'll try to get mitochondrial DNA," she said. "We'll stay at it. I'm an eternal optimist."
Manhein is receiving assistance from the Concordia Parish Sheriff's Office and the Town of Clayton.
The motive for Edwards' murder is believed to be racial. Edwards, say friends and family, often flirted with white women and claimed to have been involved sexually with white women, particularly at the Shamrock Motel where he worked.
Suspicions that the Klan was involved in Edwards' death relate to a number of factors based on numerous interviews of family members, friends and acquaintances of Edwards', including:
-- The Shamrock Motel cafe was known in 1964 as a hangout for the Klan.
-- The Silver Dollar Group, a militant offshoot of the Klan dedicated to the violent opposition to Civil Rights, was formed at the Shamrock in the spring of 1964. Earcel "Sonny" Boyd Jr. of Portland, Ore., and Leland Boyd of Texas, say their father -- Earcel Boyd Sr. -- was one of the founding members of the Silver Dollar Group.
Sonny Boyd said that in April 1964, weeks before Edwards' went missing, that he and Edwards had a brief conversation at the Shamrock cafe while Silver Dollar Klansmen were meeting over coffee in an adjoining room.
-- Edwards told friends prior to his disappearance that he had been in a room at the Shamrock with a white woman when several white men burst in and threatened him. He escaped unharmed, Edwards told a cousin, because the white woman knew who the men were and threatened to reveal their identity if Edwards was harmed.
-- In the Frank Morris investigative files from the mid-1960s, a document reveals that a female Shamrock clerk told the FBI that a Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol officer who was investigating the Klan told her that "the black man" at the Shamrock had been killed.
Family and friends of Edwards' were told that he was kidnapped, tortured, killed, chained and thrown into a watery grave, including the alleged sites of the Mississippi, an old bar pit near the bowling alley and in deep water known as the "blue hole" at Lake St. John.
A retired FBI agent, Billy Bob Williams of Portland, Ore., said he learned through an informant while working in Natchez in 1964 that Edwards had been taken to a "torture chamber" located in an abandoned farm house possibly in Concordia Parish or Adams County. Williams was also told that Edwards "had been skinned alive."