A hand-drawn map recently obtained through the Freedom of Information Act pinpoints the location in Concordia Parish where divers searched for the body of 25-year-old African-American Joseph Edwards in 1967.
An employee at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia, Edwards was reported missing in July 1964. Edwards' case is one of 39 unsolved Civil Rights-era murders the FBI is investigating again.
The map, drawn in 1967 by FBI special agent Fred Lafferty, marks the location at Deer Park Lake, 15 miles south of Vidalia, where divers attempted unsuccessfully to locate the remains of Edwards.
FBI records indicate that Edwards was targeted by the Ku Klux Klan and law enforcement for allegedly flirting or dating white women. During the early morning hours of July 12, 1964, a witness observed Edwards' 1958 white over green Buick on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. being pulled over in front of the Dixie Lanes Bowling Alley by an unmarked white 1964 Oldsmobile sedan with a flashing red light on the dash and two short wave antennae on the trunk.
Bureau documents indicate the white car may have been the City of Vidalia's lone police car or may have belonged to Red Glover, a Klansman who led a violent underground KKK offshoot known as the Silver Dollar Group.
Edwards hasn't been seen since that time.
The FBI launched an investigation into Edwards' disappearance in 1967 as part of its probe into the carbombing murder of Natchez NAACP treasurer Wharlest Jackson. The bureau's investigation into Jackson's death -- codenamed "WHARBOM" -- was known as a "special" in which peripheral investigations were launched into other unsolved murders, arsons, beatings and bombings in this region.
The LSU Unsolved Civil Rights-Era Murders Student Project team recently gained access the WHARBOM file, which included 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 Sentinel has been working with the LSU team since 2009 and began working with the Syracuse University College of Law Cold Case Justice Initiative in 2007, which had previously provided the Sentinel documents relating to Edwards' disappearance.
At the center of the bureau's search for Edwards' body in Deer Park Lake in 1967 was lifelong commercial fisherman Milton "Ouddie" Boothe of Harrisonburg, who died in 2011 at the age of 84. Boothe told agents that he found what he believed to be human flesh in Deer Park Lake in October 1964, three months after Edwards went missing.
Deer Park Lake was once the main channel of the Mississippi River known as Deer Park Bend. In 1933, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction of a cut-off at Glasscock Point to straighten the river's path thereby turning the bend at Deer Park into an oxbow lake.
Interviewed by the bureau on August 11, 1967, Boothe said he and three employees were dragging a fish seine on the western side of Deer Park Lake near the bank when they snagged a "large object." Preparing to dive to untangle the seine, Boothe told the bureau that a refrigerator or steel drum "apparently turned over and a large air bubble about four feet in diameter broke the surface. Large balls of material which appeared to be 'dingy' or dark brown flesh surfaced with this bubble. A terrible sickening stench came from the area."
Boothe estimated this fleshy material weighed approximately eight pounds.
His seine had become entangled, he told the bureau, 140 feet from the bank between Jughead Jones' landing to the south and George Fenton's camp to the north. Fenton told FBI agents that in 1963 "he placed 40 refrigerator cabinets in the river in front of his camp to encourage fish to locate in the area...he recalled no suspicious activity around that area in July 1964."
Deer Park Lake was at a low water depth of 14 feet in October 1964 when he made the find, Boothe reported. He said he was so convinced that the material was human flesh that he determined to bring it to Catahoula Parish because didn't trust the Concordia Parish Sheriff's Office.
Catahoula Sheriff J.Y. McGuffee told the bureau in 1967 that he thought the material delivered by Boothe was animal carcass.
Shelby Beasley, a Catahoula Parish deputy in 1964, told the Sentinel he informed Boothe there wasn't "much chance of it (fleshy material) being identified. There were no DNA tests back then. I put it in the jail refrigerator" in a bottle.
He, too, thought the substance was most likely animal carcass.
Beasley said Chief Deputy A.J. Guyon gave the material to the Concordia officials, which was confirmed by Concordia Parish Sheriff's Office jailer D.W. Clark who told the bureau in 1967 that the sheriff's office investigated Boothe's discovery but made no findings.
A suspect in the Edwards' disappearance, Concordia Parish sheriff's deputy Bill Ogden told the bureau in 1967 that he recalled when Edwards' car was abandoned on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. in 1964. However, Ogden said the sheriff's office didn't investigate the matter and didn't know what happened to Edwards.
FBI documents show that Ogden told a local preacher that he and deputy Frank DeLaughter, also a suspect in Edwards' disappearance, had pulled Edwards over at the bowling ally on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. in July 1964. Ogden told the preacher that Edwards was wanted by the deputies for questioning in a bar disturbance in Ferriday but that he bolted from his car, escaped across the Mississippi River levee running parallel to the highway and hadn't been seen since.
In 1967, Ogden told the bureau that he, Sheriff Noah Cross and deputy Ike Cowan searched the surface of the water at Deer Park Lake in 1964 but didn't find a body. The FBI reported in 1967 that Ogden indicated the three "did not drag for a submerged object because they only had one drag line and needed two."
Ogden told agents he didn't think Boothe's find was human, but a deer carcass instead. He added that Jughead Jones, the owner of a restaurant and landing near the search site, "made sausage by mixing deer meat with pork and he disposed of the illegal deer remains by dumping it" in the lake.
Ferriday Klansmen E.D. Morace, an FBI informant, told the bureau that on August 25, 1967, the day after divers searched the bottom of Deer Park Lake, that he saw Ogden at the Bonanza Club, a bar on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. He said Ogden "stated either that he was going to tell the FBI or had already told the FBI the odor which arose from Deer Park Lake came from a wild animal carcass which had been sunk in the lake to attract catfish."
Before his death earlier this year, retired FBI agent John Pfeifer, who investigated the Klan and violence in the parish for more than a decade, said he recalled the excitement generated when divers searched Deer Park Lake in 1967.
However, Pfeifer said if Edwards was abducted and possibly killed near the bowling alley where his car was abandoned, his killers could have much more quietly and easily disposed of the body at a sink hole known as the Blue Hole on the north side of Lake St. John, which is directly accessed along the levee road where Ogden told the preacher Edwards had run while escaping.
"Once the guy's dead they're stuck with a body," Pfeifer said. "They're not going all to way down south of Vidalia on the Mississippi River" to dispose of the body "when they were very close to the blue hole on Lake St. John. Guys like that didn't want to travel very far with a dead body on their hands."
In fact, Pfeifer believes rumors that Edwards had been skinned alive, tortured and his body cut into pieces for disposal after his abduction may have been spread by deputies to terrify the black community. Pfeifer said DeLaughter was the source of many unfounded rumors.
Additionally, Pfeifer said neither Ogden or DeLaughter would have been concerned with the FBI's search of Deer Park Lake more than a dozen miles down the Mississippi if they knew Edwards' body had been disposed somewhere else. In fact, Boothe told the bureau in 1967 that Ogden called him inquiring about the FBI's search of the lake but indicated he "was not worried" about it.
Scuba divers George Lansing and Warren Baker, both of Magnolia, Miss., searched the area pointed out by Boothe but were hampered in the search because the lake bottom was "covered with three to four feet of muck and obstructed extensively by logs and dead head stumps." Additionally, the divers said "following the dissipation of gas in the container" in which the flesh had been located that it "probably had sunk considerably more deeply in the muck than it was at the time originally encountered by Boothe. With visibility zero and reliance being placed directly on their sense of feel," the divers "suspected they could have easily missed a deeply submerged container."
On August 26, 1967, the Jackson, Miss., FBI office reported to bureau headquarters that it was satisfied "that whatever it was Milton Boothe...disturbed in the lake bottom was no longer present in the area where he encountered it. No further efforts are planned in the absence of specific information pointing to the presence of the body in the lake."