During the early stages of the investigation into the arson of Frank Morris' shoe shop in Ferriday on Dec. 10, 1964, FBI agents interviewed three local officials.
Two days after Morris died at the Concordia Parish Hospital on Dec. 14, 1964, FBI agents filed reports from Ferriday concerning the information received from these local authorities. The arson investigation by this time had also turned into a murder investigation.
Each official was involved in the early arson probe of Morris' shoe shop on Hwy. 84. Interviewed were Asst. Dist. Atty. Roy Halcomb, Ferriday Police Chief Bob Warren and Ferriday Fire Chief Noland Moulle. All three men have since died.
Each told the FBI that they did not know why Morris was targeted.
Morris' shoe shop was set on fire by two white men around 2 a.m. on Dec. 10, 1964. His clothes on fire, he escaped through the back door of the building and ran to the nearby Billups station where two Ferriday police officers picked him up and transported him to the hospital. The identities of the two police officers are not included in FBI documents released through the Freedom of Information Act.
Morris' murder is one of dozens Civil Rights-era murders now being reinvestigated by the FBI.
The FBI report concerning it's interview with Halcomb was as follows:
"He (Halcomb) advised that at approximately 2 a.m. on December 10, 1964, the business establishment of Frank Morris had been burned to the ground. As a result of the fire, Morris received third degree burns on 100% of his body and was presently in critical condition at the Concordia Parish Hospital, Ferriday, Louisiana.
"He stated that inasmuch as Morris is a Negro and the unknown individuals who set the fire were allegedly white, he decided to notify the FBI because of the possibility that this incident would come under its jurisdiction.
"Halcomb further advised he could not think of any reason for this act because the City of .Ferriday has had no racial problems, demonstrations or the like for the past ten years. He advised he knew of no suspects nor could he furnish any other pertinent information."
The report filed by the FBI on Warren notes:
"He (Warren) advised that no suspects or motive has been developed regarding the burning of Frank’s Shoe Shop which resulted in the hospitalization of Frank Morris. He stated that he had spoken to the hospital and they advised him that Morris had received 3rd degree burns on 100% of his body and was not expected to live more than 48 hours.
"Warren stated that Morris' shoe shop was the only one in town and had both the white and Negro trade. As far as he knew there had not been any incidents involving Morris and the white community which would have caused this incident.
He advised that he could not, from his own personal knowledge, state whether or not Morris was associated with the NAACP, CORE, or any other civil rights group. He did state, however, that he does know from personal knowledge that Morris never publicly demonstrated or spoke out for integration.
"Warren further advised that Morris was once arrested for disturbing the peace, in 1948, but since that time he has never been in or caused any trouble. Morris is either divorced or separated from his wife and lives alone in the rear of his store. In an adjoining building lives his helper, a (Snoot Griffing) and his grandson (Nathan Poncho Morris). Warren stated that neither of these two were injured as a result of the fire,
"Warren further stated that any pertinent information developed during the investigation would be made known to the FBI, if they so desired."
Concerning Moulle, the FBI noted:
"He (Moulle) advised that the fire at 415 South Fourth Street had completely destroyed the shoe shop and the adjoining living quarters. He stated that the premises belong to Frank Morris, who owned and operated Frank's Shoe Shop. The main part of the business was shoe repair; however, this was supplemented by the sale of dry goods.
"Moulle advised that preliminary investigation indicates that the fire was caused by person or persons unknown who poured gasoline or similar type fluid about the shop and then ignited it.
"He stated that he is a long-time resident of the City of Ferrlday and that this incident was beyond him. He could not think of any suspects nor could he furnish a reason why this act vas done. He advised that he is acquainted with Frank Morris and always considered him to be hard working and well liked by both the white and Negro communities. He further advised that there has been no racial unrest, demonstrations or the like in Ferriday for more that ten years. He had never heard Morris advocate or participate in any civil rights movements in Ferrlday and in fact anywhere else.
"Moulle stated that he has heard that Morris was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; however, he, Morris, did not engage in any overt acts or pronouncements of that organization."
Moulle died Sept. 16, 1965, just nine months after Morris' death. A native of Lecompte, Moulle had resided in Ferriday since 1919. In addition to serving as fire chief, he was civil defense director for the parish. He also owned and managed DeLuxe Laundry and Cleaners in Ferriday until he sold the business due to declining health.
Halcomb died in 1982 at the age of 57. He began work as an attorney in Ferriday in 1952 and went on to serve as assistant district attorney in Concordia and Catahoula parishes. He was a World War II veteran and a graduate of LSU law School.
Warren, a native of Bellville, AR, died at the age of 72 in November 1986. A 46-year resident of Ferriday, he served as police chief for 28 years, beginning in 1954. A veteran of World War II, he came to Ferriday in 1945 and was elected to a four-year term as alderman shortly therafter.
The references in the interviews to Morris' possible membership in the NAACP or any other civil rights organization was important to the case in terms of federal intervention. At that point in time, federal authorities were limited in taking over local investigations unless it was a somewhat clear case of a civil rights violation.