In the late fall of 1964, about 13 miles south of Vidalia, three men stood on the river side of the Mississippi River levee on Morville Plantation at Deer Park discussing the opening of a business.
They walked inside a small building, looked things over, and soon closed a deal with a handshake. A short time later they opened a lounge and for about two years this legendary little bar grew by leaps and bounds, famous for its gambling and prostitution.
But what no one understood those many years ago is that the demise of this operation came in part because of two other events in 1964 -- the July disappearance of Joe-Ed Edwards, 21, a porter at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia, and the fire that claimed the life of Ferriday shoe shop owner Frank Morris, 51, in December.
By the time the Morville Lounge began operation in early 1965, a force of FBI agents was already in Concordia due to the Edwards and Morris investigations.
Edwards' 1958 Buick was found abandoned along the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. on July 12, 1964. He was last seen at work at the Shamrock. When the Buick was towed away from the highway near the bowling alley, blood stains were observed in the car's interior.
Morris saw the two men who set his shop on fire on December 10, 1964, but didn't identify them. He told visitors at his hospital room before his death that he thought the two men "were my friends."
Both cases have been linked to the Silver Dollar Group, a loose organization of about 20 Klansmen who prided themselves on being the toughest Klansmen in Adams County and Concordia Parish. The group was formed over coffee at the Shamrock Motel cafe in 1964.
Already in town investigating these two cases, FBI agents met resistance from some parish law enforcement officers. In a short time, the FBI agents noticed the large numbers of slot machines and gaming devices being operated in bars throughout the parish. They also found that at some places you could pay for a prostitute by the hour or by the night.
The FBI eventually turned up the heat and the Morville Lounge became a major investigation within itself. The lounge was a symbol of many of the problems existing in Concordia Parish in the 1960s.
The days of the Morville Bar and the FBI's investigation were described in numerous court documents and other materials obtained by The Sentinel in the past few weeks.
A 38-year-old lounge operator from south Louisiana managed the lounge at Morville for almost 18 months and became a key witness in the federal government's case against a number of men and women. The investigation continued until the early 1970s.
Curt Hewitt, the lounge operator, came to Concordia from St. Landry Parish, where the sheriff at the time was the legendary Cat Doucet. There, Hewitt said, prostitution was "wide spread."
Hewitt had been operating a bar in Basile called the Peppermint Lounge. He sold the lounge and moved to Deer Park after several discussions with Lee Broussard who, said Hewitt, came to the Peppermint Lounge on occasion "to have drinks."
Broussard asked Hewitt to go to Deer Park and manage a lounge only recently opened there by Wreford Reef Freeman and J.B. Saucier on property owned by J.D. Richardson.
When Hewitt arrived at the Morville Lounge in Deer Park in early 1965, just weeks after the murder of Frank Morris, he found "an old frame building" where "as soon as you walk in there was a lounge. You would walk into a hallway and go to the left was the kitchen. To the right was the rooms."
The bar was located "in the middle of nowhere," hidden behind the levee on which Hwy. 15 was located. Behind the lounge were timber and the Mississippi River.
Hewitt said: "Shortly after I arrived to run the lounge...Reef Freeman dropped out of the business because it was feared a Klan group in the area might burn the Morville Lounge." He said "this group was believed to have burned down another of Reef Freeman's clubs."
Richardson said that during the initial weeks the lounge was "getting a pretty good bunch of people when the Ku Klux left us a note that they were going to burn the place down if Mr. Freeman didn't leave there."
Freeman's club, the Blue Heaven, was named after the 1957 Fats Domino hit, "My Blue Heaven." The bar was located on Horseshoe Lake at Monterey and had burned to the ground weeks earlier.
In the mid-1960s, the House UnAmerican Activities Committee investigation into the Klan listed two Klan klaverns in Concordia Parish. It is likely the Morville Lounge was the designated meeting place for this Klan group, which was originally associated with the Original Knights of Ku Klux Klan and later became a part of the United Klans of America.
Known at one point as the Vidalia Sportsman's Lodge, the appellation "Sportsman's Lodge" was a common front name for Klan organizations in the 1960s. It fit perfectly with the operation at Morville, which sold canned goods and other items to hunters and fishermen.
What is unclear is whether the Klan group associated with Morville later was the same Klan group that threatened to burn it down initially because of Freeman.
The other partner in the lounge, Saucier, later pulled out of the business. Broussard, the man from St. Landry Parish, got involved for a short while; he later pulled out, too, according to court testimony.
Hewitt said the bar was selling liquor, beer and food supplies. It earned most of its money through prostitution and slot machines on the premises. He said after the other men pulled out, he and Richardson made a deal, which remained a subject of dispute throughout the years.
Hewitt said he and Richardson paid the expenses from the business, including "protection money" to the sheriff's office. He also said that the two men split the profits 50/50 once a week. Richardson denied Hewitt's claim in court records, maintaining that he was paid about $200 a month for rent of the property and nothing more.
In government documents, Hewitt revealed that there were three or four slot machines in the place when he took over the bar, "which were furnished to the lounge by 'Blackie' Drane (whose employees) serviced them and took the cash from the slot machines."
Sometime in March 1965, Hewitt said, a Louisiana "beer license inspector" came to the lounge and said the establishment needed an alcohol license and an occupational license, which had to be obtained through the Police Jury.
Neither Richardson nor Hewitt wanted the licenses in their names, so the owner of the licenses of record was Truman Edward "Buddy" Sanford, 43 at the time. Sanford, said Hewitt, was paid to "act as a front man for the lounge."
Sanford had lived at Deer Park since 1962. He told investigators he was a relative of Richardson's and had been employed by him for several years in Richardson's cattle and farming operations.
By the summer of 1965, Hewitt said to "get the lounge in shape" air conditioners were bought as well as lumber and materials as an expansion project was being formalized "so we could handle more prostitutes at one time." But by late summer, Internal Revenue Service agents "raided the lounge and seized the slot machines."
Instead of closing the business, the expansion project continued. The best days, said Hewitt, were still ahead.
Highly interested in all aspects of this operation were agents with the FBI. The disappearance of JoeEd Edwards and the murder of Frank Morris brought the FBI to Concordia; the agency planted its feet here for many years.
While the FBI neither solved Morris' murder nor found out what happened to Edwards 43 years ago, it is today giving the cases one last look.