There are many mysteries about the night of July 11-12, 1964, when 25-year-old African-American Joseph Edwards disappeared in Concordia Parish:
-- Who was the white woman he was expecting to meet at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia at 11 p.m. on the night of Saturday, July 11, 1964?
-- What happened from the time he arrived at the Shamrock until his 1958 white over green Buick was seen 90 minutes later being pulled over by an unmarked police car in front of the Dixie Lanes bowling alley on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. at 1:30 a.m. early Sunday morning, July 12, 1964?
-- Who were the men in that unmarked white 1964 Oldsmobile with two police antennae on the back and a flashing red-light on its dash?
-- Where was Edwards taken once he was forced into that white Olds?
Employed at the Shamrock for only a few months and never seen again since that night, Edwards has been missing for 46 years and may have been abducted and murdered because of two incidents involving white women at the Shamrock, according to FBI documents and a three-year Concordia Sentinel investigation.
One incident occurred Saturday, June 27, 1964, when a three-year-old white boy drowned in the Shamrock pool. Edwards tried to save the child, FBI records show, but almost drowned himself and had to be saved by the child's mother. The woman told the FBI that her husband, the child's step-father, "had made several prostitution dates for her through" Joseph Edwards at the Shamrock.
A second incident occurred two weeks later on Thursday, July 9, 1964, when a white Shamrock registration clerk told a close friend who was a Shamrock guest and also a Louisiana probation officer, that Edwards had grabbed her arms and kissed her on the lips against her will. The man, 44-year-old James Goss, who died in Shreveport last year at the age of 89, filed a complaint against Edwards the next day with Vidalia Police Chief Bud Spinks. When the clerk, who now lives in South Louisiana, refused to press charges, she said Spinks told her that Edwards "would be taken care of," according to FBI documents.
A Klan informant told the FBI that Spinks told a Vidalia Klansman, Raleigh Jackson "Red" Glover, the reputed head of a violent Klan cell known as the Silver Dollar Group, that "something had to be done about Edwards."
After launching a probe into Edwards' disappearance in 1967 as part of its investigation into the Feb. 27, 1967, carbombing murder of Wharlest Jackson of Natchez, the FBI learned that "Edwards was expecting a date with a white woman at the Shamrock Motel the night he disappeared. Some byplay has developed, which although not clearly articulated at this point indicates he was sent to a room at the motel after arriving there." Later, Edwards' car was seen being pulled over on the highway.
The FBI concluded: "All of this activity apparently transpired in a period of an hour and a half and tends to substantiate informant data that Edwards was murdered as a result of police action." The investigation indicated that the white Olds belonged to the Vidalia Police Department.
In the days leading up to his abduction, Edwards reported to friends and family that he had experienced some tense encounters with white men. A black male employee at the Shamrock, Willie Ford of Natchez, told the FBI that Edwards said he was setting up dates for white male guests of the motel with black female prostitutes. Ford said Edwards had a pass key and was once found asleep in one of the motel rooms by a black maid who reported the matter to management.
Edwards' cousin, Carl Ray Thompson of Clayton, told The Sentinel that Edwards indicated he had a white girlfriend at the Shamrock and that he had been threatened by white men, although Thompson said he was not told any specifics.
Known by friends and family as an outgoing man who dressed well and liked to gamble, Thompson said Edwards was also his best friend. The two grew up together and when Thompson was briefly out of a job, he said Edwards gave him money to help him out.
Edwards liked being with women, his friends said, and had a black girlfriend he planned to marry. That woman, Augaree Taylor, told the FBI in 1967 that she last saw Edwards on the weekend of July 3-4, 1964, when she was in Clayton visiting with her family. She said she and Edwards had two children together and that the last time she saw him was when he dropped her off at the bus station in Natchez for a trip to Jackson, Miss., where she was living at the time.
She told agents that Edwards was missing one or two upper teeth on the right side of his mouth and added that he had suffered a leg injury while working at the Shamrock in the days before his disappearance. She didn't know how the injury occurred but indicated that Edwards "had some fights with white men" but didn't know who the men were or the "nature of his difficulties."
Another relative of Edwards', George Thompson, said Edwards occasionally stayed with him in Clayton and last saw him at 7 p.m. on the night he went missing. He said Edwards left some of his clothing and personal property at Thompson's home and didn't indicate that he planned to be away for an extended period of time. Thompson said Edwards never mentioned that he had enemies but said Edwards "could be outspoken."
A few hours later that night, FBI records show, Edwards stopped by a bar in Ferriday that was managed by his girlfriend's father, Robert Taylor, who said Edwards arrived at the bar alone and drank two beers. Taylor said Edwards told him he was in "high cotton" and was going to the Shamrock to meet a white woman. Worried about his safety, Taylor said he warned Edwards to "stay away from white girls" as Edwards departed the lounge at 10:30 p.m.
The FBI's probe revealed that Edwards arrived at the Shamrock around 11 p.m. The bureau believed that he was there to meet an unidentified white woman for a date and was sent to a room. A number of white females -- both Shamrock employees and others -- were questioned about whether they had asked Edwards to meet him there that night. All denied any involvement.
Just what transpired at the motel for the next hour and half is unknown, according to FBI documents, but it is believed that during this time the Klan, with cooperation from local law enforcement, put into motion a plan to kidnap Edwards, beat him and run him out of town. Such projects, records show, were being carried out by Klansmen throughout Concordia, Adams County and southwestern Mississippi in 1964.
Before Edwards left the Shamrock in his 1958 white over green Buick, which he had purchased in early July from Purvis Motors in Ferriday, the manager of the Dixie Lanes bowling alley on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. closed up shop after midnight. Kenneth R. Stephenson, 34, who later became a Jena banker, told the FBI he then drove one mile east toward Vidalia to Blackie Drane's bar on the Ferriday-Vidalia Highway.
He told agents that at 1:30 a.m. he left the lounge and as he turned left onto the highway he observed a two-toned predominately green Buick heading west toward Ferriday. He made no mentioned of whether the Buick was traveling at an excessive speed. Stephenson told the FBI that within a moment a 1964 white Oldsmobile with flashing red lights on the dash and two long police radio antennae on the trunk roared passed him "with great speed."
Continuing westward, Stephenson said he came abreast of both cars parked on the side of the highway opposite the bowling alley. He told the FBI that a large white male was in the driver's seat of the Oldsmobile and that there was one male occupant in the Buick and "one or two men" standing by the driver's side of the Buick.
Stephenson said he continued westward toward Ferriday when suddenly the white Olds with a number of occupants accelerated by him again "at a high rate of speed." Curious about what was going on, Stephenson said he attempted to follow the Olds but had lost it by the time he got to Ferriday. Thinking the car may have traveled to the Ferriday jail then located on Tennessee Avenue (behind the Concordia Sentinel office), Stephenson said he traveled there but didn't see the car.
When interviewed for the first time in 1967 about what he saw in 1964, Stephenson told the FBI that the incident so intrigued him that he wrote down the license plate number of the white Olds, but said he lost the document.
Concordia Parish Sheriff's Deputy Raymond Keathley told the FBI in 1967 that the Vidalia Police Department was the only law enforcement agency in the area in 1964 that had a cruiser with two radio antennae on its trunk and added that the vehicle used red emergency lights on the dashboard.
Charles Jordan of McPhail Car Rentals in Natchez informed the bureau in 1967 that the City of Vidalia leased a 1964 white Oldsmobile that was in use by the police department in July 1964. He said the department returned the vehicle in October 1964.
Milton G. Wisner worked as a radio dispatcher for the Vidalia Police Department in 1964 but told the FBI in 1967 that he had later been fired by Police Chief Bud Spinks. Wisner confirmed that the Vidalia police department had two police radio antenna on the trunk of its car in 1964 -- one he said operated on the Louisiana Sheriff's Association band and the other on the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol band. He added that the car used revolving red lights on the dash and that several such lights were stored in a cabinet at the police station for use by Vidalia auxiliary policemen.
Hours later, a hot July Sunday dawned and for the next two weeks passing motorists would observe an abandoned white over green Buick parked along the highway opposite the Dixie Lanes bowling alley.