Deputy Fire Marshall C.W. Pharis of Alexandria told the FBI on Feb. 1, 1965, that his investigation into the arson of Frank Morris' shoe shop in Ferriday revealed the fire originated in the interior of the building.
The arson of the shoe shop on Dec. 10, 1964, during the early morning hours, claimed Morris' life four days later. He said two white men set the blaze and that he confronted the men standing near the front corner of the building, one holding a shotgun and the other a gas can.
Just where on the inside the fire began couldn't be determined, said Pharis, but in the rubble were two pieces of evidence. One piece was a charred five-gallon can Morris described which was believed filled with an accelerent used to start the blaze. The other piece was a real puzzler to authorities -- a suitcase filled with 14 half pints of bourbon each individually wrapped in newspaper.
Ferriday fireman and jailer Junior Harp told the FBI that Morris had been suspected of bootlegging whiskey for the previous three to four years but that the police department never "developed any positive information in this respect..." Mouelle said he discovered the suitcase in the rubble and also noticed "two or three empty half pint whiskey bottles on the floor of Morris' living quarters."
Interestingly, in the 1960s, Concordia bootleggers were busy providing Natchez and Adams County residents with alcohol. The city and county were dry.
Several witnesses told the FBI, including many of Morris' friends, that they had never seen the suitcase before and several individuals who knew Morris told The Sentinel that they never heard of Morris bootlegging alcohol or keeping a suitcase filled with bourbon. But if he was a bootlegger, did he make someone angry?
An FBI agent examined the suitcase and its contents. He found it "slightly scorched but not badly burned." The suitcase was found in Morris' bedroom, located in the right rear of the shoe shop. This room "bore evidence of having been exposed to fire." A dresser in the living quarters was completely burned but the mattress on Morris' bed was not burned.
DAMAGE TO BUILDING
Facing the front of Morris' shop from Fourth Street (Hwy. 84), the FBI offered the following description of the outer damage to the shoe shop:
• The right front wall (south end) was intact with the right front plate glass window missing.
• The left front wall (north end) was 75 percent demolished with the right corner of the left front wall remaining intact.
• The left side wall (north) was 50 percent demolished with the principal portion of the damage occurring at the left side wall near the corner of the left front wall, the general location where Morris said he saw the two men.
• The entire roof which had previously sheltered Morris' shop was destroyed.
• The roof over the portion of Morris' living quarters which were to the right rear of his shop was damaged "to a great extent by the fire but remained intact."
• The small house directly behind the shop in which Morris' employee Snoot Griffing and Morris' grandson, Poncho, were in the night of the fire was "damaged and scorched by flames. The roof of this dwelling remained intact."
When entering the front door of the shop prior to the fire, a shoe shine stand was located on the left-hand side against the front window. To the rear was a work area composed of a counter and four machines.
Toward the rear in the left corner was a combination bath and storage room.
From the front of the building to the rear of the shop were 10 display counters stocked with dry goods. The walls of the shop were faced with display cases containing men, women and children's shoes as well as cowboy boots and cowboy apparel.
The FBI noted that the front of the shop was "made entirely of concrete with the work area around the machines protected by linoleum and plywood...the floor was painted red and was in good condition."
In the right rear of the shop was Morris' living quarters, which included a bed directly between two windows, a refrigerator and dressers.
The FBI noted that there was "a partition directly in front of the door used by Morris to enter the shop which meant that it was necessary upon emerging from Morris' living quarters to make a left hand turn followed by a sharp right hand turn in order to see the interior of the shoe shop." This kept Morris' room private and unseen by customers.
After the fire, the FBI found a mess in the interior, which was covered by eight inches of rubble. Several portions of the floor were cleared, revealing that it was composed primarily of concrete while an area of less than three feet from the left side wall window was covered with a linoleum type covering.
In the center of the shop was found "numerous pairs of shoe heels which had not been damaged nor were there any indications that these heels had been exposed to any extreme heat. Through the entire floor area there were many cans which it is believed that they contained shoe polish. In addition, there were numerous cans of one gallon variety which appeared to have contained a glue-like substance."
Snoot Griffing told agents that at the time of the fire, Morris had the following flammable materials inside the shop:
— Two full gallons of cleaning fluid purchased from Williams Company, Natchez.
— A gallon of turpentine.
— Eight to 10 gallons of rubber cement.
— Large quantities for shoe dye and polish.
FBI LAB RESULTS
FBI lab results from under the fingernail of a portion of a finger, believed to be Morris', found in the debris of the shop, consisted "essentially of matted fibers, hair particles, sand grains, silt, paint chips, cinders and carbon material. Also present were particles of silicon carbide abrasive, magnetic and metal particles and slag balls characteristic of grinding wheel debris."
The finger was identified as Q1 by the FBI and found in the corner of the front of the building near the window on the northwest side of the building (near the shoe shine stand.)
Q2 was debris from inside the building close to the northwest window.
Q3, Q4 and Q5 were soil samples taken from the northside of the building next to the west window outside the building.
Q6 was a liquid and soil sample taken from the north side of the building next to the west window.
Q7 were tiny pieces of clothing (t-shirt straps and underwear waistband) removed by Ferriday policemen and left at the Concordia Parish Hospital.
Q8 was debris from inside the building near Morris' sleeping quarters.
Q9 was debris from outside the northwest corner of the building.
Q10 was a portion of material removed from outside the building on the northside of the west window.
Q11 was the charred five-gallon gas can from which no latent fingerprints found.
Flammable liquids found in Q1 through Q4 "corresponded generally to a petroleum mixture of characteristic of kerosene or a light fuel oil. The liquid from Q8 was found to be more volatile than other liquids and corresponded to a petroleum product characteristic of a petroleum naphtha, such as 'Varsol.'"
Q5 and Q10, which included a partially burned pocket watch, contained "very small quantities of oily like residues, too limited for chemical classification..."
No traces of accelerants were found on Q7 clothing nor Q6 liquid and soil sample.