Julia Dobbins


In September 1967, a former clerk at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia gave FBI agents new information concerning both Frank Morris and Joe "JoeEd" Edwards.

While working at the Shamrock in 1964, the woman said an elderly black man told her not to rent the room next to the motel office "until all the other rooms were filled. He explained that the room had a bad spot on the rug and was unsightly."

Two days before she quit her job, she noticed that the storage room adjacent to the registration office "had removable shelves which permitted entrance into" the very room she was told had a "soiled rug."

She also recalled "suspicious activities at the motel," one involving a black male kitchen employee, who often wore a long apron. She observed this man, who fit the description of JoeEd Edwards, when he cut the grass at a cottage across the street.

That cottage may have been one of several located at Maple Courts, which included small bungalows. Each included one bedroom, a small kitchen and a living area. Those cottages have since been destroyed.

One cottage had "shapely cedar trees in front" and drew the attention of the former Shamrock clerk. On one occasion, the woman observed a white female leave the restaurant and enter this cottage. Shortly afterward, the black male kitchen employee entered the same cottage and stayed a long time. The woman said she observed this more than once.

After she quit her job, the former clerk said she was visited by a Mississippi state trooper who stopped by her residence in Natchez. She said the trooper told her that "the black man" at the Shamrock "had been killed and thrown in the river."

This information on the Shamrock porter is contained in redacted FBI documents on the investigation into the murder of Frank Morris, who died as the result of the arson of his shoe shop in Ferriday in December 1964. Also noted in this same report is more information by the former female employee at the Shamrock.

She said about two months after Morris was killed, she observed a man at the Crossroads Store at 275 Lower Woodville Road near the International Paper Company plant in Natchez. The man was drunk, she said.

The woman heard the intoxicated man say of the Ferriday shoe shop owner: "I hated to burn the son of bitch up, but I had to do it."

Before he died, Morris told the FBI that he was in his bed in the back of his shop, heard glass breaking and was confronted at the front of the store by one man holding a single-barrel shotgun and another spreading flammable liquid. The man holding a five-gallon fuel can ignited the liquid with a match and seconds later Morris emerged from the back of the shop in flames.

Six months earlier in July, JoeEd Edwards, the Shamrock porter, disappeared. His car was found a few days later near Ferriday.

Edwards' sister, Julia B. Dobbins, was 18-years-old in 1964 when her 25-year-old brother was reported missing. Now living in Bridge City on the west bank near New Orleans, Dobbins was in Natchez this past weekend to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday with family.

She married her husband, Charles Dobbins, in 1964 and the couple left Natchez in early 1965. Julia recently retired from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department, where she worked under the legendary sheriff, Harry Lee.

Julia Dobbins said the last time she saw her brother was on Independence Day 44 years ago — July 4, 1964. JoeEd brought his sister and other family members to the home of their grandparents, Jake and Mary King. The couple lived on Hwy. 900 in Concordia Parish between Clayton and the Lake St. John road.

JoeEd and another brother lived with the Kings, while Julia lived with their mother, Bernice Conner, at 52 East Oak Street in Natchez. Their mother was 42-years-old at the time.

"Mama died in 1990," said Julia. "She grieved herself to death over Joe. He always popped in every two or three days and when he didn't show up we started calling around. No one had seen him. We kept thinking he would show."

Instead, a few days after his July 12th disappearance, his family learned that his car had been found in the curve of the road behind the bowling alley on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. Julia recalls going with her mother to Ferriday to see JoeEd's car which was towed to the Gulf Oil Station.

JoeEd's cousin, Carl Ray Thompson, an alderman in Clayton, said a necktie arranged in the form of a noose was found on the steering wheel of the car, a two-tone blue and beige 1958 Buick. Julia said there was a belt in the car which didn't belong to JoeEd.

Bloodstains were also found in the car.

The Rev. Robert Lee Jr., 94, of Clayton, knew JoeEd as he was growing up.

"I drove the school bus that JoeEd rode," said Lee. "He had asked me to marry him and his girlfriend. After he went missing, we just thought he got cold feet."

Lee's son, Robert Lee III, said JoeEd's friends knew that he was seeing a white woman at the Shamrock at the same time he was engaged to his black girlfriend, Olga Reed "Augeree" Taylor.

"He told us about it and we warned him that he was taking his life into his own hands," said Lee III. "We knew the Klan wouldn't like that."

The Lees recalled that the FBI came to visit JoeEd's grandparents, the Kings, and reported they had found the head of a black male and asked if they had any of JoeEd's dental records, which they did not.

"The Kings had been told by deputies not to talk to the FBI," said Lee III.

Billy Bob Williams, a retired FBI agent living in Portland, OR, was an agent in residence in Natchez for 18 months. He had just arrived in town in July 1964 when JoeEd's mother, Bernice Conner, came to the FBI office.

"She was distraught and said the Klan had got her boy," said Williams. Because JoeEd went missing in Louisiana, FBI agents in Natchez didn't have jurisdiction in the case because they operated under the jurisdiction of the Jackson office. Williams notified FBI agents working out the New Orleans' division office and the Monroe field office.

Rev. Lee was told by people he considered reliable that JoeEd was taken into Mississippi, shot 30-plus times and his body put into concrete and thrown in the river. Two other sources, who requested anonymity, were told the same story.

One source was told by a high-ranking parish official that JoeEd was "escorted out of the parish." All were told that some deputies as well as the Ku Klux Klan were involved in Edwards' disappearance.

For Julia Dobbins, not knowing what happened to JoeEd has been a lifelong source of anguish. She described her brother as a snappy dresser, full of life, fun-loving and always on the move.

"He liked the ladies," she said. "He had a lot of clothes, he liked to shoot pool and he liked to gamble, especially with dice. We use to call him 'Joe Smooth.'"

He held three jobs to pay his bills, said Julia.

"He worked at the Albert Pick motel in Natchez, at the Swift meat packing house and at the Shamrock," she said. "We had 11 brothers and sisters and Joe was the fourth oldest. Seven of us are still alive. Joe was my favorite brother. He always paid attention to me."

Their mother, Bernice Conner, thought of JoeEd every day after he went missing, said Julia.

"She grieved over him," said Julia. "I think the FBI may have come to our house twice. But they never told us anything. We don't know any more now than we did then."

Julia recalled that in the days and months after JoeEd went missing their mother would ask everyone she saw, "Have you seen Joe?" When the phone would ring, their mother would say, "Oh, maybe that's Joe."

She recalls her brother had a "big heart and was just a good person. He wouldn't hurt anybody. We just want to know what happened to him."

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