Klan informants told FBI agents in 1967 that Concordia Parish Sheriff's Office deputy Frank DeLaughter had it out for Frank Morris, a black man, because the Ferriday shoe shop owner may have done something not even a white man would dare do in 1964 -- stand up to the notoriously violent deputy.
Informants said DeLaughter, a known Klansman, was furious when the shoe shop owner refused to repair his cowboy boots without payment in advance. The informants suggested that may have been why Morris' shop was set afire on Dec. 10, 1964, while Morris was inside. He died four days later as a result of third degree burns.
FBI records show Klansmen E.D. Morace of Ferriday and O.C. "Coonie" Poissot, both paid FBI informants, implicated DeLaughter in 1967. Both Klansmen provided agents with information on racial violence and murders in Concordia Parish and Adams County, Miss., and both were also suspects in acts of violence. Poissot had a criminal record.
Morace was under heavy FBI scrutiny himself in 1967 after Natchez Klan leader E.L. McDaniel, also a paid FBI informant beginning in early 1967, said Morace asked him to grant authority for the "Mississippi boys" to whip Morris for allegedly flirting with white women. McDaniel told The Sentinel in 2008 that due to a stroke he couldn't talk about the Morris case or other Klan matters.
But in 1967 he told the FBI that after the murder, Morace told him that if he, Morace, along with three other Klansmen were arrested in the arson/murder that McDaniel should bond them out of jail. The three others were Klansmen James L. Scaroborough of Ferriday, and Tommy Lee Jones and Thore L. Torgersen, both of Natchez, McDaniel quoted Morace as saying.
All of these men, including McDaniel, were early members of the Louisiana-based Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (OKKKK). McDaniel told the Mississippi Oral History Program of the University of Southern Mississippi in 1977 that he was the first Mississippi man to join the group and was sworn into the Klan in Concordia Parish in 1962. Congressional and FBI records show McDaniel was ousted in December 1963 by OKKKK leaders John Deason Swenson and Royal Young of Caddo Parish over a leadership dispute.
McDaniel then helped organize the White Knights in Mississippi and Jones and Torgersen switched their allegiance from the OKKKK to the White Knights, too. But by August 1964, McDaniel had emerged as the leader of the Mississippi Realm of the United Klans of America, the largest Klan group in the U.S. in the 1960s.
No one was ever arrested in the Morris case. McDaniel said he didn't report the Klan project to whip Morris nor Morace's comments after the arson out of fear for his life.
The statements of McDaniel, Morace and Poissot are found in the FBI file on the case -- WHARBOM -- which was opened following the Feb. 27, 1967, carbombing murder of Wharlest Jackson, an officer in the Natchez NAACP and employee of Armstrong Tire. The FBI believed that Jackson, Morris, Vidalia motel porter Joseph Edwards, and Meadville, Miss., teenagers Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Moore, all black men murdered by Klansmen, were victims of the Silver Dollar Group (SDG), a violent Klan cell made up of diehard segregationists from other Klans.
An Aug. 12, 1967, teletype, from the Jackson, Miss., field office to bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover indicated the Jackson office believed that the SDG "apparatus was functioning at the time of the Moore-Dee murders" in May 1964, adding that several known "SDG members are principal suspects in the Moore-Dee case."
In 2007, James Ford Seale was convicted in the murders of Moore and Dee, two 19-year-olds. The Silver Dollar Group wasn't mentioned during the trial. Both Seale, and his brother, Jack Seale, admitted to the FBI in 1967 that they were SDG members. Jack Seale, now dead, became a paid FBI informant. Although he was implicated in the Dee-Moore murders, Jack Seale was never arrested in the case.
Additionally, the FBI indicated in 1967 that it was following several criminal matters involving "hoodlums and the Sheriff's Office in Concordia Parish, La., which deserve Grand Jury consideration." This included the Morville Lounge at Deer Park, a gambling and prostitution operation the FBI said was controlled by a "major New Orleans organized" crime group led by Carlos Marcello. The FBI said the investigation also involved Sheriff Noah Cross, who would be convicted in the Morville Lounge case in the 1970s, and DeLaughter, also convicted in the same case, as well as for the beating of a white prisoner in the Ferriday jail in October 1965. That conviction came in the 1970s also.
The case against Cross, DeLaughter and 20 others, the FBI teletype said, "should show the entwining of Concordia Parish officials with racial activity, prostitution and gambling. The package involves over thirty potential subjects and could have a big impact on Civil Rights and racial matters in the Natchez-Vidalia area as well as criminal matters."
Whether the FBI confronted Morace about McDaniel's allegations concerning the Morris murder is unclear, but Morace told agents in 1967 that he couldn't understand why anyone would want to kill Morris, who he said was kind to his (Morace's) father. Morace said that when he was a boy he "used to lead his blind father around Ferriday...by the arm and on numerous occasions" took him to Morris' shop to visit. He said Morris repaired his father's shoes countless times and because his father was poor never charged him for the work.
Morace told the bureau that if "the Morris murder" was "Klan inspired" he would have had to clear it, which he said he did not do. He said as Klan Investigator for the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in northeastern Louisiana that he fielded five complaints lodged about Morris' behavior by the members of the Ferriday-Clayton Unit of the Original Knights and unnamed complainants, including:
-- That Morris was a member of the NAACP.
-- That white prostitutes were using the back room of Morris' shop "to turn tricks."
-- That Morris "was becoming too familiar with white women who picked up shoes by driving up to the front of the shop and honking. The allegation was that Morris opened the door of the customer's car and sat in the front seat while conducting his business."
-- That Morris, who had a weekly gospel music radio show every Sunday on KFNV in Ferriday, "was becoming too familiar with white people while broadcasting."
-- That Morris insulted the wife of Concordia Parish Sheriff's Deputy Frank DeLaughter.
Morace told the FBI that he investigated these complaints and found them to be untrue. But Morace stated as fact to the agents that deputy Frank DeLaughter, then 37, ordered "some cowboy boots from Morris and failed to pay for them, which resulted in some hard feelings between" the two.
This story was bolstered in June 1967 when former Klansman O.C. "Coonie" Poissot was interviewed by agents in Natchez. Now dead, Poissot was 36 years old at the time and living in Tucson, Ariz.
Poissot's background as a vagabond, associate of "gamblers, thieves and pimps," a "pill-popper" and possible drug addict, gave him a rare inside look at the Concordia and Natchez criminal underworld, the FBI concluded, and made it likely that as a Klan insider he "was used by Klansmen on projects involving racial violence." He admitted to taking part in thievery with DeLaughter and with Raleigh Jackson "Red" Glover, a Klansman from Vidalia and head of the SDG who the FBI considered a lead suspect in the carbombing of Wharlest Jackson in February 1967 and Natchez NAACP President George Metcalfe in August 1967. Metcalfe survived. Jackson died.
Poissot also provided information not only on murders, but also on "wrecking crews." In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, "night riders," hooded and robed Klansmen, rode horses and terrorized black and white families in towns and the countryside. Congressional records show that the modern Original Knights in 1964 used wrecking crews transported by car or truck, each crew made up of an average of six men, who unbeknownst to other Klansmen secretly carried out violence and arson on the direction of the Klan Investigator, who probed all Klan complaints against blacks and whites.
Poissot admitted to being part of a wrecking crew in the mid-1960s that did jobs in Concordia and Adams County. He said that sometimes the Concordia Klan did "projects" for the Klan in northeastern Louisiana -- including Rayville, Tallulah and Winnsboro -- and the Klan from that region reciprocated by sending wrecking crews for jobs in Concordia.
Poissot said that three weeks prior to the Morris murder, that he was riding with DeLaughter in his patrol car. Poissot told agents Frank B. Watts and William E. Dent Jr. that DeLaughter said Morris "had not been acting right," and needed a "lacing," meaning a "good beating."
The night of the fire, Poissot said he was riding with DeLaughter again and that DeLaughter said "he did not know what he was going to do about that nigger" Frank Morris but that he "was going to have to do something." Poissot said DeLaughter said "the nigger" refused to repair his cowboy boots without payment in advance. Poissot said he inferred that Morris had repaired shoes for DeLaughter before and that DeLaughter had not paid for the work
That very night, said Poissot, the shop went up in flames. DeLaughter never talked to him about Morris again, said Poissot.
Klan leader McDaniel said that the day of the fire that Morace called him with news that "the rabbit hunt" was off, meaning the Morris beating had been called off. What is unclear is when and why a proposed "whipping" project by the Klan became an arson project.