On April 7, 1964, two of the FBI's most experienced special agents in the South met up at a lounge on the Ferriday-Vidalia Hwy. in Concordia Parish.
Clarence Prospere Jr., age 47, of Natchez, and William “Bill” Eugene Dent Jr., 45, of Monroe, arrived at Cario's Drive-In Barbecue on business, not pleasure.
They were investigating a complaint of police harassment and keeping tabs on Klansmen as racial violence erupted throughout the South.
Dent's career with the FBI began in 1947 following his service in the 8th Air Force 389th Bomb Group in Europe and Africa during World War II. He left the military with the rank of major. At the time, the FBI was replacing a number of retiring veteran agents who had extended their service during the war due to a shortage in manpower.
Born and reared in Jackson, Miss., Dent completed college after the war, earning a business degree from Mississippi State.
He and his wife, Charlottie, an Alabama native teaching in Florida at the time of their courtship, were married the same year Dent joined the FBI. Their lives together as an FBI couple would lead them across the country.
Bill Dent died in 2007 at the age of 88. Charlottie passed away in 2013 at age 86.
She was one of a handful of FBI wives I had the honor of talking with on several occasions during the past years.
Ann Williams, whose husband Billy Bob served 18 months in Natchez during the height of Klan violence, only recently became a widow.
Betty Pfeiffer’s husband John spent 10 years investigating law enforcement and the Klan in Concordia Parish while also enforcing the new Civil Rights laws. His probe in the mid-1960s into the Morville Lounge, a gambling and prostitution house near Deer Park backed by the Carlos Marcello mob, resulted in the federal convictions of Concordia’s sheriff and his most notorious deputy in the early 1970s. John Pfeifer died in 2012.
Years ago, Charlottie wrote down her memories of life as an FBI wife. In 2010, she shared those recollections with me.
CLEVELAND TO TOLEDO
Bill Dent's first assignment with the FBI was in Cleveland, Ohio. While Dent checked in at the bureau office, Charlottie waited in the car. Shortly after he shook hands with his new boss, he was sent out with another agent to search for a suspect.
For hours, Charlottie, alone in her car in a city she knew nothing about, waited. Dent returned at dark. Furious at both her husband and the bureau, the new bride would grow to accept the fact that at times the bureau seemed to feel "wives don't count."
Finding a place to live in any city during the early post war years was a great challenge. The couple finally located an apartment that would do although it was so small you couldn't stand up in the bathroom.
After unpacking, Charlottie noticed her husband's "down” face when they met new acquaintances for supper. Soon Dent explained he had been transferred to Toledo, where the couple lived in a hotel for a month on Dent's per diem of $6 for food and a hotel room. One landlord turned Charlottie away because she was of childbearing age.
For a short time, they settled in a room in the home of an older working couple that asked Charlottie to care for their children. The Dents enjoyed the experience and took the children to their first circus. Charlottie often sung Christmas carols to their landlords’ little girl as she rocked her to sleep at night.
Eventually Dent and Charlottie found an apartment. She cooked on a hot plate, used the broken refrigerator in the hall as a shelf and shared a bathroom with four other tenants.
SEATTLE & SALMON
By the end of 1947, another transfer came -- this time to Seattle. In their new living room (5-feet wide across and 15-feet long), the aging oil heater was so dangerous Charlottie would turn on the gas, throw the match and race out the door. But in Seattle they began to make lifelong bureau friends, some from the South.
If the husbands worked at night, the wives would go on "night parties" to the seashore, throw blankets on the sand and talk for hours.
Eventually the couple rented their first house. Every morning Charlottie looked out the front window at Mt. Rainier in the distance. There was a fireplace in the living room. Agents and their wives visited the Dents to wash their cars because they were the only FBI couple that had a lawn.
In Seattle, Dent investigated allegations of a monopoly in the salmon industry, a probe that had a sickening side effect. "You should have smelled him at the end of the day," Charlottie recalled.
CALIFORNIA & COMMUNISTS
Months later, Dent was transferred to San Francisco. Charlottie often sat on their apartment fire escape and looked out at the "wonderful sight" of the bay bridges. There were down sides, of course, such as earthquakes so severe that she had to hold on to the bed to keep from rolling off while the dishes rattled and people screamed in the streets.
Charlottie found a job in a department store, the only business that would hire FBI wives due the likelihood of transfer for their husbands.
During these Cold War years, Dent was placed on an FBI squad that investigated the Communist Party during the Red Scare. When infiltrating a party meeting one night, the man sitting beside Dent leaned over and whispered, "I'll bet some of those FBI agents are here."
Dent nodded in agreement.
At their next residence in Stockton, California, joyful news was received in the Dent household. Charlottie was pregnant. Without air conditioning during an exceptionally hot summer, she relaxed in the bathtub to cool off.
In the meantime, older agents taught Dent "how to live in the bureau.”
On the day their first child was born came tragedy: The two-year-old son of another FBI couple died after eating aspirins.
“A horror,” Charlottie remembered.
A year later joy returned to the grieving couple with the birth of twin girls.
“God was and is good,” Charlottie said.
MONROE BECOMES HOME
Then in 1953 came the tragic news that Dent's father and nephew had drowned in a lake on family property back home in Jackson, Miss. Dent's mother helplessly watched the horrific scene from the bank.
Dent was granted a hardship transfer to the New Orleans division so he could be closer to home. In route he learned he would be located in Monroe.
FBI agents and their wives become extended families wherever they live. They look out for one another and protect their families from the dangers the agents face on a daily basis. In Monroe a year after the Dents arrival, Dent was away on assignment when the phone rang at the couple’s home late at night. Charlottie was home alone with her son. In a menacing voice the caller said he was coming to get her and take her on a long ride.
Other agents, law officers and friends responded quickly to the situation. FBI records indicate agents believed, but could not prove, the caller was a local man whose pimping and bootlegging activities were the subject of a bureau White Slave Trade Act investigation. Dent found the suspect and laid down the law: If anything happened to his family, Dent would see to it that the suspect shared the blame.
In 1960, the same man, by then operating a sanitation business, shot five of his black employees, killing three. Although he was arrested, a grand jury declined to indict him in 1961. Three years later, the man became a statewide officer in the Original Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. But he never bothered Charlottie again.
In 1964, when Dent and Prospere met at Cario's outside Ferriday, Dent had long been Senior Resident Agent in Monroe. He would serve in that position for 17 years, supervise up to 11 agents and represent the bureau with local law enforcement throughout northeastern Louisiana. Both he and Prospere developed several Klan informants during the 1960s. Dent handled one key Klan informant from Ferriday.
After retiring from the FBI in 1970, Dent was appointed by Gov. John McKeithen as Louisiana Director of Public Safety and its 1,400 employees. Afterward, Dent went on to a successful career in the oil and gas, real estate, and pipeline businesses, serving as president of Calawinn Corporation.
Dent and Charlottie lived more than a half-century in Monroe, both active in their community and their church.
They were married for 60 years.