FBI documents show new claims of ‘Big Frank’ DeLaughter
By Kevin Thibodeaux
LSU Manship School News service
VIDALIA — Newly declassified FBI documents show the late Concordia Parish Chief Sheriff Deputy Frank DeLaughter claimed to have reformed after he was released from prison for conspiring to promote prostitution and for beating a black prisoner in the parish jail some four decades ago.
DeLaughter, a man infamous in Concordia Parish for his abuse of African Americans (and some whites) and his dealings with parish bars, houses of prostitution and gambling during the 1960s, was sentenced to one year in prison in 1972 for racketeering and for violating the civil rights of Cliff Davis of Ferriday. In federal court, he received a year and a day for each crime with the sentences running concurrently.
The information was obtained by the LSU Manship School’s Cold Case Murder Project through the Freedom of Information Act.
During his time as chief deputy, DeLaughter told agents he went to the Morville Lounge, a widely known house of prostitution south of Vidalia, at the behest of Sheriff Noah Cross to pick up an envelope. DeLaughter said he never opened the envelope, but believed it contained money. To his death in 1997, DeLaughter insisted he had taken the fall for Cross.
During the 1960s, Concordia Parish was wide open to various forms of vice. The Marcello organized crime family of New Orleans controlled much of the gambling, alcohol and prostitution rackets in the parish, which is geographically situated across the Mississippi River from Natchez.
DeLaughter requested a retrial for the Davis beating, claiming new evidence had arisen that proved his innocence. DeLaughter’s defense found a doctor who claimed to have treated Davis on the night of the incident. The doctor said Davis was in good condition and only had two lacerations on his scalp and loosened front teeth. Prosecutors countered at the time that DeLaughter had switched victims. The ex-deputy never was granted a new trial.
He also appealed the federal court conviction on the grounds the trial judge gave the jury erroneous instructions. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the motion. Sheriff Cross received the same prison sentence as DeLaughter, but his conviction technically was based on his guilty plea to a perjury charge.
After his release in 1973, DeLaughter claimed he turned over a new leaf, no longer drinking and smoking and making peace with African Americans. Conditions of his parole stated he could no longer hold a law enforcement position or carry a firearm. DeLaughter, known as “Big Frank” because of his 6-foot-4, 260-pound stature, had been in law enforcement in Concordia Parish for 15 years. He had close ties with the Ku Klux Klan.
Based on circumstantial evidence found in FBI investigative reports, DeLaughter is believed to have been indirectly involved in the 1964 burning death of Frank Morris, an African American business owner in Ferriday, and the torture/downing death earlier that same year of Joseph Edwards, an employee of the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia. His body has never been found.
Morris refused to identity his assailants, although one hospital worker in separate FBI interviews, said Morris told her DeLaughter was behind the attack. Four days after he was critically burned in his store, Morris died. The Morris and Edwards cases, which went cold in the late 1960s, were reopened by the FBI under the Emmitt Till Act of 2007.
During his time as deputy, DeLaughter was linked to numerous crimes, but the FBI wasn’t able to muster the witnesses or evidence to charge him. The Davis beating was DeLaughter’s first conviction. His only incarceration was as a result of that crime and the racketeering charge on prostitution.
DeLaughter’s probation ended on July 16, 1975. Part of this probation agreement required him to hold a job. Numerous employers interviewed by the FBI stated they had no problem with DeLaughter, that he was a reliable and that they would hire him again. One employer, however, claimed DeLaughter stole gasoline for private use and paid for it on his employer’s dime. DeLaughter was fired for this offense.
In 1977, DeLaughter requested a pardon from his crimes, stating he liked to hunt and wanted to be able to carry a firearm. He also requested he be given back his right to vote.
Several acquaintances wrote on his behalf that they had no knowledge of DeLaughter being involved in any illegal activities since his release, but the deputy’s earlier reputation proved to be his undoing.
Many residents of Ferriday openly objected to a DeLaughter pardon, according to FBI reports, stating they didn’t want him carrying a weapon again. Interviewees told federal agents they were aware of people DeLaughter allegedly killed during his time as a deputy, and they feared what he would do if granted the right to return to law enforcement or to carry a weapon.
DeLaughter’s pardon never was granted. Following prison, he lived with relatives in Ferriday until his death.