Brother still seeks justice

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 11, 1999

Thomas J. Moore didn’t want to stir things up. On the contrary, he wanted to put to rest the nightmares that have dogged him since the night his Army commander told him part of his brother had been found in the murky waters of Old River.

Also, he wanted to show the little brother he protected and supported for years that he loves him, just one more time.

And that justice can be served.

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&uot;I&160;was trying to do one final thing for my brother,&uot; Thomas said in a telephone interview from his Colorado Springs, Colo., home. &uot;And I&160;wanted to see justice done … whatever justice that might be.&uot;

That is why he asked District Attorney Ronnie Harper to revive the investigation into the killings of Charles and friend Henry Dee.

Resurrecting the past

For 35 years, Thomas honored his mother Mazie’s request not pursue the case. But, spurred on by the reopened cases of Medgar Evers and other blacks killed in the 1960s, Thomas asked Harper last December to start the investigation up once again.

Now, Harper has written to the Mississippi Highway Patrol and Attorney General’s Office, asking them to continue the probe from more than three decades ago, a probe that resulted in the arrest of two suspects, Charles Marcus Edwards and James Ford Seale. The charges against both men were dropped later.

Edwards will not speak about the case; Seale, who is reportedly traveling cross-country, could not be reached for comment.

And, although neither Harper nor representatives of either agency will talk much about an investigation in progress, Harper said recently that the agencies agreed to look into the killings again.

For investigators, looking into such an old case – one that never went to trial and that involves many law enforcement officers, victims’ relatives and potential witnesses who are aging or dead – could take a lot of digging.

But for Thomas, recalling the memories of Charles’ life and death doesn’t take much digging. They lie just below the surface.

A brother’s memories

Thomas remembers his brother as a smart young man who applied himself in class and worked hard tending chickens after school, although he also liked playing sports like football.

Charles, Thomas said, was humble and, like his mother, quite religious.

&uot;I was a regular teenager; Charles taught Sunday school,&uot;&160;Thomas said.

Thomas looked out for his brother – the pair were Mazie Moore’s only two children. Although Thomas was a year older than his brother, Charles, Thomas and Dee all graduated in 1963 from Lillie Mae Bryant School in Meadville.

And when Charles, whose family was on welfare, got into Alcorn A&M College with the help of grades and financial aid, Thomas vowed to work to help pay the rest of his brother’s first year in college.

But Charles’ college career was cut short when he and other Alcorn students were expelled not for civil rights protests, but for demonstrating to get more privileges as freshmen.

Thomas, who had joined the Army and started basic training in April 1964, got a letter from his brother, who promised to give more details when Thomas came home on leave. But the two brothers would never see each other again.

On a day in late April, Mazie Moore went to her doctor’s appointment, leaving Charles and Dee, both 20 years old, hitchhiking in front of the Red and White store in Meadville.

&uot;In those days, it was our custom to hitch rides,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;And it was typical for us to stay at each other’s houses.&uot;

So Mazie Moore didn’t think anything about it when the young men were not in front of the store when she came home – or when Charles did not come home that night.

But by the time Thomas came home June 12 on leave, his mother was worried. Thomas stayed for two weeks and then left again for Texas and his stint in the Army, still not knowing where or how his brother was.

But he would soon find out.

An end to the search

In July, the FBI search was on for James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, three civil rights workers who were last seen in Philadelphia, Miss. During the multi-state search, the lower halves of two bodies were found in the Old River south of Tallulah, La.

Sadly, one of the bodies was wearing a belt buckle with an &uot;M&uot; on it – a gift Thomas had given his brother.

Other parts of Charles and Dee’s bodies were later found in the river.

&uot;One night it came on the news that they had found two bodies in the river,&uot;&160;Thomas said. &uot;At that time, (Charles and Dee’s) names didn’t appear.

&uot;That night, my commander said, ‘Is your brother missing?’ And I&160;said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘I think they found him.’ &uot;

At the time, Thomas felt both angry and vengeful at the way his brother died and scared for the rest of his relatives.

And he said the young men’s murders shocked Franklin County residents right down to their bones.

&uot;The whites we used to plow fields for were in denial that anyone in Franklin County would do something like that,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;They thought the Freedom Riders might. People were in total denial.&uot;

Thomas is aware of the rumors – that Dee had been peeking at Edwards’ wife, that Dee and Charles were thought to be Black Muslims stirring up controversy. But Thomas discounted those rumors and said that at 5’9” and 140 pounds, Charles was not physically threatening, either.

&uot;I don’t know why they were pinpointed,&uot;&160;Thomas said. &uot;They just happened to be standing in front of that store.&uot;

And he is aware that, according to law enforcement reports, Edwards confessed to picking Charles and Dee up, beating them and abandoning them in the Homochitto National Forest and said Seale was also involved, but that they did not kill the young men.

For his part, Thomas has always been convinced that the two were involved in the killing of his brother and Dee.

&uot;I think (Edwards and Seale) were set free because they killed black kids,&uot;&160;he said. &uot;Blacks weren’t counted like they are now. To kill a black back then wasn’t no big deal.&uot;

Thomas was sent to Vietnam in 1965 and 1966, during which time a congressional committee questioned Edwards and Seale about the killings but got nowhere.

And when Thomas returned home, his mother was adamant that her only remaining son not cause trouble by stirring up the case. She made him promise that he would not do so even after she died.

So even after she passed away in 1977, Thomas left the past alone, returning only in the mid-1980s to try, unsuccessfully, to find newspaper clippings about his brother’s murder.

Meanwhile, Thomas still saw his brother almost every day, either in his nightmares – in some, the brothers were fighting together in Vietnam – or in the features of his own son, now 19.

Putting vengeance behind him

In previous newspaper accounts, Thomas had admitted to planning for years how he would shoot and kill Edwards, whose Franklin County home lies near the land Thomas inherited from his mother.

Now, he will only say that &uot;I wanted to do some really bad stuff. It took a long time to get the notion out of my mind, but I&160;don’t want vengeance any more.&uot;

Thomas, who retired from the Army five years ago after serving 30 years and earning college degrees in social science and social work, now counsels troubled children.

And now, he seeks to remedy that which still troubles his own mind – the deaths of his brother and Dee. He is aware that many of Dee’s family members still will not talk about Dee’s death, and Thomas is sorry if resurrecting the case brings them pain.

&uot;But if it causes pain for other people, so be it,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;My brother didn’t have to be killed. … I&160;didn’t have to go through the nightmares and the pain.

&uot;It’s not too much pain for me, and – except for Dee’s family – I&160;could care less about the pain it causes for anyone else.&uot;