Show to feature unsolved crimes

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 27, 1999

Dozens of Natchez and Adams County residents will be glued to their television sets Monday night.

At 7 p.m. the ABC show &uot;20/20&uot; will broadcast a show featuring unsolved Civil Rights Era murders in the South including at least three from southwest Mississippi.

The hour-long program will focus largely on the 1966 murder of Ben Chester White, an Adams County handyman. White was kidnapped and shot 17 times at close range with both rifles and a shotgun. Three men were arrested for White’s murder. One was acquitted, one trial ended with a hung jury and the third man never went to trial.

Email newsletter signup

The &uot;20/20&uot; crew, including former TV anchor woman Connie Chung, have visited Natchez several times over the past few months and interviewed dozens of residents. Those interviewed include the last remaining defendant, Ernest Avants who was acquitted in a 1967 trial, and several members of the jury that acquitted him.

People interviewed by the crew wonder exactly how the program will portray themselves and the area.

&uot;The only concern they had with this (case) was to show the progressiveness,&uot; said Adams County Sheriff Tommy Ferrell who was not sheriff at the time of White’s murder. &uot;We don’t have anything to hide. The entire case went to trial. The jury system just failed.&uot;

Ferrell said the crew was interested in how involved members of the Ku Klux Klan were in the community and whether Klan members could have been on the jury.

&uot;It was not uncommon for people to be members then,&uot; Ferrell said. &uot;And prosecutors couldn’t ask jurors — they wouldn’t have told the truth anyway. Dealing with the Klan was like dealing with the Mafia.

&uot;Klan involvement was one direction (the &uot;20/20&uot; crew) was leaning.&uot;

Ferrell said he hopes the program shows how far the South has come in the 33 years since White’s murder.

&uot;We’ve been prototyped nationwide that people sanctioned the Klan,&uot; he said. &uot;The majority of whites were embarrassed by their actions.&uot;

Ferrell said even if the program turns out to cast a negative light, the community will work past it.

&uot;Being a fifth-generation Natchezian, we’re beyond that in this community,&uot; Ferrell said. &uot;It’s going to be an eyebrow-raising thing, but we lived through it. We saw what it was about and we try to put those things behind us in this community. Our community is nowhere like what it was back then.&uot;

The program is also expected to feature the 1967 murder of Wharlest Jackson in Natchez. Jackson was killed when a bomb hidden beneath his truck exploded. No one was ever charged in his death. The Natchez Police reopened Jackson’s case last year, but have found few leads, Natchez Police Chief Willie Huff said.

Also likely to be featured are the 1964 murders of Henry Dee and Charles Moore. The two Franklin County men were kidnapped, taken into the Homochitto National Forest and beaten. Their mutilated bodies were found months later in a Louisiana swamp. Two men, James Ford Seale and Charles M. Edwards, were arrested for the crime, but charges were later dropped.

District Attorney Ronnie Harper reopened the case in July with the help of the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

Like many folks involved with the case, Ferrell will be watching the show Monday.

&uot;God knows how (the program is) going to turn out,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s unfortunate that we have to keep reliving these things over and over.&uot;