Officials pool resources on 1960s civil rights murders

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2005

JACKSON &045; Finding witnesses with long memories is the challenge at hand for local, state and federal authorities investigating three 1960s murders from the Natchez area.

Authorities investigating the 1967 Franklin County murders of Henry Dee and Charles Moore, as well as the 1964 car-bombing death of Wharlest Jackson, met at U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton’s office Friday to pool their resources and information.

&uot;We had never sat down before (with all of the agencies) and looked at the case in its entirety,&uot; Lampton said after their meeting.

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In addition to the district and U.S. attorney, the meeting included representatives from the FBI, Mississippi Department of Public Safety and the attorney general’s office, as well as Natchez Police Chief Mike Mullins, Adams County Sheriff Ronny Brown and Franklin County Sheriff James Newman.

The case files are &uot;voluminous,&uot; Harper said. But that doesn’t mean bringing suspects to trial will be easy, he said.

Because neither case saw the inside of a courtroom, there are no trial transcripts to rely on if witnesses are dead.

&uot;You’ve got to find people,&uot; Harper said. &uot;You’ve got to find warm bodies &045; warm bodies that remember their names.&uot;

Investigators plan to meet again in about a month to find out where the investigation stands, Lampton said. In the meantime they will be seeking witnesses and trying to determine who is still alive.

Lampton encouraged anyone with information about the cases to talk to investigators.

&uot;If there’s any consideration to be given, it’ll be given to people who come forward first,&uot; Lampton said.

Dee and Moore were kidnapped, beaten and dumped in the river in May 1964, but their bodies were not found until July of that year, when authorities found human remains in Old River near Tallulah, La.

Thomas Moore, who now lives in Colorado, has been pushing investigators to reopen his brother’s case, visiting most recently with Lampton earlier this summer.

Investigators will have to determine the best place to hold a trial in the Dee and Moore murders if they are able to build a case. Some reports show that Dee and Moore were killed in the Homochitto National Forest, which would grant federal authorities the permission to try the case in their court.

Harper said that if the evidence allows it, that might be the better option.

&uot;I have confidence in the people of Franklin County, but it’s a small county,&uot; Harper said.

He noted that Franklin County has just about 8,000 residents. Two suspects originally questioned in the case are believed still to live in the county.

&uot;It might be difficult to get jurors who aren’t friends or relatives of these guys,&uot; Harper said.

Lampton said the decision of where to try the case would be made by the group.

&uot;That’s something we would look at,&uot; Lampton said. &uot;If it’s done at federal court, it would be (there) because it’s the best chance.&uot;

Harper said he welcomes the chance to work with federal authorities.

&uot;You don’t get the opportunity to have dueling jurisdictions often,&uot; Harper said. &uot;Anytime in state court you have a chance to get (federal authorities) involved you look at that pretty strongly.&uot;

Jackson, who had recently been promoted to a so-called &uot;whites-only&uot; job at Armstrong Rubber in Natchez, was killed when a bomb planted in his truck blew up shortly after he left work in 1967. No arrests were ever made in the case.

Harper said he is &uot;more pessimistic&uot; about a trial in the Jackson case because Natchez police who investigated in the case in 1998 came to the conclusion that the main suspect and others likely involved were dead.

&uot;It never hurts to take another look,&uot; Harper said.

&uot;It’s a murder case whether it happened last week, last year or 40 years ago,&uot; he said. &uot;We’ll just see if we can develop enough evidence to proceed and go forward.&uot;