James Ford Seale: A Trail of Documents Tells the Story | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

James Ford Seale: A Trail of Documents Tells the Story

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James Ford Seale was walking tall and chewing on a cigar as he appeared before a subcommittee of the Committee on Un-American Activities on Jan. 14, 1966, at 11:35 a.m. in the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C.

"Mr. Seale, when and where were you born?" asked Donald T. Appell, chief investigator for the committee, which was investigating terrorist activities by the Ku Klux Klan. The then-31-year-old was one of 10 alleged Klansmen called to Washington for interrogation about their reported violent actions.

"Sir, I respectfully decline to answer that question for the reason that I honestly feel my answer might tend to incriminate me in violation of my rights as guaranteed to me by the Amendments 5, 1, and 4, and 14 of the Constitution of the United States of America," Seale answered without hesitation, according to a transcript of the hearing.

Throughout the questioning, Seale would admit nothing—including that he had just been in the same room moments before when investigators had read a portion of a statement that his friend from back home, and alleged fellow Klansman, Charles Marcus Edwards, had given the FBI.

In that statement, Edwards—from the same Bunkley community in Meadville as Seale—had admitted that he and Seale were with Henry Dee and Charles Moore near Meadville on May 2, 1964. "Edwards stated that they took the two men to some woods and whipped them and that the two Negroes were alive when he left," Appell said.

The reason Edwards gave for the beating in that statement was that his wife was afraid of Negroes who parked in front of their home at night. "He stated that Dee was one of these Negroes and that his wife had complained that she had seen Dee on one occasion 'peeping' at her," Appell read, recalling the hollow excuse that the murderers of Emmett Till in Money, Miss., had given a decade earlier for their beating and disposal of the 14-year-old Emmett—that it was done to defend a white woman's honor.

Like the murderers of Dee and Moore, those men had not been brought to justice, either.

"Sir, I respectfully decline to answer that question, based upon the grounds previously stated," Seale answered unflinchingly with his lawyer, Lester V. Chalmers Jr., by his side. He would repeat those words 40 more times as he was being questioned that day.

Seale's reticence, however, did not stop the panel from placing on the record what they suspected him of doing back in 1964—picking up Dee and Moore as they were hitchhiking, telling them he was a revenue agent, tying them to a tree, beating them, then tying the bodies to Jeep engine parts and dumping their bodies to drown in a backwater of the Mississippi River.

There was more: the testimony of a Meadville man named Alton Alford that Seale beat him with his shotgun. The 1965 death of a Klansman named Earl Hodges who had fallen out with Seale's father, Clyde Seale. Of being a member of the vicious White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, along with his father, his brother, Edwards and other Meadville men. Of being ordered by the Klan to charge Mississippi highway patrolmen with "false arrest" to help them escape criminal charges.

Despite the witness' unwillingness to blink, Rep. Joe R. Pool of Texas got a dig in at the Klan before Seale and his cigar left the microphone: "Do they have their courage bolstered by going in greater numbers to do a job than the number of intended victims?"

Seale did not answer, but he might have told the panel that such a statement would not bother a man whose father, brothers and wife were involved in Klan activity—who, according to the FBI, ran the "Rod and Gun Club" in Meadville along with Edwards' father, a club that was a front for the KKK.

Seconds later, Seale was excused and his father, Clyde—the alleged Exalted Cyclops of the Franklin County Klavern of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan—was called to the stand. He would follow his son's lead in repeatedly pleading the fifth.

Informants Testify
The Seales and their friends had reason to gloat by 1966. After all, they had survived a massive FBI investigation that had resulted in the arrest—and reelease—of Seale and Edwards for the murder of Dee and Moore. It wasn't likely they would ever do time for the role they might have played in those, or any other acts of murder and violence.

An FBI investigation had unearthed informants in 1964 who would tell agents a detailed story about what happened that night in the Homochitto National Forest. After Seale picked up the two young men, a pick-up truck with other Klansmen (including Edwards) followed him into the forest. There, Seale told the teenagers to get out of his Volkswagen, and "got the drop" on them with his carbine. Then, he told the other Klansmen to tie them to a tree and beat the young men with long, skinny sticks and branches.

After the beating left the young men bloodied, their flesh ripped, Seale's father Clyde called for "Klansmen, I Want You" backup, code word "KIWU," according to FBI documents. James' brother, Myron Wayne, or "Jack" (reportedly a Grand Nighthawk, a planner of Klan violence), was one who came. Later in the evening, the group would wrap the men in a plastic tarp, put them in the trunk of Natchez businessman Ernest Parker's red Ford, and drive them to the backwater of the Mississippi River near Tallulah, La.—known as "Palmyra Ben" or the "Ole River"—near Parker's boat landing. There, the FBI said they tied Jeep engine parts to Dee's body, and other engine parts to Moore, and sunk them into the water. Informants would later say that the men were still breathing when they were thrown overboard.

When a fisherman found the first body parts on July 12, 1964, the FBI thought that they had found the burial spot for James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, killed June 21 by White Knights (or "bedsheets," as the FBI called them) from Lauderdale and Neshoba counties, and still missing.

But personal effects found in the pockets of the pants on the torsos—the second one was found July 13—indicated that the bodies were those of Dee and Moore. FBI records from the time show that the bureau, headed by J. Edgar Hoover, took the murders seriously, setting up a field operation in Jackson to investigate the crimes. The FBI called in Navy divers who, on Oct. 30 and 31, dredged up "a human skull, bones, two shirts, a Jeep engine block with a chain attached and two pieces of railroad rail and two small steel wheels tied together with a chain." The FBI memo added, "The chain on the other items each had a loop sufficiently large enough to go around a body."

Investigators also determined that the Jeep engine motor number was GPW22010, which would set off a massive probe to figure out who owned the Jeep (it turned out to be Parker, according to informants).

Meantime, FBI files say, Klansmen who were involved in the beatings and transporting the bodies for dumping were getting very nervous—and talking to other "Kluckers" (another FBI term for Klansmen) about what they had done. A Jan. 12, 1965, FBI report credited an informant with telling the agency that Parker and Jack Seale had met Ernest Gilbert, a Klansmen-turned-FBI informant from Brookhaven, at the James Amoco service station in Natchez, "a known meeting place of Klansmen." There, Seale and Parker told Gilbert that they "had put two niggers in the river."

Parker was also worried about the serial number on the engine block, and both men said they were having trouble sleeping. When Gilbert responded that it seemed "inhuman" to sink them while they were still breathing, "Seale replied that he did not want to shoot them because it would have gotten blood all over the boat," according to the report.

The FBI also reported that James Seale was "extremely nervous" after the torsos were found, telling others that he had put the duct tape over the wrists and mouths of the two men himself, and did most of the questioning of them during the beatings. The FBI also stated that the only men they knew then were definitely in on the early part of the crime—the kidnapping—were Clyde Seale, James Seale and Charles Edwards.

Arrests … then Freedom
By the time the Navy divers brought up the remaining bones and engine parts in late October, the FBI was nearly ready to make arrests. On Nov. 6, 1964, FBI agents joined Mississippi highway patrolmen to arrest Seale and Edwards for the murders of Dee and Moore. Franklin County Justice of the Peace Willie Bedford issued the arrest warrants.

"The arrests of Edwards and Seale resulted from extensive FBI investigation," FBI Director Hoover wrote to Bill Moyers, special assistant to President Johnson. "This is another example of the FBI's close cooperation with Mississippi authorities in bringing to justice individuals responsible for racial violence in Mississippi."

Sheriff Wayne Hutto notified the FBI that the men had been released on $5,000 bond each on Nov. 11. The bond was paid by Archie Prather (Edwards' father), Rosa Davis and Gene Seale.

But Hoover's jubilation over justice in the case would be short-lived. It was set to go before a grand jury in January 1965. But in the meantime, Seale and Edwards spread rumors that they were beaten up by the law enforcement officers who arrested them. This, according to the FBI, provided a reason for District Attorney Lenox Forman to back away from the case.

Forman called a Jan. 5, 1965, meeting with Sheriff Hutto, Assistant Attorney General Garland Lyle, and Mississippi Highway Patrol investigators Charles Snodgrass and Gwyn Cole. He told them he did not have "sufficient evidence" to give the case to the grand jury. The investigators detailed the evidence, including "admissions made by subjects James Seale and Charles Edwards following their arrests on Nov. 6, 1964."

But Forman held his ground, saying the defendants "had put out the story" that they were "brutally mistreated"; therefore, he was sure a grand jury would dismiss the charges. He advised investigators to come back later with more evidence.

On Jan. 11, 1965, the district attorney filed a "motion to dismiss affidavits" with Justice of the Peace Bedford, who signed the motion the same day. The motions—obtained by the Jackson Free Press from dusty docket books in the Franklin County Courthouse—states: "… that in the interest of justice and in order to fully develop the facts in this case, the affidavits against James Seale and Charles Edwards should be dismissed by this Court without prejudice to the Defendants or to the State of Mississippi at this time in order that the investigation may be continued and completed for presentation to a Grand Jury at some later date."

Seale and Edwards were free men, and the investigation ground to a halt. The crime would not appear before another grand jury for 42 years and six days.

A Brother, Determined

In the interim, locals who know the men say that Edwards seemed to regret his actions, while Seale was reported to continue his "pro-white" ways, at least in the short term. The Mississippi Sovereignty Files contain reports that Seale showed up with another armed Klansmen at a civil-rights rally in Fayette in Jeffferson County on April 6, 1965.

In an April 29, 1965, report, Sovereignty Commission investigator A.L. Hopkins wrote that "suspected subversives" and "agitators" (meaning activists for civil rights) were there to "contact as many local Negroes as possible and have them take the voter registration examination." He added that the only people there other than "subversives" were James Seale and "a white male named Whitehead" (perhaps reputed Klan Province Giant Willie Gerald Whitehead of Crystal Springs), who had a pistol under his belt. However, there was no trouble, "except the inconvenience (the civil rights workers) caused the sheriff's office and various other law enforcement officials," Hopkins wrote.

In more recent years, both Seale and Edwards have shied away from attention, especially during the sporadic times when the media came calling about the case. Seale's family started telling reporters that he had died—a lie that was reported as fact by The Clarion-Ledger in January 2000 and then repeated by national media.

It was widely expected that Seale and Marcus would live out their days right in Franklin County, without ever seeing the inside of a jail again.

Their luck, however, changed on July 8, 2005, two weeks after the Edgar Ray Killen trial in Neshoba, when Thomas Moore went back to Meadville looking for justice for his brother's murder. Moore was accompanied by Canadian filmmaker David Ridgen and met photographer Kate Medley and me in Meadville to retrace the last hours of his brother's life. Reporters had told him that Seale was dead.

Within days after meeting up in Meadville, our group found out almost by accident at the same time that Seale was still alive—Moore and Ridgen from a patron in a store in Roxie, the Jackson Free Press from a former Klansman who had served the white race alongside Edwards and Seale. Moore then went to Jackson to meet with U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton, who was ready to tell Moore there was nothing he could do. But after Moore gave him FBI files he had obtained and told him that Seale was alive, Lampton changed his mind, and assured Moore that he would set up a task force to investigate the case. It didn't hurt that Lampton, who grew up near McComb and remembers watching a Klan cross-burning, had served in the same Gulf War Army unit as Moore, a retired command sergeant major who likes to say that he served "30 years and 15 days" in the military.

While in Meadville, the JFP reached Edwards by phone, but he said he did not want to talk and hung up. Soon, he had his phone disconnected. After the we published our story about Moore's visit on July 20, Moore sent out copies to elected officials and media around the country, vowing to continue the fight "until the day I die."

In September, Moore wrote an e-mail to me to share his feelings about the trip we'd taken 10 weeks before. "I still find it hard to believe that those two killers have never been held accountable. And the fact that Seale can have his lying family members lie to the press that he was dead, and Edwards can have his phone disconnected."

He ended: "I remember that Friday morning that you, Kate, David, and I met over in little Meadville, Mississippi. Raining. Hot. The team: one Northerner, two white Southern women and one old black guy. I think what we did over the past 10 weeks is more than most people do in a lifetime, and we have only begun."

The indictment, filed Jan. 24, 2007, in U.S. District Court in Jackson, charges Seale with two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy. The "introductory allegations" begin: "The White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (WKKKK) operated in the Southern District of Mississippi and elsewhere, and was a secret organization of adult white males who, among other things, targeted for violence African Americans they believed were involved in civil rights activity in order to intimidate and retaliate against such individuals."

The document says that Seale and other Klan members suspected Dee of being involved with civil rights activity. Moore was included because he was a friend of Dee. The feds, who are believed to have given Edwards immunity for telling the whole story, now argue that Seale and other Klansmen planned the abduction of Dee, who might have had knowledge of activity the Sovereignty Commission would have considered "subversive." Seale, the government asserts, held a sawed-off shotgun on Dee and Moore while other Klansmen beat them in the woods.

Then, the indictment says, Seale and "another co-conspirator known to the grand jury" took the two men to the Franklin County farm of another conspirator (a detail not included in the original FBI findings). There Seale and others bound them with duct tape. Then they took the men, who were still alive, across state lines and through part of Louisiana to Parker's Landing on the Old Mississippi River, which was actually in Warren County, Miss. There they attached the engine block to Dee and iron weights and railroad rails to Moore, took their bodies separately out in a boat and sunk them into the water. Soon afterward, the Klansmen met and agreed to stay quiet about their actions.

On Jan. 24, 2007, about eight unmarked cars appeared in front of the Roxie BP at the intersection of Hwys. 84 and 98. Witnesses in the store watched the federal agents drive across the highway to arrest James Ford Seale.

Seale would be arraigned the next day in federal court in Jackson, wearing a bright-orange jumpsuit, his wrists, ankles and waist shackled with chains. Stooped and quiet, he was no longer walking tall.

Article has been corrected.

For more information on the ongoing case, check out these links below.

I Want Justice, Too
The JFP's Road To Justice blog
The Forgotten Case of Dee and Moore: A Media Timeline
Ballad of Charlie Moore and Henry Dee
Remembering the Slain

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