The Crime: May 2, 1964 | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Crime: May 2, 1964

The last time Mazie Moore ever saw her boy, 19-year-old son Charles, he was standing in front of Dillon's gas station on Main Street in Meadville, trying to thumb a ride with his friend, Henry Dee, also 19. Mazie had gotten a ride to the doctor and figured she would pick them up when she came back by there.

According to informants, when James Ford Seale, a 29-year-old truck driver from Meadville, drove by in his Volkswagen and saw the two boys, he got in his head that they were "part of the agitation that was going on in Mississippi, especially since one of them had recently come down from Chicago." He told the man driving with him, reportedly Charles Marcus Edwards, who worked at International Paper in Natchez, to get out of the car and follow him in his pick-up; he went back to the boys, who did not thumb him for a ride. He pulled over anyway and told them to get into the car, that he was a Federal Revenue agent. As he started driving west on Highway 84, toward Natchez, the boys became suspicious, and one asked him to pull over. Seale told them there were more agents waiting that he wanted them to talk to, according to the informant.

Seale reportedly used his walkie-talkie to call the men in the pickup truck to tell them he had two Negroes he wanted them to talk to. He then turned off 84 into the Homochitto National Forest. When he stopped, Charles and Henry got out just as the pickup pulled up. Seale got out with his carbine in his hand "and got the drop on the two Negroes." With Seale holding the shotgun on them, the Klansmen—all reportedly members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan—tied the two boys to a tree and began severely beating them both with long, skinny bean sticks.

As they pounded the boys bloody, the Klansmen told Charles and Henry they knew they were Black Muslims trying to start an insurrection. They wanted to know who was leading the "Negro problems" in Franklin County. One of them finally told them the name of a black preacher in Roxie, Rev. Clyde Briggs, to get them to stop. When the Klansmen tired of swinging, the young men were hanging there by the waist, nearly lifeless, covered with blood. Prosecutors then believe they took them to the farm of Seale's father Clyde, of Meadville, then the Grand Cyclops of the White Knights. Clyde Seale called another son, Jack Seale, over in Natchez, informants say.

"KIWU!" Clyde said. The word "Kiwu" stands for "Klansman, I want you" in the KKK handbook. Jack Seale reportedly responded to the cry for help by getting his buddy Ernest Parker, then a Natchez businessman, to bring his red Ford car to the forest and help load up the two men, who were nearly dead. They put Charles and Henry on a plastic tarp to keep bloodstains from getting into the trunk. They then drove some 100 miles to "Palmyra Ben" or the "Ole River"—near Parker's boat landing. Ole River is the Mississippi backwater in Warren County near Tallulah, La., six miles from Vicksburg.

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. The Klansmen talked about shooting them first, being that they were still breathing, but "Seale replied that he did not want to shoot them because it would have gotten blood all over the boat," the informant said.

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."

Meantime, the men involved started to get nervous because they worried that the bodies would float to the surface somehow. James Seale, in particular, told buddies that he was scared because he had put the tape on the men's wrists; he worried that his fingerprints would turn up, according to FBI reports.

The FBI would soon turn over what seemed to be a wealth of evidence to then-District Attorney Lenox Forman in Natchez, who promised to put it before the grand jury.

On Nov. 6, the FBI and local authorities arrested James Ford Seale, 29, and Charles Marcus Edwards, 31, both of Meadville, for "willfully, unlawfully, feloniously and with malice aforethought killing the two Negroes on or about May 2, 1964," as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote in a letter to Bill Moyers, then special assistant to President Lyndon Johnson, the same day.

Both men confessed to the crime, according to the FBI, with Edwards admitting that he had been to Klan meetings. Another informant told the FBI that Seale and his wife ran a "Rod and Gun Club" in Natchez in Meadville that was a front for the KKK. "The arrests of Edwards and Seale resulted from extensive FBI investigation," Hoover concluded. "This is another example of the FBI's close cooperation with Mississippi authorities in bringing to justice individuals responsible for racial violence in Mississippi." The two men were released on a $5,000 bond each, with a hearing set for Jan. 11, 1965.

Hoover's declaration of justice was premature, however. A Jan. 12, 1965, FBI memo stated that the D.A. had discussed the case with Franklin County Sheriff Wayne Hutto, Assistant Attorney General Garland Lyle, and Mississippi Highway Patrol Investigators Charles Snodgrass and Gwyn Cole, and had then decided to drop the charges against Seale and Edwards.

Forman said that the case was "greatly prejudiced" toward the defendants because they "put out the story" in Meadville that, after their arrest, they had been "brutally mistreated" and denied medication by the Mississippi State Highway Patrol. Forman called the stories "dilatory tactics," but believed that such accusations would cause the charges to be dismissed at the initial hearing. He said that if more evidence were developed, he would present the case to the grand jury later, possibly as soon as August 1965.

That never happened. No arrests would be made in the case for 42 years when federal authorities arrested James Ford Seale for federal kidnapping and conspiracy charges. Edwards is expected to testify against him in his trial, set to start May 29 in Jackson.

Follow the trial of James Ford Seale online daily at the Road To Meadville site.

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