Unsolved '64 killing haunts brother Charles Moore was beaten with poles, thrown in river

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MEADVILLE, Miss. - After 42 years as a laborer with the International Paper Co., Charles Marcus Edwards has given his life over to hunting, fishing and Sunday church services.

It seems a peaceful retirement existence that he shares with his wife, Betty, in a double-wide trailer on a pine-shaded gravel road. But Edwards' past is troubled by a violent episode that rocked this small town 34 years ago, a brutal killing that has not been solved.

Memories of that mysterious killing have festered with a stranger some 900 miles away, who once dreamed of returning to Meadville and killing Edwards.

Thomas J. Moore is convinced that on the night of April 29, 1964, Edwards was involved in the abduction and beating death of Moore's younger brother.

The killing of Charles Moore might have been forgotten, like dozens of other cases of black victims of race violence in the South, except for another such case that drew worldwide attention.

The mysterious disappearances of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman in the summer of 1964 had riveted the nation on the civil rights movement.

The three civil rights workers, two of them white Northerners, had vanished while in Mississippi, where they had joined dozens of others in an initiative to promote black voter registration and political empowerment.

Authorities had mounted a massive search for their remains. On July 12, as they scoured a sluggish back channel of the Mississippi River near Natchez, the search took a strange twist.

The search team discovered a headless torso that didn't match the description of Chaney, Goodman or Schwerner. Two days later, it found another headless body, bloated with water and gnawed by turtles.

Both bodies had been bound, tied to a Jeep engine block, then submerged.

Within days, authorities ascertained that the bodies were the remains of Henry Dee, 19, a worker at a nearby lumberyard, and his friend, Charles Moore, 20, a student at Alcorn A&M;, a historic black college in nearby Lorman.

News of the discovery of the mutilated bodies reached Thomas Moore while he was on military assignment in Texas, and he mapped a plan of revenge for his brother's killing. For years, the details of the plot concerning Charles Marcus Edwards, the white neighbor he believed killed his brother, stayed with Moore, a Vietnam War veteran. In his mind, he would steal through the woods, shoot Edwards with a rifle, escape and vanish from Mississippi.

"I can sit here and tell you how, with my military experience, infantry, combat, recon, how I in those years purchased a 30-30 Winchester just to make things right," he said. "How I went into detail, how I could blow his head off. My momma said, 'Don't do it.'"

For years after his return from Vietnam, Moore grieved over his brother's death.

"I struggled with that, and it took me a long time to get my mind right," he said. "Not so much the hate, but just trying to understand why. All this stuff hit me after I came out of Vietnam. I was struggling big time. Drinking like a fish. Trying to get it together."

'Justice, not revenge'

"I'm past that stage now. I'm looking for justice, not revenge," he said.

Recently, Moore formally requested a Mississippi prosecutor to reopen the investigation of his brother's death. The prosecutor, Ronnie Harper, has requested FBI files on the killing, as well as records from the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

Like Moore, Edwards grew up poor in this remote southwest corner of Mississippi, once one of white supremacy's tightest strongholds. Their families - one black, one white - did not know each other. But, according to official accounts of events that summer in 1964, the lives of the Edwards and Moore families converged in an inexplicable, violent act of hate.

"The things I was accused of at the time wasn't true," said Edwards, a fit man of 65 whose ruddy face turns darksome when asked about the 1960s, the Ku Klux Klan, his arrest for beating Charles Moore and Henry Dee to death.

Charles Moore's death was a horrible ending to what appeared a promising life, his brother said.

A retired Army command sergeant, Moore is a counselor working with troubled children in Colorado Springs, Colo. He has traveled a long way since, fresh out of this tiny town's segregated school system in 1963, he boarded a Trailways bus and headed for New Orleans. He got a job grooming the football field at Tulane University.

"We had to keep that grass like a carpet," he said. He earned $90 a week, good money in those days.

He wanted to save enough money to build his mother a brick home to replace her unpainted frame shanty. Cracks in the floor allowed cold air to pour in during the winter, mosquitoes during the summer.

"We had to put sheets and blankets in the windows to keep the wind from blowing through," said Moore, who grew up in the 1950s.

"We used to ride to town on a wagon pulled by two mules. We had no phone, no TV, no electric lights. The only thing we got for Christmas was apples and oranges. In my house, I have a picture of that old shack that she brought us up in."

His mother died there in 1976, her new brick home still a dream.

A goal for his brother

Moore also had another goal as a young man. He wanted to help Charles finish college at Alcorn A&M.;

In the spring of 1964, Charles Moore had been expelled from Alcorn for participating in a demonstration aimed at gaining more student liberties. But Thomas Moore said that neither he nor his brother were involved in the major struggle going on around them, as blacks used nonviolent protest to end an age-old Jim Crow system of segregation that had blocked them from the most elemental of human rights, including the right to vote, attend public schools and use public facilities.

White racists had resorted to thuggery to block the political, social and economic progress of blacks throughout the South. Cross burnings, firebombings and beatings were common, tacitly sanctioned by authorities in a Deep South state with a long history of lynchings. Nowhere was the racial divide greater or the violence more intense than in southwest Mississippi. Here blacks in the early 1960s were making inroads into manufacturing jobs whites long held exclusively and still deeply coveted.

Several watershed events in the struggle that summer thrust the civil rights movement into the forefront of national political discourse.

And one of them were the killings of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman. They had been reported missing in Neshoba County, about four hours northeast of Meadville, their burned-out station wagon found on a rural road.

A year after their bodies were discovered in an earthen dam, Mississippi NAACP leader Aaron Henry credited the deaths of Schwerner and Goodman, both white, with awakening the country to a problem that had gone ignored - the mysterious deaths of blacks in Mississippi at the hands of whites.

'A sad commentary'

"Now, it is somewhat of a sad commentary," Henry told the U.S. Civil Rights Commission a year later, "but when the Negro alone is a victim of violence, neither Mississippi nor America is very much concerned about it. But for the fact that when Chaney was killed there was Goodman and Schwerner, two white Americans, America became very much concerned about these particular murders.

"We got a list of murders here, of Negroes, two pages long since ... 1963, but most of it never even gets into the newspaper in Mississippi."

No massive search was initiated for Charles Moore after his mother reported him missing.

Mazie Moore had last seen him April 29 standing in front of the Red & White Grocery Store in Meadville, trying to hitch a ride. Charles Moore never came home that night. But in Mississippi, in the 1960s, a missing black college student did not warrant much of a police search.

Thomas Moore heard the news of his brother's death in Texas from his commanding officer, months after he left his Tulane job to join the Army.

"I had bought him a belt buckle," Moore said. "It had an 'M' on it. That was still on his waist. He had a key in his back pocket that matched his locker at Alcorn."

For a time, Mazie Moore held out hope that justice would be served in the death of her son and his friend. By November of that year, investigators had a lead that took them to the home of Charles Marcus Edwards, a fourth-generation resident of Meadville whose great-grandfather had died fighting for the Confederacy.

At 5:25 a.m. Nov. 6, 1964, agents of the Mississippi Highway Patrol and FBI knocked on Edwards' door.

A sleepy Edwards answered, leaving the screen door locked, according to a state Highway Patrol report.

"Mr. Cole, an investigator for the Mississippi Highway Patrol, identified the officers and told Edwards he wanted to talk with him," the report said. "Edwards asked Cole if he had a warrant for his arrest."

Cole said he did.

Investigators took Edwards on the nearly three-hour ride across desolate highways to the Highway Patrol headquarters in Jackson.

After two hours of interrogation, Edwards confessed that he and dozen other men had taken Moore and Dee into the woods and whipped the students, then left, according to congressional records. Edwards swore that the two were alive when he left. He would identify only one of the other assailants - truck driver James Ford Seale, who was detained and questioned.

Congressional testimony and interviews with FBI agents revealed that Moore and Dee had been picked up while hitchhiking, taken into the Homochitto National Forest, beaten with beanpoles and thrown into the river, their mutilated bodies weighted down with a Jeep engine block. At least one might have been alive when he hit the water.

The motivations for the crime were unclear. Edwards' story was that his wife had complained about Dee.

"Edwards volunteered that he had to move from his former address to his present location several months ago because his wife was afraid of Negroes who parked in front of their home at night," the congressional report on his statement said. "He stated that Dee was one of those Negroes, and his wife had complained that she had seen Dee on one occasion 'peeping' at her."

Edwards said he did not know Moore.

Rumors of a motive

Residents here, as well as an FBI agent interviewed in the 1970s, recall that rumors of another motive were widely circulated in the Meadville community - the possibility that Moore and Dee had been mistaken for Black Muslims from Chicago who were traveling through town. Local whites viewed outsiders as deeply menacing, intent on upsetting the state's caste system.

Despite Edwards' confession to beating Moore and Dee, he and Seale were released, inexplicably, by a justice of the peace. No formal indictment was ever filed against them, an outcome not surprising in a state where whites seemed to have license to commit violence against blacks. And no arrests were made of any of the other men involved.

In January 1966, Edwards and Seale stonewalled at a hearing of the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington, where investigator Donald T. Appell asked the men, whom he identified as cousins, about their involvement in the Klan and in the killings of Moore and Dee.

Appell also questioned three other men about the disappearance of Moore and Dee. One of them was James Seale's father, Clyde Seale, identified as the Exalted Cyclops of the Franklin County Klan, and James' brother, Jack Seale, whom Appell also identified as a Klan member. The other was Ernest Parker, whom he identified as Jack Seale's best friend.

Parker raised cattle on Palmyra Island, in the Mississippi River, and owned a barge to transport cattle. "The FBI determined that it would take such a barge as yours to have transported the bodies of Dee and Moore," Appell told Parker. He got no answer. Parker also would not answer questions about the discarded Jeep chassis found on his property. No indictments were filed, although a Justice Department lawyer later said he had recommended prosecution.

Retribution

There were those who believed, years later, that retribution against some of the men may have been paid by other means.

"The Good Lord takes care of it," said former Natchez police Chief J.T. Robinson. "If you're really not worth much on this Earth, the Lord will take care of it."

Robinson said Parker died in 1996 when a tractor ran over him on Palmyra Island. Jack Seale was killed in an offshore oil rig accident, he said.

James Seale, who later became a crop-duster, survived a serious airplane accident while he was spraying a Louisiana plantation in 1972, according to court records filed in the accident. He also was a police officer in Vidalia, La., just across the Mississippi River from Natchez.

Now retired, he resided until July in a trailer park in Anniston, Ala. Seale could not be reached for comment.

As the congressional hearings attempted, with little success, to shed light on his brother's death, Thomas Moore was crawling through rice fields in Vietnam. His mother was mourning one son, and worrying about the other dying in war.

"It just tore apart our family," Moore said of his brother's violent death. "I had to take all the pictures of my brother out of the house, except one. Every time she looked at it, she cried."

Despite Mazie Moore's grief, it was her wish when she died that the family not seek retribution for Charles.

A mother's dying wish

"Momma always said that, if you stir dirt up, you get dirt back on you," Thomas Moore said. "I shouldn't have waited this long, but that was Momma's request."

Moore said his mother's dying wish was that he let God take care of his brother's killers.

What changed his mind in June was the slaying of James Byrd. The African-American was chained to the rear of a pickup and dragged to his death in Jasper, Texas. Three white men have been accused, at least two of them with ties to white supremacist organizations.

In August, a lawyer representing Moore wrote to Ronnie Harper, the Mississippi prosecutor with jurisdiction over the Charles Moore case, to request that it be reopened.

Harper, who had never heard of the case, promised to investigate, and Mississippi Public Safety Commissioner Jim Ingram believes the case could be reopened.

But Moore remains fearful of what the investigation might uncover.

"I'm sure if they open it back up, I'll hear stuff I've never heard before," he said. "And I will be mad. Is it worth it for me and my family?"

His last visit to Mississippi was in the 1980s, when he went to the local newspaper to try to find old stories about his brother's death.

"I wanted to get that information for my boy," said Moore, who has an 18-year-old son. "That week of newspaper had been destroyed. The whole week."

He is planning a trip at Christmas to the old family homestead. He inherited it from his mother.

"If you go down Highway 84 toward Natchez, and take a right just past Meadville, that's where I've got 30 acres," Moore said. "If you take a left, that's where Edwards lives."

Moore said he has no plans to visit Edwards' property. "I'm not going to do that," he said. "I'm fine now."

Instead, he plans to take his son on a walk around his family's old house, to visit cousins and to meet Harper, the district attorney.

About the stories

During the past year, Newsday has been examining the often forgotten civil rights era murders in the Deep South, reviewing case files, inspecting records and interviewing relatives and friends of the victims and some of the alleged perpetrators, as well as local authorities in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. These stories and photos are part of a series that ran last week.

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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