Brother, Filmmaker Discuss Miss. Murder Cold Case
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Michel Martin. Farai Chideya is on vacation.
Today we bring you something different, a special Rountable. In 1964, two black teenagers, Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, were kidnapped and murdered in Verona, Mississippi. Their deaths were largely ignored for more than 40 years, until this week.
Former sheriffs' deputy and reputed Ku Klux Klansman James Ford Seale was arrested Wednesday thanks in part to the efforts of Moore's brother, Thomas. Yesterday, Seale pleaded not guilty to federal charges of kidnapping and conspiracy. I spoke yesterday with Thomas Moore and David Ridgen, a documentary filmmaker who has been making a film about the case. I asked them about the events of May 2nd, 1964.
Mr. DAVID RIDGEN (Filmmaker): Probably around mid-day, Charles Moore and Henry Dee were hitchhiking on the main street in Meadville. A car drove by, according to the documents that I have read, allegedly with James Ford Seale at the wheel. The boys supposedly did not hitchhike James Seale because he had a reputation for violence in the community and they knew this. But he stopped and told them he was a revenue agent hunting for bootleggers. And they got in the car, drove into the Homochitto National Forest.
Seale is joined later - very, very soon thereafter - by at least five other Klansmen. They took Henry Dee and Charles Moore into the woods, taped their mouths shut, tied them up and started beating them with bean sticks. James Seale was asking them questions about some suspicions that the Klan had in the area. At the time there was some, in quotation marks, "Muslim gunrunning" going on or some kind of a black insurrection was about to happen. And somehow they thought these two boys might have something to do with that.
Eventually, the boys were beaten unconscious, thrown into the trunk of a car. They were still alive. Drove for about two and half hours on sort of backcountry roads across the bridge to Louisiana and took the boys out to an old arm of the Mississippi River. Charles Moore, I believe, was chained to an old Army Jeep engine block and Henry Dee was tied to some old train rails and cotton gin wheel or something like that, a weight. And they were taken to the middle of the river and dumped in while alive.
MARTIN: Mr. Moore, it's my understanding that your brother's body was found because the three civil rights workers were missing - Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney - and dozens of volunteers and federal agents were searching for them. And that's how it was discovered what has happened to your brother. How did that make you feel, and how did your family respond to that?
Mr. THOMAS MOORE (Brother of Charles Moore): I can not remember how I felt. I know after I had to deal with my anger, I had to deal with my mother because I knew that would take her down. I mean after my father died when I was two and a half and Charles Moore was one and a half, she raised us on welfare and working in the white people's houses, cleaning clothes and cleaning houses to try to get us through high school. So I knew it would going to eventually take her down. So my effort, I think, was concentrated on her. Of course, I was - it just came in on me on the way to Vietnam and I had a lot of pain to deal with.
MARTIN: Mr. Ridgen, indeed the story, you know, forgive me for saying this, has been part of kind of our buried history in this country. How did you hear about it and what about it piqued your interest?
Mr. RIDGEN: I was working on a film for CBC television, that's Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, down in Mississippi in 2004. I had to look through a lot of the CBC archives preparing for the film about the potential for retrial in the "Mississippi Burning" case. I was looking through…
MARTIN: And just to make sure that everyone understands what we're talking about. That's the case of the three civil rights workers…
Mr. RIDGEN: That's right. OK.
MARTIN: A very well known case. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, interracial group of civil rights workers who disappeared together, tortured to death and murdered by Ku Klux Klan.
Mr. RIDGEN: Right. I found this film called "Summer in Mississippi," which was made in 1964 by CBC producer named Beryl Fox. And in the film there's a moment where body is discovered in the Mississippi River during the course of the search for the three civil rights workers - Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman - and the media goes crazy.
They realized that it was actually the body of a black man, and actually later identified as Charles Eddie Moore, Thomas' brother. And the next day another body was found. And this time they still hadn't identified the body, so there was even more excitement. And again there hope faded, it seemed, when they discovered it was actually the wrong bodies, in quotation marks, "the wrong victims of terror."
MARTIN: Was it known at the time who was believed to be responsible and it was just the question of the authorities not being willing to bring them to justice, or was it truly a mystery, people really didn't know who was responsible?
Mr. RIDGEN: What's interesting, if you look through the extensive publicly available documents that exist for this case, there were rumors around the town at the time that exactly equal what happened in the case, according to the informant that came out later. So to me that means that people actually did know what was going on at the time.
But really the case kicked into high gear when an informant, Klan informant, came forward and told the FBI what he had heard from his friends, Klansmen who had participated in the killings. And that allowed the FBI to make two arrests. James Ford Seale and Charles Marcus Edwards were arrested November 6th, 1964 but released I think 36 hours later on a $5,000 bond and it was never taken to a grand jury.
The local officials kind of dropped the ball. I mean, after the FBI did an investigation, partly really to cultivate FBI informants, they were less interested in Dee and Moore and more interested in cultivating client informants to help in other investigations. Local officials did nothing with the information afterwards.
MARTIN: Mr. Moore, as Mr. Ridgen pointed out, your brother's was one of a number of unsolved murders from that period. I'd like to ask what it was it like for your family and for you all these years living with the knowledge that someone did this to your brother and that person was not brought to justice.
Mr. MOORE: Well, I have a picture of Charles Moore on my wall. And sometimes I look at that picture and I say it didn't happen. Because it was so drastically that the people would treat two human beings like they did to Charles Moore and Henry Dee. My family, my immediate family, there was no way we could forget, but we did not want to remember.
My mom went to the sheriff department and he told her a lie and sent her over 150 miles away. We didn't have anyone to go to, being from a poor family. We didn't have money to solicit help from attorneys or things like that. So the old saying is, we just had to eat it up.
My mom lived 13 years from the day that Charles Moore was abducted. I've had nightmares throughout my life. Charles Moore has visited me. It seemed like in Vietnam, Korea, Germany, Panama; everywhere I've gone in the last 42 years, sometimes I felt that he was there.
MARTIN: Mr. Moore, there are some who would say, and forgive me for asking this if this painful to you, but there are some who would say why not let sleeping dogs lie. The region has come a long way that - why is this important to see this case resolved to the criminal justice system so many years later.
Mr. MOORE: I'm going to answer it in two ways. Number one, if anybody want to ask me that, I'm going to come back and ask him, if it had been your brother, what would you do? And let them answer their own question.
The second thing I want to say about that is I was drafted into the United States Army. I served this country 30 years and 15 days, and I was a hell of a soldier. I attained the highest ranking in the Army (unintelligible). I fought for the belief of this country, the Constitution, the emancipation. Those words continue to ring heavily on me that all men are created equal. So these kind of dead dogs shouldn't die, and they will not die as long as Thomas Moore is alive.
MARTIN: Thank you both so much for joining us.
Mr. RIDGEN: Thank you.
Mr. MOORE: Thank you.
MARTIN: Thomas Moore is the brother of Charles Moore and a military veteran who lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado. David Ridgen is a documentary filmmaker who is making a film about Moore's case. They joined me from the studios of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Washington D.C.