More than 40 years ago, two black hitchhikers were found dead in Mississippi. Thursday, a reputed Ku Klux Klan member — James Ford Seale, 71 — will be charged with kidnapping, but not murder. Reporter Jerry Mitchell of The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Miss., discusses the case with Steve Inskeep:
SI: Would you remind us exactly what happened in 1964, and what James Seale's alleged role was.
JM: This was a case of forgotten killings, really. These two teenagers, African-American teenagers, were hitchhiking. And the Klan believed that there was gunrunning in the county [Franklin County, Miss.] and believed they might know something about it, or did know something about it. [They] took them out into the woods, beat them, then hauled them out to the Mississippi River and tied them to a Jeep motor block and dumped them alive into the Mississippi River.
SI: And James Seale, was he a member of the KKK at that time?
JM: [He was] reputed to be. He denied being a member when I talked to him in 2000. And, of course, he went on to deny that he knew anybody in the Klan. But, of course, his brother was in the Klan, and his dad was supposedly in the Klan. So, I found that kind of interesting.
SI: You mentioned that you talked to him in 2000. It was your newspaper that got this old case reopened. Can you describe to me what evidence led you to James Seale?
JM: Basically, federal authorities had reopened another case, the Chester White killings that the Klan did in '66 in Mississippi. It had taken place on federal property, in the Homochitto National Forest. And the name rung a bell. So, I was like, "it seems like there was something else that took place there." And, sure enough, Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddy Moore were both beaten in that forest. So that's what led them to reopen that case at that point.
SI: And what led you to Seale? Had he been a suspect at the time?
JM: Yes. He had been arrested along with a guy by the name of Charles Marcus Edwards. But the case never went anywhere.
SI: You mean the Mississippi authorities never did...
JM: [The] never did a thing with it. It was on the state side. The state never prosecuted. In fact, they've dismissed the charges.
SI: Based on what you've seen, how strong is the evidence connecting him to this crime, and what is the evidence?
JM: The case against him, I think, is probably similar to what it would have been in '64, if authorities had been able to put the case together. And this is laid out in FBI documents. Mr. Edwards confessed to authorities his involvement in the case, and identified Mr. Seale as being one of the fellow participants. But Mr. Edwards also said he didn't take part in anything beyond that.
SI: This other suspect confessed to a role in the beating, not the killing. And he leads you, then, to James Seale, the man who's been arrested now?
JM: Correct. I was able to, you know, [use] old records and other things [that] led me to him. And [I] actually had help from people that knew him [that] helped me track him down.
SI: These two men were 19 when they were killed. Are their parents still alive?
JM: No, they're not. But the brother of Charles Moore, Thomas Moore, really deserves a tremendous amount of credit for this case being re-prosecuted. He's been working with a CBC documentary filmmaker, and he's the one who approached the U.S attorney in 2005 and I think really deserves the credit for this case finally going forward.
SI: After more than 40 years, he was still going after the killers of his brother, and he's part of the reason we're hearing about the case again now.
JM: Absolutely. There's no question he's the one that convinced federal authorities to finally do this thing.