Thomas Moore and I had been driving back and forth on a backwoods road in Mississippi for almost two hours on a scorching July day back in 2006. It was only 9:35 am, but our skin was steaming, our van’s air conditioner broken.
It was a Sunday. The 9th. And we’d just been approached by a local white woman in a rusting car billowing blue smoke from its exhaust.
“You boys need some help?”
“We’re looking for a place to fish,” spoke Thomas, pokerfaced in a deep Mississippi drawl.
I tried to block the woman’s view of the two video cameras rolling eerily without operators in the back of our rental van with Louisiana plates.
The woman in the chuffing rust bucket had seen us doggedly driving past her house, and in that sweet southern way, she wanted to be helpful, but at the same time, find out who the strangers were.
Though she was not to know it, her house happened to be closest, on that quiet alert country road, to our real target: an old steepled brick building with tended lawn and a dilapidated sign that, if it had all its yellowed letters intact, was supposed to read, “Bunkley Baptist Church.”
The woman eventually nodded, and moved on, but by the way she held her head and the angle of her brow, I knew she was unconvinced and remained suspicious.
Minutes later, we’d confront the aging Baptist Deacon of that oddly charming church. A white man with a terrible secret. A horrifying tale of terror that had begun for Thomas Moore more than 41 years before, in the town of Meadville, only a few miles from where we were sweating buckets, and trembling.
* * * *
More than twenty-four months before that sweltering day, deep in the frigid bowels of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s temperature controlled archival vaults, I would first learn of the story that led me to Thomas Moore, and then, to the Deacon’s secret and beyond.
I’d been researching a film that I had agreed to shoot and direct for the CBC in Mississippi in July of 2004. The idea was to retrace and re-contextualize the steps of yet another CBC crew, who had shot yet another documentary in 1964 Mississippi. Their 16 mm black-and-white film was called Summer in Mississippi. Beautifully written, narrated and filmed by the crack team behind the now legendary CBC program, This Hour Has Seven Days (i.e., Beryl Fox and Douglas Leiterman), Summer in Mississippi recounts the days and months following the disappearance and subsequent murder of three civil rights workers as they began to investigate the burning of the black, Mt. Zion church in Longdale, Mississippi Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney had been killed by a particularly violent branch of the Ku Klux Klan, known as the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.
Eventually the case of the three missing activists would become known by its FBI codename of “Mississippi Burning” or MIBURN for short. The victims’ last names, Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney are known to practically every American. Books, movies, and high school curricula have memorialized their deaths into the star-spangled fabric of American history. As part of the modern-day CBC crew, the idea was that we’d return to Mississippi almost 40 years later to take the temperature of the people and places that haunted the killings of these three civil rights workers. But, as I’d soon discover, their brutal story was not unique at the time.
As I watched Summer in Mississippi, sequences flew by of the hundreds of frantic searchers from the U.S. National Guard, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and local authorities who’d been ordered to scour the entire state and surroundings for the missing civil rights workers. Beating bushes, flying helicopters, dragging swamps and rivers. The whole country was on edge. Would their bodies be found?
Then, a curious silence descends in the 1964 documentary when cigar smoking white men in shirt-sleeves fish decomposing body parts out of the Mississippi River with sticks and bare hands. We see ribs and a femur, knotted loops of wire or twine, and a transparent body-size bag being emptied of fetid water. The lazy ever-present Southern droning of katydids is silenced by the penetrating voice of the late, great CBC narrator John Drainie: “It was the wrong body. The discovery of a Negro male was noted and forgotten. The search was not for him. The search was for two white boys and their Negro friend.”
I stopped the film and wrote down five words and a question, “wrong body”, “Negro male”, “forgotten”, and then simply, “who?”
I went to Mississippi in July of 2004 to shoot the film I’d been researching, but John Drainie’s utterance about the “wrong body” was never far from my mind. At the end of most every interview, I asked about other bodies found during the search for Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney. Some Mississippians knew there had been some found; others denied it or simply refused to entertain the notion. But when I returned to Canada in August, John Drainie’s script would become my mission statement.
* * * * *
When Henry Dee and Charles Moore disappeared on May 2, 1964, no national guard were called in. No extra detachments of FBI agents were sent there. The tragic fact wasn’t noted in any newspaper. Their deaths would not immediately be inscribed into the American historical lexicon. Yet they’d been killed by the same Klan group as Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney, two months earlier and in a far more brutal fashion. In fact, it could be said that the killing of Moore and Dee represented the first bloody salvo the Klan fired that spring, in anticipation of the coming war on the civil rights workers of so-called ‘Freedom Summer’ just weeks later. Why the massive outcry for the MIBURN victims and almost none for Dee and Moore? Two of the MIBURN victims were white northerners from middle class families. Dee and Moore were poor, and black.
Two weeks before he disappeared, 19-year-old Charles Moore had been expelled from school for taking part in a protest on the campus of Alcorn College at Lorman, Mississippi. Police called the protest a “riot”. A student writing about the incident said it was caused by “the limited amount of civil liberties” they were given in their Student Union Building. Other reports suggest it was caused by the dismissal of football players from the Alcorn team or the quality of food in the school cafeteria. Mississippi Highway Safety patrolmen in dozens of patrol cars were called in, and Governor Paul Johnson was personally following the situation.
Charles, along with some 600 other students, was expelled and sent home on one of several buses ordered in by the school superintendent, JD Boyd. Charles was dropped in Meadville without any of his belongings. And for nine days, he divided his time between friends and his mother in his tiny home-town.
On May 1st, he was driven to Alcorn by his friend Eddie Buckles to pick up some belongings, and then returned to Meadville.
On May 2nd, after a night at his cousin Evie Bell’s house, he decided to return to his own home just outside of town. Mazie Moore, his mother, had been sick, and Charles wanted to check up on her.
To get home Charles decided to hitchhike. On the way to the hitchhike spot across from the Tastee Freeze ice cream stand at the west edge of town, Charles met up with his friend Henry Hezekiah Dee, also 19. They decided to hitchhike together, as they were going in the same direction. Henry worked at the Haltom Lumber Mill in Roxie, further on up the road, and wanted to pick up his pay check there. Hitching was a common mode of travel in the area, and whites would often pick up blacks to give rides. A short while later however, they were picked up by klansmen.
Much of what transpired next that day comes from June 2007 federal trial transcripts and FBI files. An abbreviated version of what happened follows, in accordance with these sources.
Five Klansmen took part in the abduction. Charles Marcus Edwards, then a paper mill worker age 31, conceived of the kidnapping with several others present at a Klan meeting at the Bunkley Hunt Club on a previous Friday night. At the meeting, the rumor that blacks were bringing guns into Franklin County to help start an “insurrection” was discussed. It was felt that the klan needed to make a violent statement to quash any such alleged activity. Edwards thought “it should be Henry Dee” that the Klan target because Dee wore a “black headband” and was likely a “militant.”
It was around midday on May 2, 1964 that Henry Dee was spotted walking in Meadville and five Klansmen were rounded up to abduct him. Charles Marcus Edwards, Archie Prather, Clyde Seale, and Curtis Dunn were in a pickup truck and James Ford Seale was in his white Volkswagen. When Charles Moore joined Henry Dee and they both headed toward the Tastee Freeze, the Klansmen made the decision to abduct both of them.
With the four men in the truck hanging back, James Seale drove his VW up to Dee and Moore. Reportedly, the boys did not thumb Seale, possibly suspecting trouble. But Seale told them he was a revenue agent hunting for bootleggers and ordered them to get in the car.
Dee and Moore were driven into the Homochitto National Forest, a national park that surrounds Meadville, followed closely by the pickup truck.
When they stopped, Seale got the boys out of the car, and hit them with his carbine. They were led into the woods. There they were taped up, interrogated, and beaten unconscious with branches. Seale held a shotgun on the boys and interrogated them at length about gun running in Franklin County, while both Edwards and Dunn beat them viciously. At one point Edwards approached Henry Dee and asked, if he was “right with the lord”, because he knew that Dee and Moore would be killed.
Allegedly, under torture, Dee and/or Moore suggested that a pastor named Clyde Briggs of the Roxie Baptist church might know something about guns being brought into the area. Charles Edwards, Clyde Seale, and Archie Prather left the forest to search the Roxie Baptist Church. The three first went to Sheriff Wayne Hutto’s office to obtain a warrant for the search. Hutto was a member of the Klan, Edwards says, and many investigative documents suggest the same. Hutto’s later actions surrounding the Dee/Moore case show that he deliberately obfuscated the investigation and mislead the Dee and Moore families as to Henry and Charles’s whereabouts. In the end, no guns were found at the church.
Back in the forest, bloody and bruised, Dee and Moore were then taken to Clyde Seale’s farmhouse in the nearby Bunkley Community by Curtis Dunn and James Seale. From there, two more Klansmen from Natchez were called in to help: Ernest Parker, and James Seale’s brother, Myron Wayne “Jack” Seale. When they arrived at Clyde Seale’s farm, the men wrapped Dee and Moore in a “plastic carpet” and stuffed them into the trunk of Parker’s small red Ford.
Parker, Jack and brother James Seale then drove with the boys in the trunk to Davis Island, some three hours away and across the Louisiana state line. Davis Island, also called “Parker Island”, is still owned by Ernest Parker’s family and is located on an old oxbow lake formed by the Mississippi River close to Tallulah, LA. The previous owner and namesake of the island was none other than Jefferson Davis, the leader of the Confederacy.
Upon their arrival, just after dark, the killers reportedly were amazed Moore and Dee were still alive. They decided not to shoot the boys as they did not want to get blood on the boat. So, Charles Moore was chained to an old Willys Jeep engine block, and Henry Dee was chained to some pieces of train rail and two heavy industrial fly wheels. The pair were taken to the middle of the river and dumped overboard, while still alive. They’d been killed by the most violent Klan group in American history. Men, many returned military veterans and avowed Christians, who were bent on preserving white supremacy and their so-called “southern way of life” at all costs.
With the help of Klan informants and by working in tandem with the Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol and other local authorities, the FBI would eventually create thousands of documents from their investigation into the Moore and Dee case. There would be two arrests. On November 6, 1964, James Ford Seale and Charles Marcus Edwards, two of the seven perpetrators, were handcuffed and taken to Jackson, the state capital, for questioning. They were released less than 36 hours later on $5,000 bond. There would be no grand jury called by Lenox Foreman, the district attorney of the time, and therefore no court proceedings despite voluminous evidence, partial confessions and admissions, and the cooperation of several reliable Klan informants. In the early winter of 1966, many of the men these informants said were involved in the murders were brought before the House Committee on un-American Activities (HUAC) in Washington, DC. HUAC, famous for investigating alleged communists in America, was now investigating the Klan. When questioned about these murders and other acts of violence, every single one of the Klansmen called before Congress took the Fifth Amendment, and refused to answer.
Regardless, mistakes and obstruction at all levels of the 1964 investigation and its aftermath within the context of a vicious civil rights conflict and overt intolerance meant the case would languish in limbo for decades.
* * * * *
I got to know Charles Moore through his brother Thomas. There are few pictures of Charles, but in each of them, he’s smiling. Charles and Thomas shared a red bicycle their mother had bought for them in 1958. Some of Thomas’s fondest memories of his brother are of riding double on that bike, near their old homestead. Thomas and Charles would ride down the dirt road at break-neck speed, often ending in an uncontrolled tumble. They’d get up and do it again. Another time Thomas remembers riding into town with Charles in their rickety family hay wagon hitched to an old mule. They were on their way to buy groceries with their mother’s monthly government check. Whites in cars would pull up beside them, and take their pictures. ‘we felt like doggone animals’, says Thomas.
When we began the production, there were no known pictures of Henry Dee, and Thomas and I searched for a long time in a well-tended but hidden graveyard, only to discover that Henry’s gravesite was never marked with a stone. In fact, only one person remained living who had even attended Henry’s funeral.
Henry Hezekiah Dee was born on January 8, 1945. He was raised in the rural village of Roxie, Mississippi, by his grandmother as his mother, Icyphine Dee, had been mentally ill since his early childhood and had been put into a psychiatric hospital, and then later, into residential outpatient care. As of this writing, Mrs. Dee is still alive, in her 80s, and to this day has never been told about the murder of her son. Henry had a brother and three sisters. He had beautiful straightened hair with a reddish tinge that he was very proud of.
He had traveled back and forth to Chicago several times to visit his aunt and was thought of by his friends in Mississippi as a bit of a city slicker. On one of our trips, I would be led to his grave by one of two people in the world who still know its location. None of his family attended Henry Dee’s funeral.
They were too afraid of the Klan.
Early in production, I had spoken with all three of the Dee sisters, and Thomas and I met two of them personally. After Henry was murdered, the family fell apart, moving away from their ancestral home, separated from each other. During the course of filming, Thomas and I grew close to Henry’s eldest sister, Thelma Collins, and would consult with her often on what we were doing with the case.
* * * * *
After finding out about the “wrong body” in Summer in Mississippi, I’d pored over history books, articles, the online civil rights memorial, and eventually learn his name to be Charles Eddie Moore. I also discover that another body, 19 year-old Henry Hezekiah Dee, had been found the next day in the same section of river. All I knew was that they had been friends, and had disappeared at the same time.
I wondered what it would be like to be the family members of Moore and Dee, having lived through that time of terror and loss and having had virtually no light shone on their stories–and no justice. What would happen, I thought, if one returned to Mississippi to meet with those family members and look back at their forgotten case, the ‘wrong’ case of 1964? It is a story, after all, as important as MIBURN.
In August of 2004 I began searching for Dee and Moore’s family members with the help of some CBC colleagues, blindly sweeping southwest Mississippi with hundreds of phone calls. But nobody seemed to know Henry Dee or his family and the one cousin we eventually turned up who knew Charles Moore and knew that he had a still-living brother named Thomas, did not know Thomas’s number or current whereabouts.
During my search, I found an article written in the Clarion Ledger newspaper by Jerry Mitchell, a Mississippi journalist known for covering civil rights cases. The story mentioned that Charles Moore had a brother named Thomas. When I contacted Mitchell, again in August of 2004, he gave me what he said was Moore’s phone number. It had a Colorado area code.
Many calls to that number later, I realized that something must be wrong, because nobody was picking up.
At this point, other CBC duties began to overtake me, but through the winter and spring, I would continue to look for the families of Dee and Moore.
It had become a personal mission.
* * * * *
Almost 11 months after learning some of the details of Charles Moore’s murder, I finally located his brother, retired and living quietly in Colorado Springs, about 100 kms south of Denver.
Thomas James Moore is the kind of large-than-life character that documentary filmmakers like me dream of. A retired command sergeant-major, a Vietnam veteran, born on the 4th of July, a man who thought he was fighting for a certain kind of country, but a country that never served him or his family any justice. A liberal-minded voter, he’s a man of piercing gaze and fearsome manner with a passion for the music of legendary blues guitarist BB King.
Thomas is also a man absolutely tortured by shame and feelings of guilt that he didn’t do enough to protect his brother or personally bring his killers to justice at the time. Growing up, Thomas would finish schoolyard fights for Charles and guard him zealously when they played football. Charles would have been a doctor or a lawyer, Thomas often says. Before Charles’s murder, Thomas would have referred to himself in less flattering terms: “I was a party boy, you know; I just wanted to have a good time.”
But all that would change.
In early June 2005, Thomas Moore received the Fed-Ex letter with my proposal for a documentary film and a request that he return to Mississippi with me to personally investigate his brother’s case. He left the unopened letter on his mantle. In the late ‘90s he’d been approached by reporters who had wanted to look at the case, but none of the work they’d done he felt had panned out, despite some significant breakthroughs. First, Tony Marro of Newsday took a crack in 1973/1974 at finding a story about the Klan. He interviewed several people in the Southwest Mississippi area, including men who may have known about the Dee and Moore murders – he remembers James Seale standing at the end of his driveway wearing a policeman’s uniform and a sidearm – but Marro never wrote a story. Then, many years later Mississippi native and Newsday writer Stephanie Saul took a crack at it. She spoke to many people, including Charles Marcus Edwards in an impressive first-time in-depth interview where he denied any involvement in the Dee-Moore killing. Still, the authorities did nothing.
Then, the case was re-probed in 2000 through the efforts of Mississippi journalist Jerry Mitchell and Connie Chung’s ABC television news magazine 20/20 working with a team led by Canadian producer Harry Phillips. In an article about the Dee-Moore case, Mitchell pointed out that the crime had possibly occurred on Federal land, the Homochitto National Forest–thus potentially triggering federal jurisdiction. Mitchell had obtained FBI files on the Dee-Moore case and like Tony Marro before him, had also spoken to James Seale. ABC, who accessed the same FBI files, discovered the identity of a Dee/Moore case Klan informant through a simple redaction error on a single FBI file page. But incredibly, state and federal officials at the time decided not to proceed, and the case was officially closed again by the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in June of 2003.
When I contacted former US Attorney Brad Pigott about why the case did not proceed in 2000, he said simply, “I cannot recall.”
What was the point, thought Thomas, of giving more quotes to reporters or spending another thirty minutes in his brother’s graveyard for the benefit of another one of Connie Chung’s cameras? Nothing could bring his brother back or erase his guilt. The Fedex stayed on the mantle.
Well, I wasn’t Connie Chung, but I was in a bit of a bind. That spring, the CBC wanted me to cover the trial of Edgar Ray Killen, one of the organizers of the MIBURN murders, as a follow-up to the film we’d shot in Mississippi the summer before in July 2004. I knew that the story of Thomas Moore and the Dee/Moore case was the one I wanted to follow and set about pitching it hard to anyone who would listen. Maria Mironowicz, then of CBC’s archival repurposing unit, expressed some interest in the project. The only problem was that Thomas Moore had not responded to my overtures.
* * * * *
I was busy trying to set up some contingency plans with other Mississippi journalists in the case that Thomas Moore would not respond. I’d need alternate stories around the Killen trial and was desperate.
Then, the call came. It was a message on my CBC phone. “This is Thomas Moore. Please call.” He then left his cell number. Five years later, we’ve spoken every week, if not every day since.
Within a week, Thomas would agree to return to Mississippi with me to make a film. Just over three weeks later, I’d be standing on Thomas Moore’s doorstep in Colorado Springs. We decided to drive to Mississippi together, and so I brought a rental van from Toronto to pick him up.
Thomas lived in the beautiful shadow of Cheyenne Mountain, the now semi-defunct NORAD headquarters. Having traveled with the U.S. military for most of his life, Colorado Springs was the site of his last posting, at Fort Carson. Thomas said he felt safe there and would never feel safe in Mississippi, nor would he ever return there to live. Despite coming from poverty and long enduring the traumatic loss of his brother, Thomas rose to the top of the non-commissioned officer ranks: E-9 Command Sergeant Major. No mean feat. And Thomas was rarely to be seen without his black veteran’s cap.
He’d been trained as a sniper, and in the years immediately following Charles and Henry’s murder, Thomas would hatch a terrifying plan of revenge: he would kill every white in the town of Meadville, including those implicated in the murder, using machine guns and grenades. Then, he’d poison their water supply. But Mazie Moore, Thomas’s mother, stopped the plan in its tracks, telling her son, “Shut up, and stay in the army.”
Thomas, her only remaining child, would dutifully lock away in a bedroom trunk the .30-.30 rifle with the special scope he’d picked out to execute his deadly plan, thus honoring his mother’s wishes. On one of our trips to New York, Thomas and I would hear that Mazie had herself been threatened by a white man around the time Charles’s body had been discovered. She was warned never to hire a lawyer or re-visit the case. Since that time long ago, Thomas’s thoughts have turned away from vigilante justice and toward the American justice system.
* * * * *
We could barely understand each other at first, Thomas Moore with his Mississippi drawl, and me with my Ottawa Valley Scottish-Irish twang. But after a few false starts, which included my idiotic idea to get Thomas to change his pronunciation of Ku Klux Klan, we learned to understand and began accepting each other. We spent a few days in Colorado Springs, getting acquainted, looking through some tattered news clippings, Mississippi memorabilia, and the very few FBI documents—eight pages–that Thomas had been FAXED several years earlier. I learned for the first time of Stephanie Saul’s article and the ABC 20/20 documentary when Thomas showed me Saul’s photocopied article and some old VHS tapes he had stored in an old cracked briefcase. Then, we hit the road.
We knew that one of the alleged killers, Charles Marcus Edwards, was still alive. I had called him on the phone a few months earlier. His current wife had hung up. Edwards was one of the two men who had been arrested for the murders of Moore and Dee back in 1964, but then released. We would learn from members of his congregation that Edwards was a respected Deacon at a Baptist church. All the other alleged perpetrators, seven in all, were reportedly dead. This included James Ford Seale, the other man who had been arrested along with Edwards. I’d been told by a prominent Mississippi journalist in an August 2004 e-mail that Seale was dead. Two weeks before I left Toronto for Colorado, the same journalist again told me in a phone conversation that Seale was dead. He’d told Thomas Moore the same thing. Seale had also been reported as dead in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere. In September 2005, Seale’s son, James Jr., from Alabama, told Associated Press reporter Allen Breed that his dad had died “six or seven months ago.”
* * * * *
From the beginning, the plan was to have Thomas confront Charles Marcus Edwards and ask him why his name was in the FBI files. Thomas had never met Edwards before and he and I knew him only through a grainy picture in the photocopy of Stephanie Saul’s December 1998 Newsday article. Edwards, then in his 60s, looked in good shape, and Thomas decided he wanted to confront him now or forever languish in guilt.
He also wanted to interview others who may have been too afraid to come forward with information at the time: retired loggers who worked with whites in the woods, old bootleggers who sold moonshine to whites, even the area’s few remaining black activists. And for the first time, Thomas would talk to whites about the case. It would be the first time that the case would be publicly discussed in any community, white or black.
As we went forward with the plan, I set up meetings with officials throughout the state, and hoped to conduct innumerable phone and on-camera interviews with people around the United States.
Thomas came of the mind that, if nothing else, he would find some kind of inner peace through the process of making the film. For the first time, he would gain the means to personally examine the case, and exorcise some of his demons in the process. No matter what happened, from my filmmaker’s perspective, Thomas’s journey to confront his past and himself, was bound to be a good story. It wouldn’t be long before I discovered how good, and how exceptionally amazing a story it could be.
I was making a movie, but I felt like I was in a movie.
* * * * *
On the way down to Mississippi it rained. It tornadoed. It hailed. And there were spectacular double rainbows. Often all at once. We listened to Thomas’s extensive blues collection, and my favorite Jimi Hendrix music, and we seemed to fly above the road. Moving through the boiling maelstrom thus, with tense smiles on our faces, we developed a kind of rhythm, a dynamic dualism with a mission.
We probably wouldn’t have chosen each other as friends under other circumstances. Our paths would simply never have crossed. But in the Ontario-plated van together mile after mile, with the tangible adversity of weather in our path and the coming storm of confrontation in Mississippi, our similarities brought us together, and our differences stowed themselves away for safer keeping, and calmer times. Still, I distinctly remember wondering if anything we wanted to accomplish was possible.
Shortly after receiving some plastic piggy banks from a helpful town hall employee in Des Moines, New Mexico, we found out on a conference call with two FBI spokespeople that the Moore/Dee case was officially closed, and had been since June 2003.
As we approached the Texas border, I called the U.S. Attorney for southern Mississippi. If anyone would be able to spark this case back into life it would be whoever occupied that position. State officials had dragged their feet for years. In this case, the federal man’s name was Dunn Lampton. He said he’d never heard about the case, but pledged to meet with us the following week.
After beating the weather and a deliciously troubled sleep at a down-and-out Tom Waits-inspired hotel, we crossed the Mississippi River on the afternoon of July 7, 2005.
We arrived in Mississippi hot and numb, with bundled nerves, and a 41-year-old cold case to crack. We parked beside the big river and stared at an impossible barge being slowly forced upstream. Somewhere along its push northward, in a dead and forgotten lake, the bodies of Dee and Moore had been found.
Where were we to begin? The massive river, blind and dumb in its might, gave no answers. It was one thing to talk and plan sipping iced water under NORAD mountain, but now that we were here, nothing seemed simple.
Think less. Follow your gut. Keep filming.
* * * *
Before trying to locate Charles Edwards, we decided that trying to reconstruct and re-enact the kidnapping and murder of Moore and Dee, might be as good a place as any to dig in the spurs. And Thomas could hit the ground running on his personal exorcisms to boot.
Very early next morning, we drove to Meadville, the scene of the pickup, and got some pretty shots in the muggy morning light of Thomas and I re-enacting what the few documents we had suggested had happened at the place where Charles and Henry were abducted. Within seconds of our arrival, most blacks in town knew we were there, and many of the whites had a good idea. People in this part of Mississippi have excellent face recognition software. Even though Thomas rarely returns to his hometown, everyone who passed seemed to know him, know what family he came from, or actually be related to him in some manner.
We would get better at this, and later on in this trip and those that followed (seven so far), we’d try never to drive down the same road the same way twice, to always use a locally plated vehicle, and to never tell anyone we were coming or going–including friends, relatives, and the local media.
In the meantime, it was good that some people knew Thomas. We were able to borrow the ragged truck of one of the friendly passersby and even to have him steady my camera while it recorded a scene. I would drive up to Thomas, who was hitchhiking, and pick him up. I played the Klansman. Was this really going to do anything? We felt that it would at the time, and it helped Thomas take his mind off the planned confrontation.
After the first re-enactment, we sped back to Natchez, the largest city in the southwestern part of the state, to meet with the local District Attorney, a man named Ronnie Harper. It was about 9:30 am. Harper seemed pleased to see us. Almost immediately he told us that it was his information that James Ford Seale, one of the alleged main perpetrators of the murders arrested with Charles Edwards in November 1964 was still alive. Thomas and I viewed the proclamation with some skepticism. Harper had not said this to Thomas or me in any of the phone conversations we’d had with him leading up to the trip. However, as Thomas and I discussed afterward, if Seale was alive, perhaps Edwards could be made to turn on him. Two alleged killers alive are better than one to make a court case 41 years later.
As if in a Hollywood dream sequence, by noon we’d confirm Seale’s continuing existence in dramatic fashion and on-camera, without even looking for him. On our way back into Franklin County, we’d stopped at a Roxie, Mississippi gas station for a “snack”, which was Thomas’s euphemism for a massive sandwich of sausage or catfish chased by a handy sack of pork rinds gulped down with a litre of diet Coke. I just ate fruit bars and cereal, being a vegetarian, much to Thomas’s chagrin.
By chance, on this eventful stop, Thomas met up with a smiling cousin of his named Kenny Byrd. Kenny wore a great straw hat and blue coveralls with his name embroidered on the left breast. Thomas was mentioning to him the purpose of the trip-to investigate the case and to confront Charles Edwards–and that it was too bad James Seale was dead. Kenny Byrd casually interrupted and pointed across the road. “Uh, uh,” he said. “James Ford Seale lives right over there in a mobile home, one of them mobile homes.”
The discovery floored us, and would soon make the quantum leap to international news, re-energizing the case to a new level. The myth of Seale’s death had been first perpetuated by his immediate family members who’d told reporters he was dead. When the media started to get hot on the case in 2000, either Seale himself, or someone close to him conspired that he should disappear. In any case, the story was evidently believed and reported as true.
Reported to the world outside Franklin County, that is.
We kept the news of Seale’s existence to ourselves, telling nobody. We needed time to think about our strategy. Even later that day when we met for the first time with some Jackson reporters who I had contacted to follow Thomas and I to get some press out on our trip, we said nothing. Eventually, over the next couple of days, we would tell the Jackson reporters, and then Jerry Mitchell.
However, many people in the surrounding area, including the District Attorney, as it turns out, knew Seale was alive. In fact, some of the whites and blacks I interviewed even admitted they knew or had heard James Seale and other Seale family members had been involved in the murders and other violent acts. Bombings, beatings, and general terrorization they said. Many in the community had feared Seale and his immediate family for years, and possibly this fear, quiet circling buzzards in their consciousness, had something to do with the silence that surrounded his existence. But possibly something else that can only be described as a tacit conspiracy of inertia was also at play, too. Seale on one hand, had retreated from the community, though he did reportedly attend church at the Union Baptist church in nearby Whiteapple, Mississippi, and received visitors often at the shade awning outside his massive 1996 Fleetwood Bounder. He seemed to mostly stick to himself. Charles Edwards, on the other hand, in the intervening years since his arrest had become a little league coach, a church-going leader, a man who jogged regularly with retired police officers, a man whom nobody would believe was part of the crime. Both men, regardless, had been accepted back into their community, despite what people knew, heard, or suspected about them. Nobody there raised the alarm. Nobody there looked into the case further.
Of course, knowing Seale or Edwards were still alive did nothing to prove they were guilty of the crimes attributed to them in the files and by the fact of their arrest. It did make the possibility of something being done that much more believable for Thomas though, and it gave him something to push with. We swung into high gear with plans to confront Edwards and Seale. Thomas felt that being the victim’s brother he’d have a leg-up on anybody else who had tried to speak with them over the years. Maybe they would reveal their guilt openly, or maybe the pressure would make one of them, more likely Edwards, to Thomas’s way of thinking, recognize the error and horror of their deeds and start talking to authorities about it. We’d continue with the re-enactments, but they took a back seat to figuring out how to get Thomas and the two alleged conspirators face-to-face.
* * * * *
Play the cards close.
* * * * *
Edwards’s phone was ringing. Thomas waited to speak. We were standing in the middle of the Homochitto forest and reception was terrible.
“My name’s David Ridgen and I’m here with Thomas Moore, can we just talk to you for a bit?”
“I don’t believe you can”
We’d try three times, each time Edwards would hang up. On the final try Thomas pleaded with Edwards’s answering machine.
“I just want to talk to you man-to-man, face-to-face. Just the two of us…”
Next up, James Seale. After a failed attempt to catch Seale off-guard at his church, we spotted him outside his motor home with some visitors. I fitted Thomas up with some camera glasses and he was off. But, fearing Seale might have a gun at the ready, he decided to undertake this confrontation from a safe distance.
As Thomas approached the mobile home from the public road, about 150 metres away, Seale and his friends spied him and scattered, running inside the camper. Thomas remained and his voice boomed out,
“I’m calling for James Ford Seale! My name is Thomas James Moore, the brother of Charles Eddie Moore. Why don’t you come out and be a man! All I want to do is talk to you!! I hope to see you in court!”
The hair on the back of my neck stood up.
And then Thomas ran.
But he wasn’t finished with either of them.
Thomas would return to Seale’s mobile home with a group of men from a nearby church after rousing them with a fiery sermon. Together, at the end of Seale’s driveway, they hammered in a rickety plastic sign Thomas and I had banged together in his hotel room “Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, Rest in Peace and Justice” it read. Justice, underlined in red. The men, all of whom were black, linked arms and said a prayer before leaving. It was a gripping moment, and I had tears in my eyes as I filmed.
The sign they’d posted was torn down less than an hour later.
Make all signs out of metal.
On July 12th, 2005 as the US attorney for Southern Mississippi Dunn Lampton and Thomas shook hands, they discovered as if by osmosis that they had been in the same army unit, Lampton a colonel, and Thomas a command sergeant major. They had not known each other. Lampton, a staunch Republican, had been appointed to his position by U.S. President George W. Bush on September 7, 2001.
The way Lampton walked, talked, and got to the point with a swagger and a bang impressed Thomas so much at our first meeting, that he would dub him ‘Wyatt Earp’. In fact, from that moment, Thomas and I would both refer to Lampton by that name, even to his face. He didn’t seem to care, or notice for that matter.
In the first meeting, Thomas and I were separated and interviewed by Lampton and his assistant Jack Lacey. We were asked what we knew. Thus began an interesting dance between myself, Thomas, and the Department of Justice.
Thomas could not have asked for more in a first meeting. Lampton stated that the decision that there was not enough evidence to determine whether the crime occurred on federal land was made before he came into office. He’d just begun to skim through the massive FBI file since our call the previous week and he couldn’t believe that nothing had been done on the case. He said he would take a personal interest in the case, and he did.
We stopped by the Clarion Ledger newspaper to tell Jerry Mitchell in person that James Seale was still alive and to interview him about the case. In 1999/2000 Jerry and ABC TV had obtained copies of some of the original pages from the FBI investigation, and he now decided to hand them over to Thomas. We walked out with armloads of paper. Thomas promptly gave me a copy. This represented about half of the files that I would lay my hands on throughout the process of filming from various sources around the USA. We were very grateful for Mitchell’s hand-off. But Thomas, who hadn’t had any idea of the extent of investigation into the case, wished he could have had them years before.
After Katrina hit New Orleans, we laid low for a while. It gave us time to read and think. In March 2006, we returned again. This time I would try approaching Edwards at his home deep in the backwoods of Franklin County to see if he would talk to Thomas.
Barking dogs. Shanty shacks. Drifting brimstone smoke from controlled burns in the woods around his house. Deliverance without the banjo.
Edwards happened to be sitting in a breezeway connected to his home. It had just started to rain. I got some good shots of Edwards as I told him who I was, and without me asking, he told me that he had nothing to do with the murders, and that he wasn’t guilty “of that.”Then he kicked me off his property. I had hoped that Thomas would leap out and finally consummate the confrontation plan, but when I returned to the van with Edwards’s dogs in fixed pursuit of my heels, I found Thomas prone on the floor. We beat a hasty retreat. Later, I would ask Thomas why he didn’t take the opportunity to speak with Edwards. He stared ahead in silence. I knew he was angry with himself, and I felt terrible for asking as my camera rolled crassly for the reaction. Still later, months later, Thomas would admit that he’d felt like a failure for not confronting Edwards. He explained that he’d been overcome by an overwhelming anxiety that kept him pinned, immobile, while I spoke to Edwards outside.
* * * * *
Sometimes, they come back.
For several more months we would continue to collect and work through the many files, audio clips, photos, and other state and federal records I would find relating to the case. I treated them as a roadmap of sorts, that would help structure some of the work ahead.
Hundreds of names of people who had been connected to the investigation were listed, some reputed Klansmen who had participated in the crime or had knowledge of it, FBI and MHSP agents who had investigated the case, divers who had recovered the upper bodies of Dee and Moore in October of 1964, witnesses, informants, background, buzz, and bullshit. For the next several months I’d learn how to investigate whether these names were living or dead using archival records, online databases, and on the ground sources, and correlate their probable last address. In many cases, I’d simply pick up the phone and give them a call.
There were several high and low points in this part of the journey. To outline just two incidents:
A brief flurry of excitement surrounded my finding of an original document at a Mississippi archive. It had been signed by an arresting officer that contained a confession by Charles Edwards on the day of his arrest. The officer was at the time still alive. U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton felt that if he could remember the confession, he’d be an excellent witness for a grand jury or court proceeding. Thomas, Lampton, two other officers, and I drove to his house. He remembered the arrest and bringing Edwards to Jackson on the morning of November 6, 1964. He verified that it was his original signature on the document. So far,so good. The only problem — he then admitted that despite what the document said, he hadn’t been in the interrogation room with Edwards and had never heard the confession directly. He’d been told what Edwards said by the FBI agent in charge, Special Agent Bill Dukes, and was then instructed to sign the confession. This man would be no good as a witness, and he has since passed.
We’d have better luck just a month later, when I found an aging FBI agent in Florida named Ed Putz. Putz had been present at the arrest of James Seale on November 6, 1964. And he’d heard Seale admit his involvement in the kidnapping and murder. Mississippi officials had told me that Putz was either senile or dead. But after a quick brush through an online phonebook, I found his Miami number and called him. Sharp and clear as a polished diamond, Putz remembered everything. Thomas rang Lampton with the news. Putz was willing to testify. Things began rolling, but still more was needed.
I remember Thomas and I being very frustrated around this time. We felt that if Thomas stopped pressing, even for a moment, that the whole push for justice would come to a crashing halt. Thomas felt that through the course of filming, over 15 months now, we were doing things that officials should be doing by now: looking through the documents, finding witnesses, looking for new evidence. It was true that we’d had many promises, and nothing seemed to move forward unless we were on the ground and in people’s faces.
Nevertheless, I’d continue to find living Klan insiders and information that could be important in the event of a court case. I’d invariably share my finds with Thomas, and if he chose to, he would pass them on to Wyatt Earp.
* * * * *
We waited another few months for Thomas’s confidence to build up. Then, he would try to confront his demons once and for all: a final showdown with Charles Edwards, one more time.
And that brings us back to the Bunkley church. We knew that Edwards, being the deacon, would be one of the first to arrive on any given Sunday.
The stage was set.
As we drove back and forth in front of it, Thomas was getting more and more nervous and with our sweat dripping everywhere, you might have sworn that our bodies were crying. We decided on one last drive-by around 9:48 am. Like the Hollywood miracle of Seale’s discovery, as we neared the church, we spotted Edwards getting out of his car. Thomas had prepared an envelope for Edwards that contained the same few FBI files about the case Thomas had been given years ago that detailed Edwards’s role in the murder. He thought it might spur Edwards to say something.
Edwards, framed by the church entrance, looked nervous and shaky. It was taking him a long time to find the right key for the front door lock. Thomas, hands open, voice calm stood his ground.
“Why is your name on the FBI report?”
“I’m not on the FBI report.”
“That’s what you have in your hand sir.”
Edwards denied he had anything to do with the killings, something he said in 1964 during his confession. But then, we asked the one question Edwards had been avoiding for four decades: “Did you have anything to do with picking Moore and Dee up in Meadville, sir?”
The most revealing thing about the answer is that Edwards couldn’t answer. He paused, looked at his feet. Looked back at Thomas, looked back down. He appeared torn. Finally, he stuttered out an order for us to leave and turned once again to fiddle with the lock. He would not say another word, finally freeing the lock, and slamming the door.
Thomas got on the phone to Dunn Lampton and told him about the confrontation and that he thought it would be a good time to go down and talk to Edwards. Lampton wanted to know what documents Thomas had given Edwards.
Less than two weeks later, Edwards began cooperating with the authorities.
A few weeks after that, Thomas Moore received a subpoena to appear before a Grand Jury in Jackson, Mississippi. The first ever called in the Moore and Dee case.
Four months after Thomas’s testimony, we found ourselves on the way to Washington DC, en route to a press conference given by both the Attorney General of the United States and the Director of the FBI.
On January 24, 2007, James Ford Seale was indicted and arrested on three counts of kidnapping in the case of Charles Moore and Henry Dee.
In May 2007, Thomas Moore and I finally found a picture of Henry Dee. Someone we had interviewed months before remembered that there was a yearbook with Henry’s picture and got in touch with Thomas. We sent the picture to Henry’s sisters, who hadn’t seen their brother in 43 years. A wealthy man from Washington DC, upon reading the story of our discovery of the picture in USA Today, offered to pay for a headstone for Henry’s gravesite. And he did.
Seale’s trial began on May 30th 2007. A jury of four blacks and eight whites was selected, with three white alternates.
The first thing the prosecution did, was play for the jury the same chunk of 16mm film that started me on my quest to find Thomas Moore in the summer of 2004: the film of the “wrong body.”
It was the partial remains of Henry Hezekiah Dee, discovered on July 13, 1964 a few miles south of where Charles Moore’s torso had been found the day before. Thomas provided the film to the prosecution, excerpted from the CBC documentary made by This Hour Has Seven Days. Many more pieces of evidence and people, found through our investigation during the course of filming, would be similarly used by the prosecution throughout the trial. And at one point, even part of the documentary I made about the case and Thomas Moore’s quest for justice, Mississippi Cold Case, was shown to the jury.
Charles Marcus Edwards was the prosecution’s star witness. Dramatically, he told the jury that he, James Seale, Clyde Seale, Archie Prather, and Curtis Dunn had picked the boys up, beaten and interrogated them. James Seale told Edwards later that he, James Seale, had personally participated in transporting the boys across state lines and in brutally murdering the boys. Edwards stated that at a Klan meeting later on May 2, 1964 it was announced that Dee and Moore had been “disposed of”. He knew this to mean that they had been murdered.
While still under oath, Edwards stood up on the stand and addressed Thomas Moore: “I want to say something to Thomas Moore and the Dee family. I can’t undo what I done. But I ask for your forgiveness for my part in this.”
The courtroom was stunned and silent.
Retired FBI Agent Ed Putz, whom we found in Miami, closed the trial with his crucial testimony about what he saw and heard on the day Seale was arrested back in 1964.
On June 14th at 6:30 pm, James Ford Seale was convicted by unanimous decision on charges of conspiracy and two counts of kidnapping where the victims were not released alive. Each count is punishable by life imprisonment, though kidnapping was a death penalty eligible offence in Mississippi in 1964.
On June 15th, 2007 less than eighteen hours after Seale’s conviction, Thomas Moore and I headed one more time down the Bunkley Road in Meadville, Mississippi. We passed the Bunkley Baptist Church with its well-mown, impossibly green lawn and turned left on Rand Lane. The first house on the rough red-dirt road, was Charles Edwards’s.
Thomas got out of the van and walked up the driveway.
The same dog barked.
The same man came out of the house.
Thomas Moore offered Charles Edwards his hand, and forgave him.
August 24th, 2007 James Ford Seale was given three concurrent life sentences. He is now at the Terre Haute Indiana Federal Penitentiary, his appeals all but exhausted.
Thomas Moore embarked on a new quest shortly after the trial. He, the Dee family and a team of lawyers from Northeastern University led by Margaret Burnham embarked on a civil suit against Franklin County based on the Klan affiliations of some of its law enforcement officers in 1964. Several of the documents David Ridgen collected during the course of filming with Thomas Moore proved useful to their case.
An out of court settlement between Franklin County and the Moore and Dee families was reached in the late Spring of 2010.
Working with the Center for Investigative Reporting in Berkeley, CA and Paperny Films in Vancouver, Canada, David Ridgen spearheaded a large coalition of journalists from across the media spectrum along with NGOs and Universities to create the Cold Case Truth and Justice Project – later to be renamed the Civil Rights Cold Case Project (www.coldcases.org). The group continues to work on a number of cases from the civil rights era across the American south. Their goal to is to investigate and document all of the remaining civil rights era unsolved cases of violence, disappearance, and murder.
Ridgen and Moore are writing a book complete with maps, photographs, and archival documents about the Dee/Moore case, the making of Mississippi Cold Case, the Seale trial and its aftermath, and the process of reconciliation.
Thelma Collins, Henry Dee’s sister, forgave Charles Edwards after consulting with Thomas Moore. Later, she attended the unveiling of Henry Dee’s new headstone, now in place in a graveyard near Roxie, Mississippi.
Henry Dee’s headstone reads:
“REST IN PEACE, JUSTICE HAS BEEN
SERVED JUNE 14, 2007, WE LOVE YOU.”