Isadore Banks, 59 years old and a prominent landowner, disappeared on June 4, 1954. Banks’ wife, Alice, last saw him as he left the house with the intention of paying his farmhands. On or about June 8, 1954, Banks’ truck was discovered in a wooded property just outside of Marion, Arkansas, by Carl Croom, a neighboring landowner. Banks’ loaded shotgun and coat were still inside. Authorities found Banks’ body, tied to a tree, mutilated, and burned beyond recognition. Banks had been drenched with fuel and burned from the knees up. A can of gasoline was found close to the body. The coroner, T.H. McGough, found no sign of robbery or struggle at the scene, indicating that the killing may have occurred elsewhere and the 300 pound body of Banks was likely carried by several people to the site. The coroner also reported that either a knife or firearm discharge left a hole in Banks’ right side.
In April 1917, the United States entered World War I. A year later, at age 22, Banks joined the Army and fought in World War I. After returning to Arkansas, Banks began work at a utility company laying lines and support poles, bringing electricity to the town of Marion, as well as surrounding communities.
Despite many obstacles, Banks became a prominent and respected leader, a Mason, and one of the wealthiest African-American landowners in this region of Arkansas, known for its racially violent past. Banks is reported to have owned over 1000 acres of land, which he farmed or leased to tenants, and a number of businesses. CRRJ has found numerous mortgages and deeds proving that at the very least Banks, at one point, owned 500 acres of land. Banks also helped other black farmers with loans to buy seeds and farm equipment and supported the local black school with supplies.
A number of theories have emerged to explain the motive behind the murder. The first suggests that Banks had refused to sell his land to a number of white men who were angered by his repeated refusals and resorted to violence. The second theory offers that Banks was renting land from a white woman and white farmers wanted that land and killed him to gain access to that land. A third theory echoes an often-cited premise behind brutal lynchings; Banks may have been romantically involved with a white woman and that relationship could not be tolerated and so he was killed. Finally, it has been suggested that Banks had been involved in an altercation with a number of white men who propositioned his daughter and the murder occurred in response.
The murder of Isadore Banks dealt a severe blow to the African-American community of Crittenden County. Nearly five decades after his death, Banks was given military honors in recognition of his service in WWI, and shortly thereafter Masonic rites were performed on his behalf. His family, represented by CRRJ, continues to search for answers as to who perpetrated this brutal crime and why.
Little to no investigation was carried out by local law enforcement. The Grant Co-op Gin, run by a group of prominent African-Americans of Crittenden County including Banks, offered a reward of $1000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrators. No one came forward with any information, no arrests were made and no one was prosecuted in connection with this brutal murder. L.C. Bates, a prominent civil rights advocate in Arkansas, and the local branch of the NAACP reached out to help in the investigation, but to no avail. Julian Fogleman, the city attorney for Marion in 1954, was asked in August 2010 about the murder and its aftermath but could not recall whether a coroner’s inquiry was even performed. Fogleman noted that no one ever came forward with any information and that was likely why no investigation was carried out. The case remains on the list of Civil Rights Era Cold Cases, which are under review by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.