Friday, December 18, 2009

'64 in Mississippi Never Seems to Go Away

Not many of the central figures remain, but the story never seems to go away!
by Charlie Leck

Many of you followed my series of Mississippi writings in 2008 with something approaching intense interest. I received lots of communications about those essays. Well, the story of the ’64 killings of the three civil rights workers (Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner) never seems to go away.

The following report appeared in the Clarion Ledger, Neshoba County Mississippi in November of this year.

Ex-inmate: Killen boasted in prison

Says former Klan member bragged land never searched

Jerry Mitchell • • November 23, 2009

The FBI has been told that Edgar Ray Killen bragged that his property was never searched, despite having evidence against those involved in the Ku Klux Klan's killings of three civil rights workers in 1964.

Larry Ellis, who had a prison cell next to Killen in 2007, told agents recently that Killen talked of possessing evidence that could incriminate others in the June 21, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

Ellis, 57, who now lives in south Mississippi, also told the FBI that Killen talked about a murder weapon used in the killings being buried on his property.

FBI officials wouldn't comment on their ongoing investigation into the four still-living suspects in the slayings, but Chaney's brother, Ben, said agents should search Killen's home and property for possible evidence.

Killen, an 84-year-old Union sawmill operator and part-time preacher now serving 60 years in prison, is appealing his 2005 manslaughter conviction. His lawyer, Rob Ratliff of Mobile, said his client denies telling Ellis any of this, calling the former inmate "a con man with a history of violence."

Ellis spent two decades behind bars in Mississippi and Florida for a string of crimes that included burglary, assault, forging prescriptions, altering money orders and writing hot checks. All the crimes were related to his addiction to painkillers, Ellis said, adding that he's been sober the past four years.

Ellis, who has written a yet-to-be-published book on Killen titled Getting the Last Word In, showed The Clarion-Ledger dozens of handwritten pages discussing the trio's killings and other subjects. An expert analyzing those pages concluded they were written by Killen.

Before his 2003 death, former state investigator George Metz told The Clarion-Ledger that Killen had told him about cleaning up the murder scene immediately after the trio's slayings.

Former Meridian police officer Mike Hatcher testified at Killen's trial that Killen approached him a day after the killings and gave him a revolver to destroy. Ballistics showed at least two guns were used in the killings, but no murder weapon has ever been recovered.

Ellis told the FBI that Killen said one of the murder weapons used in the killings was never destroyed and remained on his property, along with other possible evidence. He said Killen talked of holding on to some of the evidence against the killers in case they tried to testify against him, saying, "The evidence proves them guilty, and I mean proves it."

In addition to those killings, Ellis told the FBI that Killen spoke of having a photograph of those who took part in the lynching of an unnamed black man near the Mississippi Gulf Coast - "five of them on that limb, trying not to look."

Ellis said Killen explained the photograph had come from one of the lynch mob members.

This was one of 11 killings of African Americans that Killen mentioned, Ellis told agents.

He said when he pressed Killen for more details, Killen replied, "Son, I told you what's private, so don't you dare tell that or I'm a cooked goose. But for your book, you can say that the boys said my place was the safest to hide anything because it was never searched even once."

He said Killen also remarked, "Do you know that not once was my home, property, records or anything searched? Amazing for someone so wanted and hunted."

Ellis told FBI agents that Killen talked of keeping names of Klan members tucked among official lists of church members he knew from decades of preaching.

The reason he said Killen cited his relationship with then-U.S. Sen. Jim Eastland as the reason his property was never searched.

He said when he asked Killen again about the subject, Killen replied, "Now that was our private talk when you were asking me about them never searching my home or property and me being the No. 1 suspect. Figure that one out, will you? While Big Jim was alive, you can bet your bottom dollar that none of them could get a search warrant to come on any of my property."

In prison, Killen received letters of support from white supremacists around the world, Ellis told the FBI.

He said Killen bragged: "They think it will all end with me, but my death will be a new beginning for all of the millions of good and pure-blooded Aryans around the nation and world who keep up with me."

If authorities have indeed never searched Killen's property, it's high time it happened, said Alvin Sykes, architect of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act. "There should be no sparing of expense in searching it from top to bottom."

To comment on this story, call Jerry Mitchell at (601) 961-7064.

According to an earlier story by Mitchell, Ellis has claimed that Killen confessed to him that he had taken part in the killing, but had no guilt about it because he was "a soldier fighting against evil" and doing the will of God.

But the FBI has now been told the 84-year-old, convicted of the crimes in 2005, has admitted his involvement in the June 21, 1964, slayings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

Former inmate Larry Ellis told agents Killen described their deaths as necessary casualties, saying, "This was God's war."

Killen's attorney, Rob Ratliff of Mobile, denies his client admitted taking part in the killings. "That's something he's never done, and he continues to maintain his lack of involvement," he said.

For decades, Killen has insisted he had an alibi for that night. In 1998, he told The Clarion-Ledger he went to the funeral home for the wake "of a family that lost a ... child. The father and mother were there. We stayed till the morning hours."

But the girl's mother, Carolyn Dearman, said Killen couldn't have seen them that night because they arrived in town too late to attend the visitation of her 5-year-old daughter, Leslie Carroll Barrett, who died suddenly, apparently of Reye's Syndrome.

She said she and her husband didn't arrive until shortly after 10 p.m. By then, McClain-Hays Funeral Home was pitch black, she said, with no sign of anyone anywhere.

According to a statement given the FBI, the late Horace Doyle Barnette said he and fellow Klansmen dropped Killen off at the funeral home about 9:30 p.m. after Killen told them they had a place to bury the trio "and a man to run the dozer to cover them up."

Ellis told the FBI that Killen admitted he took part in the killings but said he did nothing wrong because he was a soldier against evil.

Ellis quoted Killen as remarking, "Those three communist Jews chose which side they were on and were soldiers in action. When the n----s joined the communists, they became soldiers, also. Now, how that's wrong you tell me?"

For the 22 days he was in the cell next to the man known as "Preacher," Ellis said Killen answered dozens of questions. He said he collected what Killen wrote as well as notes he took for a book.

Ratliff said the book isn't being done with Killen's permission. Ellis has a document dated Oct. 31, 2007, that appears to be signed by Killen, saying he is providing information to Ellis "to the best of my knowledge and memory under penalty of perjury, if false. He may write my story."

Handwriting expert Thomas Vastrick of Memphis has concluded the documents match Killen's handwriting.

Ellis said Killen expressed no remorse about the killings, saying, "I feel no shame in the deaths of communists, of those with anti-Christ beliefs.

"Our Bible says God will wipe them off the earth and withhold eternity from them. You can check the record - three enemy soldiers died in Neshoba County on June 21, 1964, and they came bringing communism and an anti-Christ war against real Americans."

Ellis said Killen did say he was "sorry for the pain I caused," explaining, "I wanted only to serve my nation and of course firstly to my God and his only begotten son, Jesus Christ. I know my sins, and those are between me and my God."

He asked Killen if he had any proof against others involved in the killings.

Ellis told the FBI that Killen replied, "If there is evidence, it was kept as leverage to keep them turncoats from telling lies on me or anyone else. The evidence proves them guilty, and I mean proves it."

He said when he asked Killen if the murder weapon still exists, the Klan leader replied, "They say it is buried somewhere with seven sets of blood-stained sheets and clothing. There was some old blankets and the canvas-type material used as tent material that they say it was all wrapped in, is what someone said."

Absolutely amazing stories keep coming out of Mississippi about this traumatic moment in my life. On my own voyage into the civil rights world, I arrived in Mississippi on 21 June 1964.

1 comment:

  1. just ran across your blog that featured my stories on Edgar Ray Killen ... would love to hear about your journey to Mississippi some time ...

    P.S. You're welcome to visit my blog: