Mississippi (Associated Content) – Months ago, the Mississippi Cold Case documentary was the most talked about documentary the media has reported.
A 43 year old murder case that has never been solved, until February of 2007, the documentary Mississippi Cold Case sparked media sources such as CNN, MSNBC, BBC, CBS Radio, NPR, The Guardian, The Independent, Associated Press, Canadian Press, Globe and Mail, National Post, Toronto Star, and The New York Times. On May 2, 1964, two 19 year old black youths Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee were hitchhiking in Meadville, Mississippi. A Volkswagen Beetle pulls up alongside of them, but Dee and Moore knew to decline the white driver’s for a ride. They were abducted by two Klansmen James Ford Seale and Charles Marcus Edwards. They were interrogated, tortured, in a nearby forest, locked in a trunk and driven to the Mississippi River where they were chained to a jeep motor and railway ties and dropped into the river alive.
CBC Canadian filmmaker documentarist David Ridgen joined forces with Thomas James Moore to help him investigate his brother’s murder. Mississippi Cold Case is the story of a brother Thomas James Moore to help crack a case that has been long forgotten and to confront the murderers who murdered his brother and his friend and to seek justice. On July 12, 1964, Moore and Dee’s bodies were found in search of three white civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney who disappeared June 21st. The case inspired by the 1988 film, Mississippi Burning starring Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe. Edgar Ray Killen was convicted in the high-profile 1964 murders of the three civil rights workers.
In 2004, Ridgen came across the case while watching a 16mm film made by CBC’s Beryl Fox in 1964. The filmed revealed the case of Dee and Moore, at that time the names weren’t identified. Ridgen decided to make a film about their forgotten case. It took all months research to find siblings of Moore and Dee. Ridgen found Vietnam veteran Thomas Moore, the only sibling of Moore. Ridgen approached Moore with a proposal to travel back to Mississippi to make a documentary. Moore agreed and they worked closely together for the next twenty months. “I wanted to find one of the victim’s siblings and I wanted to go back, and I made this idea up, to go back to Mississippi with one of them at the very least I expected I would get some great pictures.”
In 1964 at that time, the FBI investigated and arrested two suspects Seale and Edwards. However, the FBI investigated the “Mississippi Burning” case of three civil rights workers, the Dee and Moore case had been turned over to local authorities who threw out all charges against Seale and Edward and they were soon released. FBI investigators received a call from an anonymous informant who had information about the disappearance of Dee and Moore. The informant had a code name by the FBI JN-30R, who provided information they needed to know to identify five Klansmen as prime suspects in the two murders.
Four decades later, suspect James Ford Seale believed to be dead, discovered by Ridgen and Moore to be alive. They found and confronted the two suspects from the cold case living just a few kilometers down the road from where the kidnapping is believed to have taken place. One a former sheriff’s deputy James Ford Seale and reputed KKK member.
On January 25, 2007 Ford was taken into custody by U.S. marshals and charged with kidnapping and one of Seale’s accomplices Charles Marcus Edwards has been reported cooperating with authorities. On May 30, 2007, jurors in Mississippi were selected to decide if former KU Klux Klansman Seale conspired in the 1964 killings of 2 young black men. James Ford Seale 71 years old pleaded not guilty in the attacks and denied ever being involved in the Klan.
“You must remember my client is not on trial for being a racist. He’s not on trial for murder” says public defender George Lucas told the jury of eight whites and four blacks. Family members of Seale and the victims watched the opening arguments. Two sisters of Henry Dee attended the trial. Prosecutors proved that the Klansman was indeed involved in kidnapping and murder. Prosecutor Paige Fitzgerald showed black and white pictures of the victims to the jury on a computer screen as she made her presentation. She told jurors that Seale held a shotgun on the teens while they were beaten. Seale and others took Dee and Moore to Seale’s father’s farm, where Seale and another Klansman bound the victim’s with duct tape, put them in a plastic-lined trunk and drove them across the line into Louisiana. Moore and Dee were then tossed into the Mississippi River to die.
Brother of late Police Chief James Rogan testified that a 19 year old funeral home worker on July 12, 1964, helped pull from the river a set of legs with about a foot of a backbone sticking up. The legs were still clad in jeans and black tennis shoes with white soles, and there was a belt buckle with the initial “M”. There was an identification card found in a pants pocket in the remains of Charles Moore. James Ford Seale was sentenced to three life terms in prison, he pleaded not guilty and was denied bond, and his trial was set on May 30, 2007. “We’re at the doorstep of justice” says Moore.
Henry Dee’s sister, Thelma Collins told the Associated Press (AP) “I never thought I would live to see it, no sir, I never did. I always prayed that justice would be done somehow, some way.”
“Forty years ago the system failed. We in the FBI have a responsibility to investigate these cold case, civil rights-era murders where evidence still exists to bring both closure and justice to these cases that for many remain unhealed wounds to this day” says FBI director, Robert Mueller.
At sentencing, Thomas Moore makes this statement to Seale “I hope you perhaps spend the rest of your natural life in prison thinking of what you did to Charles Moore and Henry Dee and how you ran for a long time but you got caught. I hope the spirit of Charles and Henry come to your cell every night and visit with you to teach you what is meant by love of your fellow man.”
“A good percentage of African-Americans are leary of our Justice Department. When there hasn’t been a real effort to deal with these historical events, how can we count on them to provide the support and protection we need today?” says Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’S Washington bureau.
“I want to thank CBC for supporting David and giving him the opportunity to do what no man was able to do. There is no doubt about it, the documentary that is being put together right now is directly responsible for what happened yesterday and for what is happening right now to this case, in reference to Charles Edward Moore and Henry Dee. I could not have done it. I never was able to do it. David was the man at the time and the CBC graciously gave him the resources to allow him to do this” says Moore in an interview from Washington.
“My traditional approach to doing any kind of documentary is to not be in it reportless, so I’m never part of it. It’s hard to both follow a story and lead it. There’s sort of fine line that you have to look when you get to that point, and I don’t think it’s one that I’ll ever reach again” says Ridgen.
The production of Mississippi Cold Case has caused federal officials to re-open their investigation, which has gone all the way to the Grand Jury. The case re-open-ended in 2000 by former US Attorney Brad Pigott, but closed in June 2003 after Pigott and the USDOJ Civil Rights Division decided not to proceed based on the evidence. It re-opened in July 2005 after Moore and Ridgen visited US Attorney Dum Lampton at his office. According to the FBI, there are roughly 100 unsolved homicide cases from that time period. Murder cases such as the murder of Emmett Till who was brutally beaten and shot in 1955. Till was tied to a cotton gin to his neck and his body thrown into the Mississippi River.
The Mississippi Cold Case has lead prosecutors and defense attorneys prepare for a historic trial, in other cold cases from the civil rights era with a 100 unsolved suspected murders for more than 40 years ago.