- 2007 Matt Saldana
James Ford Seale was walking tall and chewing on a cigar as he appeared before a subcommittee of the Committee on Un-American Activities on Jan. 14, 1966, in the Caucus Room of the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, D.C.
"Mr. Seale, when and where were you born?" asked Donald T. Appell, chief investigator for the committee, which was investigating terrorist activities by the Ku Klux Klan. Seale, then 31, was one of 10 alleged Klansmen called to Washington for interrogation about their reported violent actions.
"Sir, I respectfully decline to answer that question for the reason that I honestly feel my answer might tend to incriminate me in violation of my rights as guaranteed to me by the Amendments 5, 1, and 4, and 14 of the Constitution of the United States of America," Seale answered without hesitation, according to a transcript of the hearing.
He would repeat that sentiment 40 more times that day.
Seale's reticence did not stop panel members from placing on the record what they suspected him of having done near Meadville, Miss., on May 2, 1964: picking up Henry Dee and Charles Moore as they were hitchhiking, telling them he was a revenue agent, tying them to a tree, beating them, then tying the bodies to Jeep engine parts and dumping their bodies to drown in a backwater of the Mississippi River.
By 1966, the Seales and their friends had reason to gloat. After all, they had survived a massive FBI investigation that had resulted in the arrest and release of Seale and fellow Klansman Charles Marcus Edwards for the murders of the two young black men. It wasn't likely they would ever do time for the role they might have played in those, or any other, acts of murder and violence.
An FBI investigation in 1964 had unearthed informants who told agents a detailed story about what happened that night in the Homochitto National Forest. After Seale picked up Dee and Moore, a pickup truck with other Klansmen (including Edwards) followed him into the forest. There, Seale told the teenagers to get out of his Volkswagen, and "got the drop" on them with his carbine. He told the other Klansmen to tie them to a tree and beat the young men with long, skinny sticks and branches.
After the beating left the young men bloodied, their flesh ripped, Seale's father Clyde called for "Klansmen, I Want You" backup, code word "KIWU," according to FBI documents. James Seale's brother, Myron Wayne, or "Jack" (reportedly a Grand Nighthawk, a planner of Klan violence), was one who came.
Later in the evening, the group wrapped the men in a plastic tarp, put them in the trunk of Natchez, Miss., businessman Ernest Parker's red Ford, and drove them to the backwater of the Mississippi River near Tallulah, La., near Parker's boat landing. There, the FBI said the Klansmen tied Jeep engine parts to Dee's body, and other engine parts to Moore, and sunk them into the water. Informants later said the men were still breathing when they were thrown overboard.
When a fisherman found the first body parts on July 12, 1964, FBI investigators thought they had found the burial spot for James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, killed June 21 by White Knights (or "bedsheets," as the FBI called them) from Lauderdale and Neshoba counties, and still missing.
But personal effects found in the pockets of pants on the torsos the second body was found July 13 indicated that the bodies were those of Dee and Moore. FBI records from the time show the bureau, headed by J. Edgar Hoover, took the murders seriously, setting up a field operation in Jackson to investigate the crimes.
Arrests ... then freedom
- Charles Moore
By the time Navy divers brought up the remaining bones and engine parts in late October, the FBI was nearly ready to make arrests. On Nov. 6, 1964, FBI agents joined Mississippi highway patrolmen to arrest Seale and Edwards for the murders of Dee and Moore. Franklin County Justice of the Peace Willie Bedford issued the arrest warrants.
Their case was set to go before a grand jury in January 1965. But in the meantime, Seale and Edwards spread rumors they were beaten up by the law enforcement officers who arrested them. This, according to the FBI, provided a reason for District Attorney Lenox Forman to back away from the case.
Forman called a Jan. 5, 1965, meeting with Sheriff Wayne Hutto, Assistant Attorney General Garland Lyle, and Mississippi Highway Patrol investigators Charles Snodgrass and Gwyn Cole. He told them he did not have "sufficient evidence" to give the case to the grand jury. The investigators detailed the evidence, including "admissions made by subjects James Seale and Charles Edwards following their arrests on Nov. 6, 1964."
But Forman held his ground, saying the defendants "had put out the story" that they were "brutally mistreated." Therefore, he was sure a grand jury would dismiss the charges. He advised investigators to come back later with more evidence.
On Jan. 11, 1965, the district attorney filed a "motion to dismiss affidavits" with Justice of the Peace Bedford, who signed the motion the same day.
In more recent years, both Seale and Edwards shied away from attention, especially during the sporadic times when media came calling about the case.
It was widely expected that Seale and Edwards would live out their days right in Franklin County, without ever seeing the inside of a jail again.
Their luck, however, changed on July 8, 2005, two weeks after the Edgar Ray Killen trial in Neshoba, when Thomas Moore went back to Meadville looking for justice for his brother's murder.
Moore, of Colorado Springs, was accompanied by Canadian filmmaker David Ridgen and met photographer Kate Medley and me in Meadville to retrace the last hours of his brother's life. Reporters had told Moore that Seale was dead.
Within days after gathering in Meadville, our group found out almost by accident that Seale was still alive Moore and Ridgen from a patron in a store in Roxie, the Jackson Free Press from a former Klansman who had served the white race alongside Edwards and Seale.
Moore then went to Jackson to meet with U.S. Attorney Dunn Lampton, who was ready to tell Moore there was nothing he could do. But after Moore produced FBI files he had obtained and said that Seale was alive, Lampton changed his mind and assured Moore that he would set up a task force to investigate the case.
While in Meadville, the Jackson Free Press reached Edwards by phone, but he said he did not want to talk and hung up. Soon, he had his phone disconnected. After the JFP published a story about Moore's visit on July 20, Moore sent out copies to elected officials and media around the country, vowing to continue the fight "until the day I die."
The indictment, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Jackson, charges Seale with two counts of kidnapping and one count of conspiracy. (Edwards is not expected to be charged.) The document says Seale and other Klan members suspected Henry Dee of being involved with civil rights activity. Charles Moore was included because he was a friend of Dee.
- Kate Medley
- Thomas Moore stands at his brothers gravesite in 2004.
On Jan. 17, 2007, about eight unmarked cars appeared in front of the Roxie BP at the intersection of Highways 84 and 98. Witnesses in the store watched the federal agents drive across the highway to arrest James Ford Seale.
Seale would be arraigned the next day in federal court at Jackson, wearing a bright-orange jumpsuit, his wrists, ankles and waist shackled with chains.
Stooped and quiet, he no longer was walking tall.
Donna Ladd is the editor of the Jackson Free Press and former editor of the Independent. How the story of the Henry Dee-Charles Moore murders made it back into the public spotlight after more than three decades:
A media timeline
December 1998: Following news of James Byrd's racially motivated killing in Jasper, Texas, Thomas Moore of Colorado Springs writes a letter to Mississippi 6th Judicial District Attorney Ronnie Harper, asking him to look into the murders of his brother Charles and Henry Dee. Harper agrees.
Dec. 16, 1998: In a series on unsolved race murders, New York Newsday reporter Stephanie Saul interviews Thomas Moore about his brother's murder. "I'm looking for justice, not revenge," he tells Saul. She also interviews Charles Marcus Edwards, who denies involvement: "The things I was accused of at the time wasn't true."
Nov. 29, 1999: Connie Chung's "20-20" report on Klan murders in the Natchez area airs on ABC, reviving interest in the Dee-Moore case, as well as that of Ben Chester White and Ernest Avants, raising the specter of federal prosecution due to crimes committed on federal land.
Jan. 13, 2000: The Associated Press reports that District Attorney Ronnie Harper has asked the feds to investigate the Dee-Moore case.
Jan. 14, 2000: Jerry Mitchell, of the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., interviews Thomas Moore for a story about the murders. Mitchell reports that of the two main suspects, Charles Marcus Edwards and James Ford Seale, "only Edwards is still alive." Nine days later, the newspaper finds and interviews Seale. At talk of reopening the case, Seale scoffs, "I ain't in jail, am I?"
June 2002: When publishing a story on the case, the Los Angeles Times reports Seale had passed away the previous year, quoting Seale's son as saying, "He was a good man and a good father."
June 2005: David Ridgen of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. calls the Jackson Free Press and discusses documenting the paper investigating the Dee-Moore case. After agreeing to help each other, Ridgen reaches Thomas Moore in Colorado Springs and offers to bring him back to Mississippi to meet with the Free Press and seek justice in his brother's murder.
July 8, 2005: Donna Ladd and Kate Medley meet Ridgen and Thomas Moore in Meadville and cover Moore's visit. They investigate the case for the next two weeks. Ridgen and the Jackson Free Press learn simultaneously from different sources that Seale is still alive.
July 20, 2005: The Jackson Free Press publishes a detailed narrative of Moore's visit and reveals that Seale is still alive. The story appears in the Colorado Springs Independent two weeks later (csindy.com/csindy/2005-08-04/cover.html). The Free Press follows up with stories, still available at jacksonfreepress.com, over the next 18 months.
Jan. 18, 2007: Thomas Moore and David Ridgen face a media storm in Washington, D.C., as the indictments of James Ford Seale are announced. Donna Ladd and photographer Kate Medley take CNN to the spots in Meadville and Roxie discussed in the original 2005 story.
Compiled by Donna Ladd