Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Past is Never Dead (copy)

Two inhumane murders happened in 1964 and nothing was done. Suspects were brought in for questioning and still nothing was done. Time passed, years slipped away, and then Connie Chung came looking for cold cases in Mississippi.

Chung had earlier success with the unsolved murder of Ben Chester White. Three men walked free from the murder in 1966. “Jack Jones, who watched the killing, was never charged; Claude Fuller, who pumped over ten bullets into White, was let go after his trail resulted in a hung jury; and Ernest Avants, who confessed twice to lawmen to shooting White’s head off with a shotgun, was acquitted in state court.”

Digging through old court records in the basement of the Natchez Historical Society, Chung and film producer Harry Phillips found the transcripts of Avants’ trial. Reading through they quickly discovered an overlook fact. The crimes happened in Homochitto National Forest making this a federal not a state incident. These two non-lawyers stumbled upon obvious evidence to reopen the case.

Chung headed out to interview the last living suspect in White’s murder, Avants. She came face-to-face with a racist redneck who loved to brag about his past Klan activities. After the interview, Chung and Phillips told U.S. Attorney Brad Pigott about the overlooked jurisdiction and Avants was indicted at the age of sixty-nine.

The 1964 murders were different. Henry Dee and Charles Moore were killed a month after the three Civil Rights workers went missing in Neshoba County. When Moore’s partial body was discovered in the Mississippi River, the initial M on his belt buckle was falsely identified as belonging to Michael Schwerner.

Twenty-eight federal agents descended from the north to investigate the missing Civil Rights workers, but Dee and Moore were left alone as a mere local matter. In The Past is Never Dead, by Harry N. Maclean, they now have a national voice.

In the style of Truman Capote, Maclean writes a compelling true-crime that Mississippians will wince while reading. His negative portrayal of whites as all racist during the 60s can be irritating at the beginning of the book. Stay the course and the story opens up chapter after chapter to engross.

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