Louisiana’s family is looking for answers in the case of disappearances, murder
Six decades after the disappearance of a Louisiana man and the alleged murder, his family are still searching for answers and a body to bury.
Carl Ray Thompson, then 26, spotted his cousin’s two-tone Buick on the side of the Ferriday-Vidalia Highway in July 1964 while sitting in the back of a sheriff’s car.
His cousin Joseph “Joe-Ed” Edwards disappeared just a few days earlier, and his family only left with rumors of his whereabouts.
Thompson had spent the night in a cell in Ferriday prison over a robbery he was not involved in, listening to the sheriff’s deputies beating three or four other young blacks arrested for the crime. As the night dragged on, Thompson sensed it was his turn to be beaten. But morning came and the arrival of the regular office staff saves them the brutality that MPs reserve for the privacy of the night.
When Deputy Frank DeLaughter drove the men to Vidalia Community Jail that morning, he pointed to the green and white Buick belonging to Edwards on the side of the road.
DeLaughter, 6 feet 4 inches and 280 pounds, peered at Thompson through his rearview mirror. He told the men that if either of them spoke about what had happened the night before, they would suffer the same fate as Edwards.
“Everyone lied, from one person to another”
Arrests were never made in Edwards’ case, but FBI files and clues from local residents suggest that members of a Ku Klux Klan organization known as the Silver Dollar Group – and sheriff’s deputies including DeLaughter and Bill Ogden – were responsible for responsible for the disappearances and the alleged murder of Edwards, who was in his mid-twenties. His disappearance is the only cold civil rights case investigated by the FBI that has never been found to have a body.
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Even so, Thompson, Edwards’ sister Julia Dobbins, and other family members hope that one day they can give Edwards an appropriate funeral.
“I was really hurt that they never told us what really happened to my brother,” said Dobbins. “Everyone has lied, from one person to another. I was disgusted by the people. “
Dobbins said she would sit and wait for her brother to come home every day to visit his 11 siblings like he always did. But weeks, months, and years passed, and he never came.
The FBI suspected that the Silver Dollar Group had targeted Edwards after he kissed a white woman he was working with at the Shamrock Motor Motel in Vidalia one afternoon in July 1964, Vidalia Police Chief Johnnie “Bud” Spinks reported . Spinks and another man visited the woman’s home where she refused to bring charges against Edwards.
According to an FBI informant who was a member of the Silver Dollar Group, Spinks approached the group, led by Raleigh “Red” Glover from Vidalia. The FBI listed DeLaughter and Ogden as members of the group that acted as the clan’s killing squad.
One witness saw a Buick that matched the description of Edwards’ vehicle and an unmarked police car pulling up on the side of the Ferriday-Vidalia freeway at what was then Dixie Lane Bowling Alley. Another witness told the FBI that Edwards ran up the levee after being pulled over and that Ogden was chasing him in his patrol car while DeLaughter was chasing him on foot.
The FBI investigated the case from 1964 to 1968 and re-investigated it from 2007 to 2014. The bureau identified seven people – including Glover, Spinks, DeLaughter and Ogden – as “most likely suspects,” but said it couldn’t determine what happened to Edwards. However, several witnesses pointed to the sheriff’s deputies being the main contributors to his disappearance.
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LSU Cold Case Project reporters are now reviewing hundreds of pages of FBI files and tips from others to determine where Edwards was most likely buried.
As for justice, “God can make it”
Edwards grew up south of Natchez, Mississippi, in an unincorporated community called Sibley. In the 1950s, he moved to Clayton, Louisiana with his grandparents.
As a child and adult, Edwards had a lively, outgoing personality. He was a short man 5 feet 6 inches and 160 pounds. Thompson said that wherever they went, Edwards would always try to start a conversation with someone.
The FBI agents working on Edwards’ case were amazed at how well known a motel clerk who mowed grass and cleaned rooms was among the clansmen and the sheriff’s office. His reputation for flirting with white women spread throughout the community, and some people said Edwards helped manage prostitution activities in the Shamrock.
Maliciousness against Edwards by local white racists raised in the days leading up to his alleged murder.
Thompson and other family members begged Edwards to leave the shamrock, which was frequented by Klansmen and the sheriff’s deputies. But Edwards didn’t want to listen.
Thompson said Edwards came to his house one day and told him that a man in the shamrock was pointing a gun at him. Thompson told Edwards not to come to his house unless he quit his job and said his life was too dangerous.
Thompson feared there might be an impact on her family, and he sensed her that night after Edward’s disappearance while he was in jail with the other young blacks.
After Thompson was relocated to the Vidalia courthouse, prominent local businessman Joe Pasternack called the sheriff’s office and requested his release.
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Ogden, one of the deputies suspected of Edward’s disappearance, then escorted Thompson to the front door of the sheriff’s office and told him to run home as fast as he could.
Dobbins and Thompson described Edwards as a sociable, generous man who always looked after his family.
“He’s hardly going to miss a date that comes to my house,” Thompson said. “Now don’t you think that’s love?”
Dobbins said her brother would like to be remembered as “the good and kindhearted guy he was”.
The subject of Edwards’ disappearance remains a difficult one for the family. With the individuals linked to the alleged murder all dead, finding the body is the only solution for the family.
Thompson said those responsible for his cousin’s death could at least have given the family a body to bury.
To justice he said: “God can see to it.”