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CHASING JUSTICE IN THE NEW SOUTH

Other Unresolved Murder Cases

June 18, 2002

In 1989, Mississippi authorities reopened the case of Medgar Evers, a civil rights leader slain more than two decades earlier. Their success in prosecuting Byron De La Beckwith for the crime prompted other law enforcement officials to begin an earnest reevaluation of unsolved cases from the civil rights era.

The effort has reaped convictions in half a dozen cases. Most recently, Bobby Frank Cherry was found guilty last month in the Sept. 15, 1963, bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. He was the third man to be convicted in that notorious attack, which killed four black girls.

But other murders from those years remain unresolved. In addition to three such cases examined by The Times beginning today, they include:

Montgomery, Ala.--Willie Edwards was forced at gunpoint to jump off a bridge in 1957, allegedly by a group of Ku Klux Klan members. A grand jury review in 1999 ended with no indictments.

Natchez, Miss.--Wharlest Jackson, a local treasurer for the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, was killed by a bomb in his pickup truck in 1967, allegedly by whites angry about his promotion at a tire and rubber company. The case was reopened in 1998.

Jackson, Miss.--Ben Brown, a civil rights organizer, was shot in 1967 when police fired on demonstrators at a black college. The case was reopened in 1998.

York, Pa.--Lillie Belle Allen, a preacher's daughter, was shot during civil unrest in 1969. Nine whites, including the city's former mayor, recently were charged and are likely to go to trial this year.

Homochitto National Forest, Miss.--Ben Chester White was killed in 1966 by assailants allegedly hoping that the killing of a black would lure the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to the area so they could assassinate him. A white man, acquitted in 1967 in state court, has been charged again in federal court. His trial has been delayed because of his failing health.

Hattiesburg, Miss.--Vernon Dahmer, the local NAACP president, died when his home was firebombed in 1966. Five Klansmen were convicted, but the case against a sixth is stalled because of the poor health of a key witness.

Martinsville, Ind.--Carol Jenkins was slain in 1968 while selling encyclopedias door to door. Last month, a 70-year-old white man was arrested at a nursing home after his daughter turned him in.

Mims, Fla.--Civil rights organizer Harry T. Moore and his wife, Henrietta, were killed when their home was blown up on Christmas night 1951. One suspect committed suicide after being interviewed by the FBI; another spoke of the killings in a deathbed confession. Authorities theorize that others were involved.

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