League of the South Remembers the ‘Good Old Days’
DeLaughter's victory inspired more, including one that would come to the family of Vernon Dahmer (pronounced DAY-mer), who died on Jan. 10, 1966, defending his family in Hattiesburg, Miss., from a nighttime firebombing by the Klan. Dahmer had made the mistake of trying to register blacks to vote.
In the 1960s, juries did convict four Klansmen in the case, but the man identified in testimony as ordering Dahmer's death — Mississippi White Knights Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers — walked free when a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of his guilt. FBI documents now confirm the longstanding suspicion that the Klan had tampered with that jury, enabling Bowers to go unpunished.
In 1991, Dahmer's widow, Ellie Dahmer, and other family members met with local district attorney Glenn White. Although White reopened the case, his interest soon waned and the case did not go forward. Enter a new district attorney, who in 1996 promised the family he would pursue the case if possible.
Still, things looked hopeless until the next spring, when a new witness came forward. A gambling addict, Bob Stringer spoke to authorities as part of his struggle to come to terms with his addiction and to own up to his past.
Part of that past included working as an errand boy for Bowers. Stringer said that a few days before Dahmer was killed, he overheard Bowers speaking to Klansmen about "doing something about that Dahmer nigger down south." In May 1998, Bowers was arrested along with his longtime fellow Klan leader, Deavours Nix, and a man identified as going on the fatal raid, Charles Noble.
On Aug. 21, 1998, a jury convicted Bowers of the killing of Dahmer, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Nix died before going on trial. In 1999, Noble received a mistrial, and prosecutors still haven't decided whether to retry him.
Midnight, Murder and Marriage
The prosecutions of Beckwith and Bowers gave other families hope — including the family of Rainey Pool, a man from Midnight, Miss. Pool never had any role in the civil rights movement, but that did not stop a white mob from beating the one-armed sharecropper unconscious for daring to come near an all-white bar on April 12, 1970.
Two mob members threw Pool into the Sunflower River, where he drowned. The case went untried for 18 years.
In 1998, district attorney James Powell of Durant, Miss., re-opened the case at the request of Pool's family. Within months, authorities had charged five men, and in 1999, one of those men, Dennis Newton, went on trial.
But Newton was acquitted for lack of evidence, and Powell changed his approach before the next trial. This time, he made a plea agreement with one of the members of the mob — Joe Oliver Watson, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Pool's murder and was given a four-year sentence in exchange for his cooperation in the case. Watson went on to testify against three fellow mob members, Hal Crimm and his half-brothers, James "Doc" Caston and Charles Caston.
The prosecution was also aided by a surprise witness, Candy Bradshaw, who once lived with Doc Caston's son. Bradshaw told jurors that as they dined on armadillo steaks with Doc Caston at the family's mobile home one Saturday in 1986, Caston told the couple they should get an AIDS test.
"I got mouthy," Bradshaw testified. "I told him he was the one who needed the AIDS test." With that, Bradshaw told the jury, an enraged Caston replied, "Bitch, I've killed one nigger man. I won't hesitate to kill again."
All three defendants were convicted of manslaughter and each was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In the wake of their convictions came another revelation about how prosecution of the Pool case was derailed in 1970. At the time, a woman named Margaret Berry told authorities that Crimm had confessed the murder.
"He sat on the bed and was real nervous," Berry told police in 1970. "I asked him if they had found that Negro. He said, 'Hell, no, they ain't going to find him.' He said he killed that Negro and threw him in the river. I laughed at him because I thought he was kidding, but he told me that he was not kidding."
Despite such an implicating statement, Margaret Berry never testified against Hal Crimm. The reason? Crimm married her. Like many other states, Mississippi bars the testimony of current and former spouses against their mates.
The Klan Baits a Trap
Days after Pool's killers went to prison in November 1999, an investigation would begin again into another long-forgotten killing in Mississippi, the June 10, 1966, murder of Ben Chester White. Like Pool, the 67-year-old farmhand had no connection to the civil rights movement.
But the color of his skin apparently was all that mattered on June 10, 1966, when a group of Klansmen decided they wanted to kill Martin Luther King Jr. by luring him to Natchez to fight race hate.
White, the Klansmen decided, would be the bait.
According to authorities, Ernest Avants, James Jones and Claude Fuller asked for White to help them find a dog. The trio allegedly took White out to a secluded area, where Fuller opened fire and Avants then joined in.
The state did take the lead in prosecuting this case. But Jones expressed remorse at his trial, and his jury couldn't reach a unanimous verdict. Fuller was never tried.
Avants' lawyer argued his client shot White after he was dead — meaning he couldn't be held responsible for murder — and Avants was acquitted of the murder charge, precluding further state prosecution. Further action against Avants, the lone suspect who is still alive, was considered hopeless.
But what no one knew was that the killing took place on federal property in a national forest. After ABC News' "20/20" reported this fact — meaning federal charges for violating White's civil rights could be brought — federal authorities reopened the case. Asked to assess what might happen if he were to wind up back in court, Avants told "20/20," "If I was tried now, hell, I'd be convicted."
On June 7, FBI agents arrested Avants in connection with the murder.
In the wake of the federal reopening of the case, there were new revelations regarding how Mississippi authorities handled the case originally. FBI documents obtained by The Clarion-Ledger indicate then-Adams County Sheriff Odell Adams, who led the investigation of White's murder, was a Klansman.
(In an interview, Adams denied he was in the Klan, but admitted attending some Klan meetings.) Other documents showed Avants confessed to authorities just months before his 1967 Mississippi murder trial — a confession prosecutors didn't bother to use.