By Drew White
Concordia Parish native Charles Montgomery has claimed to have stumbled on the corpse of Civil Rights Era homicide victim Joseph Edwards in the pigpen of his family’s property in Vidalia.
Edwards, who disappeared July 12, 1964, is widely believed to be the victim of an unsolved foul play by Klan-sympathizing local law enforcement officers.
In a series of 2016 interviews, Montgomery, who lives in northern Texas, told the LSU Manship School Cold Case Project that his grandfather figure, Concordia Parish Chief Deputy Sheriff Frank DeLaughter, told him matter-of-factly in 1965 that he shot Edwards, a black man, unintentionally as he and a fellow law officer were pulling the 23-year-old black man from his car on a levee near Vidalia.
Montgomery said DeLaughter, whose grandmother was the lawman’s mistress, and fellow Vidalia policeman Bill Ogden were intending to give him a beating because of alleged advances he made on a white co-worker at the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia.
Montgomery stated he was motivated to share his recollections about two cold cases after reading stories about the Klan-related incidents in Ferriday during the mid-1960’s. His intention, Montgomery said, was to clear DeLaughter’s name from the notorious murder of black shoe shop owner Frank Morris, another notorious case in 1964, but also identify him as the killer of Joseph Edwards.
Stanley Nelson, editor of Concordia (Parish) Sentinel and author of a book on Klan killings in the area, dismisses Montgomery’s version of where the body was taken.
As a young man, Montgomery recalls seeing a body dumped in the mud of a pig pen near a pond during his morning chores as he tended to the animals on the farm owned by his stepfather, Judson Lee “Blackie” Drane, who ran gambling interests in Concordia Parish for the New Orleans-based Marcello organized crime family.
Edwards was returning home from his job as a porter at the Shamrock Motel when he was pulled over by DeLaughter along Highway 84, near the Dixie Lanes bowling alley, according to FBI investigative files at the time which quoted witnesses.
DeLaughter was responding to a call about a disturbance at Haney’s Big House, a Ferriday juke joint of regional fame, which also hosted white area musicians the likes Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley.. Moments later, Ogden arrived on the scene, the FBI reported. Both men were members of the KKK while serving as law enforcement officers.
Montgomery says he looked on the chief deputy – who was married but in a long-term affair with Montgomery’s grandmother – as an “adopted” grandfather.
Montgomery told the Cold Case Project team that DeLaughter recalled to him that he approached Edwards’ Buick, holding a stainless steel flashlight in one hand and a Colt .45 in the other. When trying to wrestle Edwards out of the vehicle, DeLaughter said he accidentally shot and killed the young man.
Ogden and Delaugher put the body in the trunk of DeLaughter’s Pontiac Catalina. The two men headed toward Drane’s farm about a mile east of the incident.
Montgomery said a series of gates were always unlocked at sale barn, barriers that had to be crossed to reach Drane’s home. Once DeLaughter reached the premises, he and Ogden allegedly dumped the Edwards’ corpse in Drane’s pigpen located next to a murky pond, said Montgomery.
When Montgomery spotted the body the next morning, he said he remembers running inside to alert his stepfather of a mysterious object he referred to as “a bloody mass” in the hog pen. Drane told Montgomery to fetch his uncle and the two men rushed to the scene.
Montgomery never learned what happened after that, but knew Drane and his “posse,” men who worked in his sale barn and assisted in his operations, emptied the pond a couple years later without a reason.
Different theories swirl about the parish concerning Edwards’s murder.
Sentinel Editor Nelson, considered a resident expert on the terror of that time, says Edwards may have bolted from his Buick and ran to the Mississippi River levee while the two deputies pursued him in their patrol car, perhaps running over and killing him. They then would have had to dispose of the body, and that’s where the versions begin to vary.
Lewis “Slick” Matthews, a Ferriday tire and auto repair shop owner who knew Edwards, believes the victim was thrown into the “blue hole,” a spot approximately 50 feet deep in Deer Park Lake.
Nelson now believes that Edwards was buried in a partially constructed levee nearby which was covered over with tons of soil within days.
The late Robert Lee Jr., a civil rights activist and native of Concordia Parish, said he and his friends had warned Edwards to turn away when “white women start grinning” at him. Edwards continued to converse with white women, however, which led to his death.
Drane earned substantial revenue from his slot machine and other gambling operations in Concordia Parish, most notable the Morville Lounge, south of Vidalia.
Drane’s “posse” assisted him in managing his clubs, hosting dogfights in his barn and enforcing policies. He bought his gambling devices from Mafia boss Carlos Marcelo.
Ironically, there is no evidence in the more than 150,000 pages of FBI investigative documents obtained by the Cold Case Project over the last six years that show Drane to be a member of the Klan. He did, however, allow Klan leader Ed Fuller of Adams County, Miss., to live in a trailer behind his property. Fuller was a part of Drane’s posse and ran the gambling operations in Blackie’s Lounge, according to Montgomery, the stepson.
The Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office and Vidalia City Police Department, on the other hand, had many KKK members and ties.
A member of Drain’s posse, Jon Cain, who still lives in Ferriday, told the Cold Case Project that FBI agents were sent to Ferriday to investigate Klan activity during the Sixties and the bureau developed several Klan informants, such as E.D. Morace and O.C. “Connie” Poissot. Their information about the gambling and corruption in the Sheriff’s Department often to lead federal agents in another direction.
Longtime Concordia Parish Sheriff Noah Cross presented Drane a reserve deputy’s badge, giving the gambler new power within the community. Montgomery claims Cross, who was convicted in federal court of perjury in 1971, never took bribes during his time spent as sheriff in spite of considerable evidence to the contrary.
Montgomery says DeLaughter testified falsely against Cross, saying he personally delivered money to his boss at the latter’s farm. Montgomery claims DeLaughter, the “true chief law enforcer at the time,” pocketed the money.
Montgomery also believes DeLaughter did not instigate the firebombing murder of Frank Morris who was burned alive in his popular Ferriday shop in December 1964.
Montgomery believes Poissot protected his own involvement in the Morris murder by becoming a Klan informant for the FBI. He claims Poissot bragged to him years later about killing a black man in Ferriday. Montgomery and Poissot, who had a lengthy list of convictions for low-level crimes, coincidentally worked with one another in 1983 at Enrod, a Sweetwater, Texas, company that sold oil field equipment.
Poissot left Ferriday after suspicions arose of his involvement in the burning of one of Drane’s warehouses in the late 1960s. Poissot was known around Ferriday as an arsonist and pyromaniac. Drane distrusted Poisso, says Montgomery, noting that Drane’s posse was searching for Poissot after the warehouse was destroyed.
DeLaughter and Drane faced a year in prison during the early 1970s for civil rights violations. Drane was angered about one of his employees, Cliff Davis, a white man, who he believed stole a piece of equipment from the gambler’s warehouse with the intention of selling it in Mississippi.
DeLaughter and Drane, along with Ed Fuller, took Davis to the Ferriday City Jail and beat him nearly to death. They also used an electric cattle prod on Davis.
Drane never trusted DeLaughter after he suspected the deputy had placed Montgomery’s corpse on his property, said Montgomery..Drane fell out with DeLaughter when the latter testified against him in court for his involvement in the beating of Cliff Davis.
Montgomery and his mother experienced newfound freedom while Drane was in prison. During his absence, they spent his money and Montgomery’s mother started seeing another man, Billy Clark.
Drane received word of this wife’s infidelity from one of his mistresses, a woman named Margie, and from Drane posse member Jon Cain.
The night Drane came home from prison, he beat Montgomery’s mother senseless. The young Montgomery shot Drane in the face with a rifle in an attempt to save his mother, disabling Drane for life. Montgomery was not charged in the shooting incident and he left for Texas shortly after that.