Civil Rights Division Emmett Till Act (Cold Case Closing Memoranda)

Civil Rights Division Emmett Till Act (Cold Case Closing Memoranda)


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Title Incident Date Overview
Emmett Till August 28, 1955

     In 1955, Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black youth visiting family in Mississippi, was murdered by white men after XXXXX claimed that Till had propositioned her. Till, who was from Chicago, Illinois, visited relatives near Money, Mississippi, during the summer of 1955. On August 24 of that year, he entered XXXX’s Grocery & Meat Market and had an interaction with XXXXX, XXXXX. Accounts differ as to precisely what happened during that encounter. Black witnesses who had accompanied Till to the store reported—both near the time of the incident and more recently—that Till’s behavior was limited to whistling at XXXXX as she left the store. XXXXX, however, alleged that Till was physically aggressive towards her and that he propositioned her. What is clear from all accounts is that XXXXX suffered no physical harm and that Till’s conduct was likely perceived by many in the white community to violate their unwritten code, prevalent in the Jim Crow South, that Black men were forbidden from initiating interactions with white women. Four days later, Till was forcibly abducted from his relatives’ home by at least two men. His brutally beaten body was found three days later in the Tallahatchie River. Because there did not appear to be a basis for federal jurisdiction given the limited scope of the civil rights statutes in effect in 1955, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) did not investigate Till’s murder at that time. Mississippi state authorities, however, arrested two men:  XXXXX’s XXXX, Roy Bryant, and XXXX, John William (J.W.) Milam. They were indicted for murder and tried by a local, all-white jury, which quickly acquitted them. Following their acquittal, the men admitted to a journalist that they murdered Till in part because of his earlier actions toward XXXXX. Both Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam are now deceased.

Clyde Briggs January 18, 1965

On January 16, 1965, Reverend Clyde Briggs, a veteran, church leader, and civil rights advocate, was admitted to the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Jackson, Mississippi for several underlying medical conditions. Briggs’ condition deteriorated over the course of his hospitalization and he was pronounced dead on January 18, 1965 following an emergency tracheostomy.

Anthony Adams November 6, 1978

On November 6, 1978, the body of Anthony Adams, a 25-year-old African-American gay man, was discovered in his apartment in Salt Lake City, Utah.  After failing to hear from him for several days, two friends went to Adams’ apartment and discovered his body, naked and stabbed numerous times.  His apartment was in disarray and cash was missing from his wallet.

Eddie Cook November 7, 1965

On November 7, 1965, Eddie Cook, a 53-year-old sanitation worker and father of three, was shot in the chest by a shotgun blast near his home in the midtown section of Detroit, Michigan.  The shot was fired from a car filled with four or five white youths.  At the time, the police believed that the shot was in retaliation for an unrelated incident earlier that day.  Despite a thorough, contemporaneous investigation, the Detroit Police Department did not identify who fired the shot that killed Mr. Cook, or any of the passengers of the car.  

Jo Etha Collier May 25, 1971

Jo Etha Collier, an African-American young woman and recent high school graduate, was fatally shot by XXXXX in Drew, Mississippi, on the evening of May 25, 1971.  XXXXX and two other men – XXXX (XXXX) and XXXX (XXX XXX) – were driving past Ms. Collier when she was shot and killed.  The state arrested the three men and charged them with murder.  XXXXX was tried before a jury in October 1971, convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced to 20 years in prison.  The state later dropped the charges against XXXX and XXXX.  For the reasons stated more fully below, this matter should be closed without prosecution or referral.  The statute of limitations has long run on any federal civil rights crime and Ms. Collier’s death does not implicate any other federal crimes.  Referral to the state for prosecution is inappropriate because the Double Jeopardy clause of the United States Constitution would bar a subsequent state prosecution of XXXXX, and because the state previously determined that XXXX and XXXX could not be held legally responsible for the shooting. 

Lee Edward Culbreath December 5, 1965

On December 5, 1965, Lee Edward Culbreath, a 14-year-old African-American boy, was killed in Portland, Arkansas, by Ed Vail, who shot at Culbreath from a truck driven by his brother, James.   

Elbert Williams June 20, 1940

     On June 20, 1940, Elbert Williams and Thomas Davis, both African-American men who were members of the NAACP in Brownsville, Tennessee, were abducted from their homes by Sheriff Samuel “Tip” Hunter, taken to the local jail, and questioned about the NAACP’s activities.  Thomas Davis was released from jail into a waiting mob, but escaped unharmed.  Williams’s body was discovered three days later, on June 23, 1940, in the Hatchie River.  Just a few days before Williams and Thomas Davis were abducted, Thomas’s brother Elisha Davis had been abducted from his home by Sheriff Hunter, Police Officer Charles Reed, and a mob of white men.  Elisha Davis was taken to a nearby river where he was questioned about the NAACP’s activities and told he would be killed unless he left town, which he did immediately.  Another African-American man, Jack Adams, was brought to the river at the same time that Elisha Davis was threatened, but Adams was released unharmed.  The men subject to abduction were all either founding members, or suspected members, of the recently-formed NAACP chapter in Brownsville.  Chapter members had begun voter-registration efforts in the African-American community just a few months before the abductions began.

Louis Allen January 31, 1964

     On January 31, 1964, Louis Allen (Allen), an African-American male born April 25, 1919, was murdered in his driveway as he was opening the gate to his home in Amite County, near Liberty, Mississippi.  Allen suffered extensive trauma from three shotgun blasts to the head.  Allen’s body was discovered shortly after midnight by his XXX, XXXXX (XXXXX) and his XXXX, XXXXX (XXXXX).  XXXXX and XXXXX immediately drove to the home of Amite County Sheriff, Daniel Jones (Jones), advised Jones of their discovery and requested Jones’ assistance.  Jones contacted Dr. Bridges (Bridges), informed him that Allen had been shot, and asked that Bridges accompany him to the Allen residence. 

Ollie Shelby, Jr. January 22, 1965

According to contemporaneous articles in the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger newspaper, on January 22, 1965, Ollie Shelby, Jr., the 18-year-old African-American victim, was shot and killed by Hinds County Sheriff’s Department (HCSD) Deputy E.O. Sanderford, the subject, at the Hinds County Jail.  The victim had been transferred to the jail after being charged with making an obscene gesture at a white woman.  At a local Coroner’s Inquest, Jackson Police Department (JPD) XXXXXXX testified that, on the day of the shooting, he and XXXXXXX were transferring the victim and six other inmates from the city to the county jail.  According to XXXXX, the victim first tried to escape by pushing XXXXX out of the jail elevator.

James Earl Motley November 20, 1966

On November 20, 1966, at approximately 3:30 a.m., James Motley, the 27-year-old African-American victim, died in the Elmore County jail (the jail) as a result of head injuries.  Earlier that morning, Elmore County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) Deputy Harvey Conner, the subject, had stopped the car in which the victim was a passenger for a traffic violation.  During the course of the traffic stop, the victim told the subject that he did not have jurisdiction because the traffic violation had occurred in a different county.  The subject was reportedly offended by this comment and ordered the victim to exit the vehicle.  The victim complied, whereupon the subject hit the victim in the head several times with a slapjack or similar object. 


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