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Chasing Ghosts In a Civil Rights Era Cop Killing

The FBI is reopening cases from the Civil Rights Era, including the 1965 murder of a deputy who was killed for being a black man brave enough to wear a badge in the Deep South.

October 22, 2010  |  by Kristine Meldrum Denholm - Also by this author


Maevella Moore, 75, is like any doting mama and grandma. She beams with pride when she talks about her grandchildren, about how the kids and grandkids have gone to college and married, and how one grandchild is in law school. She'll say how she's even a great-grandma now to a 7-year-old.

And like a proud wife, she talks about her husband. She'll tell you about how O'Neal Moore worked the late shift as one of the first black deputies of the Washington Parish (La.) Sheriff's Office. She remembers how he'd be quiet when he got home at 2 a.m. so as not to wake their young daughters, then ages 9, 7, 4, and 9 months. She laughs when she talks about how the next day, the children "would run and jump on him, calling out, 'Daddy!' ...He loved those four little girls," she says.

But the laughter quiets and the voice fades when she talks of that terrible night 45 years ago.

On June 2, 1965, Dep. O'Neal Moore and Dep. David "Creed" Rogers were patrolling near their homes in Varnado, a very small town on the Mississippi border. The deputies were driving on Main Street, crossing railroad tracks, heading for a stop at the Moores' house, where Maevella had cooked catfish.

They never tasted Maevella's dinner.

A dark pickup truck with a Confederate flag decal on the front bumper passed them. It would be the last thing Dep. Moore saw. Three suspects in the truck unleashed a hail of gunfire, ambushing the two black deputies.

When the spray of bullets from rifles and shotguns ended, 34-year-old Moore lay dead, the back of his head blown out, slumped over his partner Rogers. He had served for exactly one year.

Rogers was hit in the shoulder and lost an eye. He continued serving the Sheriff's office and died in 2007 at 84.

Arrest But No Trial

The attack on the two deputies brought nationwide attention to Varnado and nearby Bogalusa. FBI agents, Louisiana State Police, and student civil rights workers swarmed the parish.

It wasn't long before police in Tylertown, Miss., stopped a truck fitting the description. Officers found pistols in the truck but no shotgun or rifles.

The driver was Ernest Ray McElveen, a paper mill worker from Bogalusa. McElveen was a member of the White Citizens Council, the National States Rights Party, and an honorary member of the Louisiana State Police. He was arrested and charged with murder, but within several days, friends bailed him out, putting up $25,000.

McElveen was never tried. Officials said they lacked enough evidence to pursue the case.

Retired FBI agent Frank Sass-who died last November-discussed the case in 2002. "If we in the Bureau could have gotten to McElveen before they turned him over...we might have gotten something out of him," Sass told a reporter from the Los Angeles Times.

Sass told the Times that when agents tried to interview other suspects, they didn't succeed. "They were all provided alibis, for themselves and everybody else they knew."

The case has been reopened several times, as new information was brought forth. "Over the years, we've had promising leads. The FBI went to elaborate means. We have run down every lead and fully investigated. We're asking now for someone [to come forward]," says Howard Schwartz, assistant special agent in charge in the New Orleans division of the FBI.

In 2003, McElveen died at age 79 in Washington Parish. But that didn't close the case. Authorities believe two other suspects may have been involved in the shooting, and it's these accomplices that the FBI still seeks.

A Dark and Deadly Time

Many in Louisiana believe the Moore shooting was a Ku Klux Klan operation. The Klan was very powerful in the region at the time, with an estimated 3,000 members.

"The KKK killed that officer, that's definite," says Washington Parish Sheriff Robert Crowe, son of Sheriff Dorman Crowe, the man who hired Moore and Rogers as the department's first black deputies.

Authorities believe the Klan was involved in Dep. Moore's murder because it was just one of many violent incidents in the Bogalusa region at the time and the Klan was behind many of the others. "Bogalusa was one of the worst areas during the Civil Rights Movement. That was a terrifying place," says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Potok's assertion is backed up by records that reveal Bogalusa's streets were the setting for confrontations between Klansmen and the Deacons of Defense and Justice, armed black vigilantes.

Tags: Civil Rights Cases, Cop Killers, Families of Officers, Ku Klux Klan, FBI, Louisiana State Police


Comments (2)

Displaying 1 - 2 of 2

Pat @ 10/5/2011 7:57 AM

I believe that there is a lot more than what is mentioned in this story. I also believe that this was in fact a klan operation and more people are involved. A lot more people may know something about this murder and did not say anything because they were freighened or they were friends and family of the killers.

robert cherry @ 7/1/2014 8:22 AM

its a shame ambushed by a bunch of cowards ,somethings never change hopefully someone will accounted for this act.killed for color of skin or an being police officers.

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