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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

"There had been shootings and the people were defending themselves. Men were organizing to protect their homes, families, and the civil rights workers that were in town," says Marvin Austin, a retired two-term city councilman, Vietnam veteran, and president of the Bogalusa Voters League.

Maevella Moore says it was the Deacons who protected her after she received a telephone death threat following the murder of her husband. "These were men of quality, the Deacons. They were by my side and took me to where I needed to go," she says.

Retired FBI agent Alan Ouimet, who was sent to Bogalusa on temporary assignment in the Civil Rights Era, remembers what it was like to investigate cases in such a tense environment. "There was this umbrella of violence that caused fear on both sides," he says. "It wasn't unusual to knock on the door of a black person or a white person and see fear on their faces. Then I would turn around and see a car with two Klansmen in it watching our movements."

Ouimet says that it was very hard to gather information on the Moore murder in that climate and that even police officers were not keen on investigating the cop killing. "Various things were at work," he says. "The tempo of the times would preclude interest on the part of a lot of police officers and civilians who were against the Civil Rights Movement."

Ouimet also believes there were Klansmen within the Bogalusa PD. And statistically that's likely.

According to Mississippi's Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Washington Parish had more Klansmen per capita than any other place in the U.S. during the era. Black residents told of night-riders who shot up cars and homes. Whites who got in the Klan's way were also attacked. The home of Dep. Doyle Holliday-who helped lead the investigation into the Moore murder-was fired on right after the incident.

Doug Holliday, Doyle's son who was "10 or 12 at the time," remembers. "I had gone to bed, and Mother had made sandwiches and was waiting up for Daddy. I heard Daddy drive up. I remember hearing the shots, him telling Mother to get down, and then he took off shooting at them. I was scared to death."

Breaking the Barrier

Washington Parish Sheriff Robert Crowe was 18 in 1965. And he remembers his father hiring Moore and Rogers. "He needed help," Sheriff Crowe says. "We caught a lot of negative remarks for hiring the first two [black officers]." But he adds that his father was willing to take the heat in order to fill a need. "[He realized that] you need the different ethnic groups otherwise you're missing out on lots of information."

Moore's widow says the sheriff hired Moore and Rogers in order to appease the black community. "The sheriff's department hired them just to shut people up," says Maevella Moore. The hiring made black citizens happy. But it enraged some in the white community. "There was a lot of pressure, but my husband was not afraid of anything. He was not a scaredy-cat."

Ouimet says that Moore knew he was in danger. "Through informants, O'Neal was warned that he was a target for assassination. He could have left the Sheriff's office but refused to do so."

Ouimet remembers Moore fondly. "The limited amount of time I spent with him, he appeared to be a very gentle, soft-spoken soul, who loved his job as a deputy. I am sure he was proud to be the first [black man] in the parish to attain such a position. He was proud of his color and his position."

If Moore knew the Klan planned to kill him, he didn't let on to his wife, knowing she was a worrier.

"As far as what he did [on the job], my husband didn't talk to me [about it]. He would always say he was having a good day... He never discussed his job," Maevella says.

A Tough Case

From the beginning, the Moore murder was a difficult case to crack. It won't be any easier for today's investigators.

"Most of the people are deceased. It's a very tough case to solve," Sheriff Crowe says. "They were on the verge of breaking the case back then-within 12 months of the shooting-but could never get quite enough to put it together."

Marvin Austin says he wouldn't be surprised if law enforcement officers were involved. "Somebody had to know [Moore and Rogers] were patrolling."

Despite his suspicions, Austin says he can't identify any specific suspects. But he believes the key to the case lies in the soul of an uninvolved officer who knew the culprits and has kept his secrets for 40 years. And he has a plea for that officer: "Think about your family; if this happened to you, you would want justice...for your family. Just put yourself in the shoes of Moore's and Rogers' families," Austin says, addressing that retired officer.

FBI assistant special agent in charge Schwartz isn't as sure as Austin that law enforcement officers were involved in the murder, but he believes it's possible some retired local officer may know something about the case. "This case shouldn't be looked on as simply a racial matter; it's the murder of a law enforcement officer," he says. "Every officer in the U.S. should be outraged and want to do everything to bring this to justice.

"To anyone who was former law enforcement in 1965 and has long since retired-you swore an oath to the badge... Do the right thing and report it," Schwartz says.

In the tiny rural town of Varnado, population 342, Maevella Moore still lives in the house she shared with O'Neal. She raised her children and was married again from 1983 to 1998. She worked as a nurse, retiring in 1999. She still wanted to be with people, so she has toiled at the fabric and art department at the local Wal-mart.

Maevella has kept Dep. Moore's picture on her wall. She wonders who murdered her husband, a man who gave his life for public safety at a time when many people in his local community did not appreciate his courage nor desire his service. And she waits for someone to step up and do the right thing.

Kristine Meldrum Denholm is a freelance journalist who covers law enforcement, family, and psychology. She wrote for the ATF press office in Washington for 10 years.

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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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