Local death among cold cases to be reopened from 1960s|[06/22/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 22, 2007

Less than one week after the conviction of reputed Klansman James Ford Seale in the Jim Crow-era deaths of two black teenagers, a bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives may provide money to re-examine more cold cases from the Civil Rights Movement.

By a tally of 422-2, the House voted to authorize $10 million per year for the Justice Department to hire special investigators to look into murders that took place before 1969.

One of those cold cases is that of Vicksburg resident Jasper Greenwood, whose body was found near his car off Lovers Lane in 1964. June 29 will mark 43 years since the discovery.

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According to police reports at the time, Greenwood, 50 at the time and a resident of 1406 Farmer St., was last seen walking out of Jasper’s Lounge, which he operated, with two white men.

The body was reportedly found by two children, but it was too decomposed for a traditional autopsy.

According to Vicksburg Post files, Police Chief Charles Murray Sills said a cause of death could not be found, but he wasn’t ruling out heart attack or homicide.

&#8220We assume he met with foul play,” Sills was quoted as saying.

In later FBI investigations, two holes were found in the body, one in the chest and one in the throat. According to FBI reports, both holes could have been from bullets, and the hole in the neck might also have been a stab wound.

Greenwood was not active in the Civil Rights Movement, but his wife was reported as having babysat civil rights leaders Medgar and Myrlie Evers’ children.

During the FBI investigation, one woman said she was in the car when Greenwood died. She was a married woman, who was seen driving with him at 1 a.m. the day of his disappearance. Her husband had threatened Greenwood earlier.

She said Greenwood had a heart attack in his car, and she witnessed it.

Although her husband was considered a suspect, the Vicksburg Police Department eventually determined his death to be from a heart attack, and no one was arrested.

Booth Gunter, public affairs director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the Greenwood case was one that the SPLC researched in the 1980s. When it became apparent in February the FBI was looking into cold cases, the SPLC sent research on more than 70 different deaths to the FBI, including reports on Greenwood.

&#8220There was always some reason (the Greenwood case) was chose,” Gunter said. &#8220The FBI was interested in it, so there’s something there.”

A federal jury in Jackson last Thursday convicted Seale of kidnapping and conspiracy in the 1964 deaths of two black teenagers in southwest Mississippi.

Seale, 71, had pleaded not guilty to charges related to the deaths of Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee. The 19-year-olds disappeared from Franklin County on May 2, 1964, and their bodies were found later in the Mississippi River.

Federal prosecutors indicted Seale in January almost 43 years after the slayings.