Man found hanging from tree in Claiborne County
PORT GIBSON — The body of a man reported missing since early March has been found hanging from a tree in a wooded area west of Port Gibson, Claiborne County Sheriff Marvin Lucas has confirmed.
The body, believed to be that of Otis James Byrd, 54, has been turned over to the Mississippi State Crime Lab for an autopsy, Lucas said Thursday. The FBI is leading the death investigation.
A Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks game warden, who had been called in to help with the search for Byrd, discovered the body behind the house Byrd rented at 1091 Rodney Road just outside Port Gibson.
“He was hanging from a tree,” FBI Special Agent Jason Pack said. “We’re trying to determine whether it’s a suicide or it was a homicide, and that’s where we’re at right now.”
Pack said the body would be taken to the state crime lab for autopsy to determine the cause of death.
The body appeared to have been hanging in the tree “for some time,” Jim Walker, a spokesman for MDWFP said.
Witnesses described the body as hanging from the tree by a sheet, approximately three feet off the ground.
Claiborne County Coroner J.W. Mallett confirmed Byrd’s identity, but declined further comment, citing the FBI investigation.
John Baker, who owns the property where the body was found, said Lucas came to his house Thursday morning asking for access to the property that stretches back behind the house where Byrd lived.
Family members reached Thursday declined to comment on Byrd’s death. His longtime friend Sylvester Green said he wanted answers in Byrd’s death.
“I don’t know what’s going on, but they need to find out what’s going on,” he said. “That’s not right. That’s not right.”
Byrd was reportedly last seen when a friend dropped him off at Riverwalk Casino, Vicksburg Police Chief Walter Armstrong said.
“Our involvement was assisting Claiborne County and we in fact found out he had been at the casino and we had been in communication with Claiborne authorities and the Mississippi Gaming Commission,” Armstrong said. “We verified that he had been at the casino and that he had indeed headed back to Port Gibson.”
The family had not seen Byrd since March 2. Authorities reported Byrd was last seen on March 8.
Byrd was convicted of capital murder in 1980 in Claiborne County in the slaying of 51-year-old Elizabeth Trim. Prosecutors at the time said Byrd killed her and stole $101 cash from her in order to pay $10 restitution he owed from a previous crime. He was sentenced in 1980 and paroled in 2006, according to the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
Anyone with information in the case is encouraged to call the FBI at 601-948-5000.
Vicksburg Post reporters Danny Barrett Jr., Josh Edwards and John Surratt contributed to this report.
Read more in Friday’s edition of The Vicksburg Post.