Joseph Edwards, nicknamed Joe-Ed, went missing from Vidalia, Louisiana on July 12, 1964.
I would first like to commend The Concordia Sentinel on an excellent job of covering this cold case – their series of articles on this case blew me away. I (obviously) read tons of missing persons articles, but the Joseph Edwards articles are a rare example of how powerful a media outlet can be, if it is willing to make the effort. The Sentinel obtained FBI files through the Freedom of Information Act (after the FBI claimed there was no file). They attracted new witnesses, who provided clues. They passed this information along to the FBI – but they didn’t stop there. They followed up with these witnesses some time later, and learned that they were never contacted by the FBI, in spite of the Sentinel relaying the information. The Sentinel responded by putting pressure on the FBI, pressure which is also applied through their articles.
That said, Joseph Edwards was last seen at the Shamrock Motel, where he worked as a porter. He arrived at the motel at 11:00pm, in his two-toned blue and beige 1958 Buick. This is the last confirmed sighting of Joseph.
Joseph’s mother reported him missing, hysterically claiming that “The Klan got my boy.” She was, of course, referring to the Ku Klux Klan.
As it turns out, the Shamrock Motel was a gathering place for KKK members, and Joseph was a prime target due to his (in that time and place) questionable relations with white women. Joseph had been seen by a fellow employee in one of the motel rooms with a white woman, and more notably, had been accused of kissing a white registration clerk against her will. The clerk, who did not want to press charges, confided in a friend who happened to be a probation officer. The probation officer assured her that he’d “take care of Edwards.” The probation officer later claimed that he did not personally harm Joseph, but that he had reported the incident to authorities.
At approximately 12:30am, Joseph’s car was discovered along the highway between Vidalia and Ferriday, near Dixie Lanes bowling alley. A tie, shaped like a noose, had been attached to the steering wheel, and there was blood in the car.
Joseph’s cousin, Carl, stated that he saw the abandoned car. Carl and three of his friends were accused of breaking into a store, and were detained overnight at the Ferriday Jail. Although Carl was not harmed, his three friends were beaten repeatedly throughout the night by two deputies named Ogden and DeLaughter. They were then transported via patrol car, by DeLaughter, to the Vidalia Parish jail. En route, they passed Joseph’s car. DeLaughter eyed him through the rear view mirror and warned that if anybody talked about what had transpired in the jail the night before that the deputy would “teach us all a lesson” and “we’d all end up missing like Joe”.
The manager of the Dixie Lanes Bowling Alley (where Joseph’s car was found) had closed up his business, and went for a couple drinks in a nearby bar. As he was going home, he saw a Buick similar to Joseph’s traveling west toward Ferriday. Shortly after, he saw a white Oldsmobile with flashing red lights on the dash and two long police radio antennae on the trunk roar past him “with great speed.” As he continued westbound, he eventually came upon the Oldsmobile, lights flashing, parked behind the Buick on the side of the road near the bowling alley. According to the witness, a large white man was in the driver’s seat of the Oldsmobile, one male was in the Buick, and one or two men were standing by the driver’s side of the Buick. The witness continued on his way, but then the Oldsmobile roared past him again, with several occupants inside.
It was verified that this Oldsmobile was in the possession of the Vidalia Police Department at the time.
It is worth noting that the Vidalia Police Department was corrupt at the time, and some of the deputies, including DeLaughter and Ogden, were Klansmen. They are accused in several violent acts against blacks, but have mostly managed to avoid convictions.
Ogden gave conflicting statements following Joseph’s disappearance. He told the FBI that he recalled Joseph’s vehicle being found abandoned, but that he did not know anything about Joseph’s disappearance. He told a preacher that he and DeLaughter had pulled Joseph over near the bowling alley that night, in order to question him about a bar disturbance, but Joseph bolted from his car and escaped across the Mississippi River.
There have been several theories on where Joseph’s final resting place may be, although there is only one theory as to who was responsible for his disappearance. Both DeLaughter and Ogden are now deceased, however. In the 1970’s, after a brief imprisonment on gambling and prostitution charges, DeLaughter claimed to be a changed man, although it’s been speculated that this may have been a ploy to avoid the restrictions imposed on him as a convict.
A fisherman, who was at Deer Park Lake a couple months after Joseph’s disappearance, reported that he and three employees were dragging a fish seine on the western side of Deer Park Lake near the bank when they snagged a “large object.” Preparing to dive to untangle the seine, Boothe told the bureau that a refrigerator or steel drum “apparently turned over and a large air bubble about four feet in diameter broke the surface. Large balls of material which appeared to be ‘dingy’ or dark brown flesh surfaced with this bubble. A terrible sickening stench came from the area.”
The fisherman took a sample of the flesh to Catahoula Parish Sheriff’s office, convinced that they were remains of Joseph Edwards. The Sheriff’s office discounted them as animal carcass, and turned them over to the Concordia Sheriff’s office, where Ogden was a deputy. Nobody knows what happened to the sample.
The area where the object was reportedly found was searched, but due to sludgy water and debris, divers were unable to thoroughly search the area.
Some have speculated that this area would have been far for police officers to transport a dead body, that a more likely place would be a body of water known as the “Blue Hole”, which is very close to the bowling alley. It is not known whether that area has been searched.
A skull located in a nearby town in 2002 was believed to belong to Joseph, but DNA was not a match.
Several of the witnesses and retired FBI agents who contacted the Sentinel saying they had information on the case have since died, along with the memories and information they had relating to this case. The ones who remain are up in age, but the FBI, according to the Sentinel, has been unwilling to talk to them.
The FBI claims that Joseph’s case is one of several ‘civil rights cases’ that have recently been reopened.
Here are the highly recommended Sentinel Articles, which provide much more information than I was able to include here: