1946-07-25: The Moore’s Ford Lynching near Monroe, GA
On July 25, 1946, two African-American couples are taken at gunpoint from local farmer J. Loy Harrison’s truck, led down to a stream near the Moore’s Ford Bridge in Walton County, GA, and executed in a hail of gunfire. The coroner’s estimate counted sixty shots fired at close range. The victims were George W. Dorsey (a decorated WWII veteran), his wife Mae Murray, and Roger Malcolm and his wife Dorothy.
Georgia Gov. Ellis Arnall offers rewards totaling $ 10,000 for evidence leading to the arrest and conviction of members of the lynch mob.
1946-07-30: President Truman orders the FBI to investigate the murders
U. S. Attorney Gen. Tom Clark announces that President Truman has directed that the full weight of the Justice Department be thrown into the investigation. President Truman ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate the murders. In order to gain jurisdiction over the case, however, the FBI would have to prove that a conspiracy existed between the killers and local or state officials or law enforcement. FBI agents were on the scene within 39 hours of the crime. They were treated with disdain by residents; as interlopers. But without proof of such a conspiracy, the FBI was powerless to obtain signed statements from potential witnesses. The FBI could not assert jurisdiction in a murder case (which is a State issue), only a civil rights issue. The GBI would have investigated the murders (a state case), but they didn’t have the staff, skills or manpower, so they deferred to the FBI. J. Edgar Hoover allowed the investigation to continue for about 4 months, his rationale being in that period of time, one of the suspects might break ranks and begin to talk. His true goal in delaying was creating enough time lag so that suspects might entrap themselves thus getting closer to a conspiracy – which would then give FBI jurisdiction.
1946-08-01: Reward is raised
Rewards in the case now total $ 32,000
1946-12-03: Middle District Court Judge T. Hoyt Davis convenes a grand jury in Athens to investigate the murders.
The Attorney General writes a letter to J. Edgar Hoover, suggesting that a grand jury be convened to see if the “time delay” might now trip up some of the leading suspects (e.g., Loy Harrison). On December 3, 1946, Middle District Court Judge T. Hoyt Davis convenes a grand jury in Athens to investigate the murders. The grand jury meets for 16 days. According to one account, the FBI interviews 2,790 people and the grand jury subpoenas 106 witnesses. (U. S. District Attorney John Cowart of the Middle District of Georgia and John Kelley, Special Assistant to the Attorney General)
1946-12-16: Lamar Howard Asks to Testify Before the Grand Jury
Lamar Howard (an African American) asked to testify before the grand jury (at great personal peril) that he saw Loy Harrison speaking to James Verner shortly before the massacre. Then he testified he saw James Verner carrying 2 pistols toward the ice plant shortly before (or after) the murders. About two weeks later, at the Monroe ice plant, James Verner and his brother Tom questioned Lamar Howard to find out what he had said to the grand jury. Then they assaulted him in a cowshed, beating him with a loaded revolver. Shortly afterward, both of the Verners were arrested for the assault.
1946-12-19: Grand Jury hears testimony from more than 100 witnesses but still unable to establish civil rights violations
After hearing testimony from more than 100 witnesses, grand jury says it still is “unable to establish the identity of any persons guilty of violating the civil rights statute.” Judge orders grand jury recessed but possible to subject recall. Judge Davis said he believed it unwise to discharge the jury now because new evidence might come to light and “if this grand jury were discharged, it would mean that a new body would have to cover the same ground.” He continued, “If at any time in the future sufficient evidence is uncovered by either the State, county or Department of Justice officers, I will request Judge Henry West of the Superior Court of the Western Circuit to immediately call the grand jury of Walton county in session for the purpose of hearing the evidence and returning indictments.”
1946-12-29: Atlanta Journal & Constitution reports “Walton Lynch Probe Not Dead Issue”
Atlanta Journal & Constitution reports “Walton Lynch Probe Not Dead Issue” Failure of a federal grand jury to establish identity of the mobsters who participated in the slaying of four Negroes in Walton county last July 25 does not mean an end to the investigation, a Justice department spokesman reported from Washington Saturday. A federal grand jury recently announced it was unable to establish identity of any person involved in the slayings. The official said, however, this does not make the case a dead issue.
1947-02-01: December 1946 Grand Jury Issues Report on Findings
The grand jury investigated the killing of four Negroes in Walton county, Ga., which occurred on July 25, 1946. Numerous witnesses called as a results of the extensive four-month investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been questioned exhaustively. Our efforts have been centered upon establishing the identities of the individuals who are responsible for these deaths. The members of this body are unanimous in reporting that we have been unable to establish the identity of any or persons participating in the murders or in any violation of the civil rights statues of the United States … “
2000-01-31: Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) Case Closed with no Further Action
The GBI case was closed with no further action. Note: The FBI and GBI conducted a joint investigation of the incident in 1999. No person(s) were or have been arrested for the murders of these people.
2000-06-02: FBI sends its Report to GBI
On 6/2/2000, FBI Supervisory Special Agent James S. Tatman sends a letter to Mr. Vernon Keenan, Deputy Director for Investigations, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Decatur, GA. Text of the letter: “Dear Mr. Keenan: The enclosed copy of FBI file 62D-AT-66422 is being provided to you for law enforcement purposes only. No dissemination is to be made of any part of this file for any other purpose.”
2000-06-02: Roy E. Barnes, Gov. of Georgia, directs GBI to conduct a complete investigation of the Moore’s Ford murders
Roy E. Barnes, Gov. of Georgia, directs the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to conduct a complete investigation of the Moore’s Ford murders in order to establish the identity of the perpetrators and, if possible, their prosecution to the fullest extent of the law. A review of 2 volumes (of the original 50 FBI files) kept in Atlanta was made. The remaining FBI files were judged to be too fragile for transport or copying. [14/565]
2000-07-27: Director Milton E. Nix, Jr., Georgia Bureau of Investigation Requests Help in Retrieving 1946 Files
Col G. A. Ellis, Director of the GA State Patrol sends letter to Director Milton E. Nix, Jr., Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Decatur, GA, in response to Director Nix’s request for assistance in retrieving files dating back to 1946. Letter states that GA Archives was contacted and they found a listing of criminal files from 1939 to the early 1950s. There were approximately 285 boxes containing these criminal files.
2000-09-11: Two (2) Boxes, 29 Volumes of Original FBI Investigation Reviewed by GBI Agents in Atlanta
GBI Case Number: 11-0291-01-00 Executive Summary (Synopsis) On Monday, 9/11 through Thurs., 9/14, 2000, two (2) boxes containing twenty nine (29) volumes of the original FBI investigation of the 1946 Moore’s Ford murders of four (4) African-Americans were reviewed by GBI agents. The FBI file was reviewed at the Atlanta Field Office of the FBI.
2001-01-01: Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes reopens the case with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation
In 2001, former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes reopened the case with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. At that time, some of the 55 suspects were still alive.
2003-01-01: Publication of “Fire in a Canebreak” (Laura Wexler)
Laura Wexler publishes her book on the Moore’s Ford Lynching, “Fire in a Canebreak: The Last Mass Lynching …”
2006-04-01: FBI Announces Review of 1946 Investigation
In April 2006 the FBI announced that it would review its 1946 investigation of the crime.
2008-01-01: State of GA Officially Reopens Case
The State of Georgia officially reopened the case and FBI investigators dug up property in Monroe County in 2008.
2010-01-01: Anthony S. Pitch starts his book, “The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small GA Town”
Anthony S. Pitch begins his book, “The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small GA Town.” According to the speech Pitch gave to the National Archives on 5/4/2016, he had wanted to write a book about lynchings but, until he came across the Moore’s Ford murders, was unable to find a crime with sufficient documentary evidence to support the story.
2011-10-18: Attorney General Eric Holder Sends Letter to Advisory Committee on the Criminal Rules
Letter sent to Advisory Committee on the Criminal Rules (esp. Rule 6e) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure by Attorney General Eric Holder recommending an amendment to Rule 6e to allow district courts to permit the disclosure, in appropriate circumstances, of archival grand jury materials of great historical significance and to provide a temporal end point for grand jury secrecy with respect to materials that become part of the permanent records of the National Archives.
2014-02-03: Author/Historian A. S. Pitch petitions US District Court for Release of 1946 Grand Jury Records
Anthony S. Pitch petitioned the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia for an order unsealing the grand jury transcripts. Acting as counsel for Mr. Pitch was attorney Joseph J. Bell, Jr., (Bell & Shivas, P. C.) of Rockaway, NJ.
2014-04-07: Federal Rules Of Criminal Procedure: Advisory Committee On Criminal Rules, Meeting in New Orleans, LA
Among other Rules considerations: Rule 6. The Grand Jury (e) Recording and Disclosing the Proceedings; (3) Exceptions; Readers are referred to pages 81-82/402, http://www.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/fr_import/CR2014-04.pdf
2014-08-19: U.S. District Court Judge Marc T. Treadwell Denies Author A. S. Pitch’s Request to Release 1946 Transcripts
U. S. District Court Judge Marc T. Treadwell dismisses attorney Joe Bell’s original petition (on behalf of author Anthony S. Pitch) without prejudice because there was no evidence that any records existed. Bell’s argument (in support of Mr. Pitch’s petition) highlighted that “we are on a shared quest to shine the light of truth on an appalling historical injustice.” In Judge Treadwell’s decision, he states “Neither this court nor the US attorney has possession of any documents from the grand jury’s investigation into the Moore’s Ford lynching.” Accordingly, Mr. Pitch’s petition is dismissed without prejudice, subject to his right to renew this action in the event he discovers that the FBI has located grand jury records relating to the investigation of the Moore’s Ford lynching.
2015-06-27: Attorney Joe Bell Requests Guidance From U.S. Dept of Justice re: Releasing Grand Jury Transcripts
Joe Bell sends a lengthy letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, outlining the facts and legal arguments and asking for guidance in the search for grand jury transcripts. Despite Judge Treadwell’s 8/19/2014 ruling, attorney Bell wrote, “there is a possibility that these records exist elsewhere within the confines of the federal government, as suggested by several lines of evidence.” [extracted directly from A. S. Pitch book, TLL, Chap 18, page 158, ||p 2 (footnote 9).]
2016-05-04: Anthony S. Pitch Delivers Presentation to National Archives
Anthony S. Pitch presents an hour lecture to the National Archives – the story of Moore’s Ford Lynching (during the presentation, he says that he started the book about 6 years ago; therefore, around 2010 – month, day unknown)
2017-01-17: A.S. Pitch Renews Motion Due to Discovery of Transcripts at National Archives
Pitch renewed his motion, claiming that his research had revealed the records in question were at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C. That same day, the Court ordered the Department of Justice to produce the records for inspection in camera. The Government then confirmed that the transcripts – but no other records – had been found and filed copies under seal. Relying on Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e), the Government maintained that the records must remain sealed.
2017-06-08: U.S. District Court Judge Marc T. Treadwell Hears New Arguments for Release of Transcripts
U.S. District Court Judge Marc T. Treadwell entertained arguments as to why the 1946 Moore’s Ford mass lynching grand jury transcripts (recently located in College Park, Maryland in the National Archives) should be released. Working on behalf of the petitioner, author/historian Anthony S. Pitch, attorney Joseph J. Bell, Jr. renewed his petition to have the grand jury transcripts unsealed. The issue for the Court is whether or not the petitioner (A. S. Pitch) has met his burden of showing that the Moore’s Ford Lynching had sufficient historical significance to justify suspension of laws governing grand jury secrecy. Page 2: “We are back today since officially the case has been closed by the FBI and the fact that the records were located in boxes mislabeled at the National Archives in College Park, MD. It is understood that there are approximately six (6) boxes containing 4,800 pages of transcripts and related materials relating to this historically significant case.”
2017-06-08: Extract From Attorney Joe Bell’s Motion to Judge Treadwell
From Joe Bell’s presentation: “My argument begins with the premise of the traditional notions of Grand Jury secrecy that are older than our Nation itself.” Bell continued, “The Court possesses “inherent supervisory authority” and the shroud of Grand Jury secrecy is not without exception; i.e., as in historic decisions such as Biaggi, Douglas, Rosenberg, Alger Hiss, Nixon and Jimmy Hoffa and Federal Rule 6(e)(3) is that secrecy of Grant Jury testimony is not absolute where significant public and historical interest arise. In our case, it has been seventy-one (71) years – the case now officially closed by the FBI, Grand Jurors and witnesses deceased, no one indicted. All of the cited cases are all closer in time.”
2017-06-08: Continuation of Attorney Bell’s June 8, 2017 Motion
Bell continued, “Many cases, 11th Circuit (Hastings/Aisenberg) recognize District Court has inherent power beyond literal reading of Federal Rule 6e3. … … Hastings – quoting Douglas Oil – state that the standard is highly flexible, adaptable to different circumstances and sensitive to the fact that the requirements of secrecy are greater in some situations than in others.” Bell referred to “Craig – list of nine (9) factors to be considered by the Court in evaluating the release of Grand Jury records. 1) Identity of the party seeking disclosure; 2) government opposition to disclosure; 3) why is disclosure being sought; 4) materials sought; 5) how long since grand jury was convened (71 years); 6) current status of the principals; 7) extent to which desired material has been made public; 8) whether witnesses to grand jury are still alive; 9) is material being sought needed to avoid an injustice in another judicial proceeding
2017-08-18: Bell & Pitch Win a Decision in the District Court (Middle District of GA)
U.S. District Judge Marc T. Treadwell, in Macon, GA, today agreed to release grand jury transcripts from the 1946 Moore’s Ford Lynching Case. “Nothing favors continued secrecy other than the bare principle that grand jury proceedings should be secret, and while that is important, it is outweighed by the historical significance of the grand jury transcripts and the critical role they can play in enhancing the historical record of the tragic event that occurred at Moore’s Ford,” Treadwell wrote in his 15-page decision. Judge Treadwell’s decision closed with the following statement: “The Court notes that the Government has presented only a blanket objection to the release of the grand jury transcripts. The Court therefore affords the Government 21 days to provide objections to specific portions of the transcripts, if it so chooses. Otherwise, and absent appeal, the transcripts will be disclosed in their entirety.”
2018-01-31: Government Files Appeal of Judge Treadwell’s 8/18/2017 Decision
Within the court-imposed deadline, the Government files an appeal in the Middle District of Georgia, re: 8/18/2017 decision by Judge Treadwell.
2018-01-22: GBI Closes its Investigation
The GBI closed its investigation into the notorious Moore’s Ford lynching Jan. 22, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution opened the GBI 565-page case file to the public.
2018-10-03: Oral Arguments Scheduled in Atlanta (Joseph J. Bell on behalf of Anthony S. Pitch vs. Government)
Oral arguments are scheduled for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta (Joe Bell on behalf of A. S. Pitch) responding to Government’s challenge to Judge Treadwell’s 8/18/2017 District Court favorable decision to unseal the 1946 Moore’s Ford grand jury transcripts.
2019-02-11: Bell & Pitch Win Decision in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals handed down its decision on the Moore’s Ford grand jury transcripts on Monday, February 11, 2019 in Atlanta, GA. In a 2-1 decision, they decided in favor of Anthony S. Pitch and granted his request to secure the grand jury materials. The Government has a 45-day window to appeal the decision, suggesting that the path forward will be known by all parties near the end of March or perhaps early April, 2019.
2019-06-4: 11th Circuit Court Polls to Re-Hear Pitch v. USA en banc later this year
On June 4, 2019, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, after polling, decides that Pitch v. USA will be re-heard en banc later this year. Case: 17-15016 Date Filed: 06/04/2019 “A member of this Court in active service having requested a poll on whether this case should be reheard en banc and a majority of the judges of this Court in active service having voted in favor of granting rehearing en banc, IT IS ORDERED that this case will be reheard en banc. The panel’s opinion is VACATED.”
2019-06-29: Anthony S. Pitch Dies Unexpectedly
On June 29, 2019, the family of Petitioner Anthony S. Pitch informed Joe Bell that Mr. Pitch died after being taken to a Maryland hospital after a fall in his home. Through a series of communications with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Joe Bell arranges for Pitch’s wife, Marion, to represent her husband in any future court appearances. Author and historian Laura Wexler, who wrote and published a book about the Moore’s Ford Lynching in the early 2000s agrees to act as Intervenor in the case and identified as such in subsequent briefs to the circuit court.
2019-07-12: 11th Circuit Court Requires Briefs from Government and Joe Bell
On July 12, 2019, the Eleventh Circuit sends out its requirements for briefs to be filed by both the Government and Joe Bell. Both briefs are filed by Sept. 11, 2019. The Estate of Anthony S. Pitch and author Laura Wexler are now the petitioners. The en banc hearing is scheduled for Tues., October 22, 2019 in Atlanta.
2019-10-22: 11th Circuit Court Re-Hears Pitch v. USA en banc
The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on Tuesday, October 22, 2019, before an en banc (full) panel of twelve judges. The government’s attorney, Brad Hinshelwood, argued for keeping the records sealed based on a strict interpretation of the Rule 6(e), the criminal procedure rule governing grand juries. On behalf of the petitioners, authors and historians Laura Wexler and the late Anthony S. Pitch, Joe Bell argued that Rule 6(e) permits judges to use their “inherent authority” to disclose grand jury records when they are deemed to be of “exceptional historic significance.”
2020-3-27: 11th Circuit Reverses its 2019 Decision
Grand jury records from the Moore’s Ford lynching case must remain sealed according to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. On March 27, 2020, the Court announced it has reversed its 2019 ruling granting release of grand jury records to petitioner Anthony S. Pitch and Laura Wexler. The Court ruled 8-4 that federal judges do not have authority to disclose grand jury records for reasons not specifically cited in the federal rules governing grand jury secrecy.
2020-8-21: Bell, Shivas & Bell, P.C., Files Petition for Writ of Certiorari
The law firm of Bell, Shivas & Bell, P.C., filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the U. S. Supreme Court on Aug. 21, 2020. The petition was officially docketed on Aug. 27, 2020. The Government has 30 days to respond to this petition or it may waive its right to respond (unless the Court requires it to do so).