1946 Moore's Ford Lynching Case: A Chronology

This chronology of events is based on the exhaustive research of Anthony S. Pitch, author of the book "The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Mass Murder Rocked a Small Georgia Town" (Skyhorse Publishing, ©2016) inarguably the leading expert on all facts pertaining to the Moore's Ford Lynching in 1946.

Scroll down to view the unfolding events in this timeline.

  • March, 1946 - Gubernatorial candidate Eugene Talmadge launches a racially divisive campaign for Governor of Georgia. There is an incendiary political climate throughout the state. He is re-elected on July 17, 1946.
  • Just over one week later, 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 Malcom and his wife Dorothy.
  • By most accounts, a crowd of considerable size was present, yet no one came forward to identify members of the mob or the men who actually fired the weapons. Georgia governor Ellis Arnall requested assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in finding the members of the lynch mob, and a few days after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People asked U.S. president Harry S. Truman to investigate, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) entered the case.
  • Near the bridge, the FBI recovered bullets from shotguns and pistols of various calibers. The lynching took place in broad daylight and the gunmen were not masked yet no one came forward to help law enforcement agents. "The best people in town won't talk," said Georgia State Patrol Maj. William Spence of the case in a 1946 quote.
  • On July 26, 1946, the Walton County Sheriff told a reporter that he had no clues or suspects and nothing could be done.
  • 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.
  • On December 3, 1946, District Court Judge T. Hoyt Davis convened a grand jury. The grand jury met for 16 days. According to one account, the FBI interviewed 2,790 people and the grand jury subpoenaed 106 witnesses. Four months after the massacre, however, none of the participants were identified and no indictments were returned for the murders.
  • After dissolution of the grand jury, the lead investigator wrote to government officials saying that "he understood the transcripts were being sent to Washington, D.C." But a letter found decades later in Atlanta later revealed that all information about the Moore's Ford Lynching had been destroyed.
  • New publicity about the Moore's Ford Lynching led to a new investigation by the FBI and the State of Georgia but - to date - the murderers have neither been identified nor prosecuted.
  • The State of Georgia officially reopened the case and FBI investigators dug up property in Monroe County in 2008.
  • 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. In 2006 and 2008, the FBI joined in the investigations and began collecting forensic evidence from farms in the area.
  • In April 2006 the FBI announced that it would review its 1946 investigation of the crime. (Source: New Georgia Encyclopedia, http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/history-archaeology/lynching )
  • At about this same time, author/historian Anthony S. Pitch began work on his book about the Moore's Ford Lynching, "The Last Lynching: How a Gruesome Murder Rocked a Small Georgia Town." He reviewed more than 10,000 documents from the FBI and the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
  • On February 3, 2014, 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. Pitch realized that he would have to mount a strong legal challenge against the strict rules of grand jury secrecy (Rule 6(e)).
  • On August 19, 2014, U. S. District Court Judge Marc T. Treadwell dismissed Mr. Bell's original petition without prejudice because there was no evidence that any records existed.
  • Anthony S. Pitch discovered key documents about the case in the National Archives, College Park, Maryland. There were about six (6) boxes containing 4,800 pages of transcripts and related materials.
  • On January 17, 2017, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • In accordance with Judge Treadwell's August 18, 2017 decision, the Government was permitted leave to challenge the ruling within 21 days (which it did). They then filed the necessary papers to present their challenge to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Their claim is that, despite the historical significance of the Moore's Ford grand jury records, that still does not trump the need for tight preservation of grand jury secrecy (Rule 6(e)).
  • Joe Bell delivers oral arguments in the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals arguing for affirmation of Judge Treadwell’s 8/18/2017 decision (i.e., the release of the 1946 grand jury records on behalf of petitioner Anthony S. Pitch). Department of Justice attorney Brad Hinshelwood argued that rules governing grand jury secrecy allow for exceptions but that Pitch's request doesn't meet any of them. Those rules can be changed, he said, but that should be done by policymaking bodies rather than the courts. Joe Bell argued that the historical significance of the case and the possibility that real answers might come out were of such great public interest. He also noted that all of the witnesses in this case are now dead.