The White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan who ruled Neshoba County, Mississippi, had a nickname for Michael "Mickey" Schwerner, the New York white boy who came down to Meridian that Freedom Summer to register black voters. "Goatee," they called him. Andrew Goodman, another young white man, and James Chaney, a black civil rights worker, were referred to more prosaically, as "outside agitators."
On June 21, 1964, the three young men, members of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), had come to nearby Philadelphia, Mississippi, to investigate the Klan burning of Mt. Zion, an African American church. According to evidence presented at a federal trial years later, Edgar Ray Killen, a local preacher and KKK Kleagle, conspired with at least twenty other Klansmen to lie in wait for the three men. Arrested by Cecil Price, the town deputy, for speeding, Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney had been jailed for five hours. Presiding over a Klan meeting that night at the Long Horn Drive-in, Killen purportedly described what should happen to the young men as "elimination." But one of the Klansmen would later testify that Killen's death warrant was less delicate. "He said those . . . civil rights workers were locked up and they needed their rear ends tore up."
Released after midnight, so that two cars full of Klansman could follow their progress undetected, Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney left the Neshoba County Sheriff's office heading north from Philadelphia in a Ford station wagon. They were never seen alive again.
Hiding behind an old warehouse, the two-car Klan convoy, followed by Deputy Price in his patrol car, hung back until Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney cleared the outskirts of town. At that point they gave chase, with one vehicle, a red Chevy, roaring up beside the Ford wagon and attempting to force it off the road. After a pursuit on Highway 19 that topped speeds of one hundred miles an hour, Deputy Price flashed his red light, pulled the Ford over, and ordered the civil rights workers to get out. The three young men complained, holding their hands up when flashlights were pointed in their eyes. They were then driven thirty-four miles away. When the convoy turned off onto a graded clay road, Goodman and the others were ordered out of their cars again, and shot to death where they stood. Their bodies were thrown into the back of their own station wagon and driven to the farm of a wealthy Philadelphia businessman. There they were dumped at the base of an earthen dam while a bulldozer entombed them beneath fifteen feet of red clay.
Their disappearance touched off a firestorm at the Justice Department. Dozens of dark-suited FBI agents were dispatched to Neshoba County in what the Bureau dubbed the MISSBURN case.
As recreated in the 1988 film Mississippi Burning, the agents located the Ford, which had been taken to a local swamp area and burned. But soon the investigation stopped dead. Terrified blacks and protective whites hid that fact that the murders had been the work of twenty-one local men from the Klan Klavern.
In 1964, the FBI may have been hated in Mississippi, but the Klan was feared. At that point the self-described "White Knights" were waging a war of domestic terror throughout the state, perpetrating church bombings, arsons and the beating of black citizens. "Nobody, and I mean nobody, was gonna give up those boys," recalls W. O. Chet Dillard, a Neshoba County judge who had served as district attorney several years later.5 "Old J. Edgar figured that if he was gonna break that thing -- and he was hurtin' to break it -- he was gonna have to go to some extreme measures . . . and he did."
J. Edgar Hoover, the notorious FBI director who for years had denied even the existence of organized crime in America, decided to call on a man who had already earned a position in an elite group inside the Bureau known as TE for "Top Echelon."
Since 1962, Gregory Scarpa Sr. had been living two lives.6 A young Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, cock of the walk, Scarpa was a soldier in the Columbo crime family. But he was also working as a mole, an informant for the FBI.
Years later, Scarpa's boss, Joe Colombo, would tear up the Mafia rule book, which demanded anonymity, and found the Italian American Civil Rights League. It was a very public "Italo-American" advocacy group that regularly picketed FBI offices and staged rallies to denouce the Bureau for "Forever Bothering Italians."
In time, Greg Scarpa would become one of Colombo's flashiest spokesmen. He was also a lucrative earner, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars a month from bookmaking, loan-sharking, credit card fraud, and other racketeering operations. But he had a violent side, bragging that he loved the smell of gunpowder, and punching a Satanic "666" into the beepers of fellow wiseguys each time he made a kill. And yet, on the flip side of his double life, he would sit down at least once a week with Anthony Villano, his Bureau control agent, spilling a host of secrets on the inner workers of what Hoover later dubbed the LCN -- La Cosa Nostra. Soon Scarpa married and had a son, whom he named after himself. But he didn't draw Greg Jr. into the family business until he was a teenager.
Dubbed "the Grim Reaper" and "the Mad Hatter" by his colleagues, Greg Scarpa Sr. became known as a capo who could take a fellow wiseguy to lunch, joke with him over a plate of ziti, and shoot him between the eyes before the check was paid. He had one of his victims hit while he was stringing Christmas lights in front of his wife, and ordered a grave dug for another victim in advance of the whack.
Later, when Joe Columbo was killed in a Columbus Circle rally in 1971, Scarpa became the principal shooter in a war of succession between rival factions of the Columbo family. At first the family was taken over by Carmine "the Snake" Persico. But when Persico went to prison, leadership passed to his son Alphonse, aka "Allie Boy," who was widely perceived as weak. The war that followed was bloody; the result was a series of drive-by shootings and gun battles that played out across Brooklyn and Staten Island between 1991 and 1992. In the end, twelve were dead, including two innocent bystanders, and a third of the victims were murdered by Greg Scarpa Sr. himself.
Interrogation by Razor Blade
Back in 1964, however, when the call came from Hoover, Greg Scarpa Sr. was still just a ruthless young soldati with ice water in his veins. The latter-day historical perception of the case has been shaped by the film Mississippi Burning, in which the kidnapping and triple murder is broken by an African American FBI agent who is flown down to question the town's mayor. But through previously unpublished documents from declassified FBI files, interviews with Neshoba county residents, and other research, for the first time the real story has finally come to light: In truth, it was Greg Scarpa Sr., using his talents as an enforcer, who broke the Goodman/ Schwerner/Chaney case.
Having been authorized by Hoover for what the FBI called the "special," Greg flew with his seventeen-year-old girlfriend, Linda Diana, to Mobile, Alabama, where he was met by FBI agents who gave him a gun. According to biographer Sandra Harmon, who spent months interviewing Linda for a book, Scarpa told her: "I'm going out with these men. If I'm not back, there's a return ticket and here's some money," passing her a folded stack of bills.
Declassified FBI documents and the files of Judge Dillard, who was then Neshoba County DA, show that Scarpa was then driven to Philadelphia, Mississippi, where, with the help of FBI agents, he kidnapped a local politician.
"They took him to an undisclosed location," said Judge Dillard, "and while the agents waited outside, Scarpa started working on the guy. He put a pistol to his head and cocked it, demanding to know where those boys were. But the man told him a phony story. After he checked it with the agents, Scarpa then put the barrel of the gun in the man's mouth and cocked it."
Fearing Klan reprisal, though, the audacious politician gave Scarpa another story; again, the agents outside confirmed was false. "It was at that point," says Judge Dillard, "that Scarpa took more drastic steps."
Taking out a straight razor, he proceeded to unzip the man's fly. "He was threatenin' to emasculate him," says the Judge. "And that's when he blurted out the location of the dam."
It wasn't the only time the Feds would call upon Scarpa for this kind of assignment. Eighteen months later Hoover recruited the mafioso again, this time to break a case involving the Klan's firebombing of NAACP worker Vernon Dahmer's home, in which Dahmer was killed and his wife and daughter were badly burned. Though local witnesses stood mute, the FBI's investigation led to Lawrence Byrd, a Klan captain who owned an appliance store in nearby Laurel, Mississippi.
As Judge Dillard recalled, Scarpa and two other men wearing wigs showed up at the appliance store just before closing one night in January 1966. "They showed an interest in some television units, but as [Byrd] came around the counter to show them, they grabbed him, hijacked him into an automobile [and] took him out on a back road."
There, according to Judge Dillard -- who later interviewed the terrified Byrd in the Jones County Hospital -- Scarpa proceeded to "beat him within an inch of his life."
"They threatened to string him up and leave him out there naked in the winter, where the animals could get at him," said the judge. "After that I can tell you that Mr. Byrd told them what they needed to know, and later on it's pretty clear that he set up another man related to the Dahmer case who was also kidnapped and beaten into a confession."
"Lawrence was a tough guy," Dillard told a writer for the New Yorker in 1996, "a big rawboned country boy, but he was beat up so bad, that he was never the same after that."
On returning from that second "mission," as Scarpa called it, he and Linda vacationed at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami, courtesy of Uncle Sam. Several accounts of Scarpa's work for the FBI have mixed the two missions together. But Judge Dillard insists that Byrd's confession was related to the Dahmer case only.
In any event, though seven Klansmen were convicted of federal conspiracy charges in connection with the Goodman/Schwerner/Chaney slayings, the reputed leader of the ring, Rev. Killen, walked out of court a free man and none of the conspirators was ever even indicted on murder charges.
On its fortieth anniversary, the case remains a kind of legal open wound in Mississippi. In late May, due in part to the reporting of the Neshoba Democrat and the Clarion Ledger, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced that he was reviewing more than forty thousand pages of FBI documents, with an eye toward possibly reopening the case.
"All these years I have been hoping there would be justice for those boys," says Caroline Goodman, whose son Andrew was twenty at the time of his murder. "I'm still waiting."19 In that case, the U.S. Justice Department, which is supporting the new investigation, is on the side of the angels.
Decades after Greg Scarpa's Mississippi black-bag job, however, the FBI's involvement in the darker side of his Bureau service led to an extraordinary obstruction of justice in a very different setting -- the war on terror.
Excerpted from Cover Up by Peter Lance Copyright © 2005 by Peter Lance. Excerpted by permission.
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