An Old Wound Reopened

Murdered civil rights workers Michael Schwerner, left, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman, right. CBS

It was a crime that shocked a nation's conscience and broke a mother's heart.

"I was denying the fact that they could be dead," Carolyn Goodman says.

Her son Andrew and two other men — James Cheney and Michael Schwerner — had vanished. It didn't look good. It was 1964, it was Mississippi, and the three men were civil rights workers.

Their burned-out car was found first. Then, after more than a month of searching, three bodies were discovered near Philadelphia, Miss.

There was no denial for Carolyn Goodman any more.

"I just screamed. It was like a primal scream. As if here it was. It was true, it was real," she says.

Justice Late, But Justice Still
An ex-Klansman's crisis of conscience helps heal old wounds by reopening an old civil rights murder case in Mississippi.
Part I of II.
Thirty-six long years after the three men were shot to death along a dark Mississippi road, there is still no shortage of suspects in this case. They are men who still live in that area, who, for all these years, might have gotten away with murder.

As CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports, the state never charged anyone with murder in this case. The federal government tried to convict 18 men of civil rights violations. Most of them walked free.

Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore doesn't want it to end there. To him, the fact that the case remains unsolved is unacceptable.

"This is a murder case. This is a mean case. I can't find an excuse why Mississippi didn't investigate this themselves and prosecute this case back in those days," he says.

These days, Moore is trying to make up for lost time.

His investigators are reviewing 40,000 pages of old FBI documents, evidence that was never used in the civil rights case. Moore wants a murder trial and believes he knows who the ringleader was.

"Well, there's a preacher over there, Preacher Killen, who we strongly believe was involved in the planning of this," Moore says.

Edgar Ray Killen is a self-described Baptist preacher who prosecutors believe was a Klan henchman. Killen wouldn't respond to our repeated attempts to talk to him. In the past he's denied being involved in the killings. Confessions of former Klansmen implicated Killen and others, but in the 60s, they were never heard in court.

That's something that Moore plans to correct soon.

"You can do something about the injustices of the past. If you can do it in Mississippi, you can do it anywhere," Moore says.

The passage of time has made Carolyn Goodman anxious to see some movement in this case.

"It ties up loose ends. Is it enough? I don't know…and whether this will finish it…I don't know that either," she says, "but the effort is being made."

Mississippi has already taken a historic step — finally turning its attention to a case it turned it has turned its back on for so long.




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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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