updated 6/7/2006 10:00:27 PM ET 2006-06-08T02:00:27

An FBI agent who helped investigate the 1963 Ku Klux Klan church bombing that became a rallying point for the civil rights movement has died. He was 87.

Frank Spencer died Friday of lung cancer, his family said Tuesday.

Spencer was 82 when he testified in 2001 about the bombing that killed four black girls at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.

The blast killed Denise McNair, 11, and Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson, all 14. They died in a basement room of the church while preparing for Sunday services.

In the 1970s, former Klansman Robert E. Chambliss was convicted of the bombing and sentenced to life in prison, where he died almost a decade later.

The FBI reopened its investigation into the bombings in the 1990s at the urging of black pastors. Two former Klansmen were then indicted, Thomas Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry.

In 2001, Spencer testified against Blanton, who was eventually convicted of murder and is serving a life sentence. Blanton says he is innocent.

Cherry was also convicted and sentenced to life, and died in prison in 2004.

Spencer testified that Blanton gave conflicting accounts of his whereabouts on the two nights before the blast.

Spencer almost didn’t make it to the trial. He was hospitalized with heart failure while traveling and persuaded his cardiologist to accompany him to the trial so he could testify.

Spencer had been with the Tampa FBI office just a few weeks when he was assigned to join agents from across the country to work on the bombing case. He stayed with the Tampa FBI office until 1977, when he retired.

After his FBI career, Spencer was hired to head up the Tampa office of the state’s Insurance Fraud Division. He retired from that job in 1987.

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