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FBI reviewing 1946 Georgia lynching case

Nearly 60 years after a white mob lynched two black couples and got away with it, the FBI is taking another look at the case.  Civil rights activists have pressed witnesses to come forward to help close the nation's last unsolved public lynching.
Loy Harrison, left, is shown in this file photo taken on July 26, 1946, with Sheriff J.M. Bond, center, of Oconee County and Coroner W.T. Brown of Walton County, where four black people were slain near Monroe, Ga., the day before. AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nearly 60 years after a white mob lynched two black couples on a summer afternoon and got away with it, the FBI is taking another look at the case.

FBI agent Stephen Emmett said the case is being reviewed "to insure that any recent technology or techniques could be used to enhance the prior investigation." He would not elaborate and said a decision on whether to actually reopen the investigation has not yet been made.

The bureau refused to say why it had taken a renewed interest in the 1946 case.

Civil rights activists have pressed witnesses to come forward and break the silence, which they say is the nation's last unsolved public lynching.

"The African-American community in Walton County told me years ago if we're going to get justice it has to come from the federal government," said state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials. "Our hope is that the federal government will take this case and move it to a federal jury."

Freedom of Information Act request
The Associated Press learned about the renewed federal interest when the FBI recently denied a 13-month-old request by the news organization to see the bureau's 3,770-page case file on the lynching. The FBI rejected the request, saying the release of the file could interfere with a pending investigation.

"FBI headquarters and the Department of Justice asked us to take another look at the case," said Agent Steve Lazarus, a spokesman with the FBI's Atlanta office.

The agency has previously released only a 500-page summary of the case file, which names 55 suspects. However, no one has ever been charged in the lynchings and it is unclear how many of those suspects are still alive.

Roger and Dorothy Malcom and George and Mae Murray Dorsey were riding with Loy Harrison, a white farmer, when they were killed on July 25, 1946, in Monroe, a few days after Roger Malcom got into a fight with a white man, stabbing him.

Harrison had paid $600 to bail Malcom out of jail in exchange for Malcom working in his 1,000-acre farm.

The mob forced them out of the car, dragged them down a trail near a bridge over the Apalachee River and shot them, according to an FBI report. Harrison was spared.

Brazen daylight slayings
What made the lynchings more horrific, said author Laura Wexler, was how public and brazen they were.

"This didn't happen under cover of darkness. It happened at 5 or 6 in the afternoon," said Wexler, whose book "Fire in a Canebrake" chronicles the killings. "There's no evidence that shows they were wearing any kind of mask."

The FBI was ordered to investigate the case in 1946 by President Truman but was thwarted by a lack of witnesses. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says it still pursues every lead it gets and has never closed the case.

Retired FBI agent Bill Fleming, who has volunteered to help investigate the murders in Monroe, said suspects or witnesses who may still be alive might want to clear their conscience.

"You've got these people that are old, and when you get older it's easier to frighten these people that wouldn't talk in the 1940s," said the 33-year FBI veteran.

Brooks said the FBI's involvement is one more step in ending the "conspiracy of silence" that has protected the perpetrators. "It's a stain on our history and a burden on our souls," he said.