Joseph Edwards

Edwards, circa 1964

  • Missing Since 07/12/1964
  • Missing From Vidalia, Louisiana
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Sex Male
  • Race Black
  • Age 25 years old
  • Height and Weight Unknown
  • Distinguishing Characteristics African-American male. Edwards's nicknames are Joe and JoeEd. He may have burn scars on his body; he suffered third-degree burns in an accident before his disappearance, and was also scalded as a child.

Details of Disappearance

Edwards was last seen leaving the Shamrock Motel in Vidalia, Louisiana at around midnight on July 12, 1964. He was employed at the motel as a porter and handyman. He has never been heard from again.

His two-tone blue and beige 1958 Buick was found abandoned on a street behind a bowling alley on the Ferriday-Vidalia Highway a few days after his disappearance. There was a possible blood spot on the floor of the car and possible mud present as well. A belt that did not belong to Edwards was lying on the seat, and a necktie tied in the shape of a noose was on the steering wheel.

Kenneth Stephenson was the manager of the bowling alley where Edwards's car was found. He later said that, driving en route to Ferriday, he saw a Buick matching Edwards's car being pulled over by a white Oldsmobile. It was not a marked police car and had no light mounted on the top, but based on the description provided, investigators believe the Oldsmobile was a Vidalia Police Department vehicle.

The driver of the Oldsmobile was a "large white male" who was "overweight." The Buick's driver's side door was open and two white men were standing by the door. Stephenson said the Buick's driver was wearing a green, possibly plaid, sport shirt, but he couldn't be sure whether the driver was a black man. Shortly after passing both vehicles, Stephenson said, the Oldsmobile passed him with several men inside it.

The Ku Klux Klan was responsible for many acts of violence against local African-Americans in the 1960s, including murders, and the Shamrock Motel was one of their local hangouts. Edwards was dating white women around the time of his disappearance and may have been caught with a white female guest in a room at the motel. He was also allegedly pimping white prostitutes to white male guests of the motel. Any of those things could have made him a target for Klan violence.

Seven likely suspects have been identified in Edwards's disappearance, all of whom are now dead. Three were Vidalia residents: Raleigh Jackson "Red" Glover, Kenneth Norman Head and Homer James "Buck" Horton. Four were law enforcement officers: Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office deputies Frank DeLaughter and Bill Ogden, probation officer James Buford Gross, and Vidalia Police Chief J.L. "Bud" Spinks.

Five of these men were members of the Ku Klux Klan. Three of those were also members of an offshoot group known as the Silver Dollar Group, which was dedicated to violent resistance against the Civil Rights movement. Horton, Glover and Head all close friends and worked on "wrecking crews", which were hit squads of Klansmen who committed violence against designated targets.

Goss was dating Iona Perry, a white clerk at the Shamrock Motel, in 1964; she was unaware that he was married. She walked on crutches due to a previous bout with polio. Three days before Edwards's disappearance, according to Perry, he kissed her or tried to kiss her as she was walking to the bathroom. She told Goss about it, and he was furious. He wanted to beat Edwards, but couldn't find him that night, so the next day he reported the incident to Spinks and asked that Edwards be charged with assault.

Perry, who is now deceased, told the FBI about this in 1967, when they opened a probe into Edwards's case. She said after Goss told Spinks about the incident, Spinks went to the boarding house where she lived to take her statement, but Perry refused to press charges against Edwards. She stated that as Spinks was leaving, he said Edwards would be "taken care of."

The 1967 FBI probe was launched after E.D. Morace, another Klansman who was a confidential informant, told investigators that Head had admitted involvement in Edwards's murder and also implicated Horton and Glover. Morace said Goss had asked Spinks to "do something to the Negro" because he had insulted a "crippled" employee at the Shamrock Motel (which would match with Perry's story) and that Spinks went to Glover and asked him to "take care of" Edwards. Morace said Head implied Edwards was in the Mississippi River, saying his body "wouldn't be popping up" in the river.

In 1964, a commercial fisherman caught what appeared to be human flesh in his net at Deer Park Lake, which was once the main channel of the Mississippi River. The flesh-like material had come out of an icebox which was buried in the lake bottom. Multiple informants had said the Ku Klux Klan had hung up a black man and "skinned him alive" before throwing his body in the river, but the fisherman's find was never conclusively proven to be human remains. Based on this find and Morace's information, in 1967 the FBI had the lake searched with divers. Nothing was found.

When the FBI interviewed Goss in 1967, he referenced the find in Deer Park Lake and said after the flesh-like material was located, he asked Ogden about Edwards. In reply, Ogden told him he should sink his victims in a location out of the reach of fishermen. Goss asked Ogden what he meant by this, and Ogden answered, "You ought to know! You put him there!" Before his death, Goss told his daughter Ogden and DeLaughter had tried to frame him for murder.

Another story from another witness also linked Ogden and DeLaughter to Edwards's disappearance. Ogden reportedly told the witness that he and DeLaughter had received a complaint against Edwards, and they pulled Edwards over in his Buick at the bowling alley between Ferriday and Vidalia. Edwards then ran from the Buick and over the Mississippi River levee, which borders the north side of Ferriday-Vidalia Highway, and DeLaughter chased him on foot, but he got away. A third story said Klan members took Edwards to the levee "possibly to whip him, and they overdid it", after which point they buried him on the levee.

No one was ever charged in Edwards's disappearance. All but one of the seven suspects in his case had died by 2004, and the last, Goss, died in 2009. His surviving family members still look for closure in his case and hope his body may be found.

Edwards lived with his grandparents on Highway 900 in Clayton at the time of his disappearance, and worked three jobs: at the Shamrock Motel, the Albert Pick Motel and the Swift meatpacking house. He has eleven siblings, and was engaged to be married in 1964. His loved ones describe him as a snappy dresser who enjoyed gambling and was popular with women. His case remains unsolved.

Investigating Agency

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation

Source Information

Updated 4 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated September 28, 2020; details of disappearance updated.