California Eagle, Thursday, February 16, 1956
TORTURE AND MURDER
(This is the fourth article on the Till story.)
The decision to throw Emmett Till’s body in the Tallahatchie river was made on the assumption that he was dead after that vicious pistol whipping he had received in Leslie Milam’s headquarters barn near Drew, Miss.
The urge to get rid of the evidence is as old as the history of murder.
Emmett Till’s head was a bloody mess. His clothing was torn and clotted with blood. He was unconscious. Everything pointed to the fact that he was dead.
J. W. Milam, the evil genius of the whole episode, was the one who suggested throwing his body in the river. The other two Milam brothers and, of course, the weakling half brother, Roy Bryant, went along with the plan.
Henry Lee Loggins and Willie Hubbard, the Negro retainers who had been made a part of the murder party, were ordered to throw Emmett’s body on the back of the truck. Of course, they did so.
It was after 6 o’clock in the morning. Haste was necessary if the crime was to be concealed. And the killers wanted to conceal the crime.
Their frantic effort to hide the body to destroy the evidence, discredits J. W. Milam’s boasts in Look magazine in which he tried to make the crime appear as a heroic act, born out of a deliberate determination that Emmett Till had to be killed because he refused to knuckle under and deny that he had had [sic.] “had” white women or admit that he wasn’t as good as his tormentors.
In fact, it was a senseless, wanton killing perpetrated in rage and frustration in an alcoholic haze. When it was done, the murderers wanted to hide their crime because they knew that even hardened Mississippians wouldn’t approve of it.
Drew is in Sunflower county. The killers wanted to take the body as far away from the scene of the crime as possible. They decided to go out of the county.
They drove over into Tallahatchie county and followed a tortuous course to an obscure bend in the Tallahatchie river.
On their way, they passed an abandoned cotton gin known to Leslie Milam, and not to J. W. as he claims.
Loggins and Hubbard were ordered to lad a fan that had been discarded, weighing in the neighborhood of 90 pounds.
Finally, the murder party reached the river: J. W. Milam , Leslie Milam, the other Milam brother, Loggins and Hubbard.
The Negro retainers dragged the body off the truck. They were ordered to wire the 90 pound gin to Emmett’s neck with some barged wire brought along for that purpose.
They began their grisly task.
They stripped off Emmett’s clothes and threw them in the truck—don’t leave any clues is an axiom among murderers.
Life doesn’t leave the human body without a last struggle.
Emmett Till stirred. He was still alive.
J. W. Milam rose to the occasion. He place his .45 Colt pistol to the dying boy’s head and fired.
Death—merciful Death—had come to Emmett Till.
To Emmett Louis Till. Age: 14. Race: Negro. Birth place:
Mississippi. Place of Death: Mississippi. Cause of Death: To the Coroner’s Jury, Unknown.
Loggins and Hubbard completed their task.
They threw the bruised and bloody body of the 14 year old handicapped boy in the muddy Tallahatchie.
The episode had come to an end.
That is, almost to an end.
The murder party drove back to Leslie Milam’s plantation.
Everybody, including Hubbard and Loggins, was pretty sick of blood and gore by that time.
Truck Washed Out
Another Negro was pressed into service: Le Roy (Too Tight) Collins.
He got orders to wash the truck out. Wash it out, good.
Somebody told him in passing that Mr. J. W. Milam had shot a deer out of season and that they didn’t want any evidence of it left in case the game warden should come snooping around.
There were the clothes. Too tight was told to burn them.
He did burn the clothes, except for the heavy crepe soled shoes which didn’t burn very well. They were buried.
What did Too Tight think?
Well, Too Tight is a Mississippi Negro.
Negroes don’t dare to think much in Mississippi, especially when they’ve got suspicions. So Too Tight just did what he was told.
That’s the best way to do with men like J. W. Milam, just do what you’re told. Don’t get to thinking.
After the truck was cleared out, J. W., Roy Bryant, the unidentified Milam brother, Loggins and Hubbard drove back to Glendora.
Loggins went on with the even tenor of his ways. He’s still in Glendora, still working for J. W. Milam, just as he has for the past 12 years, ever since he was a 16-year-old kid.
He hasn’t talked. He won’t talk. He’s J. W.’s “Boy.” Nobody better bother him, either. You don’t bother J. W.’s “niggers,” not in the Mississippi Delta, you don’t.
Hubbard simply disappeared. There are those who say he’s dead. Maybe so. There are others who say he just couldn’t stand it after that awful, bloody night and that he “just up and left.”
Any competent law enforcement body, like the FBI for example, could find Hubbard. But the FBI isn’t in the case. It’s a state matter and the State just isn’t interested. Hubbard’s whereabouts may remain forever a mystery.
Meanwhile word that J. W. and his brothers had kidnapped Emmett Till had been tapped out over the underground that vibrates in the closely knit Negro communities of the South.
By Sunday noon, every Negro for miles around knew all about it. “It had spread like wild fire,” Mose Wright said. “The people kept coming and we prayed and prayed.”
Any Negro could have told any law enforcement officer who had kidnapped the boy.
The law enforcement authorities weren’t particularly interested.
They thought it was just a case where an uppity Negro boy had been given a good hiding. There was noting to get excited about. “They often whipped colored boys,” as Mose explains it.
Sunday, Nose finally went to Sumner, the county seat of Le Flore county, and told a deputy sheriff. The deputy said he would tell the high sheriff. He told him alright—the next day. There was nothing to get excited about.
Rumors swept over Tallahatchie county. Rumors that J. W. and Roy Bryant had killed Emmett Till.
Mose Wright told the sheriff his story about the two coming to his house to get Emmett that Sunday morning, Aug. 28.
J. W. responded blandly that he had “turned the boy loose about two miles up the road.” He said he didn’t know what had happened after that.
Sheriff H. C. Strider did nothing—that is nothing except to listen to and apparently accept J. W.’s story.
He got a call from Chicago Monday from the boy’s frantic mother.
Still Sheriff Strider did nothing.
The body was not found until Wednesday, but a white boy who had set some fishing lines in the Tallahatchie.
Then the sheriff acted. He arrested and jailed J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant. They were charged with murder.
J. W.’s fears were justified. There was an outcry against the killers. The governor named a special prosecutor. News papers demanded swift punishment. One newspaper said editorially that if the killers went free “we might as well destroy our law books and burn down our court houses.”
Mississippi, hardened Mississippi, was shocked.
It seemed that the stage was set for punishment of the killers.
(Next week: The trial. What happened between the ar[r]est and the trial that was to set the killers free. See next week’s Eagle.)