GREENWOOD, Miss. - John Ed Cothran, a former sheriff's deputy who investigated the 1955 slaying of Emmett Till, which galvanized the civil rights movement, has died of heart failure. He was 93.
Mr. Cothran died Saturday at Grace Health and Rehab in Grenada, according to officials with Wilson & Knight Funeral Home in Greenwood.
On Aug. 31, 1955, Mr. Cothran, then Leflore County chief deputy, helped to pull Till's bloated and mutilated body out of the Tallahatchie River.
Till, a black 14-year-old visiting from Chicago, was reported to have whistled at a white woman in the rural community of Money. Later that evening, Till was taken from his uncle's home by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam.
Mr. Cothran picked up Bryant and Milam for questioning in the Till case.
Mr. Cothran testified for the prosecution at the Tallahatchie County trial of Bryant and Milam, who were acquitted by an all-white jury.
Two months later, Mr. Cothran testified before a Leflore County grand jury that failed to indict Bryant and Milam on kidnapping charges.
Bryant and Milam later confessed in a Look magazine article that they had killed Till. Both have since died.
The investigation was reopened in 2004. In 2006 a Leflore County grand jury declined to indict 73-year-old Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman Till had supposedly whistled at.
In a 2005 interview with the Greenwood Commonwealth, Mr. Cothran said he had lost his memories of the investigation by the time two FBI agents approached him after the bureau reopened the case. "I told them, 'I'm sorry, I can't help you,' " he told the newspaper. "I just can't do it if I don't know it. When I tell a man something, I want it to be right."
Mr. Cothran was born in the north Mississippi town of Mathiston and lived most of his life in the Leflore County area. He recently moved to Grenada to be near his son.
Mr. Cothran worked for the Leflore County Sheriff's Department from 1948 to 1964, the last four years as sheriff. He later became a cotton and soybean farmer.