JACKSON, Miss. -- A white former sheriff's deputy who was once thought to be dead was arrested on federal charges yesterday in one of the last major unsolved crimes of the civil rights era -- the 1964 killings of two black men who were beaten and dumped alive into the Mississippi River.
The break in the 43-year-old case was largely the result of the dogged efforts of the older brother of one of the victims, who vowed to bring the killers to justice.
James Ford Seale, a 71-year-old reputed Ku Klux Klansman from the town of Roxie, was charged with kidnapping hitchhikers Charles Eddie Moore and Henry Hezekiah Dee, both 19.
The victims' weighted, badly decomposed bodies were found by chance two months later in July 1964, during the search for three civil rights workers whose disappearance and deaths in Philadelphia, Miss., got far more attention from the media and the FBI.
Seale is expected to be arraigned today in Jackson.
A second man long suspected in the attack, church deacon and reputed KKK member Charles Marcus Edwards, now 72, was not charged. Sources close to the investigation, who did not wish to be named, said Edwards was cooperating with authorities. Prosecutors did not say why Seale was not charged with murder.
The arrest marked the latest attempt by prosecutors in the South to close the books on crimes from the civil rights era that went unpunished. In recent years, authorities in Mississippi and Alabama have won convictions in the 1963 assassination of NAACP activist Medgar Evers; the 1963 Birmingham, Ala., church bombing that killed four black girls; and the 1964 Philadelphia, Miss., slayings.
"I've been crying. First time I've cried in about 50 years," Moore's 63-year-old brother, Thomas, said after the arrest. "It's not going to bring his life back. But some way or another, I think he would be satisfied."
Dee's sister, Thelma Collins, told the media through grateful sobs: "I never thought I would live to see it, no sir, I never did. I always prayed that justice would be done -- somehow, some way."
Seale and Edwards are suspected of kidnapping the two victims in a Klan crackdown prompted by rumors that black Muslims were planning an armed "insurrection" in rural Franklin County. Seale and Edwards were arrested at the time.
But, consumed by the search for the three missing civil rights workers, the FBI turned the case over to local authorities. A justice of the peace promptly threw out all charges against Seale and Edwards.
In 2000, the Justice Department's civil rights unit reopened the case.
For years, Seale's family had told reporters that he had died. But in 2005, Thomas Moore and a Canadian documentary filmmaker, David Ridgen, found Seale, old and sick, living just a few miles down the road from where the kidnapping took place.
On May 2, 1964, Moore and Dee were hitchhiking in the town of Meadville when Seale pulled over and offered them a ride, a Klan informant told the FBI. The Klan had heard rumors of gunrunning in the area, and Seale believed the two were involved, authorities said.
According to FBI interrogators, Edwards admitted that he and Seale took the two men into the woods for a whipping. But Edwards said both men were alive when he left them.
An informant told the FBI that Seale's brother and another Klansman took the unconscious men to the river, lashed their bodies to a Jeep engine block and old railroad tracks, and dumped them over the side of a boat. The other Klansmen and the informant have since died.
Dee's and Moore's remains were discovered near Tallulah, La.
According to FBI documents from the 1960s, authorities confronted Seale and told him "the Lord above knows you did it."
"Yes," Seale allegedly responded, "but I'm not going to admit it. "