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Retired Agent Investigating Cold Cases

Civil Rights Crimes
Retired Agent Revisiting Cold Cases

03/19/07

Photograph of Former F B I Special Agent James Ingram
Former FBI Special Agent James Ingram retired from the Bureau in 1982, but has recently been enlisted to work on some civil rights "cold cases" going back to his early days in Jackson, Mississippi. Photo courtesy of The Clarion-Ledger.

By the time James Ingram retired from the FBI in 1982, the former agent had worked in our biggest field offices in the country’s biggest metropolitan areas. But none would define Ingram’s work—or his life—like the years he spent in Jackson, Mississippi, where the Bureau opened a new office in 1964 following the murders of three civil rights workers.

Ingram was there when investigators found the bodies in an earthen dam in August 1964. And he was there three years later when the mastermind of the trio’s killings, Edgar Ray Killen, walked away a free man after a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction. Also in 1964, Ingram was on the case when the bodies of two young men, Charles Moore and Henry Dee, were fished from the Old Mississippi River, the victims of a particularly brutal hate crime.

“You talk about pure terror,” Ingram says today, recalling the story of how the young black men were pushed into the river, one at a time, each crudely weighted down to ensure they would drown.

Ingram would move on from Jackson to Washington D.C. in 1970, and then on to New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago before retiring and settling back in Jackson, where he would head the Mississippi Department of Public Safety from 1992 until 2000. His resume includes roles investigating the John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., assassinations and the mass suicide of cult followers in Guyana in 1978. But the civil rights crimes of 1960s, many considered “cold cases,” would remain very much a part of Ingram’s life well into retirement. That’s because, while technically retired, Ingram is still on the case.

When the state of Mississippi wanted to put Killen back on trial in 2005, our Jackson office enlisted Ingram to warm cold leads by knocking on doors of old informants and witnesses. Ingram’s intimate knowledge of the local history and its players was invaluable—Killen was convicted on the 41 st anniversary of the 1964 murders.

“From a law enforcement perspective, it helps to open doors,” said Mark Vukelich, head of our Civil Rights Unit, describing the many benefits of putting the veteran agent on the case. “He has a historic perspective on some of these cases. And people know who he is.”

That doesn’t mean people are always welcoming. “We have not been met always by friendly people,” Ingram says, displaying the Southern politesse that has served him well for so long. “We have been asked to leave the premises. But being good investigators, we’ve always gone back. Eventually we’re invited in and we get what we’re after … Some are relieved to talk after 40 years and get it off their chest.”

Ingram now is helping prepare the new case against  James Ford Seale, who is accused of conspiring in the 1964 abduction, beating, and murder of Charles Moore and Henry Dee. Seale was indicted in January in federal court in Mississippi; today, Ingram is reviewing case files, some bearing his signature of more than 40 years ago.

Looking back, Ingram says working on closing cases that he opened more than four decades ago has its obvious rewards.

“It’s a defining moment because you know you’ve made a difference,” Ingram said. “And it shows the FBI, when it puts in place its full resources, can go against insurmountable odds and bring people to justice ... It’s amazing what all we’ve done here.”

Resources:

- FBI Announces Partnership on ‘Cold Cases’
- Civil Rights page