Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Strange Fruit

"Strange Fruit hangin' from the poplar trees," sang Billie Holiday back in 1939.

Consider Raynard Johnson, killed in 2000. 17 years old. Said to be dating a white girl. Found by his daddy, a belt around his neck. His feet on the ground, his knees bent. Hanging from a pecan tree in the front yard. His body still warm.

"...the tree branch was not high enough off the ground for his six-foot, one-inch frame." say the United Methodist Women, who have been tracking these killings for years.

He was hung with somebody else's belt. Raynard had only one belt, and it was in his closet.

Raynard's death hit the news bigtime. Jesse Jackson came to Kokomo, MS. The FBI did, too. The FBI decided it was a suicide.

Here's what the FBI missed: (But the United Methodist Women didn't.)

The Tree where Raynard Johnson was found hanging, Photo: Sandra Peters"Police in Kokomo, Miss., were too quick to label the June 16 death of 17-year-old Raynard Johnson a suicide, say local organizers, including United Methodists, who are seeking investigation of what they say looks like a lynching.

The organizers, accompanied by United Methodist Bishop Jack Meadors of the Mississippi Area and two representatives of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, held a six-mile prayer-and-justice march July 7 in near 100-degree weather in an effort to bring the teen’s death to national attention and to give the boy’s family an opportunity to tell their story.

While official reports have focused on autopsy results and a statement from one young woman who said she ended a relationship with Raynard Johnson the day of his death, the dead teen’s family and neighbors say events leading up to his death need attention. Those events include:

  • June 14: Two white girls who were friends of Raynard Johnson were dropped off at the Johnson’s house by someone from the deputy sheriff’s office. Raynard took the girls home.
  • Also June 14: Raynard’s brother Roger Johnson heard dogs barking because someone or something was outside the family’s house. Roger said it was a dark night. He turned off all lights in the house then went outside, gun in hand and fired gun shots into the air.
  • June 15: The next night, another disturbance set the dogs barking. Neighbors reported seeing pickup trucks with only parking lights on driving slowly past the Johnsons’ house.
  • June 16: Just after 9 p.m., Raynard Johnson went outside. It was 9:30 p.m. when his father pulled up to the house to find his son’s body hanging from a pecan tree in the front yard. The boy’s knees were slightly bent and his feet were touching the ground because the tree branch was not high enough off the ground for his six-foot, one-inch frame.
  • Before the first autopsy was complete, the coroner ruled Raynard Johnson's death a suicide.
  • The belt by which Raynard was hanging was not his. The family said he owned only one belt, which was in his closet when he died.
  • Kokomo and the neighboring community of Columbia, Miss., have been areas of white-supremacist hate-group activities. Those who joined the prayer-and-justice march walked past a bridge where the words, "Kill All N________" had been spray painted. The words remained faintly visible though law-enforcement officials had had them painted over."

Offhand, it seems quite likely that an intruder put a gun on him. A second person pulled off his own belt and garrotted him from behind. Then they tried to hang his body from the tree. But he was too heavy and tall for them to do it realistically. So his feet were on the ground. And his knees bent.

Somebody in Kokomo, Mississippi, is missing a belt.

If somebody is missing a belt, could they also be missing a little bit of their DNA?

Can we please check the belt for DNA?


There are more...

"Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop."

- - by Abel Meeropol, 1937

Strange Orchard

Here are the names of seven young men whose recent deaths in Mississippi were too quickly called "suicides":

From the site :

Andre Jones (2/21/1993) in the Simpson County Jail
David Scott Campbell (10/9/1990) in Neshoba
Bobby Everette (2/1993) in Jackson
Cedrick Walker (7/1993) at Parchman

Two more cases found by our intrepid researcher:

Roy Veal (4/19/2004), in Woodville, Ms and (of course)
Fredrick Jermaine Carter (12/3/2010) in North Greenwood, Ms

We hope to detail the circumstances of each death in days to come.

Do you, the reader, know of other deaths that were too-hastily labelled "suicide"? Do you know anything about the "suicides" above? Just leave a comment. We will research it and will add your info to the postings.

If you would like your info added to a package of data that is going to the FBI, call the "Cold Case Justice Initiative" office at the University of Syracuse, 315.443.1870.

You can change the world, too.

FBI Cold Cases Still Open

The following cold cases from 1951-1967 are still held open by the FBI:
"Victim(s) Name
Date of Death
Location of Death

Louis Allen
January 31, 1964
Liberty, MS

Jimmie Griffen (Griffin)
September 24, 1965
near Sturgis, MS

Paul Guihard
September 30, 1962
Oxford, MS

Wharlest Jackson
February 27, 1967
Natchez, MS

George Lee
May 7, 1955
Belzoni, MS

Clifton Walker
February 28, 1964
Woodville or Natchez, MS

Mattie Green
May 19, 1960
Ringgold, GA

Izell Henry
Greensburg, LA

Oneal Moore
June 2, 1965
Varnado, LA

Frank Morris
December 10, 1964
Ferriday, LA

Robert Wilder or
John Wesley Wilder
July 17, 1965
Ruston, LA

Harry Moore
December 25, 1951
Mims, FL

Harriette Moore
January 3, 1952
Mims, FL"


FBI Cold Cases That Are Closed

The following cold cases from 1953-1967 have been fully assessed by the FBI:
"Victim(s) Name
Date of Death
Location of Death

Benjamin Brown
May 10, 1967
Jackson, MS

Charles Brown
June 20, 1957
Yazoo City, MS

Jessie Brown
January 13, 1965
Winona, MS

Silas Caston
March 1, 1964
Jackson, MS

Vincent Dahmon
May-July 1966
Natchez, MS

Roman Ducksworth
April 1961 or 1962
Taylorsville, MS

Sylvester Maxwell
Body discovered January 17, 1963
Canton, MS

Robert McNair
November 6, 1964
Pelahatchie, MS

Clinton Melton
December 3, 1955
Tallahatchie, MS

Booker Mixon
October 12, 1959
Clarksdale, MS

Mack Parker
April 25, 1959
Poplarville, MS

William Prather
November 1, 1959
Corinth, MS

Johnny Queen
August 8, 1965
Fayette, MS

Donald Raspberry
February 1965
Okolona, MS

Jessie Shelby
January 29, 1956
Yazoo City, MS

Ed Smith
April 27, 1958
State Line, MS

Lamar Smith
August 13, 1955
Brookhaven, MS

Eddie Stewart
July 9, 1966
Jackson or
Crystal Springs, MS

Saleam Triggs
January 23, 1965
Hattiesburg, MS

Willie Edwards
January 23, 1957
Montgomery, AL

Rogers Hamilton
October 22, 1957
Fort Deposit, AL

Willie Joe Sanford
March 1, 1957
Hawkinsville, GA

Ladislado Urese
April 22, 1953
San Antonio, TX"