The state’s hunt for the mob of killers in one of Georgia’s most notorious lynchings is officially over after more than seven decades of failed efforts to solve the case.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Monday closed its investigation of the 1946 lynching of two young black couples at the Moore's Ford bridge near Monroe in Walton County, 50 miles east of Atlanta. None of the roughly two dozen white men who participated in the killings was ever charged. The GBI's plan to close the case, first reported by the AJC in December, comes after it recently learned that the FBI had closed its inquiry into the lynching. Both agencies determined none of the known suspects in the case are still alive.
The investigation was reopened nearly two decades ago when an eyewitness came forward to say he witnessed the killings as a young boy, rekindling the public's interest and giving hope to those who'd never abandoned a search for justice. Investigators spent thousands of hours on the case, but no solid leads have materialized in nearly a decade. The closing of the case means the state's investigative file will be open to the public.
“I’m disappointed we are not able to bring justice to the victims, but there were major obstacles in pursuing the re-opened case,” said GBI Director Vernon Keenan. “We couldn’t overcome them. Time was against (us).”
The action marks an end to the state’s criminal investigation in a case that garnered national headlines in 1946 and became a stain on the city of Monroe and all of Georgia. President Harry S. Truman ordered the FBI to get involved and two dozen agents were sent to Monroe. They spent months investigating and developed a list of some 150 suspects, including roughly two dozen main suspects. A federal grand jury met in Athens in December 1946, but determined there was not enough evidence to charge anyone.
Despite interest over the decades from a small group of activists, the case had largely faded from the public consciousness until Clinton Adams, living in Florida at the time, told his story in 1991 of witnessing the killings as a young boy, first to the FBI and later in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story published in 1992. He named four of the people he remembered seeing in the mob and said he saw a Georgia State Patrol vehicle present at the lynching.
In 2000, after growing pressure from black lawmakers, Gov. Roy Barnes ordered the GBI to re-open the state’s case.
Former State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, who pressed Barnes about the need to investigate, said Wednesday that he remains undeterred by the decision to close the investigation. He and other activists will continue to press ahead with an annual reenactment of the lynching and other efforts to uncover the truth.
“Our work must continue,” said Brooks, chairman of the Moore’s Ford Movement. “Even though the FBI and GBI are leaving the case we must continue to seek justice. We are not leaving.”
The four victims — Roger and Dorothy Malcom and George and Mae Murray Dorsey — were field hands near Monroe at the time of the killings. Investigators determined the primary motive for the lynching was a mix of retaliation for Roger Malcom’s assault on a white farmer a week and a half before he was lynched. But a secondary factor was an effort to suppress the black vote in state primary elections occurring the same month as the killings. African Americans had recently won a federal court case that broke up the all-white Democratic primary in the state.
Roger Malcom had a 2-year-old son when he was murdered. His surviving family moved the boy to Ohio after the lynching and he lived the rest of his years there until he died in 2016. Malcom’s granddaughter, Atanya Lynette Hayes, did not agree with the decision to close the case. She said she’s had trouble getting information from the FBI and the family never received justice.
She believes the case went unsolved all these years because of law enforcement’s alleged involvement. She wants the names of all the suspects released.
“I’m very frustrated,” she said. “I think my father would be hurt.”
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Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution