As Philadelphia, Mississippi prepares for the trial of Edgar Ray Killen, scheduled to begin on June 13, those who are committed to justice should continue to ask, why only this one prosecution?
The following excerpts concern another one of the suspects in the triple murder case, Olen Burrage, on whose property the bodies of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were buried by the perpetrators.
Olen Burrage is still alive and still a resident of Philadelphia, Mississippi. --BG
We Are Not Afraid: The Mississippi Murder of Goodman,
Schwerner, and Chaney by Seth Cagin and Phillip Dray
Compiled by the Arkansas Delta Peace And Justice Center
The owner of a local trucking company, Olen Burrage, was having a cattle pond dug on his property, five miles southwest of town on Highway 21. Burrage had hired Herman Tucker, one of his part-time drivers and the owner/operator of two Caterpillar dozers, to build the pond and the large dam that would restrain it. The Neshoba Klansman arranged for Billy Wayne Posey to arrive at midnight on the lane of the Burrage property with the bodies of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. Once the bodies were placed in the center of the dam, fifteen or twenty feet down, Tucker would reseal it with one of bulldozers. When the pond filled with rainwater, the place where the bodies were stashed would simply become an innocuous part of the Neshoba landscape--a Klansman version of a Choctaw burial mound.
"So you wanted to come to Mississippi?" one of the murderers is reputed to have told the victims later that night. "Well, now we're gonna let you stay here. We're not even gonna run you out. We're gonna let you stay here with us." p. 55
Killen, as organizer of the Neshoba and Lauderdale County klaverns of the White Knights of Mississippi and point man for the conspiracy, was eager to return to Philadelphia as soon as he had collected enough men for the operation. There were "arrangements" to be made, he explained to the men at Akin's. Quickly he sketched for them the plan he had devised in collusion with Neshoba County deputy sheriff Cecil Price and Billy Wayne Posey, and possibly--to infer from the events that would transpire--Hop Barnett and Olen Burrage. Deputy Price would release Goatee [i.e. Schwerner] and the other two civil rights workers as soon as it got dark. Once the civil rights workers were turned loose and were alone out on the highway, they would be stopped by the a Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol car and turned over to the Klan. p. 336
Billy Wayne Posey was among those who attempted the Bonanza alibi, but in fact Posey had been far too busy that day to watch television. His role in the conspiracy was to arrange for the disposal of the victims' bodies, a grisly task easily as complex as setting them up to be done away with in the first place. After Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were arrested late on the afternoon of June 21, Posey met with Olen Burrage, who owned a trucking firm and several pieces of farm property west of Philadelphia, and Herman Tucker, a bulldozer operator who occasionally worked for Burrage. This meeting took place either at Burrage's garage, southwest of Philadelphia, or at the Phillips 66 station...
Posey's arrangement with Burrage to use a dam being built on Burrage's property as a burial site for the three civil rights workers' was probably not the result of brainstorm thinking by the conspirators. In all likelihood, Burrage's dam site had been previously scouted out by the Neshoba klavern for its potential as a secret grave, perhaps as early as mid-May, when Mickey Schwerner's incursions into Longdale were becoming known to the Klansmen. Mississippi FBI agent John Proctor claims to have learned from an informant that Burrage once told a roomful of Neshoba Klansmen discussing the impending invasion of civil rights workers, "Hell, I've got a dam that'll hold a hundred of them." Although the Meridian Klansmen had been instructed to leave Mickey Schwerner alone, the leaders of the Neshoba klavern had apparently been given Sam Bowers's approval to "eliminate" him if they caught him in Neshoba County. They may well have expected to have further opportunities to nab Schwerner on one of his visits to Longdale, and it is possible many elements of the conspiracy--the release from jail, the highway chase, and the secret burial--were loosely in place before June 21.
The previous summer, Burrage had consulted an agent of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service about joining a program under which landowners could obtain government funding for pond dams that met certain conservation requirements. Burrage's proposed dam met the program's specifications, but the approval of the funding was contingent upon periodic inspections of the construction site by agents from the Department of Agriculture. In May 1964, when Burrage finalized arrangements with Herman Tucker and authorized him to begin work on the dam, Burrage chose--for reason he never explained--to do so without participating in the government program. pp 340-342
With the civil rights workers' bodies in the hole, Posey signaled Tucker to start moving. The tractor ran fifteen minutes as Tucker bladed off the top of the dam so it would look as though it had not been disturbed...
The eight Klansmen got into Barnette's car and the civil rights workers' station wagon for the short ride down highway 21 to Burrage's trucking garage. There the men replaced the license plates on Barnette's car, which had been removed earlier in Meridian, and Jordan was given all the gloves the men had worn and told to dispose of them. Tucker took a glass gallon jug and filled it with gasoline from one of Burrage's pumps, to use in setting fire to the station wagon. p 361