Crusader Staff Report
The U.S. Justice Department’s reopened investigation into the brutal 1955 murder of 14-year old Emmett Till could wrap up in weeks, according to a story in the prominent newspaper, The Guardian in London.
The investigation was reopened in 2017 after Carolyn Bryant Donham, the former wife of one of the alleged murderers, recanted her trial testimony of 1955 in the book, The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy Tyson.
In the book, Bryant Donham said that her testimony in court, of Till grabbing her and making sexual advances, were not true. She also said that, “nothing that Till did could ever justify what happened to him.”
The revelations stirred intense emotions among Till’s relatives, who have waited 65 years for justice for their loved one’s murder. After Bryant Bonham’s recantation in 2017, the DOJ reopened the Till case “based upon the discovery of new information.”
The decision was revealed to Congress in March 2018 in a report that was required under the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Reauthorization Act of 2016.
The bill reauthorized investigation and prosecution of civil rights violations that occurred before 1970, expanded powers to include crime in the 1970s, required that families be kept abreast of developments and demanded an annual report on the investigations to Congress.
As soon as the FBI began investigating the Till case three years ago, Tyson turned over all of his notes and manuscripts to detectives, according to the Guardian. The newspaper also reported that FBI agents contacted members of Till’s family, but none of them has heard back from the agency since the case was reopened three years ago.
Although the Guardian reported that the three-year investigation of the Till case could wrap up in weeks, the newspaper does not cite a source that provided the information. The Guardian said FBI officials declined to answer their questions, citing justice department policy that would “neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”
Criminal experts say it would be difficult to prosecute Bryant Donham for lying at the trial because the statute of limitations on perjury expired long ago. One expert said she could still be charged with obstruction of justice.
This August, it will be 65 years since Till was murdered in Money, Mississippi on August 28, 1955.
Nicknamed “Bobo,” Emmett Till grew up in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood, just three blocks east from the Chicago Crusader office.
On August 24, 1955, Till visited relatives in Money, Mississippi, where he was accused of whistling at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant, at a grocery story that her first husband owned. He was kidnapped in the early hours of the morning and taken to the shed where he was brutally beaten and shot in the head before his battered and bloated body was found weighted down with a 70-pound fan in the Tallahatchie River.
Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted that the A.A. Rayner Funeral Home hold an open-casket funeral at Chicago’s Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ to show the world what two white men had done to her son. Nearly 250,000 people viewed his body over a five day period that culminated with a massive funeral.
The men, Roy Bryant and John William “J. W.” Milam, were eventually acquitted by an all-white jury in a trial that lasted just over an hour. They later sold their story for $4,000 to LOOK magazine – bragging about the murder as a form of Southern justice implemented to protect white womanhood. Because of the double jeopardy rule, the men were never brought to justice.
Carolyn Bryant Donham remains the only living defendant who can face charges in the case. She has since remarried and is reportedly in poor health.
Milam died in 1980. Roy Bryant died in 1994.
Mamie Till Mobley died in 2003 without ever seeing her son’s killers brought to justice. Last month, Till’s cousin, Airickca Gordon Taylor died after spending her life educating generations about Till’s death and his impact on the Civil Rights Movement.
In 2004, the DOJ reopened Mobley’s case to determine if there were other killers besides Milam and Roy Bryant. The move was sparked by documentary filmmaker Keith Beau- champ, who in his 2003 film, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, claimed there were as many as 14 people who killed the boy.
As part the DOJ investigation, Till’s body was exhumed from Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip in 2005 and given an autopsy. His head had extensive cranial damage. There were metal fragments found in the skull that were consistent with bullets from a .45 caliber gun.
After the autopsy, Till was reburied in a new casket. His original one was found in a shed during a cemetery grave scandal in 2008. It’s now part of an emotional exhibit that has been viewed by millions of visitors at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.
In 2007, the DOJ closed the Till case after a grand jury in Leflore County, Mississippi concluded Beauchamp’s claim of Till having 14 killers was not credible.
The grand jury also failed to find sufficient cause for charges against Carolyn Bryant Donham, but questions remain whether she will escape justice this time around.