So I’ve been looking for the mother of the drowned boy to see if she knows anything about what happened to Edwards. I tried to find where her son was buried. An intern from the University of North Carolina, Tori Stilwell, spent a lot of time with me trying to find old cemetery registries. We found one and, sure enough, it led us to the boy’s gravesite and tombstone.
We found out that the woman, the mother, also had a daughter. Tori located the daughter and we called her. She was estranged from her mother, didn’t want to talk about her, and wasn’t interested in helping us find her.
Then we mentioned that we knew where her little brother was buried. There was a long pause on the phone. She had never known where he was buried, but had always wondered. She agreed to meet us at the cemetery. I felt like if I did that, she would open up. So we met there and just talked. After awhile, I showed her a picture of Joseph Edwards, then I showed her a picture of Joseph Edwards’s sister.
“Joseph Edwards tried to save your brother’s life,” I told her, “and may have been killed in some degree because he may have been around your mother at the time.” I told her that Joseph Edwards had a sister and that his sister had gone forty-six years not knowing what happened to Joe Ed. I think the parallels in their lives—two sisters trying to find some evidence of their brothers—was pretty amazing.
Well, she started crying. She had finally found the burial ground of her own brother and now she was in a position to help Joe Ed’s sister maybe learn something about what happened to her own brother.
So she told us where her mother was, and we have found her. We’ll have more on that later.
Who I Am
Working with the Civil Rights Cold Case Project has been a great help. They’re using all the current technological techniques to convey our stories—video, audio, Facebook, and other social media. That’s all pretty new to me. I know the value of video for a documentary, but having a camera rolling when I am going about my interviews can be a distraction, so I’ve had to draw the line.
Last year, all my calls to former law enforcement people about the Frank Morris murder finally yielded a man who said he knew something about the case. He said his former brother-in-law, a trucker from Rayville, Louisiana, had told him years ago that he participated in the arson that killed Frank Morris.
That led me to the Rayville trucker’s son, who said he had heard the same story from his father over the years. (He said his father always insisted that the plan was only to torch the building and that they had not known anyone would be inside.) Then I spoke to the trucker’s former wife, who said she, too, had heard that story from a longtime friend of hers who placed himself at the arson with her former husband, the truck driver.
When it came time to talk with the trucker, I wanted to do it the way I always do: walk up to the door with my notebook in my back pocket and my pen in my shirt pocket, and just explain who I am and try to talk with them. But for reasons I understand, my colleagues on the documentary side wanted to walk up to the house with me and have their cameras rolling as I knocked on the door and confronted the trucker with these claims by his family.
But I’d never done that before and I didn’t feel comfortable with it. I’d rather let people I want to interview see me as someone who wants to talk with them. I’m pretty quiet and pretty slow moving, and I just wanted to make sure I handled it the right way. I try to be non-threatening in my manner. I just want people to relax because I think they talk better that way. I know I do. That’s just kind of who I am.
So I went up there alone. My colleague, filmmaker David Paperny, got worried when he didn’t hear anything and came up a few minutes later with his camera running. The trucker seemed fine with it and signed his approval and we got good video. But the trucker was adamant later that he wouldn’t talk to me again. I think I can get just about anybody to talk with me a second time, so I can’t help but wonder if he’d have done it if there hadn’t been a camera filming that first time.