PHILADELPHIA, MISS.: Olen Burrage, who was acquitted in the case of three civil rights workers killed by Ku Klux Klansmen in Mississippi in the 1960s, died Friday. He was 82.
Burrage owned land in Neshoba County in central Mississippi where the three civil rights workers were buried under an earthen dam after KKK members killed them in 1964. He said he knew nothing about the killings and was acquitted of conspiracy in 1967.
The FBI called its investigation “Mississippi Burning” — which was later used as the title for a 1988 film loosely based on the case.
Among the others charged with conspiracy in 1967, seven were convicted. None served more than six years in prison. The jury deadlocked on charges against a local minister, Edgar Ray “Preacher” Killen.
Killen was accused of orchestrating the killings. He was charged again in 2005 with killing Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney and convicted on three counts of manslaughter. Killen is serving a 60-year prison sentence.
Ben Chaney, the younger brother of James Chaney, met with Justice Department officials in 2009 and asked them to pursue charges against Burrage and other suspects before they died, but Burrage was never charged again.
In a 1964 confession, Klansman Horace Doyle Barnette talked of meeting Burrage after the bodies were buried in the dam. His confession was read to the jury by an FBI agent during the trial.
“Burrage got a glass gallon jug and filled it with gasoline to be used to burn the 1963 Ford car owned by the three civil rights workers,” Barnette said. “Burrage took one of the diesel trucks from under a trailer and said, ‘I will use this to pick you up, no one will suspect a truck on the road this time at night.’ It was then about 1 to 1:30 in the morning.”