The Death of Louis Allen

Louis Allen was a proud man. He was also WWII veteran, a logger, and a landowner, something not many African Americans could say in Liberty, Mississippi in the early 1960s.

Death of Louis Allen

Louis Allen. Image via Wikipedia.

He was getting ready to leave Liberty soon, though. He had a lead on a job as a bulldozer operator in Milwaukee and he and his oldest son were planning to leave for Wisconsin on February 2, 1964. His wife, Elizabeth, and their other two children would stay with Elizabeth’s sister in Baton Rogue until things were settled in their new home. The move would be a welcome change for the family, not just because of the new career. Louis had experienced a lot of harassment over the past few years and they were eager for a fresh start.

Around 7:00 on the night of January 31, 1964, Louis went out to the home of a former employer to get a letter of recommendation while Elizabeth stayed home with their three-year-old daughter. Middle son, Henry, was out with his cousin.

Louis arrived at his former employer’s home and waited while the letter was written. After getting the letter and thanking him, Louis got back in his truck and headed home.

At 8:30, Elizabeth settled in to watch one of her favorite television programs. She would later recall this is when she heard something that sounded like gunshots. She didn’t go out to see what the commotion was about, though. Louis wasn’t home yet but he told her he wouldn’t be back until around 8:30 so she wasn’t concerned yet.

Henry and his cousin, John Horton, came home around 12:30 that morning, four hours after the shots were heard, and found Louis’ logging truck blocking the driveway. Henry called for his dad but got no response so he got out of the vehicle and walked to the drivers-side of the truck to move it. He stepped on his father’s hand.

Louis was lying in the driveway, underneath his truck, his head behind the front, drivers-side wheel. The truck’s lights were still on but the battery was almost dead.

Henry ran inside to tell his mother and called the police.

One source says that the boys drove straight to the home of Sheriff Daniel Jones to report the death, but soon you’ll see why that seems unlikely.

Regardless, Sheriff Jones and Dr. William Bridges arrived on the scene. They pronounced Louis dead almost immediately. It was obvious to the men that Louis had been killed by two loads of buckshot. The tire near his head was flat, presumably punctured by the same shots that killed him. Sheriff Jones stayed on the scene all night, securing the crime scene and questioning Elizabeth. When the sun came up, he performed a search of the crime scene and dusted the truck for fingerprints. No unmatched prints, shotgun shells, or other physical evidence was found.

Investigators wanted to know if Louis mentioned feeling threatened recently. His wife and sons said no, there had been no indication that he felt he was in physical danger.

They hit a dead end but they said they’d keep investigating.

54 years later, Louis Allen’s death is still a cold case.

The night of his murder wasn’t the first time Louis had been in the middle of a police investigation and it wasn’t the first time Sheriff Jones came into contact with Louis.

On September 30, 1961, two and a half years before his death, Louis witnessed the murder of Herbert Lee. Lee, a voting rights activist, was trying to register voters in Liberty, MS when he was killed by state representative E.H. Hurst, a staunch segregationist. Even before Lee’s murder, it was known among Civil Rights activists that Liberty, MS was not a safe place to do this kind of work.

Hurst and Sheriff Jones began harassing Louis and other witnesses, pressuring them to testify that Hurst had acted in self-defense. The FBI file states that Louis told the truth in his official statement (that Lee was shot without provocation) but Julian Bond, a Civil Rights activist and friend of Louis’, stated that he lied and told the FBI that Hurst acted in self-defense. It seems as though Louis initially planned on stating that Hurst acted in self-defense for fear that his life would be in danger if he told the truth, but decided to state the truth in the end.

Eventually, the case went to trial and the all-white jury found Hurst innocent, stating that he acted in self-defense.

When Sheriff Jones learned about Louis’ statement to the FBI, he began a campaign of harassment. On June 30, 1962, Jones arrested Louis for “interfering with the law.” Louis’ jaw was broken in two places during the arrest. The following month, Louis would give an affidavit to the Justice Department, describing the attack and arrest. An African-American man lodging a complaint against a white deputy was unheard of in 1960s Mississippi and took an unbelievable amount of courage.

In the end, the case was thrown out.

In August of the same year, Louis and two other black men attempted to register to vote in Amite County. Jones turned them away.

After his death, it would be reported that Louis had been involved in voter registration activities that may have resulted in his death. His wife, sons, and acquaintances denied that he had ever been involved in such activities. The FBI files on the case state that there had been no voter registration activities in the entire county since 1961.

Regardless, February of 1963 brought tragedy on an even bigger scale. Leo McKnight, his wife, pregnant daughter, and son-in-law died in a house fire. McKnight had previously worked for Louis Allen and some said that Jones had warned McKnight to stay away from Louis. While Jones was never irrefutably linked to the fire, many suspect it was part of his vendetta against Louis (although I will say that I don’t think burning down the house of a former employee and murdering four people is the way that most people would exact revenge on someone.)

At this point, I feel it’s relevant to tell you that in a 1964 letter from Amite County resident J.D. Smith to friends, he states that Sheriff Jones’ father is the head of the county’s chapter of the KKK. (The CBS article linked above corroborates this.) Predictably this information was not present in the FBI file on the case. He also states that klan activity in Amite County is “more lunatic than usual” and the chapter is part of a “radical split from the United Klans.” This branch of the klan was more violent, “an offspring of the old White Caps of the Reconstruction period, and operate as an old fashioned kill, kill, kill terrorist organization.”

In his letter, Smith also states that there have been seven unsolved killings of “Negroes” in Amite and surrounding counties since Louis Allen’s death earlier the same year.

Klansman in Pike County, MS

United Klans of America Imperial Wizard Robert Shelton speaking before a crowd in Pike County, MS, next to Amite County, in May 1964. Image via Jackson Free Press.

Back to Louis’ timeline: in September 1963, over a year after his arrest for “interfering with the law”, Louis testified before a federal grand jury about the arrest that resulted in his broken jaw. The jury declined to indict Sheriff Jones.

Two months later, in November of 1963, Sheriff Jones arrested Louis on charges of a bouncing a check and carrying a concealed weapon. He was told he’d serve 3-5 years for the charges but after three weeks, he was released on an $800 bond, paid for by the NAACP.

And just two months after that, Louis was gunned down in his driveway.

In the 2011 CBS interview, Hank Allen remembered the night his father died, stating, “He [Sheriff Jones] told my mom that if Louis had just shut his mouth, that he wouldn’t be layin’ there on the ground. He wouldn’t be dead.”

Louis Allen’s death is one of 100 Civil Rights-era cold cases that have been reopened by the Department of Justice.

No arrests have ever been made and as far as I can tell, no persons of interest have officially been identified. People in Amite County have their suspicions, though. As I do and I’m sure anyone reading this does. The Allen family is still offering a $20,000 reward for information regarding Louis’ death and in 2010, the case was put on the FBI’s Cold Case list. His grandson, Louis Allen Jr., has stated that the family believes the killer is still alive and that more than one person may have been involved.

Although it may seem like a 54-year-old case has no hope of being solved, it does happen. As a result of the DOJ opening these cases back up, other cold cases have been solved, including the 1964 kidnapping and murder of teenagers Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore. Their killer, James Ford Seale, was given two life sentences.

As of 2011, Sheriff Daniel Jones was still alive and living in Liberty, unwilling to talk about the case.

If you have any information regarding the death of Louis Allen, you can submit an anonymous tip online.


Sources

Northeastern University School of Law
FBI File on the Death of Louis Allen
Mississippi Cold Case: Louis Allen
J.D. Smith letter
Cold Case: The Murder of Louis Allen
60 Minutes clip on Louis Allen’s story
Civil Rights Era Murders Joint Initiative Yields Results
Violent Summer: When Klansmen and Tyranny Stalked Mississippi: ‘I’ll Shoot You In Two” from Jackson Free Press

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