From the Chicago Sun-Times


Family sees Till case closed

No charges, but 'just knowing the truth has been comforting'

March 30, 2007


As authorities closed the book on Emmett Till's civil rights-era murder case, they met in a West Loop office Thursday with his family, who for years hoped the new probe would bring answers.

About half a dozen Till family members met with a Mississippi prosecutor and FBI agent to hear a full account of how the 14-year-old black Chicago boy was tortured and killed for whistling at a white woman -- and why no one will ever be brought to justice for the crime.

Emmett Louis Till, a black 14 year old Chicago boy, whose weighted down body was found in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi, August 31, 1955.

Relatives still held out hope. Till cousin Simeon Wright, who was with the boy in 1955 the night he was pulled from bed and murdered, said the woman Till whistled at should be held accountable.

"Carolyn Bryant is going to die with the blood of Emmett Till on her hands," Wright said. "She had the chance to get it off of her hands, but she will never confess to it now."

Still, family members say the years of investigation, which included dozens of interviews and a highly publicized exhumation of Till's body, wasn't a wasted effort.

"We just wanted the truth," said Ollie Gordon, Till cousin and caretaker of Till's late mother. "Just knowing the truth has been comforting to the family."

Gordon said she still hopes an eyewitness will come forward and place Carolyn Bryant at the scene of the crime.

"I don't think it was done in vain," said another cousin, Airickca Gordon-Taylor.

Also Thursday, the FBI released an investigation report for the first time, including witness summaries and details of Till's autopsy.

Till died of a gunshot wound to the head, had broken wrist bones and skull and femur fractures, according to the report. Metallic fragments were recovered from his body 50 years after his death.

Relatives heard some grisly details, including how Till was so badly beaten and his head so swollen, his brain had to be removed before he was buried.

Till was visiting relatives in Money, Miss., in 1955 when he visited the store where Bryant worked, reportedly made a pass at her and whistled at her. When Roy Bryant learned that a black boy approached his wife, he went on a manhunt. Till was kidnapped from his bed at night, tortured and shot. A gin fan was tied around his neck with barbed wire, and Till was thrown in the Tallahatchie River.

When his body was found, "the crown of his head was just crushed out ... and a piece of his skull just fell out," an undertaker said at the time, according to the report.

Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam, were charged, but they were acquitted by an all-white jury. The men have since died but had confessed their crime to a magazine after the acquittal.

Fueled civil rights movement

A LeFlore County, Miss., grand jury recently focused on Carolyn Bryant's role in identifying Till to his killers. But with no eyewitnesses, no charges could be brought. Though the FBI worked on the investigation when it was reopened, federal charges couldn't be filed because of a statute of limitations.

"We felt that since the investigation took so long and the results were as they were, we would sit face-to-face with the family to answer any questions," said Joyce Chiles, the chief prosecutor on the case.

In 2004, the Justice Department reopened a probe into Till's death after documentarian Keith Beauchamp explored whether more than 10 others were involved. With a murder charge left as the only option, it was up to Mississippi to file state charges against anyone else who might have been involved, including possibly Bryant.

Till's mother, Mamie Till Mobley, helped ignite the civil rights movement by opening her son's casket at his funeral so the world could see his deformed body. She died still asking for justice in his death. Till's body was exhumed during the new probe because an autopsy had never been performed.

Carolyn Bryant, who could not be reached for comment, said in 1955 and again in a more recent FBI interview that her husband had brought a teen back to her in the night, but she wouldn't confirm the ID. Others claim she was on the truck in which Till was kidnapped that night.

"It looks like for justice in this world, they have gotten away with it," Wright said. "But eventually, in the end, I think they're all going to pay for it."



Emmett Till