37-year-old Clifton Walker took a late shift at International Paper in Natchez on February 28, 1964, and was driving home after work to his wife and five children in southwest Mississippi when he took the shortcut people had warned him against. It was dark and close to midnight.
Walker was found dead the following afternoon on Poor House Road, outside Woodville, Miss. with his feet on the floorboard under the wheel and his upper body flung across the passenger seat, according to a report by PBS.
“The car was still in high gear with Walker’s keys dangling from the glove box door, which hung open, revealing a chrome plated Smith & Wesson .38. He had been killed by multiple close-range shotgun blasts to the head. The car windows had been shot out and Walker’s vehicle was heavily damaged by shotgun blasts, according to reports from Mississippi Highway Patrol (MHP) investigators in 1964 that are referenced in a DOJ memo on the case,” PBS said.
The police believed that the attack occurred at midnight on February 28 or early February 29. “I can remember running under the tape, looking at the car,” Walker’s daughter Catherine told reporter Ben Greenberg years after the murder. “All the windows were shot out. The carpet was saturated with blood.”
A local white man, Prentiss Mathis, became one of several suspects in the case after reporting Walker’s body to the police. Besides being a known racist, Mathis had driven by Walker’s damaged car many hours before he reported it, the police said.
“We are of the opinion that it is impossible for this man, or anyone else, to drive by a vehicle in this condition, with all the windows shot out and a large hole in the side of the door, without stopping to see what was the matter,” the Mississippi Highway Patrol said in a report.
Relatives of a white woman who claimed that Walker had proposed to her were also seen as suspects. One of them was a founding organizer of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a new KKK group. By November 1964, two other men were described as suspects. One was a notorious Klansman and the other was a county constable. The district attorney, who allegedly attended Klan meetings himself, maintained that he had “insufficient evidence” to charge the suspects.
Meanwhile, about two weeks before the murder of Walker, some 200 members of the Ku Klux Klan gathered at a southwest Mississippi town, Brookhaven, where they declared that the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan would be a statewide organization. They held cross burnings and agreed to exterminate Blacks in response to the civil rights movement that was growing at the time.
By December 1964, the Mississippi Highway Patrol announced that its investigation was “at a standstill”. An FBI investigation that had also been launched earlier that year was also closed. No arrest was made in Walker’s murder.
In 2009, the FBI opened a review of Walker’s case and found that all subjects mentioned in 1964 “to have had any motive to harm Walker” were dead, according to PBS.
“It became apparent that continued investigation would not lead to a viable prosecution of a living suspect,” a 2013 Justice Department memo cited by the outlet said. The Department of Justice closed the case again in 2013, saying it didn’t have witnesses or known living suspects.
Born in 1927 in Woodville, Miss., Walker was the last of nine children. He was the youngest and was nicknamed “Man”. He got married in 1945, giving birth to five children — Catherine, Shirley, Rubystein, Clifton Jr. and Brenda. Walker was an African-American U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War.