No matter where I speak about the Ku Klux Klan’s 1964 killings of three civil rights workers, I inevitably get asked this question: Did the Mafia really help the FBI solve the case?
The people who ask that question have usually heard some version of this story: Desperate to solve the case involving the missing trio, the FBI enlisted their informant, mobster Gregory Scarpa Jr., to solve the case. Scarpa shoved a gun down a Klansman’s throat and got him to confess where the trio’s bodies were buried, and in so doing, the grateful FBI gave this one-time member of the Colombo family a $30,000 reward.
The truth? The FBI did get help from a mobster, but in an entirely different case — the KKK’s June 10, 1966, fatal firebombing of NAACP leader Vernon Dahmer Sr. in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
I’ll be the first to admit this story of Scarpa’s supposed involvement in the June 21, 1964, killings of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner has appeared online and in newspapers for decades.
But it’s simply the wrong case because the details Scarpa shared about his night in Mississippi match up with the Dahmer case. And if that weren’t enough proof, FBI files confirm that Scarpa was brought in to help the FBI in the Dahmer investigation.
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