On February 28, 1964, near midnight, Clifton Walker’s ride home from work was cut short. On the twisty unpaved road he took as a shortcut on the final leg of the drive from the...
Clifton Walker Case
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Clifton Walker had finished his late shift at International Paper in Natchez on Feb. 28, 1964 and was driving home to his wife and five children in southwest Mississippi when he took the shortcut he’d been warned against.
Driving alone in his 1961 cream-colored Chevrolet Impala, Walker decided, as he almost always did, to turn onto Poor House Road to save a circuitous mile on his way to Woodville, about 35 miles south of Natchez.
It was pushing close to midnight, it was dark and it was less than two weeks after 200 members of the Ku Klux Klan gathered in heat and anger at another southwest Mississippi town, Brookhaven. There they declared that the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan would be a statewide organization, they agreed to a 40-page constitution that included “extermination” of blacks as a rational response to the growing civil rights threat, and they ignited dozens of cross burnings across the state.
Three hundred yards after turning onto Poor House Road, Walker was brought to a halt and, it appeared later, surrounded by men who began blasting away with shotguns.
Forty-five years later, no one has ever been charged in the murder of Clifton Walker. The FBI and Mississippi Highway and Safety Patrol appear in documents to have provided local prosecutors the names of two suspects against whom there was strong evidence, but nothing came of it.
The only interest has come from Ben Greenberg, a Civil Rights Cold Case Project journalist who has made several reporting trips to Woodville, examined many federal and state investigative records, and interviewed former investigators, members of the Walker family and others whose names appear in long-neglected law enforcement reports.
Greenberg visited with three of Walker’s children, now in their 50s, in early 2009 in Woodville. With one of Walker’s daughters, he went to the truck stop where the FBI believed Klansmen planned the murder of Clifton Walker. It was the same owner as in 1964. Greenberg spoke with the owner, who would die weeks later, and witnessed a remarkable embrace and connection between the daughters of Clifton Walker and the store owner.
Greenberg’s examination is a work-in-progress that has produced a number of promising leads that are in jeopardy of stalling as some of the active players in the case die. His research so far suggests there were several obstacles to a full and proper investigation and prosecutions. Names listed in the records as law enforcement officers in 1964 also appear in the records as members of the Klan; this includes one of the MHSP investigators and one of the suspects who was recommended for arrest. There is also substantial evidence that community outcry and political pressure from government officials—including a state senator, a state representative and members of the Adams County Grand Jury—impeded and possibly stopped MHSP investigations of racial violence in southwest Mississippi.
The day after Walker was killed, police arrived and found all of the car windows were shot out. The car was still in high gear. Walker was found with his feet on the floorboard under the wheel and his body flung across the blood-soaked passenger seat. His keys were dangling from the glove box door, which hung open, revealing his chrome plated Smith & Wesson .38 that Walker never reached.
His daughter Catherine, then 14, arrived after his body was removed. “I can remember running under the tape, looking at the car,” she told Greenberg. “All the windows were shot out. The carpet was saturated with blood.”
A full load of buckshot, fired at close range, appeared to have entered Walker just under the left ear. Another load appeared to have been fired from the right, and from not more than three or four feet, tearing away parts of his mouth, chin and neck.
Catherine was removed from the scene. “Everything else was just a blur,” she said years later.
The FBI opened a case, closed it, then briefly reopened it before moving on without resolution. From then until 2008, no investigators, prosecutors, reporters or historians had ever approached her or her siblings about their father’s murder.
Greenberg got his start on the case in 2007 when he was in Woodville to meet with a local NAACP official about another case. One day a black woman in her early 70s approached him.
“You a reporter?” she asked.
Greenberg visited with her and her husband, who spoke at length about Woodville's violent history. They asked if he had heard of Man Walker, given name Clifford or Clifton. They said he was shot in his car on Poor House Road. They thought his widow Ruby was dead but the children were still alive and lived nearby.
In the archives at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Greenberg came upon a number of detailed reports on the Walker murder in boxes filled with reports from the Mississippi Highway and Safety Patrol. He obtained FBI records and saw that two suspects had been recommended for arrest, but that local prosecutors declared the information to be “insufficient evidence.” The two names had been blocked out, though Greenberg now has a good idea who they are.
After his initial research, Greenberg located and called Walker’s daughter Catherine. All these years, she could not return to Woodville without feeling uncomfortable. She knew she was walking among the men who killed her father – and who harbored a secret she might never learn.
After Greenberg introduced himself on the phone and explained why he was calling, Catherine became emotional. “I’ve waited 44 years for this phone call,” she said.