Disappearance & Death
Before setting off for the church, Schwerner told the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) office in Meridian that he would call at 4 pm. He said that if he didn’t call by 4.30pm, they needed to start making some calls to search for the group. When the deadline passed, workers in the Meridian office started to worry, and at 4.45pm, they contacted the Jackson office to tell them the three men had not returned. They called the jail at 5:20 pm to ask if the men had been arrested, but the jailer lied and said there was no one there.
At around 10 pm, Price agreed to release the group but followed them in his car. While the activists were in prison, Edgar Ray Allen, a prominent local Klan member, formed a mob to murder the trio after being told about the arrest by Price. Along with two other cars, Price followed the group along Highway 19 towards Meridian. While one of the cars had carburetor problems, Price had no such problems and caught the group’s vehicle on Highway 492 as it turned west to Union, Mississippi.
He escorted the trio into his car and led them to the lonely intersection of County Roads 515 and 284. It is not known precisely what transpired although later physical evidence suggests that Chaney was badly beaten. The events of the night were revealed by FBI informants James Jordan and Doyle Barnette, both of whom were present at the murders. According to Jordan, Wayne Roberts, a former Marine who suffered the indignity of a dishonorable discharge, killed all three men with shots at point blank range. He supposedly shot Schwerner first, then Goodman and finally, Chaney. Barnette claims that Jordon shot Chaney twice.
The mob took the three bodies to a dam site at the Old Jolly Farm owned by Olen Burrage who reportedly said that he had a dam that would ‘hold a hundred of them’ at a Klan meeting. The bodies were placed together and covered with dirt by a machine. Price returned to his duties and met Sheriff Rainey at approximately 12:30 am. Given the close relationship between the two men, it is almost certain that Price told Rainey everything in detail.
Back at the COFO office in Meridian, the staff had reached panic stations. A call was placed to John Doar of the Justice Department in Mississippi at 12:30 am. The previous week, he had warned the activists that no federal police force could protect them and he feared the worst. By 6 am, Doar had spoken with the FBI about investigating a violation of federal law. The following morning, FBI agent John Proctor, who was based in Meridian, was told about the disappearance and within hours, he was interviewing locals, leaders of the community and Price and Rainey. After the interview with Price, the Deputy offered Proctor a drink and pulled a bottle of illegal liquor of out of the trunk of his car. He was confident that the crime would never be solved; he was partly correct.