Cold case now hot debate
An author wonders about Charlie Crist's motive in investigating 1951 murders.
By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published October 10, 2006
TALLAHASSEE - Attorney General Charlie Crist tried to solve the coldest of cold murder cases in Florida, saying he was seeking justice. A critic says he was playing politics.
Civil rights leader Harry T. Moore and his wife, Harriette, were murdered when a bomb tore apart their house in Mims on Christmas night 1951. The killers have never been brought to justice, and Crist's lengthy inquiry into the case has resulted in as many questions as answers.
After a nearly two-year investigation, Crist, the Republican nominee for governor, stopped just short of declaring the case solved. He said in August that "extensive circumstantial evidence" points to a conspiracy by four members of the Ku Klux Klan, all of whom are long dead.
"We believe a clear picture has emerged as to what happened," he said in releasing his findings.
It is anything but clear to Moore's biographer, Ben Green, widely regarded as an expert on Moore's life and death.
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With the trail now more than a half-century old, Green is not sure who killed the Moores, but he calls Crist's findings "deeply flawed." He says the report by the attorney general and Florida Department of Law Enforcement contains mistakes and misinterpretations of details in old FBI reports.
"They didn't solve it. They didn't do anything new," said Green, author of Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America's First Civil Rights Martyr.
"I respectfully disagree," Crist said. "I have faith and confidence in our investigators."
The four men named in Crist's report are Earl Brooklyn, Tillman Belvin, James Cox and Edward Spivey.
Green said Spivey was a notorious drunk whose information was not credible. He said Spivey also raises conflict-of-interest questions because the tipster who named him, seeking a $25,000 reward in the case, was a retired police detective who worked on the Moore case in the 1970s.
Green produced a four-page table listing 38 specific inaccuracies in the attorney general's report.
"All in all, I am sadly disappointed by the mistakes, both in research and interpretation, that were made in this investigation," Green wrote in a lengthy critique of the Crist report.
Central Florida Crimeline, which offered the reward, declined to issue it, concluding that there had been no new developments.
One person with nothing but praise for Crist's work is the Moores' youngest daughter and only surviving family member, Evangeline Moore, 76, who lives in a suburb of Washington.
"I felt like a burden had been lifted from my shoulders, because I have been trying to get justice done to those who murdered my parents," Moore told Florida Public Radio. "I wanted to know who they were, whether they were alive or dead, and I want the whole world to know their names."
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Floridians may hear more from Evangeline Moore in this election season. Crist's campaign recently dispatched a camera crew to her home in Maryland for film footage for an ad.
With the help of St. Petersburg lawyer Darryl Rouson, a Crist supporter, and others, Moore agreed to be filmed reading the thank you she sent Crist, expressing gratitude to him for reopening the case.
To Green, the filming shows Crist saw a direct political benefit to intervening in the case.
Moore, who has stopped giving interviews, declined to comment, and referred all questions to her son, Skip Pagan.
Pagan said the ad was not intended as an endorsement of Crist's candidacy. To defuse the controversy, Pagan said Crist recently called his mother and said he would not run the ad if she had misgivings about it being shown.
"That speaks to me of character," Pagan said of Crist. "He didn't have to do that. He could have said a deal's a deal. ... I think she's going to lean toward having them release that."
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Green said he agonized over going public with his criticism of the report out of respect for Evangeline Moore and for Allison Bethel, who runs Crist's civil rights division.
But he said he was concerned after hearing secondhand reports that he was upset at not being hired as a paid consultant on the investigation.
In fact, Green said, he was approached by Crist's office, but he was working on another book and could not afford to spend months away from his family.
Green said in an interview that Bethel considered the report flawed. He said she expressed doubts to him about it.
"She backpedaled in every possible way," Green said. "She said, 'You'll notice my name is not on the report.' "
Bethel did not directly deny Green's statement. She said she had concerns over whether the tone of the report's narrative would be from the perspective of a lawyer or police investigators.
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Years before Brown vs. Board of Education or the Montgomery bus boycott, Harry Moore was a major force in the civil rights movement in Florida.
He organized NAACP chapters across the state, urged blacks to register to vote and fearlessly demanded justice from an overtly racist white power structure.
Moore was 46 when the bomb exploded underneath his home with a force so great that he and his wife were hurled against the ceiling on their 25th wedding anniversary.
Evangeline Moore remains grateful for Crist's efforts.
"Those are true and honest results," she told Florida Public Radio. "Dad was the first civil rights martyr in the United States."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at email@example.com or 850 224-7263.