Unique way of solving mystery
December 1, 1998
When three civil rights workers were reported missing and probably murdered near Philadelphia, Miss., in 1964, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover sought out an unusual person for help.
Gregory Scarpa Sr. was an up-and-coming New York City mobster whose reputation as a ruthless hitman would eventually earn him the nickname The Killing Machine.
Scarpa agreed to travel secretly to Mississippi after FBI agents had spent several fruitless months searching for the bodies of the three young men, and their killers.
When he arrived, FBI agents told him that an appliance store owner in Philadelphia, Miss., reportedly a member of the Ku Klux Klan, had information on where the three civil rights workers were buried, but he refused to talk.
Conventional interview techniques had failed. So Scarpa decided to buy a TV.
When he stopped by the appliance store at closing time to pick it up, he threw the stores owner into the trunk of his car. He then took him to a shack and alternately beat him and threatened him for three days. Finally, Scarpa placed a revolver in the mans mouth, and assured him that hed blow his head off if he didnt disclose where the bodies were buried.
The man talked.
A team of FBI agents using bulldozers dug up the decomposing bodies beneath 17 feet of red Mississippi clay in an earthen dam.
Seven men were eventually charged with federal civil rights violations related to the murder.
This bizarre chapter in American crime-fighting didnt end with the arrests. Scarpa returned to his life of crime in New York City and eventually initiated a killing spree in a fight for control of the infamous Colombo crime family in 1992.
Court papers related to that war show that, from the time he left Mississippi, Scarpa maintained his close ties with the FBI.