First-Person History ›

Secrets Die and are Buried Forever / Nick Ehrhardt

Secrets Die and are Buried Forever

Surely we all take secrets to the grave, but let’s face it, some are more far-reaching than others, even having an impact on the public, on policy and on history.

Two obituaries in the past week illustrate this with more irony than usual as the deceased men’s lives most certainly overlapped in ways we may never completely understand. Individually, each has been buried with information we may never know more about. And, interestingly, we do know a little something about the history they played roles in because of two well-known movies that involved their eras.

Cartha D. “Deke” DeLoach (Photo via Island Packet)
Cartha D. “Deke” DeLoach
(Island Packet)

Cartha D. “Deke” DeLoach, 92, died March 13, 2013, on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, not far from his birthplace in Claxton, Georgia. He had retired to the coastal island after a 28-year career with the FBI – the youngest applicant to become an agent – and then as vice president of PepsiCo, Inc. where he served for 15 years. But of course it is his years with the FBI that hold the most intrigue.

As deputy director under J. Edgar Hoover, DeLoach supervised the investigation that helped convict James Earl Ray for the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., according to an obituary that ran in the Island Packet on Hilton Head. He “was the last surviving member of Hoover's exclusive inner circle, a trusted deputy and personal confidant,” the paper reported. “He is credited with giving one of the most authentic accounts ever written about the FBI, a book titled Hoover's FBI: The Inside Story by Hoover's Trusted Lieutenant.”

Despite what he revealed in the book – and in a three-hour meeting with Leonardo DiCaprio who played Hoover in the 2011 film J. Edgar – it is likely DeLoach, third in command at the FBI, knew more about his former boss that he never told.

Additionally, in 1964, DeLoach was the one who alerted President Lyndon Johnson about the three bodies of civil rights workers been found near Philadelphia, Mississippi. Here’s where the two men’s lives overlap.

That case, which led to the manslaughter conviction of Klansman Edgar Ray Killen, took place on farm property owned by Olen Burrage who died at 82 in Meridian, Mississippi on March 15. The federal government indicted 18 men for violating the men’s civil rights after local prosecutors did not charge anyone with the murders. Only former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen was convicted of manslaughter in 2005. Burrage was one of eight acquitted, but there were always suspicions that he must have known what was taking place on his property.

The murders and what followed became the acclaimed 1988 film Mississippi Burning.

After Burrage died last week, Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter at the Clarion-Ledger wrote: “Burrage’s insistence he knew nothing made some who knew him doubt his tale. ‘You wouldn’t bury a dead animal on somebody’s property without permission,’ one Philadelphia resident assured me.’” Mitchell called Burrage to press the question – “How could a bunch of Klansmen have slipped onto your property in the dead of night, run a bulldozer and buried three bodies 15 feet down without you hearing or knowing something?" – but Burrage hung up on him. “What I heard instead was a click, followed by a dial tone."

Whatever secrets he might have had, are buried with him forever now.


Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has been a reporter with Newsday, writer for CNN, and Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief."