A call from an anonymous source led this reporter to an abandoned desk in the empty foyer of a building somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. I'd been told there would be a "package" waiting there for me. What I found was a rather heavy 8½" x 11" x 6" cardboard box that I quickly picked up before heading for the street.
Back at my hotel, I opened the box and found that it contained more than 900 pages of FBI reports bound by a single rubber band. It was a clean, unredacted copy of the missing FBI file containing hundreds of FBI investigation reports including details of the murders, code-names of anonymous FBI informants and the gut-wrenching details of information about the murders gathered by federal agents in statements from the informants -- especially JN-30R. (A report by Jerry Mitchell, an investigative reporter for the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, inspired our search for the file. Mitchell had previously discovered that the FBI file may have survived when a source provided him with a heavily redacted copy with virtually every name and substantive detail blacked out.)
A painstaking review of the file confirmed that among several FBI informants -- JN-30R had provided by far the most information about the Moore-Dee murders. We began to wonder about his true identity. And we weren't alone. This informant's identity was even a mystery to most FBI investigators who worked the case. Former special agent Jim Ingram told us, "JN-30's information was so crucial and his identity was so secret that even inside the FBI only two people knew his identity -- and they were his two FBI handlers."
During the "20/20" investigation we found that one of the handlers had died, but we found the other, special agent Clarence Prospere, alive, well and living in retirement with his wife only a few miles from the secret places where he gathered intelligence in confidential meetings with JN-30R. Prospere's wife served lemonade on the veranda of their stately home as I asked the octogenarian investigator to reach back across the years and see whether he could remember JN-30R and the Dee/Moore murder case.
"I remember it, all right," he said as I moved to the edge of my seat, rapt in anticipation of hearing the whole story, including the identity of JN-30R. "But I'm not going to talk about it."
It didn't matter that the investigation had been stalled for decades and the original files burned long ago. Prospere was not about to share details of an unsolved case with some television reporter from New York City. Once an FBI agent, always an FBI agent. No one will ever accuse this man of compromising the security of his work -- not in 1964 and not now. He politely told me there was no point in any further discussion, and I left empty-handed.
It was many days later -- long after that fruitless meeting with Prospere -- on my second read through of the file that I noticed something strange. In a couple of Prospere's reports on statements by JN-30R, there was mention of an individual named Ernest Gilbert who'd "overheard" conversations between JN-30R and the Klansmen he named as the killers.
It seemed very odd that a twitchy FBI informant -- who demanded anonymity because he feared for his life -- would allow anyone to eavesdrop as he teased murder confessions out of the mouths of Klansmen.