The Justice Department is closing its investigation into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, whose abduction and vicious assault united the civil rights movement, the department announced Monday.
Till’s surviving family members were informed of the decision in Chicago by Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, chief of the department’s Civil Rights Division.
Till, a Black 14-year-old, was abducted after Carolyn Donham, a white shopkeeper in the town of Money, Mississippi, said the teenager had grabbed and whistled at her.
The woman’s then-husband and another man were charged with murder, but both were acquitted by an all-white jury that year.
Months after the trial, Look magazine published an account of the killing it said it had obtained from Donham’s then-husband, Roy Bryant, and his brother, J.W. Milam. In the article, the men admitted beating Till and tossing him in a river near Money, weighed down with a 74-pound cotton gin fan.
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Justice reopened the investigation in 2017, after reports in a book that Donham had recanted her account about the encounter with Till.
The Justice announcement Monday did not refer to Donham by name, but indicated that the witness “denied to the FBI that she ever recanted her testimony and provided no information beyond what was uncovered during the previous federal investigation.”
“Although lying to the FBI is a federal offense, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she lied to the FBI…,” the Justice statement said.
Although Justice said the book’s author “represented that he had recorded two interviews with (the woman), he provided the FBI with only one recording, which did not contain any recantation. In addition, although an assistant transcribed the two recordings, neither transcript contained the alleged recantation.”
Till’s death rocked the country and served as a unifying spark for the civil rights movement when the teenager’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted on an open-casket funeral, exposing her son’s mutilated body.