Who is Mr X in the Mississippi Burning Case?
Mr X, “Unsung Hero” in Slaying of 3 Men
By Jerry Mitchell
June 12, 2005
The secret has endured a decade longer than the identity of “Deep Throat”: Who is Mr X?
Who is the man who told the FBI where the bodies of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were buried in 1964?
Now, more than 40 years later, the secret is revealed: All information leads to no one else but Maynard King, a late Highway Patrol officer from Philadelphia.
Veteran Mississippi journalist Bill Minor compares the news of Mr. X’s identity to the recent admission by W. Mark Felt that he was Deep Throat, the source who helped Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward crack the Watergate case. “It ranks right there at the top (with Deep Throat),” Minor said. “I don’t know anything else to compare it with.”
Former FBI agent Don Cesare, who was involved in handling Klansman turned informant Delmar Dennis in the FBI’s investigation into the trio’s killings, would not reveal Mr. X’s real name, but what he has said leads to no other conclusion than King.
Cesare previously said Mr. X was a Mississippi Highway Patrol officer and that he attended Mr. X’s funeral along with then-FBI agents John Proctor and Joe Sullivan, both of whom are now deceased.
In a recent interview, Cesare confirmed he attended King’s 1966 funeral — the only law enforcement funeral he said he attended in his days in Mississippi. He said Proctor and Sullivan also attended.
Barry Bradford, a history teacher from Adlai Stevenson High School in Illinois, said he spoke with Cesare in January in connection with a National History Day project by his students related to the June 21, 1964, killings, called the Mississippi Burning case by the FBI. (The students represented Illinois at the National History Day finals.)
Bradford said they contacted Cesare in Colorado Springs to learn more about the Mississippi Burning investigation and to determine if Mr. X was alive and, if so, whether he could be a witness in this week’s trial of Edgar Ray Killen.
Bradford said Cesare told him Proctor and Sullivan knew who Mr. X was. Although the two agents never shared the name of Mr. X, “I asked them in such a way that they confirmed my suspicions,” Bradford said Cesare told him.
Cesare described Mr. X as a Mississippi Highway Patrol officer, adding he had attended Mr. X’s funeral along with Proctor and Sullivan, Bradford said. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind. I know who Mr. X was,” Bradford said Cesare told him.
Asked about his conversation with Bradford about Mr. X, Cesare denied telling Bradford he knew who Mr. X was or of sharing any details regarding Mr. X. He said King’s name, however, did come up along with others.
Said Bradford: “Maynard King’s name was never mentioned.”
Philip Dray, co-author of the 1988 book on the case, We Are Not Afraid, said interviews with Cesare, in addition to other clues, make it obvious King was Mr. X.
In this dark chapter of Mississippi history, where the governor called the trio’s disappearances a hoax and where law enforcement played a role in the killings, Maynard King became “one of the unsung heroes of the time,” Dray said. “He’s a man who probably spent several hours figuring this out and wondering, ‘What should I do?’ The fact he chose to do the right thing shows he was very brave.”
King’s family never knew of his role as Mr. X until informed by The Clarion-Ledger, but they say they’re glad to know he played such a positive role.
“It makes you proud of him,” said King’s grandson, John, who lives in Madison. “It gives you a lot of peace of mind to know he did the right thing. I’d like to think if it’d been me, I’d have done the same thing.”
Other clues reinforce the fact King was Mr. X.
Proctor told Dray and his co-author Seth Cagin that Mr. X was “an officer of the law in Neshoba County” who acted as an intermediary for a Neshoba County citizen who knew where the bodies were buried.
The book also said King shared a list of Klansmen with Sullivan, who headed the Mississippi Burning investigation.
In an interview before his death in 2002, Sullivan confirmed Mr. X was an intermediary, passing on information from a citizen. “He was the only one from Neshoba (County) who talked,” he said.
After King died of a heart attack on Sept. 8, 1966, King’s widow received a consoling letter from then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, saying he was sad to hear of the loss of an officer of King’s quality.
King worked at the Highway Patrol office in Meridian, a few miles from Sullivan’s room at the Holiday Inn North, where the Hampton Inn is now located.
Sullivan said he first met Mr. X at the June 23, 1964, gathering of law enforcement officers and volunteers to search for the missing trio.
King developed a close relationship with Sullivan, who described Mr. X as a friend.
When the search failed, Sullivan turned to Mr. X for help. “I’d touch base with him, or he’d touch base with me,” Sullivan said. “I’d give him questions and if he had answers, we’d meet.”
They often met in a remote location, he said. “We’d meet out in the open, or we’d meet on the street corner or somewhere where we weren’t under observation.”
He said Mr. X would share information about the Klan or information such as “whose neighbors were friendly with who.”
As the relationship between agent and informant deepened, Sullivan said he invited Mr. X to come by and see him.
That happened the night of June 30, 1964.
Contrary to books that have portrayed this meeting as taking place in a motel room, Sullivan said the pair actually met over dinner at the restaurant in the Holiday Inn.
Sullivan called Mr. X “a steak man.” (Former radio operator Robert McQueen of Meridian recalled King loving steaks so much he often grilled them outside the Highway Patrol office.)
Sullivan wouldn’t reveal much of his conversation that night other than to say Mr. X told him at one point the bodies of the trio were buried deep inside a dam on the Old Jolly Farm in Neshoba County.
Sullivan never said whether King was Mr. X, but called the highway patrolman “a good police officer, an upfront legitimate police officer. He was neighborly with all of Neshoba Countians. He was not a klucker.”
King held similar respect for the FBI agent.
According to family members, King called Sullivan “the smartest guy I ever met in my life.”
Despite the revelation of King’s role, one secret remains — the name of the Neshoba County citizen who gave King the information on where the trio’s bodies were buried. “That one,” John King said, “I’m afraid we’ll never know.”