Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mississippi Madness: The Story of Emmett Till


Over the next few days, things were quite normal in Money, Mississippi. Workers picked their cotton and farmers tended their crops under a scorching August sun. Roy Bryant returned home from Florida on Friday the 28th and went about his business as usual. However, rumors about Till's foolish bravado circulated, especially among blacks. People were amazed at the Chicago boy's brazenness, which they knew would only get him into trouble. Carolyn Bryant, though, had kept the information to herself.

But late in the afternoon, one of Bryant's customers came into the store and told Roy that a teenager from Chicago insulted his wife. The informer, who was a local black, may have been motivated by his resentment of Emmett's cockiness. He said the boy was staying with his uncle, Preacher Wright. Roy confronted Carolyn who quickly owned up to the truth. Such a serious matter could not go unpunished, he told her. That afternoon, Roy spoke with one of his half brothers, J.W. Milam, a World War II veteran and known as a man to be reckoned with. Milam was 6'4", and 235 pounds. He won several medals in the war for killing the enemy and was trained in hand-to-hand combat.

"I want you to come over early in the morning," Roy told J.W., "I need a little transportation." When he repeated what Carolyn had told him, J.W. quickly agreed.

"I'll be there early," he replied.

At about 2:00 a.m., J.W. arrived at Bryant's grocery. They left the store and began the two-mile drive over to Preacher Wright's home. Roy was carrying a .45 caliber Colt automatic handgun. A few minutes later, the angry men were banging on Wright's front door. According to an interview, which Milam and Bryant gave to Look magazine in 1956, the following conversation transpired.

"Who's that?" the preacher called out in the darkness.

"Mr. Bryant from Money, Preacher!" replied Roy.

"All right, suh. Just a minute." In moments, Moses Wright appeared at the door.

Rev. Moses Wright
Rev. Moses Wright

"Preacher," said Bryant, "You got a boy from Chicago here?" Moses replied that he did. He saw that J.W. Milam had a pistol in one hand and a flashlight in the other.

"I want to talk to him!" demanded Bryant.

"Yes suh," Moses said, "I'll go get him." He already knew why the men were there because neighbors had told them about the confrontation in the grocery store. "I wants that boy who done that talk at Money!" Milam told Wright. Emmett was asleep in the back room with his young cousin, Curtis Jones. "My grandmother was scared to death," Jones said years later, "She was trying to protect Bo. They told her to get back in bed." When Emmett was awakened, the men made him put his clothes on.

"If he's not the right boy," one of the men said, "we are going to bring him back and put him in the bed." But Moses didn't believe him. They marched the confused boy out the front door and forced him into Milam's pick-up truck. Moses stood on his front porch and watched the men drive off. "I saw the outline of a car disappear into the dark," he testified later, "its lights were on. I stood on the porch for 20 minutes, but they didn't come back."

Emmett Till was never seen alive again.

We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'