Collection Title: Helfrich (Robert B.) Papers
Collection Number: M410
Dates: ca. 1966 - 2001
Volume: ca. 22 cubic feet
Provenance: This collection was donated by Hon. Robert B. Helfrich in March of 2003.
Restrictions: Available for research use by the serious student and scholar.
Copyright: This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).
In 1998 three former Ku Klux Klan members were arrested in connection with the 1966 murder of Vernon F. Dahmer, Sr. of Forrest County, Mississippi. Two of these men went to trial, prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Robert B. Helfrich. One trial ended in the conviction of Sam Bowers, the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The other trial, concerning Charles Noble an alleged accomplice to the murder, ended in a mistrial.
Vernon F. Dahmer, Sr. was a successful businessman who owned a store, a sawmill, a planing mill, and commercially farmed cotton on 300 acres. Mr. Dahmer and his wife, Ellie Jewell Davis Dahmer, had eight children, seven sons and one daughter. The Dahmer’s home was located on a 200-acre farm in north Forrest County that was part of the Kelly Settlement. During the 1960s Mr. Dahmer served as president of the Forrest County Chapter, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He also played a significant role in leading voter registration drives, and in 1965 he allowed African Americans to pay their poll tax and register to vote in his grocery store.
On January 10, 1966 the home and business of Vernon F. Dahmer, Sr. was firebombed and burned to the ground. Two carloads of men believed to be associated with the Ku Klux Klan carried out this attack on the Dahmer residence, armed with shotguns and 12 gallons of gasoline. Mr. Dahmer managed to save his three children that were in the home, his wife, and an aunt by remaining in the burning house firing his own gun out the front window at the attackers. As a result Mr. Dahmer died in Forrest General hospital on January 11, 1966.
Thirteen men, who were allegedly connected with the Ku Klux Klan, were eventually brought to trial in the late 1960s on charges that ranged from conspiracy to intimidate, to arson and murder. At that time, however, only four of the men were convicted and one entered a guilty plea.
In the late 1990s three men, Sam Bowers, Charles Noble, and Deavours Nix, were arrested again in connection with the Dahmer murder. Sam Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, had previously been tried four times for the crimes committed on the Dahmer family, however each trial ended in a mistrial. Although Bowers was not present at the attack on the Dahmer home in 1966, he was accused of having ordered the attack to take place. In August of 1998, Bowers was tried for the fifth time in connection with the Dahmer murder, and this time he was convicted of murder and arson and received a sentence of life in prison.
Charles Noble was tried in connection with the Dahmer murder in 1999, however his trial ended in a mistrial. Deavours Nix died before his trial took place.
Contents of Collection
M250 Dahmer (Vernon F.) Collection
State of Mississippi Twelfth Circuit Court District Forest and Perry Counties
Retrieved on March 30, 2005 from http://www.12thcircuitcourtms.com/judge.html.
Scope and Content:
Robert B. Helfrich was the prosecuting attorney in both the 1998 Sam Bowers trial and the 1999 Charles Noble trial that took place in Mississippi. Mr. Helfrich received his undergraduate degree from George Mason University and his Juris Doctorate from the University of Mississippi in 1985. In January 2003 Mr. Helfrich began his appointment as Circuit Court Judge for the Twelfth Circuit Court District in Mississippi. The materials in this collection consist of the documentation and evidence that Mr. Helfrich researched and collected to prepare for the Bowers and Noble court cases. The collection is arranged into six series:
Series I FBI Files (ca. 1966)
Series II State v. Charles Noble
Series III Helfrich Subject Files
Series IV Created Subject Files
Series V Notebooks
Series VI Photographic Exhibits
Series I: FBI Files (ca. 1966)
Series I contains files received by Robert Helfrich from the FBI during his research for the 1998 Sam Bowers trial and 1999 Charles Noble trial. The bulk of these files are unredacted, although certain pages do contain names or other sensitive material that has been blacked out. This series is divided into two Subseries:
Subseries 1: FBI Files 157
Subseries 2: FBI Files 44-1512
Subseries 1: FBI Files 157 consists of FBI Files on 16 different individuals who were investigated for their involvement in the 1966 Dahmer firebombing. Many of the files include statements made by the individuals, or statements made by informants about the individuals; descriptions of crimes associated with the Ku Klux Klan; and details of the individuals’ roles in Klan activities including the Dahmer firebombing. Subseries 1 is arranged alphabetically by the individuals’ last names.
Subseries 2: FBI Files 44-1512 is entitled “Daburn.” This extensive FBI record concerns the Dahmer burning (coded by the FBI as Daburn). These files contain information related to and concerning the murder of Vernon F. Dahmer Sr. and the burning of his home and business that was uncovered by the FBI investigation in 1966. Subseries 2 is arranged numerically by volume number.
Series II: State v. Charles Noble
Series II focuses on the 1999 Charles Noble murder trail. This series contains audiocassette recordings of statements from several witnesses, including a statement made by Billy Roy Pitts (1998). The FBI File 157 on Charles Noble is in this series, as well as documents from the State of Mississippi vs. Charles Noble trial (1999). Newspaper clippings concerning the Dahmer murder trials (1966; 1968-1969; 1991-1994; undated) and some crime scene evidence photographs are also in this series. Additional information about Noble’s trial is found in other series as well.
Series III: Helfrich Subject Files
Series III contains files designated by Assistant D.A. Robert Helfrich during his research in preparation for the 1998 Sam Bowers trial and 1999 Charles Noble trial. Included in this series are selected pages from the larger 1966 FBI Files of the individuals associated with the Dahmer case and the notes that Mr. Helfrich made during his analysis of the files. Mr. Helfrich has included newspaper clippings (1966; 1969; 1998; undated); crime scene evidence, including photographs and lab reports; jury information; and cross-examination materials from the Noble trial.
Series IV: Created Subject Files
Series IV contains subject files created to accommodate unfoldered and unlabeled materials. This series includes a transcript from the Sam Bowers trial (1998) and video news footage of his arrest. Also contained in this series is an undated video entitled “Crimes of the Klan / Pride & the Fall / Nail Fils.” This series contains the mugshots of Bowers, Nix and Noble from their 1998 arrests and newspaper clippings related to both the Bowers and Noble trials (ca. May 29, 1998 – June 20, 1999; March 16, 1999 – January 23, 2001). Briefs concerning Byron de la Beckwith's unsuccessful 1994 appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court can be found in this series as well. Beckwith was convicted of the 1963 murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers.
Series V: Notebooks
Series V contains the contents of 25 different three ring binders arranged in alphabetical order according to the title found on each notebook. The notebooks contain documentation and reports of the 1966 Dahmer firebombing for preparation of the late 1990s trials.
Series VI: Photographic Exhibits
Series VI contains 22 different 13” X 17” matted photographs that were used as photographic exhibits during the Dahmer murder trials. The photographs are documentation of the evidence found on the Dahmer property in 1966 after the firebombing. Included are photographs of the property before it was burned and several photographs of the property in ruins after the burning. See Photograph Log for more details.
M250 Dahmer (Vernon F.) Collection.
M404 Dukes (William) FBI Scrapbook.
Other Finding Aids:
Box and Folder List