By: Davis Houck
After Emmett Till was kidnapped in the early morning hours of Sunday, August 28, his great uncles, Moses Wright and Crosby Smith, informed Leflore County Sheriff, George Smith, of the abduction.
He and his deputy sheriff, John Ed Cothran, both surmised from Wright and Smith, that Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam were involved.
Early Sunday afternoon, Sheriff Smith questioned Bryant at the grocery store in Money. Based on that initial conversation, Smith arrested the 24-year-old shopkeeper on kidnapping charges—even though Bryant claimed that they’d turned the boy loose since he wasn’t the right one. Bryant’s telling admission functioned to do at least three things: first, it placed him and his half-brother at the Wright residence early Sunday morning; second, it gave them motive for kidnap and murder; and third, it implicated Bryant’s wife, Carolyn, as she would be the only person who could successfully identify the boy who supposedly “did the talkin’ at Money.” Milam turned himself in to Smith and Cothran in Greenwood the following day, largely for fear that his half-brother’s loose lips would doom their case.
Many believe that the moment Till’s body was recovered, supposedly on the Tallahatchie County side of the Tallahatchie River, that the case was lost for the prosecution. Even though Smith and Cothran testified for the state during the murder trial, Sheriff H. C. Strider’s testimony for the defense calling in to question the identity of the body, gave the 12 jurors the reason they needed to declare Milam and Bryant not guilty on September 23. Later in November, the two admitted kidnappers were not indicted by a Leflore County grand jury for the abduction of Emmett Till, effectively ending legal action on the case for nearly 50 years.
Smith ran for state representative in 1955 but lost. But nine years after the Till case, Smith ran successfully for his old job as Leflore County Sheriff. He died in 1975 at the age of 73. Interviewed by the Jackson State Times two years after the kidnap and murder in 1957, Smith clearly still felt the sting from the events of 1955: “I hate to even mention the case. . . . Don’t quote me on anything. I don’t want my name ever printed again in connection with the people involved in this case.”