Baxley Reopens Probe of Birmingham Bombing

Witness Identified Man Seen Near Blast

Chambliss Jury Was Stuck At 11-1 Till Finally: Guilty

Baxley Declares Four Men Are Still Sought In Church Bombing

Elizabeth Cobbs/Pete Smith


Montgomery Advertiser   2-19-76

"We know who did it," Alabama Atty. Gen. Bill Baxley said Wednesday as he confirmed that he has reopened the investigation of a church bombing that killed four young black girls in Birmingham in 1963.

Baxley said in an interview with Birmingham radio station hat the list of suspects had been narrowed down, but he declined to predict if or when arrests would be made.

He said premature published reports about the investigation might have hurt.

"There are some people in Jefferson County who ought to be pretty nervous right now," Baxley said in an earlier telephone interview.

The Sunday, Sept. 15, 1963, dynamite blast at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church occurred during the time of racial demonstrations led by the late Martin Luther King. Twenty-three other people in the church were hurt and debris was scattered for blocks.

Baxley later confirmed that he had talked to Rowe, and he was cooperative, "But we were working on this thing long before that. We had a lot of stuff already. Rowe was just another person we interviewed."

He said Rowe didn't give him a list of names as such, "but nine is too many."

Baxley repeated that he had no timetable for possible arrests.

Meanwhile, Gov. George Wallace, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination in Massachusetts, told a Boston radio station, "They ought to knock the bottom out of hell for anyone convicted of the bombing."

Baxley said Birmingham police were aiding the new investigation. Published reports said Baxley had obtained report on FBI probes of the bombing incident.

A Birmingham newspaper said Baxley had a list of nine persons allegedly connected with the bombing, but the attorney general would not confirm it.

The newspaper said one-time FBI informer Gary Thomas Rowe gave the names to Baxley before Rowe appeared before a U.S. Senate committee in December.

The newspaper said Rowe's lawyer, Frank Gerdes of San Diego, Calif.; confirmed that Rowe met with Baxley, but refused to say what the men discussed.

Rowe told the Senate committee that he was an FBI informer in Birmingham during the racial strife of the early 1970s. He alleged that law officers gave a group of Ku Klux Klan members 15 minutes to assault "freedom rider" at a bus station before officers intervened.

After that testimony, City Councilman Richard Arrington asked the Council to reopen the investigation of the church bombing. Vann asked the FBI for its files on the incident. A city spokesman said the files have never been received.

Neice.jpg (24756 bytes)

The Birmingham News - Nov. 16, 1977

....Mrs. Glenn said that FBI agents showed her pictures and the man and the car were among them.

In later testimony, former FBI agent Timothy M. Casey identified the pictures as being those of Robert Chambliss, as he looked in 1963, and a car which belonged to a man who was a fellow Klansman from the same Klavern as Chambliss', according to earlier testimony.

Mrs. Glenn said she picked the pictures from a large group of photos shown to her on three different occasions by FBI agents in 1963.

A NORTH BIRMINGHAM woman also testified today. Mrs. Yvonne Young said she visited the Chambliss home about two weeks before the church blast and saw some unusual objects in a back room there when she accidentally went through the wrong door.

Mrs. Young said she was talking with Chambliss' wife and asked to go to the restroom. Mrs. Young said she went to a door she believed to be the restroom, but when she opened it, Chambliss became very angry and "scolded me like a child."

Inside that room, she testified, she saw "three or four bundles that looked like oversized firecrackers bound together by masking tape."

Mrs. Cobb testified that she was at the home of Chambliss the Saturday before the bombing.

"There had been an incident the night before where a black youth cut a white woman with a knife," said Mrs. Cobbs, who is an ordained minister.

"I brought up the subject, and Robert became very angry."

Mrs. Cobbs testified Chambliss told her if he'd had his way, he would have had the "niggers" under control "a long time ago,". She quoted him as saying that he had been "fighting a one-man war since 1942."

She said the former city mechanic then left the house to buy a newspaper. When he returned, she said, he became even angrier after reading an account of the knife incident they had discussed earlier.

"He said if he'd been there that man would have never gotten away with it," said Mrs. Cobbs flatly. "Then he said he had enough stuff to flatten half of Birmingham."

The dark-haired Birmingham woman said she asked Chambliss what good violence might do, and he laid the newspaper flat on the table, speaking in "threatening, intense, intimidating" tones.

"You wait until after Sunday (the day the church blast occurred)." she testified Chambliss said. "They'll beg us to let them segregate."

Mrs. Cobbs said she asked what he meant by that statement, and Chambliss replied, "You just wait and see."

About a week later, Mrs. Cobbs testified, she again visited the Chambliss home and found Chambliss watching a television program about the bombing. When watching the show, he said, "It went off at the wrong time. No one was suppose to get hurt."

Cantrell testified that Chambliss had discussed making sophisticated fuses for dynamite bombs.

"A fella once told me how to make a drip method bomb using a float fishing bobber and a bucket with a hole in it," Cantrell testified Chambliss said.

The state also called another witness, William Jackson, a barber at a local motel. Jackson said in 1963 he mentioned to a friend that he would like to join the Ku Klux Klan. He said the friend got him in touch with Chambliss.

About a week before the church explosion, Jackson said he was invited to a meeting on the Cahaba River which he understood was a recruiting session for the Klan. Jackson testified the meeting seemed to be headed by Thomas E. Blanton and Chambliss.

Then, he said, the night before the church explosion, he saw Chambliss and Blanton at the Modern Sign Co. only a few blocks away from the church.

He said the two men and the owner of the shop were printing Confederate flags and bumper stickers. Jackson testified he left the shop about 10:30 p.m. but that Chambliss and Blanton remained behind.

by Ron Casey
Birmingham News - Nov. 19, 1977

The trial was over. Crowds of spectators and newsmen filed from the courtroom, some rushing for telephones, others smiling or tight-lipped in disbelief.

A group of deputies encircled Robert E. Chambliss, who had just been convicted of the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, and, as they had several times before, led him off to jail. But this time, he apparently was going to jail for the rest of his life.

Chambliss, 73, was convicted by a jury on a charge of first degree murder in the death of Denise McNair, one of the four victims of the blast.

The vote was 11 to 1 for conviction almost as soon as the jury went behind closed doors about 4:30 p.m. Thursday to decide Chambliss' fate.

The one juror reportedly was still holding out, undecided, when the foreman knocked on the door about 9 p.m. Thursday and told the bailiff the jury was ready to call it quits, to go to the motel and to bed. It wasn't until about 10:30 Friday morning the mind of that juror was made up.

When a poll was taken shortly after the foreman read the verdict, all 12 men and women answered their vote was "guilty."

Birmingham News - Dec. 29, 1977

A 73-year-old former Ku Klux Klan member has been convicted of murder in the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church, but Alabama's attorney general says he's still seeking up to four men involved in the blast that killed four girls.

Appearing on NBC's Tonight Show, Bill Baxley told Wednesday of his seven-year search for Robert Chambliss who was convicted of murder last month.

"I was in law school at the time (of the bombing) and it was a traumatic experience to me that such a horrible thing happened in my state," Baxley said, "I thought that someday I might have a chance to do something about it."

He was elected attorney general in 19970.

"In early 1971," he said, "we started the investigation and spent a couple of years tracking down the wrong people. It took a long time to get the FBI reports. We got them late in 1975."

Baxley told television host Tom Snyder, "I was frustrated at some points and very angry at the FBI. But looking back on it I can understand a little bit their hesitancy. They had some informants they had to protect.

"They'd had some bad experiences in the South of information being leaked back to the very people they were investigating. Even after we convinced them we were after justice, there were bureaucratic problems."

Baxley said he has been getting hate mail since the Chambliss conviction, but that more of it came from California than from Alabama.

He also said he has gotten extradition papers signed by the governor of Georgia to bring to trial J.D. Stoner on charges of bombing another black Birmingham church in 1958. No one was injured in that explosion.

But he added that even with the papers, "we can't get him out of Cobb County. He went to court in Marietta and got a judge to issue an order preventing them from sending him back.

If he can't get Stoner extradited, Baxley said, "we'll send our warrants to every surrounding county and confine him to that county for the rest of his life."

Baxley, in his late 30s, has completed two terms as attorney general and under Alabama law, cannot run again. He plans to campaign for governor next year for the post George Wallace is vacating.

Note: Elizabeth Cobbs/Pete Smith died Feb. 6, 1998

Birmingham, AL: 10 Feb 98] PETE SMITH, WHOSE testimony against his Klu Klux Klansman uncle, Robert Chambliss, led to the only conviction in the 1963 bombing that killed 4 black girls, died of lung cancer at 57.

The AP reports that, at the 1977 trial, Smith was a woman, Elizabeth Cobbs, and a Methodist minister. She testified that she was with Chambliss as he watched TV reports that Sunday morning of the bombing and heard him say, "It wasn't supposed to hurt anybody. It didn't go off when it was supposed to." Chambliss, found guilty of murder in the bombing, died in prison in 1985.

Smith underwent sexual reassignment surgery in 1981. He published an autobiography in 1994 naming dozens of people he suggested might have been involved in the bombing. Federal investigators have long believed that at least 4 men were involved. They reopened the case last summer. U.S. Attorney Doug Jones said that Smith's death will not affect the investigation.

ORDER - Long Time Coming : An Insider's Story of the Birmingham
Church Bombing That Rocked the World by Elizabeth H. Cobbs, Petric J. Smith

Review of the book 'Long Time Coming'

Birmingham 1963

Chambliss - Eye Witness Account

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