Robert B. Helfrich Papers
Scope and Contents
Primarily materials relating to the 1998 trial of former Ku Klux Klan wizard Sam Bowers and the 1999 trial of Charles Noble for the murder of civil rights activist Vernon F. Dahmer, Sr. in 1966. Included are copies of F.B.I Files of the 1966 investigation, trial notebooks, background information on various Klan members, subject files, trial exhibits, newspaper clippings and other materials.
- circa 1966-2001
- Helfrich, Robert B., Judge (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
Noncirculating; available for research.
Conditions Governing Use
This collection may be protected from unauthorized copying by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code).
Biographical / Historical
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.
22 Cubic Feet
Language of Materials
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 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.
Existence and Location of Copies
For Digitized Materials from this collection, see: External Documents link at bottom of page.
M410-2 Dahmer Grocery after burning 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of where Dahmer Grocery once stood in the foreground still smoking from the fire. The site of the Dahmer home can be seen in the background, with a burned car and only the chimney standing. (Box 45, Folder 3)
M410-3 Dahmer car and home after burning 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of Dahmer car where carport once stood. Burned ruins of the Dahmer home still smoking with only the chimney left standing. (Box 45, Folder 4)
M410-4 Dahmer home after burning 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of ruin left of Dahmer home after firebombing, only chimney is left standing. In the foreground are piles of bricks. In the background (left) burned car with doors, hood and trunk open, and (right) four unidentified men. (Box 45, Folder 5)
M410-5 Dahmer home after burning 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of ruins of Dahmer home after burning, only chimney left standing in the center. Remnants of a burned mattress in foreground; a burned stove and refrigerator can also be seen. Dahmer’s burned car with hood up and doors ajar in the background. (Box 46, Folder 1 )
M410-6 Dahmer property after burning 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of Dahmer car pushed from where carport once stood, doors ajar and hood open. Ruins from house in foreground, burned stove and refrigerator. In the background are the area where Dahmer Grocery once stood (left) and three unidentified individuals. (Box 46, Folder 2)
M410-7 Dahmer Grocery after burning 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of Dahmer Grocery after burning; gas pump and Barq’s Dahmer Grocery signage still standing. Three unidentified men stand in background (left) with a car. (Box 46, Folder 3)
M410-8 Dahmer property after burning 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of Dahmer property after burning. In foreground the burned ruin of a tin structure (right). In background only a chimney where the house once stood and a burned car. Two unidentified men are seen in background. (Box 46, Folder 4)
M410-9 Dahmer home after burning 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of where Dahmer home once stood, only the chimney is left standing. (Box 46, Folder 5)
M410-10 Front view of truck with broken windshield 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of hood and windshield of the truck that was at the Dahmer property the night of the burning. The windshield is broken in several spots. (Box 47, Folder 1)
M410-11 Rear view of truck with broken back window 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of the broken rear window and two bullet holes in the bed of the truck that was on the Dahmer property the night of the burning. (Box 47, Folder 2)
M410-12 Broken truck window on passenger side door 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of the broken passenger’s side door window with bullet hole in door of the truck on Dahmer property the night of the burning. (Box 47, Folder 3)
M410-13 Bed of truck on Dahmer property after burning 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of the bed of the truck on the Dahmer property the night of the burning. Photograph taken at scene to show basket, tubing, cardboard box, bucket, hay, and a white plastic jug in the bed. Windows of truck are broken and there are some bullet holes visible in the truck. (Box 47, Folder 4)
M410-14 Rear view of Ford Galaxie 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Rear view of a Ford Galaxie found near Dahmer property after burning. Other car in photo is unidentified. (Box 47, Folder 5)
M410-15 Flat tire on Ford Galaxie 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of a flat tire on the Ford Galaxie found near Dahmer property after burning. (Box 47, Folder 6)
M410-16 Flat tire on vehicle 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Close-up photograph of a flat tire on a vehicle. Vehicle identification unknown. (Box 47, Folder 7)
M410-17 Ford Galaxie without tires 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of Ford Galaxie without tires taken at a salvage yard. Car is held off the ground by paint cans. (Box 48, Folder 1)
M410-18 Passenger side door of Ford Galaxie 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph taken in salvage yard of the passenger side door of a Ford Galaxie. The car has no tires, but is up on paint cans. (Box 48, Folder 2)
M410-19 Right rear fender of Ford Galaxie 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph taken at a salvage yard of the right rear fender of a Ford Galaxie. (Box 48, Folder 3)
M410-20 .22 caliber revolver with evidence tag 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of a .22 caliber magnum revolver that was found on the Dahmer property the night of the burning (1/10/1966). Gun is pointing to the right. Photograph includes evidence tag with descriptive details. (Box 48, Folder 4)
M410-21 .22 caliber revolver with ruler 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of .22 caliber revolver pointing right with ruler showing a measurement of 11 inches. This revolver was found on the Dahmer property the night of the burning. (Box 48, Folder 5)
M410-22 .22 caliber revolver with ruler and brush 13 X 17 B&W 1966 Photograph of .22 caliber revolver pointing left with ruler and small paintbrush. This revolver was found on the Dahmer property the night of the burning. (Box 48, folder 6)
M410-23 Sons of Vernon Dahmer 8 ½ X 11 B&W 1966 Photograph of Vernon Dahmer’s sons all in uniform, looking at ruins left of their father’s home after it was burned to the ground. Group identification from left to right: Sgt. George W. Dahmer (US Army); Sgt. Martinez A. Dahmer (US Air Force); M. Sgt. Vernon F. Dahmer Jr. (US Air Force); and Sgt. Alvin H. Dahmer (US Army). (Box 45, Folder 1)
M410-24 Billy Roy Pitts at podium 8 ½ X 11 B&W ca. 1966 Billy Roy Pitts standing at a podium with microphones, behind him several flags are hung in display. Four unidentified men are seated behind podium. (Box 45, Folder 1)
M410-25 Tire track in dirt 3 ½ X 5 B&W 1966 Photograph of a tire track found on the Dahmer property after the burning. (Box 24, Folder 13)
M410-26 Tire track in dirt 3 ½ X 5 B&W 1966 Photograph of a tire track found on the Dahmer property after the burning. (Box 24, Folder 13)
M410-27 Tire marks in dirt 3 ½ X 5 B&W 1966 Photograph taken of car tracks in the dirt on the Dahmer property after the burning. (Box 24, Folder 13)
M410-28 Plastic jug from the bed of Dahmer’s truck 3 ½ X 5 B&W 1966 Plastic jug found in the bed of the truck on Dahmer property after burning. The jug reads: “Marrow’s Mar-O-Oil Shampoo Non-Foamy.” (Box 24, Folder 13)
410-29 Dahmer Grocery 8 X 10 B&W ca. 1960s Photograph of the front entrance to the Dahmer Grocery before burning. (Box 24, Folder 13)
M410-30 Dahmer Grocery 3 ½ X 5 B&W ca. 1960s Photograph of the front entrance to the Dahmer Grocery before burning. (Box 27, Folder 8)
M410-31 Black face mask with yellow hood 4 X 6 Color undated Photograph of a black facemask with a yellow hood. (Box 27, Folder 8)
M410-32 Front entrance to John’s Restaurant 4 X 4 Color undated Polaroid of the front entrance to John’s Restaurant. (Box 29, Folder 7)
M410-33 Side view of entrance to John’s Restaurant 4 X 4 Color undated Polaroid of the signage in front of John’s Restaurant. Photograph is a side view of the front entrance to the restaurant. (Box 29, Folder 7)
M410-34 Sam Bowers mugshot 1 ¼ X 1 ¾ Color ca. 1990s Mugshot of Sam Bowers. (Box 31, Folder 9)
M410-35 Deavours Nix mugshot 1 ¼ X 1 ¾ Color ca. 1990s Mugshot of Deavours Nix. (Box 31, Folder 9)
M410-36 Charles Noble mugshot 1 ¼ X 1 ¾ Color ca. 1990s Mugshot of Charles Noble. (Box 31, Folder 9)
M410-37 Cecil Sessum mugshot 1 ¼ X 1 ¾ B&W ca. 1975
Mugshot of Cecil Sessum. Front and side view. (Box 34, Folder 6)
- Bowers, Samuel Holloway, 1924-2006
- Clippings (Books, newspapers, etc.). Subject Source: TGM II, Genre and physical characteristic terms
- Court decisions and opinions. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Crime -- Mississippi. Subject Source: Local sources
- Criminology. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Dahmer, Vernon Ferdinand, 1908-1966
- Judge. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Ku Klux Klan (1915- ). Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Legal case and case notes. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Noble, Charles
- Photographs. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Race relations. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Records (Documents). Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Records and briefs. Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Robert B. Helfrich Papers
- Language of description
- Script of description
Part of the Historical Manuscripts and Photographs Repository
118 College Drive - 5148
Hattiesburg MS 39406-0001