‘I Don’t Care How Old’: 1955 Warrant for the White Woman Who Accused Emmett Till Found; Family Wants Her in Handcuffs

An arrest warrant for Carolyn Bryant Donham, the woman whose accusation spurred the killing of Emmett Till almost 67 years ago, has been recovered by searchers, and his relatives are calling on authorities to arrest Donham for her role in the brutal slaying that is an emblem of racial injustice.

The search team found the kidnapping warrant in a file folder in a Mississippi courthouse last week, Leflore County Circuit Clerk Elmus Stockstill told The Associated Press. Donham, who was Bryant at the time, claimed Emmett flirted with her in the Money, Mississippi, store where she worked.

Carolyn Bryant Donham, right, accused Emmett Till, left, of flirting with her in 1955 before he was beaten, tortured and shot by her husband and brother-in-law. (Twitter/Black Diaspora Voices)

Donham’s then-husband and brother-in-law later confessed to killing Emmett, who was beaten, shot in the head, tied to a cotton gin fan with barbed wire and dumped in a river.

Roy Bryant and Joe William Milam bragged about the murder two months after an all-white jury acquitted them. Authorities had issued the arrest warrant for Donham before Emmett’s body was found, but authorities did not want to “bother” her because she had two small children, reports show.

“Serve it and charge her,” Teri Watts, Emmett’s cousin, said.

Reports show that a woman and man took the teen from his uncle’s home where he was staying while visiting from Chicago during the summer.

Emmett’s uncle, Moses Wright, also said he heard a voice that was “lighter” than a man’s, identifying the boy. Wright and his wife tried to save Emmett from the kidnapping. Elizabeth Wright even offered them money to leave him alone, reports show.

“He’s only 14. He’s from up North. Why not give the boy a whipping and leave it at that?'” he said.

Although it is still unclear if the warrant can still be used to arrest Donham, who is 88 years old. Watts said it’s evidence that Mississippi needs to move on Donham.

University of Mississippi law professor Ronald J. Rychlak said an arrest warrant could “go stale” over time, and one from 1955 has slim chances of being approved by a court. However, he said it could be combined with existing evidence to initiate an arrest.

“If you went in front of a judge, you could say, ‘Once upon a time, a judge determined there was probable cause, and much more information is available today,'” Rychlak said.

“The warrant doesn’t really give us new substantive evidence of her role in this crime, but it does indicate she was a suspect at one time and that a judge determined probable cause to arrest her at one time,” he also said.

Dale Killinger, a retired FBI agent who worked on the case in 2004, said the courts would need someone to testify. However, all of the witnesses have since died, and no one has been convicted in Emmett’s slaying.

The U.S. Department of Justice reopened a probe into the teen’s murder and kidnapping in 2017 after a professor wrote in a book that Donham confessed to lying in court about the details of the crime. However, she denied the allegations when questioned by federal authorities. As a result, they closed the case in December.

A Mississippi grand jury declined to bring manslaughter charges against the woman in 2007 because of insufficient evidence. Back in 2004, the DOJ opened an investigation into the murder as part of its Cold Case Initiative but lacked jurisdiction to bring federal charges.

When questioned by reporters, Dewayne Richardson, the district attorney for the Fourth Circuit Court District of Mississippi, referred to the DOJ’s decision late last year, which was part of a joint effort with the district attorney’s office.

Leflore County Sheriff Ricky Banks, who was 7 years old when Emmett was murdered, said he was unaware of the warrant until now. Banks added that there was no warrant mentioned when the case was reopened.

“I will see if I can get a copy of the warrant and get with the DA and get their opinion on it,” Banks said.

Banks must coordinate with law enforcement officers in the state where Donham lives if the warrant can still be served. She was last reported as being a resident of North Carolina.

Donham told her husband and the court that Emmett groped her inside the family store in August 1955. Emmett’s cousin Wheeler Parker Jr. told reporters that the boy wolf-whistled at the woman. Either action was a social violation in the Deep South in the 1950s that led to the mob killing that Emmett endured.

“Execute warrant now!” tweeted the Emmett Till Legacy Foundation.

Emmett’s family’s multi-decade fight for justice has purported the case as one of the worst cases of racial violence in the nation. It led Congress to pass a law banning lynching earlier this year. Many commenters reacted to the news on social media, also calling for action against Donham.

“I don’t care how old this woman was, or how long ago the crimes were committed,” wrote Zellie Imani, a co-founder of the Black Liberation Collective. “She needs to be held accountable for the murder of Emmett Till.”

Back to top