Dig a Shallow Grave

Two notable deaths of the past week: Lawrence Rainey and Myra Hindley.

Rainey, who died last Friday, was the sheriff in Neshoba County, Mississippi, when, in 1964, three civil rights workers passing through the area disappeared. The three--Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney--were part of the Freedom Summer Project, intended to help the state's black residents register to vote. On June 21, the three were stopped in Neshoba County on their way back from investigating a church fire, jailed for a few hours in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and then released. On their way out of town, Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were killed by the sheriff's deputy and a group of local men. (The murders were portrayed in both Mississippi Burning and the more accurate and engrossing Freedom on My Mind.)

In the days and weeks that followed, before an informant led the FBI to the men's bodies, buried and decomposing in an earthen dam, Rainey famously declared of the missing rights workers, 'If they're in Mississippi, they're just hiding out somewhere and trying to get a lot of publicity out of it.' After the bodies were found, the case was eventually brought to federal court (the state, not surprisingly, wouldn't touch it). Although Deputy Price and six other men were convicted of the crime, Rainey, widely suspected of involvement in the murders, was acquitted. After his term as sheriff ended in 1967, he became a security guard at a supermarket and a shopping mall. Historical evidence, investigations, and the testimony of several witnesses to the contrary, Rainey's son John, who still lives in Meridian, claims that his father was misunderstood: 'He was a good man. He had nothing to do with what happened that night.'

Myra Hindley, half of England's Moors murderers pair, died yesterday of a chest infection, after 36 years in prison. With her boyfriend Ian Brady, Hindley was responsible for the deaths of five children in northwestern England in the mid-60s. The killings were especially shocking for the youth of the victims (the oldest was 18), their sudden disappearances, and their grisly deaths--some of the victims were sexually abused, tortured, and buried in a remote moor.

After she was convicted and jailed, Hindley maintained that Brady had blackmailed her into helping him with the murders, threatening to kill members of her family if she didn't cooperate. In prison, she became a practicing Roman Catholic and received a humanities degree; she also admitted that 'my conscience will follow me to my dying day' (we may be dead and we may be gone/but we will be right by your side/until the day you die/this is no easy ride).

But, as the Times notes in its obituary, she also 'insisted that she had paid her debt to society, and she yearned to be released. "I know I could be out one week before someone assassinated me," she said. "But at least I would have had a week of freedom."'