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Justice Department closes its investigation into 1955 killing of Emmett Till

The Justice Department is closing its investigation into the 1955 killing of Emmett Till, a Black teenager from Chicago who was abducted and killed while visiting family in Mississippi after witnesses accused him of making sexual advances at a White woman.

A 2017 book by Duke University professor Timothy Tyson, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” spurred investigators to reopen the case. 

In the book, Tyson wrote that he handed Carolyn Bryant Donham a transcript of her testimony – in which she said that Till grabbed her, whistled, and made sexual advances –  and Donham told him, “[t]hat part’s not true.”

The Justice Department reopened the investigation in 2018, but Donham denied that she ever actually recanted her story. 

This undated photo shows Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year-old black Chicago boy, who was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 1955 after he allegedly whistled at a white woman in Mississippi.  (AP Photo, File)

“The woman however, when asked about the alleged recantation, denied to the FBI that she ever recanted her testimony and provided no information beyond what was uncovered during the previous federal investigation,” the Department of Justice said Monday. “Although lying to the FBI is a federal offense, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she lied to the FBI when she denied having recanted to the professor.”

Tyson could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. 

EMMETT TILL KILLING REOPENED BY GOVERNMENT OVER ‘NEW INFORMATION’

Till was abducted and killed, and his body was recovered days later from the Tallahatchie River, where it had been weighed down by a cotton gin. 

His mother, Mamie Till Mobley, insisted on leaving the casket open at the 14-year-old’s funeral, inspiring civil rights campaigns. 

Bryant Donham’s husband, Roy Bryant, and his half-brother, J.W. Milam, were arrested and tried for murder in Till’s death, but an all-white jury acquitted them. 

The two men confessed to the murder months later in a paid magazine interview. 

Children hold an illustration of Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till, during the launch of the Freedom Ride for Voting Rights Bus Tour on Juneteenth in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S. June 19, 2021.   REUTERS/Eric J. Shelton

Children hold an illustration of Emmett Till and his mother, Mamie Till, during the launch of the Freedom Ride for Voting Rights Bus Tour on Juneteenth in Jackson, Mississippi, U.S. June 19, 2021.   REUTERS/Eric J. Shelton

Representatives from the Department of Justice met with Till’s family members in Chicago on Monday to inform them that they were closing the investigation. 

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While the Justice Department is closing the investigation, officials did cast doubt on Donham’s testimony. 

“There remains considerable doubt as to the credibility of her version of events, which is contradicted by others who were with Till at the time, including the account of a living witness,” the DOJ wrote Monday. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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