In July 1946, J. Loy Harrison employed two young African-American couples as sharecroppers on his farm in Walton County, Georgia. They were George W. Dorsey (born November 1917), a veteran of World War II who had been back in the United States less than nine months after having served nearly five years in the Pacific War. He was married to Mae Murray Dorsey (born September 20, 1922), who was then seven months pregnant. The other couple was Roger Malcom (born March 22, 1922) and his wife Dorothy (born July 25, 1926).
On July 11 Roger Malcom had allegedly stabbed Barnette Hester, a white man; Malcom was arrested and held in the county jail in Monroe, Georgia, the county seat. On July 25, Harrison drove Malcom's wife Dorothy and the Dorseys to Monroe, where he personally posted the $600 bail for Roger Malcom to be freed. At the time, Hester was still hospitalized from his wounds.
Harrison then drove with the two couples back to his farm. At 5:30 p.m. that day, he was forced to stop his car at the bridge between Monroe and Watkinsville, where the road was blocked by a gang of 15 to 20 armed white men. According to Loy Harrison:
"A big man who was dressed mighty proud in a double-breasted brown suit was giving the orders. He pointed to Roger Malcom and said, 'We want that nigger.' Then he pointed to George Dorsey, my nigger, and said, 'We want you, too, Charlie.' I said, 'His name ain't Charlie, he's George.' Someone said 'Keep your damned big mouth shut. This ain't your party.'"
Silently, Harrison watched. One of the black women identified one of the assailants. The mob took both the women to a big oak tree and tied them beside their husbands. The mob fired three point-blank volleys. The coroner's estimate counted sixty shots fired at close range. They shot and killed them near Moore's Ford Bridge spanning the Apalachee River, 60 miles (97 km) east of Atlanta. After Mae Murray Dorsey was shot, her fetus was cut from her body with a knife.
The lynchings captured national attention and generated outrage. President Harry S. Truman created the President's Committee on Civil Rights. The Truman administration introduced anti-lynching legislation in Congress, but was unable to get it passed against the opposition of the southern Democratic bloc. Together with outrage about the Columbia, Tennessee 1946 race riot, the African-American Civil Rights Movement gained awareness and support.
Georgia Governor Ellis Arnall offered a reward of $10,000 for information, to no avail. After the FBI interviewed nearly 3000 people in their six-month investigation, they issued 100 subpoenas. The investigation received little cooperation, no one confessed, and perpetrators were offered alibis for their whereabouts. The FBI found little physical evidence, and the prosecutor did not have sufficient grounds to indict anyone. No one was brought to trial for the crime.
U.S. District Judge T. Hoyt Davis selected and charged a 23-man jury, which included two African Americans, to hear testimony in the case on December 2, 1946. At the time Governor Ellis Arnall claimed "that 15 to 20 of the mob members are known by name." The case was presented to the jury by United States District Attorney John P. Cowart and John Kelly from the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. The judge "pointed out that federal courts have no jurisdiction over the offense of murder except under well defined conditions."
Harrison testified for six hours after Barnette Hester, the man allegedly stabbed by Roger Malcom, concluded his testimony. The following Monday was the fifth day of testimony. On that day Harrison's sons Loy Jr. and Talmadge testified. Additionally, B.H. Hester, the father of Barnette, testified. Perry Dillard, Eugene Evans, Emmerson Farmer and Ridden Farmer, who lived near the location of the shooting murders, testified that day as well. The last to be questioned that day was FBI Agent George Dillard.
On December 10, the sixth day of hearings, ten witnesses were heard. They were Joe Parrish; Harrison's brother-in-law, George Robert Hester and James Weldon Hester; brothers of Barnette Hester, Grady Malcom, Weyman Fletcher Malcom, Cleonius Malcom, Levy Adcock, Willie Lou Head and FBI Agent Dick Hunter.
On the seventh day of testimony, six people were questioned. Among them were Mrs. Elizabeth Toler, Eugene White, Boysie Daniel and Paul Brown.
Monday's testimony was highlighted by the appearance before the grand jury of Mrs. Jesse Warwick. The wife of a Monroe minister, she testified to seeing men in at least two carloads gather on a roadside in the vicinity of Monroe at some point between the stabbing of Hester and the incident at Moore's Ford. That event was believed to have been a rehearsal for the lynching. The government intended to show planning, possibly with the knowledge of Walton county law officers and Harrison. Other witnesses that day were Monroe chief of Police Ben Dickerson; Gene Sloan, a youth from the Georgia Boys' Training School at Milledgeville; and Mrs. Moena Williams, mother of Dorothy Malcom, who said that Dorothy was killed on her twentieth birthday.
George Alvin Adcock, a resident of Monroe, was indicted by the federal grand jury for perjury. He was accused of two counts of false testimony regarding his statements on December 11, 1946. The first count alleged he denied leaving his house the day of the crime. He supposedly visited the town of Monroe that day. The second count states that he denied visiting the scene of the crime July 26. Sixteen witnesses were questioned that day, including Mrs. Powell Adcock.
After hearing nearly three weeks of testimony, the grand jury was "unable to establish the identity of any persons guilty of violating the civil rights statute of the United States."
At about four o'clock on January 1, 1947, brothers James and Tom Verner walked into the municipal ice house, briefly speaking with plant manager, Will Perry. When the pair walked to where Lamar Howard was sitting, Tom Verner slapped the young man's cap onto the floor. James asked him, "What did you tell 'em down at Athens?" To which he replied he knew nothing to tell them. They started to attack him. Howard's employer, Will Perry, allegedly suggested the two "take him out in the back."
The men continued beating Howard while questioning him. The beating concluded after 10 or 15 minutes with no resistance from Howard, as he feared he would be killed. When the Verners stopped, Howard got to his car and drove home. U.S. Attorney John P. Cowart arrested the Verner brothers and charged them with "unlawfully injuring Golden Lamar Howard because of his having testified before a federal grand jury" and "conspiring to injure" him. The Verners' $10,000 bonds were signed by H.L. Peters of Walton County, who put up 316 acres (1.28 km2) of land as security.
Verner acknowledged he had beaten Howard until his fists were bloody. His brother testified, as did other witnesses, who stated James Verner committed the crime for which he was charged. Despite the testimony, the jury struggled in deliberation for nearly two hours before rendering a verdict of not guilty.
In 1992, Clinton Adams told the FBI that he had been a witness to the murders at Moore's Ford Bridge. Only ten years old when he saw the lynchings, Adams had been on the run for 45 years, fearing for his life. After extensive research reporter Laura Wexler wrote a book about the case, Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America (2003). She said that Adams had "holes in his story."
In 1992, The Atlanta Constitution reported Adams' story and the history of the unsolved lynchings. Five years later, the Oconee Enterprise, Walton Tribune, and the Athens Daily News also published accounts. With the renewed publicity, some people in the community decided to act.
In 1997 Georgia citizens established the biracial Moore's Ford Memorial Committee to commemorate the lynching and work for racial reconciliation. They have conducted a number of activities, including restoration of cemeteries where the victims were buried, erecting tombstones at the previously unmarked graves, conducting education about the events, and setting up scholarships in the names of those who died. In 1998 they held a biracial memorial service on the anniversary of the attack.
They worked with the Georgia Historical Society to ensure a state historical marker was placed near the murder site. It was erected on U.S. Highway 78 in 1999, on the fifty-third anniversary of the incident. The marker, 2.4 miles (3.9 km) to the west, identifies the site as the location of the last unsolved mass lynching in America. Additionally, it recognizes the 1998 memorial service. It is believed to be the first highway marker to commemorate a lynching. Also in 1999, the Memorial Committee arranged for a military memorial service to honor veteran George Dorsey on the anniversary of the lynching.
In 2001 then-Gov. Roy Barnes officially reopened investigation into the case with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. By 2006, the FBI had reentered the case. In June 2008, as part of the continuing investigation, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and FBI searched an area at a farm home in Walton County near Gratis and collected material they believed related to the lynching.