SOMETIME in the afternoon of May 21, 1969, a farmer in Middlefield County, Connecticut, found the body of Alex Rackley, a member of the New York chapter of the Black Pan the Party, floating in the murky waters of the Cochinchaug River, about 25 miles from New Haven. Rackley had been shot once in the head and once in the chest with a 24-caliber pistol.
This much is definite. Proven. Beyond doubt.
But no other item of evidence, no other piece of testimony in the police inquiry into the death of Alex Rackley is certain or uncontested. Nothing-beyond the fact that Rackley was alive until May 19 and dead on May 21-has yet been definitely established.
The aftermath of Rackley's death, however, may result in the death by electrocution of Bobby G. Seale, National Chairman of the Black Panther Party, and of five members of the New Haven Chapter of the Panthers.
The next day, acting on information from an informant who has not been identified, the New Haven police raided the headquarters of the New Haven Panther chapter-allegedly without warrants-and arrested eight members: six women, Francis Carter, Maude Francis, Margaret Hudgins, Ericka Huggins, Rose Smith, and Jeanne Smith, and two men, George Edwards and Warren Kimbrow.
Charges were later dropped against Frances Carter, but she was imprisoned again for contempt of court when she refused to testify at Scale's bail hearing earlier this month.
At the same time, the police say, they seized a number of guns and tapes allegedly made by Panthers the night Rackley died. These tapes form one of the prosecution's main sources of evidence in the upcoming trial in New Haven. Some Panthers have charged that they are faked. Others contend that they contain merely a report by Rackley to the members of the New Haven chapter on the situation in New York, where 21 Panthers were being held on charges of conspiring to blow up department stores. The prosecution contends, however, that they are recordings of a "kanga?oo trial" given Rackley by the Panhers, a "trial" in which he was condemned to death.
Police told reporters on the day of the arrests that the New Haven Panthers had kidnapped and murdered Rackley because they suspected him of being a police informer. Police also said that the body showed evidence of having been beaten, tortured and burned with cigarettes.
THE EIGHT were arraigned in the Sixth Circuit Court the next morning. The presiding judge continued their case indefinitely to allow the State Attorney to issue warrants for further arrests.
One week later, on May 28, police arrested Mrs. Loretta Luckes, who was on a weekend visit to New Haven from her home in Bridgeport. Mrs. Luckes-who told police that she had been a Panther for only a few weeks-was pregnant at the time of her arrest. She later had her baby in jail.
The next day, Mrs. Luckes and six of those originally arrested-all but Maude Francis and Jeanne Wilson, who were under 18-were taken from the custody of the Sixth Circuit Court and rearranged on multiple charges ranging from unlawful binding to kidnapping and murder. All seven were imprisoned without bail. The two juveniles were held as material witnesses under $10,000 bond.
Bench warrants were issued at this time by the Superior Court for the arrest of four other Panthers-Landon Williams, Rory Hithe, Lonnie McLucas, and George Sams. Hithe and Williams were arrested in Denver on June 5, McLucas a few weeks later in Salt Lake City. Although McLucas waived extradition and was brought to New Haven immediately, Hithe and Williams are still in Denver fighting attempts to extradite them to New Haven to stand trial.
The nine New Haven Panthers spent the summer in jail awaiting the arrest of Sams.
On July 6, Stokcley Carmichacl announced from exile in Africa that he Taos resigning as Prime Minister of the Black Panther Party because of the group's policy of making alliances with white radical groups. In New York, the proceedings against 21 Panthers allegedly involved in a bomb plot continued. On July 7, George F. McGrath. New York City Commissioner of the New York City Department of Justice justified holding the New York defendants in isolation cells with special security measures by saying that the Panthers were "recognized militants. as part of a formal party which urges people to be antiestablishment. We view them as security risks. It's simply a matter of their proclivity for trouble."
The same day, Eldridge Cleaver, from his exile in Algiers. denounced Carmichael's contontion that black revolutionaries should seek to ally only with non-white, third world people. "Suffering is color-blind," Cleaver said.