Archives: Investigation into former Lake County sheriff’s connection to 1951 bombing

Willis McCall connected to murders of Florida civil rights leaders

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – In 2012, then Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist re-launched the investigation into former Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall’s role in a series of racially-charged murders in Central Florida, including ties to the 1951 bombing of the home of Florida civil rights leaders Harry and Harriette Moore. Harry and Harriette Moore founded Brevard County's first NAACP office in 1934. A bomb under their bedroom floor exploded on Christmas night in 1951. Both died of their injuries. No one was ever charged in the case.

Before his death, Harry Moore was critical of McCall's handling of the investigation of a 1949 Groveland rape case in which a 17-year-old white woman said she was raped by four black men.

Walter Irvin, Sammy Shepherd and Charles Greenlee were arrested. Ernest Thomas fled the county and was later shot more than 400 times by an angry mob.

On Friday, almost 70 years after the alleged rape, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet granted posthumous pardons to the four African-American men.

In 2016, the Groveland City Council "issued a public apology to the families of these men in light of the cruel treatment they received at the hands of former Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall," city spokeswoman Doris Bloosworth said.

McCall was twice accused and cleared of killing black men, claiming self-defense. He shot two of the four Groveland men accused in the rape case, Irvin and Shepherd, and in 1972 kicked Tommy Vickers, a black inmate, to death. “There was tremendous fear. The violence that Willis McCall committed against blacks is legendary,” UCF history professor Jim Clarke said.

Less than two months after McCall shot Irvin and Shepherd in 1951, the Moore house was bombed.

According to the 2012 investigation, KKK Klansmen had a floor plan of the Moore family home and other clues indicate collusion between the killers and law enforcement officials, including McCall.

McCall attended a KKK meeting and warned members not to talk to the FBI or any authorities about the bombing.

Watch the full series on the investigation and the hate crimes committed in Central Florida below.

Part II: The Groveland Four

Part III: KKK mob attacks Lake County black community

Part IV: McCall tells Klansmen not to speak with FBI

Part V: The search for truth