The Mystery of Lloyd Gaines

A St. Louis civil-rights pioneer vanished without a trace almost 70 years ago. Now, the NAACP wants the feds to find him.

"When you think of those old photos of lynchings and burned bodies, who wouldn't want to think that he lived a full life in Mexico?" asks Berry. "But based on the love my grandmother and great-grandmother had for their brother and son, that's really hard for me to reconcile. If he wanted to walk away, there are easier ways to do it than to sever ties from the entire family."

To date the FBI remains reluctant to say when — or if — it will follow through on the NAACP's request to review Gaines' disappearance.

In response to a query from the Riverfront Times, FBI supervisory special agent Stephen Kodak tersely replied, "The FBI is aware of this referral by the NAACP, and the case will be evaluated based on its merits for potential solution along with the other civil-rights era cold case referrals made by our partners with the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the national Urban League. We currently have no other comment at this time on this matter."

Months after his Supreme Court victory against the University of Missouri, Lloyd Gaines disappeared — never to be seen again. A portrait of Gaines (pictured here) now hangs at the university's law school.
Months after his Supreme Court victory against the University of Missouri, Lloyd Gaines disappeared — never to be seen again. A portrait of Gaines (pictured here) now hangs at the university's law school.
A gifted scholar, Gaines graduated from Vashon High School in just three years. While waiting to attend law school, he earned a graduate degree in economics from the University of Michigan.
A gifted scholar, Gaines graduated from Vashon High School in just three years. While waiting to attend law school, he earned a graduate degree in economics from the University of Michigan.

Last year the Associated Press obtained FBI records that reveal the agency has twice denied requests to investigate the Gaines case. According to the AP, an internal memo dated May 10, 1940, and signed by FBI director Hoover states that agents "are conducting no investigation in connection with this matter."

Thirty years later — in May 1970 — Hoover denied a similar request from an undisclosed member of the public. "Although I would like to be of assistance in connection with your letter of May 7," wrote Hoover, "the case you mentioned involving Lloyd Gaines was not within the investigative jurisdiction of the FBI."

Berry, who in her capacity as a U.S. attorney often works hand-in-hand with federal agents, hopes this time the FBI will heed the call to examine Gaines' disappearance.

"It would be good to finally end the speculating," says Berry. "It's certainly not going to erase what happened to our family, but by opening this case and others like it, we're admitting that there is still healing to be done. Then I definitely think it's a positive thing — no matter what they may find."

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