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17-year-old Jerry Lee Armstrong disappeared on December 23, 1977 from Hernando, Mississippi. He has never been found. Family members believe he was killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in a case of mistaken identity.
About the Case
Jerry Lee Armstrong, 17, was quarterback of his high school football team and had a good paying job at a Coldwater gas station. Considered a good student, he had no known enemies.
On December 23, 1977, he borrowed his brother James’ car – a 1973 white two-door Pontiac LeMans with red and black racing stripes down the side – so he and his girlfriend could attend their high school Christmas dance at the National Guard Armory in Hernando.
About 11:00 p.m., Jerry and his girlfriend left the dance. He drove her to her home located in the Desoto County community of Dark Corners, just south of the Craft Road and Byhalia Road intersection.
Jerry Lee Armstrong never made it home that night and vanished sometime after leaving his girlfriend’s residence. He and the Pontiac Lemans have never been found.
Few believe he left on his own because he had a bunch of Christmas presents in the trunk of the car, which meant he had every intention of returning home that night.
In 2001, a fisherman found the skull of a black male in a ditch near the St. Francis River in Poinsett County, Arkansas, about 80 miles from Hernando. The remains were found several feet from the water’s edge. The water level had gone down and exposed the remains. The unidentified man’s age was estimated to be between 16 and 19 years old. In 2009, DNA samples from the Armstrong family were being compared with those human remains. However, the victim remains unidentified as of this writing.
Ku Klux Klan Involvement?
Jerry’s family believe members of the KKK murdered Jerry the night he vanished, but he may not have been the intended target. James was dating a white girl at the time, which would not have sat too well with the KKK. Many people in the community wanted to put a stop to James’ relationship with the girl. In addition, Jerry was appointed head quarterback of his high school football team, and this angered many white people in the community.
In a 2007 news article, Jerry’s other brother, Johnny said he believed Jerry was pulled over not long after leaving his girlfriend’s home and murdered. His killers hen disposed of Jerry’s body and the Pontiac LeMans.
The FBI, Mississippi Bureau of Investigation (MBI) and other agencies have been investigating the Armstrong case on an on-again, off-again basis for the past several years. Authorities believe this was a hate crime.
In 1984, seven years after his brother disappeared, James Armstrong died after being shot in the chest. His death was ruled a suicide but his family believes someone murdered him. He was in good spirits the weekend before he passed away.
Source: DeSoto Times-Tribune
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
I’m a bit rusty at writing and giving my opinion on a case lol, so I apologize in advance if it isn’t one of my best articles!
I really would not be surprised if the KKK was involved in this boy’s disappearance and murder. We’re talking small town Mississippi in the 70s.
I do believe several people are responsible for Jerry’s disappearance and murder. No doubt about that.
Someone or more than one person followed Jerry and his girlfriend after they left the dance. They waited until after he dropped her off, followed him, and at some point forced him to pull over. More than likely, they took Jerry to a secluded location where they beat and murdered him. Later, they disposed of his body and the car. I think it is also possible that his killers could have been members of his own football team, and/or or their parents, who were unhappy he was head quarterback. Perhaps, their fathers were members of the KKK.
It is very possible that local law enforcement officials were involved, too.
Another scenario is that the killers saw Jerry by chance after he left his girlfriend’s home and seized the moment. He or they followed Jerry then forced him off the road. I do not know where Jerry lived but I’d like to know the distance from his girlfriend’s house to his own home.
I think the first scenario makes more sense.
Muddy Mississippi Justice
I found a blog post that had a lot of info on this case. The author spoke with Johnny Armstrong, Jerry’s brother who is mentioned above. In this article, Johnny places the blame on the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office and believes Jerry’s girlfriend – named Angela Cole in the article – either witnessed something that night or she knows what happened. Angela is reportedly terrified and will not talk about that night.
She must still live in the area because after 4 decades she still isn’t talking.
If Angela was there and witnessed his murder, why didn’t they kill her, too?
Also according to this article, Anthony Hillard, one of Jerry’s friends, told Johnnie 3 or 4 patrol cars had pulled Jerry over to the side of the road where it was dark, got him out of the car, and put him in the sheriff’s Deputy’s car (Muddy Mississippi Justice).
How he would know this without being involved is beyond me unless he witnessed it without the killers seeing him.
“It was all planned ahead of time, but the problem was they got the wrong guy. Their real target was Jerry’s best friend, Johnny Cross.”
Cross had the white girlfriend, not James. Cross drove a 2-door white LTD. So, I’m not sure who really had the white girlfriend. News reports say James but this article says Cross.
Let’s say they got the wrong guy. There is a big difference between a Ford LTD and a Pontiac LeMans. They don’t even look the same. Not to mention, the Lemans had red and black racing stripes down the side.
As you can clearly see, a Ford LTD was much larger than the Lemans. In fact, they were boats! My parents drove a brown four-door one, so I know. I don’t think this was a case of mistaken identity unless the killers truly thought it was James. However, in the article on this blog mentioned above, Johnny mentions this:
“After they left the dance, Jerry and Angela stopped in Hernando and ask to borrow a gun from Tony Miller. Jerry had an older brother named McKinley, and Tony Miller was his girlfriend’s brother. Jerry said some white people had been following him and trying to kill him with his girlfriend in the car.”
“Tony Miller, tried to give Jerry a gun, twice, but Jerry changed his mind and would not take it. Tony told him, “I’m going to follow you to a dark corner and make sure you are OK.” Jerry said, “No, I’m fine”, and headed North to East Hernando (almost to Olive Branch) to Angela’s house.”
So, if this is true, “white people” followed them from the dance. They either attended the dance, too, or were waiting for Jerry and Angela to leave. I think they knew this was Jerry. How did they try to kill him? Shots fired? Attempted to run him off the road?
It’s also mentioned that his killers took Jerry’s body and car and buried both in a gravel pit in Olive Branch near College and Bethel Roads intersection. I Googled the location and it isn’t too far from Angela’s home, so it does make sense.
You can read the whole article. Interesting stuff.
(Hopefully, Johnny or other family members will see this post and will clear some of this up by contacting me through my contact page)
DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department
I did some digging on the sheriff’s office. During the 1970s and 1980s (maybe still to this day), DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office was pretty corrupt.
Harvey Hamilton was elected sheriff of DeSoto County, Mississippi in the 1975 general election. In late 1977, he was indicted by a federal grand jury on numerous charges, along with several other people from the area. Hamilton extorted payoffs and accepted bribes not to perform the duties he was elected to perform. His job as Sheriff officially ended in January 1978 when Denver Sowell took over.
I think Hamilton is who Johnny refers to as the “former Sheriff” in the blog article.
The police department did not have a good reputation and probably had a few dirty cops besides Hamilton.
I think it’s possible it was members of a police department involved in Jerry’s disappearance because all they had to do was turn their sirens on and Jerry would have pulled over.
What I want to know is how many of the deputies back then were members of the KKK? I’m sure some were.
Whoever killed Jerry, locals know. It’s a small area.
In fact, in the late 70s, total population of DeSoto County was around 50,000. Hernando alone only had a population of about 3,000 people in 1980 compared to today of around 16,000. So, back then everyone knew one another, pretty much. You will never convince me that most of the residents did not know what happened to Jerry. The rumor mill would have been running, I’m sure. And I can bet many are still willing to cover it up to this day.
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