CHICAGO – More than half a century after 14-year-old Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman, his family sat down with federal investigators to discuss the final autopsy on the boy's exhumed body and to hear about the investigation.
The report released Thursday found that Till died of a gunshot wound to the head and that he had broken wrist bones and skull and leg fractures. When his body was pulled from the Tallahatchie River in the summer of 1955, the report said, "the crown of his head was just crushed out ... and a piece of his skull just fell out."
The report also set out a timeline constructed from witness statements, and it said a third man had given a deathbed confession.
Roy Bryant, the white woman's husband, and his half-brother J.W. Milam were charged in Till's death shortly after the killing but were acquitted by an all-white jury. Both men, now deceased, later confessed in a 1956 interview with Look magazine.
According to the new report, Leslie Milam, a relative of the two men, also confessed before he died.
"We just wanted the truth," said Ollie Gordon, Till's cousin and one of half a dozen family member who reviewed the report with federal investigators on Thursday. "Just knowing the truth has been comforting to the family."
The FBI reopened the Till case in 2004 and exhumed the boy's body in 2005, but it decided last year not to press charges. The case was turned over to local prosecutors, with the FBI suggesting a closer look at Bryant's wife, Carolyn Bryant Donham, now 73.
A Mississippi grand jury ruled late last month that there was insufficient evidence to indict her, essentially closing the book on the case.
"We felt that since the investigation took so long and the results as they were, we would sit face-to-face with the family to answer any questions," said Joyce Chiles, the chief prosecutor on the case.
Till's cousin, Simeon Wright, was with the teenager the night he was kidnapped from an uncle's home in Money, Miss., and he had pressed for a further investigation.
"From what I saw, I think they had enough evidence to indict," Wright said Thursday. "Every last person up to now has gotten away with murder."
In 1955, nearly 100,000 people had filed past Till's open casket during a four-day public viewing in the boy's hometown of Chicago. A graphic photo of his face appeared in Jet magazine, and that image stoked national outrage and fueled the civil rights movement.
Till's mother, who had wanted her son's casket open to expose the brutality of racism to the world, died in 2003. She was buried next to him.