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Retiree recalls his time as FBI agent during the Mississippi Burning Murders

A former FBI agent recounted his investigations to a crowd of fellow retirees on Friday at the assisted-living facility The Retreat at Sunny Vista.

Don Cesare shared stories of his time as both a CIA and FBI agent, mostly focusing on the case of the Mississippi Burning murders and convictions.

Back in 1974, the FBI was called to investigate the disappearance of three civil rights workers: Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman.

Witness interviews led Cesare and other law enforcement to the remains of a burnt-out station wagon. Further investigations would lead to the discovery of the three workers’ bodies. They had been shot and buried.

It was only through informants that the FBI was able to gather enough evidence to arrest and convict more than a dozen members of the Ku Klux Klan for the disappearance and murder of the three civil rights workers.

KRDO interviewed Cesare about his career and eventual retirement.

What was the hardest part about working the Mississippi Burning murders?

The hardest part was developing informants. When we initially arrived down there we were not well received. As a result there was a lot of animosity between the agents and the townspeople.

We managed to overcome that and we managed to develop good informants. We managed to infiltrate and destroy the invisible empire of the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi.

How did you meet with the informants without exposing their identities?

It was tough to get areas in which we would not be seen together. In a town of 40,000 people it was very, very difficult until finally I worked with the office of naval intelligence. They agreed to offer me a spot – an office – in which to operate the informant on the Meridian Naval Air Station.

After you were forced to retire from the FBI at 55 years, what did you do next?

I lived the life of the itinerant traveler. Going from one country to another and training high-ranking police officers in the police arts.

My wife finally told me after doing this for years, “I saw more of you in the Bureau then I’m seeing of you now.” So I thought it was time to hang it up.

You’ve been a public servant for more than 40 years – How was that?

I was very delighted and was very happy with my jobs that I had with the government. I was never hesitant about undertaking new tasks within my jobs. And as a result I think I fulfilled my lifelong ambition of being an FBI agent.

And you chose to retire here in Colorado – Why is that?

I was sent here by the government for the first time in 1959 to Camp Hale in Colorado. I guess I was enthralled by the mountains, the scenery, the weather and so on.

We were also kind of getting our supplies and our logistics down at Fort Carson and I met my future wife there. So I have a great, great deal of liking for the state of Colorado.

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