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Death in the Delta - Uncovering a Mississippi Family Secret

A search for the truth behind a fateful shoot out and decades-old cover up


Growing up, Molly Walling could not fathom the source of the dark and intense discomfort in her family home. Then in 2006 she discovered her father's complicity in the murder of two black men on December 12, 1946, in Anguilla, deep in the Mississippi Delta. Death in the Delta tells the story of one woman's search for the truth behind a closely held, sixty-year old family secret. Though the author's mother and father decided that they would protect their three children from that past, its effect was profound. When the story of a fatal shoot-out surfaced, apprehension turned into a devouring need to know.

Each of Walling's trips from North Carolina to the Delta brought unsettling and unexpected clues. After a hearing before an all-white grand jury, her father's case was not prosecuted. Indeed, it appeared as if the incident never occurred, and he resumed his life as a small-town newspaper editor. Yet family members of one of the victims tell her their stories. A ninety-three-year-old black historian and witness gives context and advice. A county attorney suggests her family's history of commingling with black women was at the heart of the deadly confrontation. Firsthand the author recognizes how privilege, entitlement, and racial bias in a wealthy, landed southern family resulted in a deadly abuse of power followed by a stifling, decades-long cover up.

Death in the Delta is a deeply personal account of a quest to confront a terrible legacy. Against the advice and warnings of family, Walling exposes her father's guilty agency in the deaths of Simon Toombs and David Jones. She also exposes his gift as a writer and creative thinker. The author, grappling with wrenching issues of family and honor, was long conflicted about making this story public. But her mission became one of hope that confronting the truth might somehow move others toward healing and reconciliation.


Molly Walling takes the reader into the heart of a dark human mystery and brings us--and herself--to a moral reckoning. Death in the Delta is part detective story, part family lore, and part history of a time and a place where an American tragedy unfolded in secret. Powerful and captivating from start to finish.

- Philip Gerard, author of The Patron Saint of Dreams, winner of the 2012 Independent Publisher Gold Medal for creative nonfiction/essay

Set in that shadowy moment between the return of soldiers from World War II and the coming dawn of the civil rights movement, Death in the Delta contributes to the history of a region and an era. Walling finds all that can be known--and then she makes peace with what can't. If compassion can become a form of craft, and it can, this book achieves that--there's no sentimentality here, just living language in which the writer forgives, and seeks forgiveness for her family, but permits no forgetting. From the moment she set out to find the remaining members of the Toombs family, Walling became a one-woman truth and reconciliation commission.

- Diana Hume George, author of The Lonely Other: A Woman Watching America and author or editor of ten books of nonfiction, poetry, and literary criticism

In Death in the Delta, Walling effectively weaves the mystery of the murders with childhood memories of her landed, extended family and erratic alcoholic father, newspaperman Jay Fields. ... Driven by her love for him, Walling combed his articles and letters for clues to his troubled psyche, wondering whether guilt about the murders caused his self-destructive behaviors.

- Stephanie Harp, Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta Studies