FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- One year after the near-fatal sniper shooting of civil rights leader Vernon Jordan, investigators still have more questions than answers.
The investigation is still going on. Fort Wayne's mayor says the FBI has a solid suspect but federal agents are coy about their findings.
'It was a shot in the dark and those are the hardest cases to solve,' said Deputy Police Chief Ernest Walter, whose detectives worked for months on the case. 'There just wasn't that much to go on.'
Jordan, president of the National Urban League, was shot in the back by a sniper hidden in tall grass near an interstate exit ramp at 2 a.m. May 29, 1980, as he walked from a car to his hotel room.
The slug from a .30-06 rifle struck a chain-link fence and broke into three pieces. The projectiles struck Jordan in the lower back, knocking him to the pavement and ripping a fist-sized hole in his intestine.
'You know, I almost went it,' Jordan said a week later. He spent three months in hospitals before returning to his New York home.
Scores of police and FBI agents checked hundreds of possible leads. They interviewed all employees and guests of the Mariott Inn, where Jordan was staying, checked registrations at all local hotels, located hitchhikers seen in the area, and followed clairvoyants' tips.
Fort Wayne Mayor Winfield Moses said an FBI official told him recently that admitted racist Joseph Paul Franklin, now serving time in a Utah prison, is a 'hard, concrete suspect.'
But Franklin denied shooting Jordan and an FBI spokesman refused to name him as the chief suspect.
'Much of the evidence is against him,' Moses said. 'We've gone through thousands of leads, and he's the only logical conclusion.
'They told me they positively identified his handwriting through an analysis of his signature on a hotel registration in the city,' Moses said.
The mayor said the FBI official in Washington told him Franklin apparently checked into a Fort Wayne motel a few days before the shooting and checked out a few days later. The mayor said he also was told Franklin at one point bragged to a cellmate that he 'shot someone' in Fort Wayne.
'The only thing they're really missing is the gun, as far as I know,' Moses said.
Franklin, 32, Mobile, Ala., became a suspect in a nationwide string of racial shootings after Salt Lake City police linked him to the Aug. 20, 1979, slayings of two black joggers in Salt Lake City. Franklin was convicted March 4 of violating the civil rights of the two young men by killing them while they ran in a public park. He also faces state murder charges.
Although Franklin admits he hates blacks, he says he did not shoot Jordan.
'I was not even in Fort Wayne when Vernon Jordan was shot on May 29 nor do I know anything about it,' Franklin told the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.