Klansman Edgar Ray Killen, convicted in the 1964 slayings of 3 civil rights workers, is dead: A look back

Edgar Ray Killen, a 1960s Ku Klux Klan leader who was convicted decades later in the “Mississippi Burning” slayings of three civil rights workers, has died in prison at the age of 92, the state’s corrections department announced Friday.

The one-time Klan leader was serving three consecutive 20-year terms for manslaughter when he died at 9 p.m. Thursday night inside the Mississippi State Penitentiary. An autopsy was pending, but no foul play was suspected, the corrections’ statement said.

His conviction came 41 years to the day after James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, all in their 20s, were ambushed and killed by Klansmen.

The three Freedom Summer workers had been investigating the burning of a black church near Philadelphia, Mississippi. A deputy sheriff in Philadelphia had arrested them on a traffic charge, then released them after alerting a mob. Mississippi’s then-governor claimed their disappearance was a hoax before their bodies were dug up.

The slayings shocked the nation, helped spur passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and were dramatized in the 1988 movie “Mississippi Burning.” (AP)

See more news-related photo galleries and follow us on Yahoo News Photo Twitter and Tumblr.

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

From left, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were three CORE civil rights workers who were murdered in Mississippi by members of the Ku Klux Klan, Philadelphia, Mississippi, June 24, 1964. (Photo: Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

An FBI poster seeking information as to the whereabouts of Andrew Goodman, James Earl Chaney and Michael Henry Schwerner, Civil Rights campaigners who went missing in Mississippi in 1964. (Photo: MPI/Getty Images)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

A June 1964 FBI photograph of the burned station wagon driven by civil rights workers which was found shortly after their disappearance. (Photo: State of Mississippi, Attorney General’s Office/Pool/Reuters)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

A June 1964 FBI photograph of the burned station wagon driven by civil rights workers which was found shortly after their disappearance. (Photo: State of Mississippi, Attorney General’s Office/Pool/Reuters)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Federal and state investigators probe the swampy area near Philadelphia, Miss., where the burned station wagon of the missing civil rights trio was found June 23, 1964. The civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner, 24, Andrew Goodman, 21, both white and James Chaney, 21, black, were last seen in Philadelphia, Miss., Sunday night, June 21, 1964. (Photo: AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Civil rights leader John Lewis speaks during a news conference in Jackson, Miss., June 23, 1964. He called on President Johnson to protect summer volunteers in Mississippi and that civil rights workers face harrassment arrests and outright violence in Mississippi. (Photo: Jim Bourdier/AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Pickets of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee parade in front of the Federal Building in Boston, June 24, 1964, calling on President Johnson to send 1,000 marshals to Mississippi to protect civil rights workers. (Photo: AEB/AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Rita Schwerner, wife of missing civil rights worker Michael Schwerner, tried unsuccessfully in Jackson, Miss., to confer with Gov. Paul Johnson, June 25, 1964. At right is the Rev. Edwin King, chaplain of the predominately black Tougaloo College, and integration leader. In background far left is former welfare commissioner Fred Ross. (Photo: AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Leaders of the search for three missing civil rights workers go over map of area near Philadelphia, Mississippi on June 25, 1964. They are, left to right, Gwin Cole, chief investigator in charge for Mississippi highway patrol; Joe Sullivan, FBI, Washington, and Lt. Cmdr. John Wassell, in command of the Navy people. (Photo: AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

U.S. District Judge William J. Campbell, wearing his robes of office, is flanked by reporters, left, as he orders a group of demonstrators to leave the Federal Building in Chicago on June 25, 1964. At right group, with arms linked and singing, swings past Judge Campbell on way out of building. They had come to ask federal protection for volunteer civil rights workers in Mississippi. (Photo: Charles E. Knoblock/AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Allen Dulles tells reporters in a White House news conference that he has recommended to President Johnson stepped-up FBI activity to “control and prosecute terroristic activities” in Mississippi, June 26, 1964. The former CIA director conferred with the president for almost two hours after returning from Mississippi, where three civil rights workers are missing. (Photo: Bob Schutz/AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

The Pearl River near Philadelphia was dragged for a trace of the missing civil rights workers last seen on Sunday,June 27, 1964. Three boats manned by state and FBI agents only found a missing newspaper box. (Photo: Jab/AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

A sailor from the Meridian NAAS pokes through the underbrush near Philadelphia, Miss., in search for three missing civil rights workers whose burned out car was found in the area on Tuesday, June 27, 1964. (Photo: AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Miss. Gov. Paul Johnson faces reporters in Philadelphia, Miss., on Friday, afternoon, June 27, 1964 after his arrival. He was in town to receive a briefing on search progress for three missing integrationists whose burned out station wagon was discovered Tuesday near Philadelphia. Gov. Johnson later visited the spot where the burned vehicle was found. A search is still underway for the missing trio. (Photo: JAB/AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party stand and hold up sketches of three slain civil rights volunteers (from left, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner) during a demonstration outside the Democratic National Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, August 1964. (Photo: Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

FBI photo shows the bodies of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman being recovered from an earthen dam just southwest of Philadelphia, Mississippi. This FBI photograph, entered as evidence by the prosecution in the Edgar Ray Killen trial, shows the bodies of Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman being recovered from an earthen dam just southwest of Philadelphia, Mississippi on August 4, 1964. Accused Ku Klux Klansman Killen was implicated in the killing of a civil rights worker in testimony from a now-deceased Klansman read in court on June 17, 2005. (Photo: Handout/Reuters)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

The mothers of the three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi leave the meeting hall of the Society for Ethical Culture, where funeral services were held for 20-year-old Andrew Goodman in New York City on Aug. 9, 1964. Mrs. Fanny Lee Chaney of Meridian, Mississippi, mother of James E. Chaney, is shown to the left of Mrs. Goodman (C). On Mrs. Goodman’s right is the mother of Michael Schwerner, whose body arrived at Newark Airport shortly after the services for Andrew ended. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, center, arrives at the Federal building between two FBI men as he is brought in to be arraigned before U.S. Commissioner on violating civil rights of three Freedom Summer workers in Meridian, Miss., Oct. 3, 1964. (Photo: Horace Cort/AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

A Meridian, Miss., policemen reads a newspaper containing stories about a trial of 18 white men charged with conspiracy in the slaying of three civil rights workers in 1964 outside the Federal building in Oct. 17, 1967 in Meridian, Miss., as Bernard Akin (background) looks on. Akin is one of 18 white men on trial in the case. (Photo: AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, left, and his deputy Cecil Price, are back on the job in Philadelphia, Miss., after being released on a $5,000 bond, Dec. 5, 1964. Rainey and Price were charged by the government in connection with the slaying of three civil rights Freedom Summer workers last June. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

In this picture released by the FBI and the State of Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, Edgar Ray Killen is seen June, 1964 in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The photograph was presented into evidence during the trial of Edgar Ray Killen, who is charged with the 1964 deaths of three civil rights workers. (Photo: FBI/State of Mississippi Attorney General’s Office via Getty Images)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Eighteen defendants stand before Miss Esther Carter (seated) as they were arraigned with the slaying of thee Civil Rights workers on Dec. 4, 1964 in Mississippi. (Photo: HWC/AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King displays pictures of three civil rights workers at a news conference in New York on Dec. 4, 1964. The workers were slain in Mississippi last summer. Dr. King commended the FBI for its arrests in Mississippi on Dec. 4, 1964 in connection with the slayings. (Photo: JL/AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Neshoba County Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price watches marchers as they pass through Philadelphia, Miss., during a memorial for three slain civil rights workers, June 21, 1965. Price is charged with conspiracy to violate the civil rights of the three Freedom Summer activists slain by Klansmen in 1964. Seven Ku Klux Klansmen were convicted of federal civil rights violations in the deaths and sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to ten years; none served more than six years. (Photo: Jack Thornell/AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Raymond Roberts (left) raises a large confederate flag on the back of a pickup truck across the street from the federal building in Meridian, Miss. on Monday, Oct. 9, 1967, where his brother Alton Wayne Roberts and 17 others went on trial on conspiracy charges in the 1964 slaying of three civil rights workers. (Photo: AP)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

A $5,000-a-year paid informer for the FBI, Delma R. Dennis, 27, told a Federal jury that as his chapter of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan was about to vote on whether to kill civil rights worker Michael Schwerner, Klan organizer Edgar R. Killen (shown entering court in Meridian, Miss.) told him it wouldn’t be necessary since Schwerner’s “elimination” had been approved at the Klan State level. Killen is among 18 men on trial for conspiracy in the slaying of three civil rights workers. (Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

Edgar Ray Killen is escorted int o the Neshoba County Courthouse before sentencing June 23, 2005 in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Killen , 80, was convicted on June 21, 2005 in the 1964 murders of civil rights activists Andrew Goodman, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner. He received three consecutive 20 year sentences for the murders. (Photo: Marianne Todd/Getty Images)

1964 slaying of 3 civil rights workers

A stone outside the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church memorializes three men, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman June 10, 2005 in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The men were sent to investigate a fire at the church and beatings of church members by Klansmen. The men later disappeared and their bodies were discovered Aug. 4, 1964, in an earthen dam outside of Philadelphia. The case, which came to be known as Mississippi Burning, was said to have paved the way for the U.S. civil rights movement. (Photo: Marianne Todd/Getty Images)