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June 14, 1983, Page 00016 The New York Times Archives

Edward L. Cates, a prominent Jackson lawyer who was a close adviser to Gov. Ross Barnett in the 1960's, is being held without bond on charges of murder, arson and embezzlement, a month after he was believed to have died in his burned-out automobile.

On May 14 a charred car belonging to the lawyer was found on a country road in nearby Madison County, with part of a body inside. Funeral services with full military honors were held three days later for Mr. Cates, a former city official described by friends as a super-patriot.

The 55-year-old Mr. Cates was arrested last Thursday in Lawrenceville, Ga., where he was identifying himself as Christopher E. Curts, a retired major general.

Mr. Cates is being held in Madison County jail at Canton and is expected to be arraigned on the murder and arson charges by the middle of the week. He has also been charged by Hinds County authorities here with embezzling $223,000 from a client. Identity of Body Is Sought

Meanwhile, the local authorities have sought a court order to exhume the remains buried in Lakewood Memorial Park here to make an identification. The body found in the automobile was so badly burned it was identified as Mr. Cates only by a partly burned shoe on the left foot.

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The police were called in early last week by a lawyer for Mr. Cates's wife, Dorothy, after she received first a telegram, and then three money orders from cities in Georgia, Atlanta, Bufford and Lawrenceville.

The telegram expressed condolences at the passing of ''Chic.'' Mrs. Cates said the nickname had no link to her husband that she knew of. Presumably the reference was supposed to indicate an old friendship with Mr. Cates in the Army because the telegram was signed ''Christopher E. Curts, maj. gen. retired,'' which was also unfamiliar to Mrs. Cates.

Officers from Madison County and Jackson quickly established through sources in Bufford and Lawrenceville that the sender fit the description of Mr. Cates, and they arrested the Jackson lawyer at his apartment in Lawrenceville. 'Like a Thousand-Piece Puzzle'

Chief James L. Black of the Jackson police said the bizarre episode was ''like a thousand-piece puzzle.'' ''It's money that's involved,'' he said. ''It's part of an overall crime that climaxed with a murder.'' The embezzlement charges filed against Mr. Cates stemmed from allegations that he converted to his own use a $223,000 trust fund belonging to the Hinds County Co-op. He had represented the cooperative for some time.

The authorities also said they had learned that Mr. Cates took out three life insurance policies, totaling more than $400,000, on himself in recent months. They also said that since December Mr. Cates had bought five Cadillac automobiles on separate occasions from a New Orleans dealer, then resold them in Jackson at a net $25,000 loss.

One officer, Deputy Sheriff Robert Bailey of Madison County, said the automobile deals were ''the most confusing part.'' ''If a man was going to convert money to his own use, why would he lose $25,000 of it?'' the deputy asked. Mr. Cates, an assistant attorney general in the early 1960's, had been one of the state's lawyers opposing the lawsuit brought by James Meredith, a young black, to gain admission to the University of Mississippi. Last-Minute Strategy

After Mr. Meredith had won his case in the Federal courts and his enrollment neared in September 1962, Mr. Cates was one of Governor Barnett's inner circle who devised a last-minute strategy.

Mr. Cates was said to have conceived a plan accepted by Governor Barnett under which Mr. Meredith and his escort would be arrested by local officers when they arrived at the campus.

Word of the plan was communicated to Burke Marshall, then chief of the civil rights division of the Justice Department, and a confrontation was averted on that occasion. However, Mr. Meredith's enrollment caused riots in which two people died.

Mr. Cates was elected a city commissioner here in 1969 with strong segregationist backing. But in the 1970's he was twice defeated in races for judgeships.

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