After Bryant and Milam admitted to killing Till in their interview, their support base eroded in Mississippi. Many of their former friends and supporters, including those who had contributed to their defense funds, cut them off. Their shops went bankrupt and closed after blacks boycotted them, and banks refused them loans to plant crops. After struggling to secure a loan and find someone who would rent to him, Milam managed to secure 217 acres and a $4,000 loan to plant cotton, but blacks refused to work for him, and he was forced to pay whites higher wages. Eventually, Milam and Bryant relocated to Texas, but their infamy followed them, and they continued to receive extreme animosity from locals. After several years, they returned to Mississippi.[note 9] Milam found work as a heavy equipment operator, but ill health forced him into retirement. Over the years, Milam was tried for offenses such as assault and battery, writing bad checks, and using a stolen credit card. He died of spinal cancer in 1980, at the age of 61.
Bryant worked as a welder while in Texas, until increasing blindness forced him to give up this employment. At some point, he and Carolyn divorced; he remarried in 1980. He opened a store in Ruleville, Mississippi and was convicted in 1984 and 1988 of food stamp fraud. In a 1985 interview, he denied that he had killed Till, but said: "if Emmett Till hadn't got out of line, it probably wouldn't have happened to him." Fearing economic boycotts and retaliation, Bryant lived a private life and refused to allow himself to be photographed or reveal the exact location of his store, explaining: "this new generation is different and I don't want to worry about a bullet some dark night". He died of cancer in 1994, at the age of 63.
Till's mother married Gene Mobley, became a teacher, and changed her surname to Till-Mobley. She continued her life as an activist working to educate people about her son's murder. In 1992, Till-Mobley had the opportunity to listen while Bryant was interviewed about his involvement in Till's murder. With Bryant unaware that Till-Mobley was listening, he asserted that Till had ruined his life, expressed no remorse, and said, "Emmett Till is dead. I don't know why he can't just stay dead."
In 1996, documentary filmmaker Keith Beauchamp, who was greatly moved by Till's open casket photograph, started background research for a feature film he planned to make about Till's murder. He asserted that as many as 14 people may have been involved, including Carolyn Bryant Donham (who had remarried). Mose Wright heard someone with "a lighter voice" affirm that Till was the one in his front yard immediately before Bryant and Milam drove away with the boy. Beauchamp spent the next nine years producing The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, released in 2003. That same year, PBS aired an installment of American Experience titled "The Murder of Emmett Till". In 2005, CBS journalist Ed Bradley aired a 60 Minutes report investigating the Till murder, part of which showed him tracking down Carolyn Bryant at her home in Greenville, Mississippi.
A 1991 book written by Stephen Whitfield, another by Christopher Mettress in 2002, and Mamie Till-Mobley's memoirs the next year all posed questions as to who was involved in the murder and cover-up, leading federal authorities to try to resolve the questions about the identity of the body pulled from the Tallahatchie River.
In 2004, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it was reopening the case to determine whether anyone other than Milam and Bryant was involved. David T. Beito, a professor at the University of Alabama, states that Till's murder "has this mythic quality like the Kennedy assassination". It was one of a number of cold cases dating to the Civil Rights era that Justice was investigating.
The body was exhumed and an autopsy conducted by the Cook County coroner in 2005. Using DNA from Till's relatives, dental comparisons to images taken of Till, and anthropological analysis, the body exhumed was positively identified as Till's. It had extensive cranial damage, a broken left femur, and two broken wrists. Metallic fragments were found in the skull consistent with being shot with a .45 caliber gun.
In February 2007, a Leflore County grand jury, composed primarily of black jurors and empaneled by Joyce Chiles, a black prosecutor, found no credible basis for Beauchamp's claim that 14 people took part in Till's abduction and murder. Beauchamp was angry with the finding, but David Beito and Juan Williams, who worked on the reading materials for the Eyes on the Prize documentary, were critical of Beauchamp for trying to revise history and taking attention away from other cold cases. The grand jury failed to find sufficient cause for charges against Carolyn Bryant Donham. Neither the FBI nor the grand jury found any credible evidence that Henry Lee Loggins, identified by Beauchamp as a suspect who could be charged, had any role in the crime. Other than Loggins, Beauchamp refused to name any of the people he alleged were involved.