Real Name: Martin Luther King Jr.
Case: Murder, Assassination, Conspiracy
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Date: April 4, 1968
Details: Dr. Martin Luther King was a well-loved civil rights leader in the Sixties. On April 3, 1968, he arrived in Memphis and checked into the Lorraine Motel. He had come to the city to show his support of striking sanitation workers. Across the street from the motel were a series of run-down buildings. One of the buildings was a rooming house, run by Bessie Brewer. Shortly before 6 pm on April 4, tenant William Anshooks found the building's communal bathroom locked. Inside the bathroom, career petty criminal James Earl Ray loaded a high-powered rifle and took aim at room 306 of the Lorraine Motel and shot and killed Dr. King as he stepped out for dinner.
In his escape, Ray dumped the high-powered rifle used in the murder and his overnight bag wrapped in a bed spread at the door of the Canipe Amusement Company. Witnesses saw a white car, possibly a Mustang, quickly drive away from the scene. Two months later, he was arrested in London trying to board a flight for Brussels. On March 10, 1969, he pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison.
Three days after his conviction, Ray began claiming he was just a pawn in a larger conspiracy. He announced that he had been pressured into pleading guilty and pointed to a man named Raoul as the real shooter.
Walter Fauntleroy, the chairman of the King sub-committee believes that the conclusion Ray worked alone could be incorrect, pointing out that Ray must have had help escaping the country. He believes that there was, in fact, a conspiracy involved.
Fauntleroy looked at Ray's movements leading up the assassination. On April 23, 1967, he escaped from a prison in Missouri where he was serving a twenty-year sentence for robbery. Initially, he fled to Chicago, and in July, to Montreal. He used the fake name "Eric Starvo Galt" and obtained faked passport and seamen's papers. He claimed that Raoul was the one that initially got him the passport and papers. Raoul asked him for help with some smuggling.
He claims that his first job with Raoul was to smuggle contraband across the U.S./Canadian border near Detroit. He was paid $750. Allegedly, he was then directed to go to Birmingham, Alabama. Raoul gave him $2000 and had him purchase a white Mustang. On August 30, 1967, he did purchase the car. The two then drove to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, where the were involved in another smuggling venture. After that, they went to Los Angeles, to await further instructions. In mid-March of 1968, Raoul told Ray to leave for Atlanta.
On March 29, Raoul outlined their next criminal enterprise. He asked Ray to buy some rifles that they would show to prospective clients. Later that day, they drove to Birmingham where he purchased a .243 caliber rifle, fitted with a telescopic sight. Apparently, he was not familiar with firearms, according to witnesses. Raoul allegedly told him to buy a different rifle, which he did. The new rifle was a Remington Game Master, which he allegedly gave to Raoul on April 3. According to Ray, that was the last time he saw the rifle. According to the official investigation, this was the rifle used to commit the assassination.
At 3:30 pm on April 4, Ray claims he met Raoul at a local coffee shop. He told Ray to rent a room at Bessie's boarding house and await further instructions. At 4 pm, he rented a room, using the name "John Willard". He was told to bring an overnight bag for appearance's sake. Raoul also told him to leave the Mustang outside, because he wanted to use it that night. At 5 pm, he allegedly left the house. He claims that just before 6 pm, he drove the Mustang to a service station. At 6:01 pm, Dr. King was shot.
Fauntleroy and Ray's attorneys do not believe that he would have been able to make such a precise shot due to his poor marksmanship. However, an FBI investigator claims that with the scope on the rifle and the distance between the boarding house and the motel, it would be easy for him to make the shot.
Some believe that the bullet that killed Dr. King did not come from the boarding house, but instead the bushes below. Two witnesses believed that the shot had come from the bushes. Two other witnesses, including Dr. King's driver, believe that they saw a man dressed in white running from the bushes just after the shooting. However, no conclusive evidence can prove that the shot came from the bushes.
According to the official version of events, a tenant at the boarding house, Charles Stevens, saw Ray running down the stairs of the boarding house just seconds after the shooting. However, Ray's attorney Jim Lesar notes that Charles was too inebriated to be verifiable. One of the committee members claims that they did not rely on him for a positive identification. They instead relied on him being able to say that he had heard a loud noise from the bathroom and see someone run by him. Another of Ray's attorneys claims that Charles only came forward for the reward.
According to the official events, Ray, in a panic, dropped his bed spread, rifle, and overnight bag in front of the Canipe Amusement Company. However, a former defense investigator claims that nobody would do that, no matter how panicked they were. Some believe that this was a setup and the items were placed there.
A dusting of the room Ray supposedly shot from revealed several unidentified fingerprints. None belonged to him. While two prints on the rifle were linked to Ray, it was never shown that the specific rifle was used to kill Dr. King. It was only shown that the killing shots were consistent with the rifle. A swab test was never done to determine if it had been fired. However, a spent shell was in the chamber.
While the FBI never found a man named Raoul connected to Ray, former defense investigator Harold Weisberg learned that Ray had been in contact with a man named James C. "J.C." Hardin. Hardin had called Ray from Atlanta and gave a message to the manager of the hotel that Ray was staying at. When Ray did not call him back, Hardin went to California to meet with him. Some believe that Hardin might have actually been the mysterious Raoul. They believe that he planned the crime for Ray to take the fall. The FBI investigated the lead long enough to have a composite made of Hardin. However, he was never identified or located.
For unknown reasons, Ray has refused to say whether or not Hardin and Raoul are the same person. He also has refused to positively identify Raoul.
House Select Committee Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakely sums up the case by revealing that the FBI did not pull an adequate investigation and Ray was arrested by a rush to judgement to quickly arrest an assassin.
Notes: This segment originally ran on the March 31, 1993 episode.
Results: Unresolved. James Earl Ray died in 1998. The King family and others believe that the assassination was carried out by a conspiracy involving the U.S. government as alleged by Loyd Jowers in 1993, and that Ray was a scapegoat. In 1999, the King family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Jowers for the sum of $10,000,000. During the trial, both the family and Jowers presented evidence alleging a government conspiracy. The government agencies accused could not defend themselves or respond because they were not named as defendants. Based on the evidence, the jury concluded that Jowers and "others were part of a conspiracy to kill King." However, many of those involved in the case are convinced that Ray acted alone.
- Martin Luther King Jr. on Unsolved.com
- Martin Luther King Jr. on Wikipedia
- James Earl Ray on Wikipedia
- Raoul and his alleged participation in the assassination
- Why Martin Luther King's Family Believes James Earl Ray Was Not His Killer
- King assassination doubts remain
- Martin Luther King death clouded
- James Earl Ray: 'I Did Not Shoot King'
- Ray's brother denies being mysterious 'Raoul'
- Ray asks: Who killed Dr. King?
- Ray says 'Raoul' led him down path of deception
- 'I was framed,' James Earl Ray contends
- Private detectives lead investigation into King's death
- Who killed Martin Luther King Jr? His family believes James Earl Ray was framed
- MLK assassination still clouded with mystery after 50 years
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Find a Grave