FBI & Memphis Police Have Admitted Their Role in the Assassination of Dr. King
The assassination of Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the opening acts which plunged 1968 into a
year of turmoil. Coming on the heels of the Tet Offensive which showed the war
in Vietnam to be in disarray, and President Johnson's decision not to seek
re-election, King's assassination was itself soon followed by the murder of
Robert Kennedy, violence at the Democratic National Convention, and a general
unraveling of the country into a period of violence and despair.
the other assassinations of the 1960s, the King murder had its "lone
nut," in this case James Earl Ray, an escaped convict who purchased the
rifle found near the assassination scene and was caught in flight two months
later. But, also like the other assassinations, evidence of conspiracy was
easily found, despite being ignored by government investigators.
early evening of April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed by a single
shot which struck his face and neck. He was standing on the balcony of the
Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had come to lead a peaceful
march in support of striking sanitation workers. About an hour later, he was
pronounced dead at 7:05 PM at St. Joseph Hospital.
after the murder, a bundle was dropped near the door of Canipe's Amusement Co.
near the assassination scene, and a white Mustang sped away. Memphis police
officers found the bundle to contain a .30-06 rifle, ammunition, a pair of
binoculars, and other items. The rifle had been purchased in Birmingham by a
Harvey Lowmeyer, later determined to be one of several aliases used by Ray.
of the white Mustang was thwarted by CB radio transmissions which described a
high-speed chase between the occupants of a blue Pontiac and the white Mustang,
and even describing gunplay between the vehicles. These broadcasts appear to
have been a hoax or diversion. The broadcaster of these CB radio transmissions
has never been identified.
Confession, and Conviction
at first had little to go on. "Harvey Lowmeyer," the purchaser of the
rifle found in the bundle, was described as a "white male, 36 years old, 5
feet, 8 inches tall, 150 to 160 pounds, black or dark brown hair," a
description fitting many people. The FBI's investigation soon focused on an
Eric S. Galt, a name used on a registration card at the New Rebel Motel in
Memphis. On April 19, fingerprints on the rifle and other items were matched to
James Earl Ray, a fugitive from the Missouri State Penitentiary. More than a
month passed without Ray being located. Finally, on June 1 the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police found a possible photographic match between Ray and a George
Raymon Sneyd's Canadian passport. A week later, on June 8, Ray was arrested in
Heathrow Airport in London, apparently on his way to Rhodesia.
extradited to the US to face trial. He replaced his first attorney, Arthur
Hanes, with Percy Foreman. Foreman, who had represented more than 400
murder-case defendants, convinced Ray to plead guilty as the only way of
avoiding the death penalty. On March 10, 1969, Ray pleaded guilty to
first-degree murder and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. A
"mini-trial" on that day settled few of the questions which had
arisen during the preceding year. And Ray himself hinted at a conspiracy,
interrupting the proceedings to saying that while he "agreed to all these
stipulations," he did not "exactly accept the theories of Mr.
Clark" (the Attorney General)..."I mean on the conspiracy
thing." Three days later, Ray recanted his plea and requested a new trial
in two letters to Judge Battle. The judge did not act upon these letters, and
was found dead at his desk of a heart attack three weeks later, literally with
Ray's appeal under his body.
Evidence of Conspiracy
recanting his confession three days after giving it, James Earl Ray began
claiming his innocence, saying that he did not know King was in Memphis and
that his actions had for months been directed by a mysterious person named
"Raoul." Beyond Ray's own possibly self-serving statements, though,
there are several indications that there was more to the King murder than just
Ray. Among these are Ray's sophisticated use of aliases, evidence of framing
including a second white Mustang at the assassination scene and the convenient
"bundle" of evidence implicating Ray, and several indications that
Ray was aided or directed at times. For instance, Ray purchased a Winchester
rifle and had it equipped with a scope, and then almost immediately called back
and exchanged the rifle the following day for a Remington .30-06, telling the
salesman that his "brother" had told him the Winchester was
unsuitable. Ray had rejected a .30-06 during his original purchase as too
Philip Melanson has written that Ray used aliases which matched actual people
living in Montreal, and began using those aliases before he first arrived there
during his pre-assassination travels: "four of the five aliases used by
Ray in the nine months preceding the crime were real Canadians who lived in
close proximity to each other." These people - Eric S. Galt, Raymond
George Sneyd, Paul E. Bridgeman - all lived within a couple of miles of each
other in Toronto, and all looked very similar to Ray. Galt and Willard, another
Toronto resident whose name Ray used, both had scars on the right side of their
faces, as Ray did. Though Ray had used aliases throughout his criminal career,
there is no evidence Ray had been to Toronto prior to fleeing there after the
King murder, and no explanation for how he came to use these particular names.
oddities written about by researchers of the case include a second white
Mustang, not owned by Ray, which may have been the one seen fleeing the murder
scene, as well as the CB radio "hoax" mentioned earlier, and a
delivery of an enveloped to Ray by a mysterious "fat man." Some
writers have interpreted the evidence as a sophisticated operation which brought
Ray into an assassination plot and then left him holding the bag at the scene
of King's murder.
was no eyewitness to the shooting, and there are credibility problems with the
sole witness to Ray's allegedly fleeing the roominghouse bathroom from which he
is said to have fired the rifle. The slug removed from King's body was never
matched to Ray's rifle. The rifle shot was never proven to have come from the
bathroom window, and may have come from the bushy area on the ground below.
skill with a rifle is dubious, and while he did commit armed robbery he had
never harmed anyone previously during his criminal endeavors. And the man whose
career one author described as "a record of bungled and ludicrously inept
robberies and burglaries" purportedly managed to kill King with one
perfect shot and then elude authorities for longer than any other American
reminiscent of Oswald and the JFK assassination, there appears to be no motive
for Ray the loner to kill King. A petty criminal, Ray seems unlikely to have
committed the crime purely out of racial hatred, and anecdotes of his racism
are thin. The idea that he killed King in order to achieve notoriety is
implausible given the lengths to which he went to avoid capture (nearly
succeeding). As Ray's brother John told the St. Louis Dispatch following James'
arrest: "If my brother did kill King he did it for a lot of money - he
never did anything if it wasn't for money."
point out that Ray's story of Raoul has never been backed up by any solid
evidence, and despite some minor mysteries, concrete and credible evidence
tying Ray to any conspiracy has never emerged. The problem here is that the
FBI, which conducted much of the initial investigations, was more interested in
finding and then convicting Ray than in finding accomplices. The FBI had
received death threats against King which it had never shared with the civil
rights leader, and it withheld relevant files from later investigations. Beyond
the FBI's initial investigation, the only large-scale study of the King murder
was undertaken by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. And that body
found a "likelihood" of a conspiracy.
The HSCA Investigation
House Select Committee on Assassinations conducted investigations into the
murders of both President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In
the King case, the HSCA wrote about the context of the murder, noting in
particular the then-recent revelations of the FBI's COINTELPRO operations and
its harassment of Dr. King. Regarding the assassination itself, the HSCA
interviewed Ray extensively, along with his brothers and many witnesses and
officials. Some of theHSCA's
·Ray fired the shot that killed King, from the roominghouse
·Ray's "Raoul" story was "not worthy of belief,
and may have been invented partly to cover for help received from his brothers
John and Jerry."
·There was a "likelihood" of conspiracy. In particular,
the HSCA focused on an alleged $50,000 bounty on King's life offered in St.
these and other HSCA findings are on more solid ground than others. The
otherwise-detailed HSCA Final Report is also silent on some issues, most
glaringly Ray's sophisticated use of aliases. The alias issue was well-known to
the Committee - inexecutive
session Congressman Lehner on one occasion notedthat this "would indicate that a
rather sophisticated operation was at work, and this would not fit in, as Mr.
McKinney has stated, with the background of Ray as we know him..."
HSCA was also aware of a $100,000 bounty offer on Dr. King which was being
offered by the White Knights of Mississippi. A number of post-assassination
leads pointed to the possibility that members of the White Knights were
involved in some fashion with the attack on Dr. King.
extent the HSCA investigated these and other issues, and what they found, is
difficult to say at present. There has been no MLK Records Act to match the
1992 JFK Records Act, and thus the HSCA's files on the King investigation
remain sealed to this day. The executive session statement quoted above is
available by accident, as King-related discussion in these transcripts is
typically blacked out.
The Jowers Confession and
the Civil Trial
Jowers, the owner of Jim's Grill located on the ground floor of the building
which contained the roominghouse, confessed to involvement in the King
assassination on ABC Prime Time Live in 1993. Jowers said that a
Mafia-associated Memphis produce dealer named Frank Liberto gave him $100,000
to hire a hitman to kill King. Jowers said he stored the actual assassination
rifle in his restaurant, retrieving it from the real killer.
attorney William Pepper pursued this allegation, and the King family sued
Jowers in a wrongful death lawsuit. This resulted in a civil trial in 1999. At
the end of that trial, the Judge read the jury's verdict: "In answer to
the question did Loyd Jowers participate in a conspiracy to do harm to Dr.
Martin Luther King, your answer is yes. Do you also find that others, including
governmental agencies, were parties to this conspiracy as alleged by the
defendant? Your answer to that one is also yes. And the total amount of damages
you find for the plaintiffs entitled to is one hundred dollars. Is that your
verdict?" The jury replied: "Yes."
the most remarkable thing about theKing civil
trial, coming on the heels of America's obsession with the O.J.
Simpson trial, is that this event received almost no coverage in the US media.