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Martin Luther King Jr (Page 3)


A picture of James Earl Ray, the man accused and found guilty of killing Martin Luther King Jr.

James Earl Ray, the man accused of killing Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, swearing under oath that he is innocent, before the House Committee Investigation of Assassinations. (August 1968)

(Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Who Killed Martin Luther King Jr.?

Despite many conspiracy theories questioning who was responsible for the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., most of the evidence points to a single shooter, James Earl Ray.

On the morning of April 4, Ray used information from the televised news as well as from a newspaper to discover where King was staying in Memphis. Around 3:30 p.m., Ray, using the name John Willard, rented room 5B in Bessie Brewer's run-down rooming house that was located across the street from the Lorraine Motel.

Ray then visited the York Arms Company a few blocks away and purchased a pair of binoculars for $41.55 in cash. Returning to the rooming house, Ray readied himself in the communal bathroom, peering out the window, waiting for King to emerge from his hotel room. At 6:01 p.m., Ray shot King, mortally wounding him.

Immediately after the shot, Ray quickly placed his rifle, binoculars, radio, and newspaper into a box and covered it with an old, green blanket. Then Ray hurriedly carried the bundle out of the bathroom, down the hall, and down to the first floor. Once outside, Ray dumped his package outside the Canipe Amusement Company and walked swiftly to his car. He then drove away in his white Ford Mustang, just before police arrived.

While Ray was driving toward Mississippi, police were starting to put the pieces together. Nearly immediately, the mysterious green bundle was discovered as were several witnesses who had seen someone who they believed to be the new renter of 5B rushing out of the rooming house with the bundle.

By comparing fingerprints found on items in the bundle, including those on the rife and binoculars, with those of known fugitives, the FBI discovered they were looking for James Earl Ray.

After a two-month long, international manhunt, Ray was finally captured on June 8 at London's Heathrow Airport. Ray pleaded guilty and was given a 99-year sentence in prison. Ray died in prison in 1998.

* Ralph Abernathy as quoted in Gerald Posner, Killing the Dream (New York: Random House, 1998) 31.



Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. New York: William Morrow, 1986.

Posner, Gerald. Killing the Dream: James Earl Ray and the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.. New York: Random House, 1998.

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