Did James Earl Ray really kill MLK? Did he act alone? Who else was behind the murder?
Imani Clark '08-'09


On April 3, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his last speech to the people of the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. King was in Memphis to aid the Memphis Sanitation Strike, where black workers were demanding rights that were guaranteed to their white counterparts such as equal pay, equal treatment from white supervisors, and equal ability to move up in the workplace. His final speech "I've Been to the Mountaintop" eluded to this strike and also to a bomb threat on his flight that morning from Atlanta to Memphis. (1) He acknowledged the changes that still needed to take place and continued to push for a better tomorrow. (b)


King's friends, including Reverend Jesse Jackson, point to where the bullet was shot from.

After delivering his "I've Been to the Mountaintop" speech, Martin Luther King Jr. returned to the motel he normally stayed at while in Memphis, Tennessee, the Lorraine Motel. It was owned by a black bussiness man, Walter Bailey, and was named after his wife Lorraine. King and his best friend Reverend Ralph David Abernathy stayed in room 306 so often that it eventually came to be known as the King-Abernathy Suite. (2)

On the evening of April 4, 1968 at 6:01 p.m., King was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel talking to friends including Jesse Jackson and Ben Branch about the event they were scheduled to attend that night, when a shot rang out and King was hit in the back of his neck. The shot ripped open his throat, went down his spinal cord, and was eventually lodged into his shoulder. An hour later at 7:05 p.m., King was pronounced dead at St. Joseph's Hospital. (2)

James Earl Ray

James Earl Ray's mugshot

Following the shooting of Martin Luther King Jr., a bag with a .30-06 rifle, ammunition, and binoculars, among other things were dropped off in front of the Canipe's Amusement Co. arcade by a white Mustang which sped off immediately following the deposit of the bundle. The rifle was traced back to a Harvey Lowmeyer who was identified as the man who bought the rifle six days prior to the shooting. The room across the street from the Lorraine Motel where the shots were supposedly fired from at the New Rebel Motel was under the name Eric S. Galt. Despite the several people that were allegedly involved, fingerprints found on the rifle enabled officials to trace the assassination back to James Earl Ray, a career criminal and open racist who had just escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary. (3)

The search for Ray began on April 19, 1968, and by June 1 that same year they managed to match Ray to a passport of a Canadian by the name of George Raymon Sneyd, his newfound alias. Exactly a week later, Ray was arrested at the Heathrow Airport in London on his way to South Africa.

Initially under the advisement of his attorney Percy Foreman, Ray plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty. He received 99 years in jail for first degree murder. However, three days later, he appealed to the court and from that day until his death on April 23, 1998 he has maintained his innocence.

Evidence of Conspiracy
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s funeral

Following his conviction, James Earl Ray began to imply that he did not work alone in his plot to kill Martin Luther King Jr. Not only did his elusion to a conspiracy spark the creation of new theories, but his strong intelligence in choosing aliases and in plotting to kill King surpassed his expected intelligence as a petty criminal. Other smaller things that could indicate a possible conspiracy were the fact that Ray worked for a man who was never identified named "Raul," the direction the bullet came from seems to place the rifle in the shrubbery next to the building rather than in the shrubbery in front of the building, among other small possible issues. A large factor to the ever growing conspiracy theories was the beliefs of the King family that Ray was not the murderer of Martin Luther King Jr. The following are possible conspiracy theories.

Theory 1: Raul

According to James Earl Ray, he smuggled things for a man named "Raul" and he claimed that he never knew what he was smuggling or the last name of Raul. He was told to buy a rifle and get a motel room at the New Rebel Motel. When Ray went to buy the rifle, apparently he originally bought a Winchester rifle with a scope saying that the .30-06 was too expensive. However, later on Ray returned the rifle for the .30-06 because his "brother" claimed the Winchester was unsuitable. Also according to Ray's accounts, he never used the rifle, instead he handed it over to Raul and sat in the car. He heard a shot and Raul returned to the car and they fled the scene. (5)

Theory 2: Lloyd Jowers

Lloyd Jowers ran Jim's Grill which was across the street from the Lorraine Motel. In 1993, he claimed that a Mafia-linked produce seller by the name of Frank Liberto gave him $100,000 and told him to hire someone to kill Martin Luther King, Jr. After the assassination, Jowers stored the rifle in his restaurant after receiving it from the actual killer. In 1999, following a lawsuit against Jowers, the jury decided that Jowers did take part in the assassination as well as possible aid from the government. But Jowers' claims were soon denounced when the Department of Justice investigated and discovered while his story not only had no substantial evidence, he also paid off many people to support his story in exchange for a $300,000 movie deal. (4)


To this day, the question of who murdered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. still remains unanswered. Despite the many potential theories, the government has allegedly looked into all of these theories and declared them implausible. One of the agencies that looked into the King assassination was the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Their investigations found that it was highly likely that it was a conspiracy because James Earl Ray's rifle skills were questionable and he managed to kill King with one perfect shot and he also managed to avoid authorities for the longest time in American assassin history. However, the files used by the HSCA remain locked until 2029 when they will be free to be reopened. Until that time, we will just have to follow the crowd and assume that it was truly James Earl Ray.

For more information on the conspiracy theories behind the assassination of Martin Luther King check out this website:

Works Cited




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