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James Earl Ray Conspiracy Theories

Updated on May 17, 2016

Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) was a Baptist minister who was a major leader in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968.

The official version of the MLK assassination is a single man, James Earl Ray, committed the act on April 4, 1968 in Memphis TN. Ray was staying at a rooming house located on South Main Street which had a shared bathroom with a window. According to the government, James Earl Ray shot Dr. Martin Luther King from that window which looked out onto the swimming pool of the Lorraine Motel where the King entourage was staying.

King was shot and killed while standing on the motel’s balcony. Ray spent his life in prison based on a confession which he immediately retracted. Ballistics tests performed on the rifle he supposedly used were unable to link it to King’s assassination.

New Evidence

Surprisingly, the King family does not think Ray was the killer. They won a civil court case proving there was a conspiracy. And now, new evidence has come to light proving the government and media may not have been completely honest about the whole affair.

Just moments after Dr. Martin Luther King was killed by a sniper's bullet, a photographer took a picture in which Dr. King lies on the balcony floor. The witnesses are pointing in the direction the fatal shot was fired from. There is no confusion as to where the shot came from. All three witnesses are pointing the same exact direction. The official story claims they are pointing at the window from which Ray is supposed to have fired the fatal shot. But that’s not where the witnesses are pointing!

The conspiracy theory attracted new media interest in 1997 when King's son, Dexter, met with his father's convicted assassin in prison. Dexter shook Ray’s hand and stated his belief he was innocent.

More Support

More support for conspiracy theories came the following year when Attorney General Janet Reno reopened a limited investigation into the assassination. Eventually, in Dec. 1999, a Memphis jury concluded there was a conspiracy involving bar owner Lloyd Jowers.

In the original version of the assassination James Earl Ray was a career criminal and confirmed racist. There seemed no doubt at the time he was guilty of the assassination. He was an escaped convict who rented a room across from the Motel where King was staying while mediating a sanitation workers' strike. He shot King as he stood on the balcony of the motel. The bullet severed King's spinal cord, killing him. Ray was seen fleeing the scene moments later.

Pointing to his guilt were fingerprints found on a pair of binoculars and the rifle. Records show he had purchased the rifle six days before. Ray was arrested at Heathrow Airport about 2 months later… after robbing a London bank.

Ray pleaded guilty in March 1969 to escape the possibility of execution and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Even though the judge had informed him a guilty plea could not be appealed. Three days later he changed his story. Despite many appeals, Ray's lawyers never produced any convincing evidence to reopen the case. Although a federal investigation in 1977–1978 concluded "there is likelihood" Ray did not act alone in planning the assassination.

Only one witness admitted to have seen Ray leaving the boarding house bathroom, a man named Charles Stephens. But according to other witnesses, Stephens was extremely drunk. The first three descriptions Stephens provided had no resemblance to Ray. In fact, his first two descriptions were of a black man. Stephens eventually confessed he had not gotten a good look at the assassin. It wasn't until the FBI paid a $30,000 bar tab for Stephens that he identified Ray. And Stephens did not see the actual shooting. According to another witness, Stephens was urinating in some bushes at the time of the shooting.

Ray maintained his innocence until he died in prison on April 23, 1998. While there he often spun contradictory conspiracy theories, such as why he initially confessed. Ray claimed it was on the advice of his lawyer who was trying to get a profitable movie contract.

He also claimed he was framed by an elusive character named Raul. Supposedly, the two were in cahoots operating several smuggling operations. Ray said he never knew Raul's last name or even what he was smuggling. According to Ray, Raul instructed him to purchase a rifle and check into a certain rooming house in Memphis, which he did without question.There Ray gave the weapon to Raul and never saw him again.

Another version claims he waited in a car and heard a shot at which time Raul ran out and jumped into the car. However, no Raul was ever found, that is until Ray identified one in 1994 he claimed to recognize from a photograph. The accused was a retired auto worker from New York. But he was immediately cleared of any involvement.

No conspiracy theory would be complete without including the U.S. government, which was provided by Ray’s last lawyer, William Pepper.

He claimed Ray was set up by the government, who had hired a Mafia hit man along with a team of Green Beret snipers as a backup to kill King. But the plot thickens further, adding the CIA, Memphis police, FBI and Army intelligence to the mix. Of course Pepper profits from the sales of his 1995 book,”Orders to Kill: The Truth Behind the Murder of Martin Luther King.” According to the publication, the Green Beret in charge of the snipers, Billy Eidson, was killed to keep the secret.Eidson was later found to be alive and a military cablegram Pepper had produced as evidence was discovered to be a forgery. But that didn't stop Pepper's book from being published. Coincidently its’ publication coincided with Ray’s death from liver disease.

James Earl Ray (March 10, 1928 - April 23, 1998) was born in Alton, Illinois and dropped out of school at 15. He later enlisted in the army shortly after World War II and served a tour in Germany where he became engaged with pro-Nazi sympathies and black marketeering activities. But these activities aren’t what landed him in trouble. He was court-martialed for drunkenness and received a general discharge for incompetence.

He was convicted of burglary in California in 1949 and in 1952 he was sentenced to two years for armed robbery of a taxi driver in Illinois. Following another armed robbery in Missouri in 1955, he was convicted of mail fraud. In 1959 Ray was finally sentenced to 20 years as a habitual offender. In 1967 he escaped by slipping into a van transporting bread from the prison bakery.

It’s a matter of record Ray led a troubled and spotted life. But, was he the one who assassinated King? The world may never know for certain.


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    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      9 years ago from Florence, South Carolina


      When I find things like this, I always write about them.

    • leabeth profile image


      9 years ago

      Very interesting hub, did not know all of this. Liked it a lot and voted it up.

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      9 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Why, thank you freta.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 

      9 years ago from Southern California

      WOW! What an interesting hub, I was totally captivated. Never heard of most of this. Yes I did like it and I voted it up.

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      9 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Pam, Sometimes you have to do a lot of research, which I know you are very familiar with. I read your hubs ya know.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 years ago from Sunny Florida

      JY, You shared a lot of information that I didn't know. This was a very interesting hub.


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