Martin Luther King Jr., Assassination of

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The Washington, D.C., monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was opened to the public in 2011. The circumstances of this great civil rights leader’s assassination are still actively debated.

Martin Luther King Jr., Assassination of

When the FBI tried to sell the idea of James Earl Ray as yet another “lone gunman” who had assassinated one of the nation’s leaders, conspiracy theorists saw the shadowy hand of MK-ULTRA pulling the strings.

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, when he was killed by a single shot from a high-powered rifle. Numerous witnesses said the shot had been fired from a clump of bushes on a slope across the street. The FBI decided that it had come from a rear bathroom window of a boardinghouse, also across the street but a bit higher up the hill.

Within two weeks James Earl Ray, an escapee on the run from the Missouri State Penitentiary, was named as the assassin who had gunned down one of the most charismatic men in the world. When Ray was identified as the sole suspect in the assassination of Dr. King, dozens of serious investigators and researchers protested and pronounced the FBI’s conclusions as pure bunk. There was a consensus among many investigators that all roads of inquiry led to a mysterious individual named “Raoul,” who appeared to have masterminded the assassination and played Ray as the patsy. However, the FBI felt they had identified their man and followed up on few, if any, other suspects. After he had spent time on the run in Canada and Portugal, Ray was arrested as he was changing airplanes at London’s Heathrow Airport for a flight to Brussels.

Less than a year after the assassination of King, Ray, with his attorney Percy Foreman, pleaded guilty before the court of Judge Preston Battle on March 10, 1969. Ray was sentenced to ninety-nine years—and, as if awakening from a bad dream and finding himself in a terrible reality, he recanted, said he didn’t kill King, and filed a motion for a trial only three days after being sentenced.

Before the month had ended, Judge Battle was found dead in his chambers, Ray’s handwritten motion on the desk beneath his slumped body. Still protesting his innocence, Ray began his sentence in the Tennessee State Penitentiary.

Two years before he died on April 24, 1998, Ray met with members of the King family and convinced them that he had not killed Martin Luther King Jr. Coretta Scott King and other family members believed Ray and joined efforts to get him a new trial in order to prove that there was a hidden conspiracy surrounding King’s death.

There is no question that Martin Luther King was not universally loved and admired for his stand on civil rights and other issues. Stories about academic plagiarism, infidelity, and Communist affiliation were widely circulated. Some African American leaders asked him not to come to their communities because they feared that he brought hate and rioting with him. Some Americans of all colors and creeds were disturbed by his comments about the Vietnam War. And, needless to point out, white supremacists were threatened and angered by his speeches encouraging them to accept the American credo that all men are created equal.

King’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 did little to mellow the mass of hostile feelings against the civil rights leader. J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, was quick to label King “the most notorious liar in the country.” All FBI documents concerning King were sealed in 1977 and will not be made available to the public until 2027, thereby intimating that there are facts in the files that someone in the political hierarchy does not wish citizens of the United States to find out.

In 1987, after being imprisoned for eighteen years, Ray wrote an account of his involvement in the King assassination in a book entitled Tennessee Waltz. Ray tells of escaping from prison in April of 1967 by hiding in a bread truck. He winds up in Canada after hiding out in East St. Louis, Chicago, and Detroit, and it is in Montreal that he meets a man known to him only as “Raoul.” Raoul pays Ray to serve as a courier in a gun-running ring, then instructs him to travel to Mexico and wait for instructions before going on to Los Angeles to see a plastic surgeon for a “nose job” to change his appearance. Raoul also gives Ray enough money to enable him to purchase a pale yellow 1966 Mustang. Finally, Ray receives two assumed names to use in his travels—John Willard and Eric S. Galt—and another on a passport, Ramon George Sneyd. In retrospect Ray wondered if the nose job that he underwent might have been intended to make him look more like one or more of the “assumed identities,” who might have been real people.

A link to MK-ULTRA, the CIA’s mind-control project, may have occurred when Ray was recuperating from the plastic surgery. Dr. William Joseph Bryan Jr. had programmed individuals when he was with the air force as chief of Medical Survival Training, the air force’s covert mind-control section. Bryan, whom some called pompous and arrogant, liked nothing better than to talk about himself and his accomplishments. He was known as an expert on brainwashing, and he served as a consultant on The Manchurian Candidate, a motion picture that portrayed a programmed political assassin. In informal discussions, Bryan “leaked” that he had programmed Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray to commit assassinations and to forget their participation in the act. Bryan died under mysterious circumstances in 1977 when the JFK case was reopened.

In February 1968, after Ray had spent several months in Los Angeles, Raoul ordered him to fly to New Orleans. After a few weeks in the Big Easy, the two drove to Atlanta and planned to drive to Miami, but on March 29 Raoul announced they were going to Memphis. Raoul apparently assumed numerous disguises, as a “blond Latin,” a “red-haired French-Canadian,” or an “auburn-haired Latino.”

After checking into a boardinghouse, Raoul gave Ray some money and told him to buy a deer rifle. After first buying a small-caliber rifle that Raoul rejected as not powerful enough for deer, Ray returned with a 30.06.

On April 4 Raoul tried to send Ray to a movie in an obvious ploy to get him out of the room. Ray was puzzled why Raoul seemed to want him out of the boardinghouse, but he finally agreed to run some errands and get some worn tires changed on the Mustang.

When he returned to the Lorraine Motel, it was surrounded by police cars, and he decided that this was no place for an ex-con on the run. It was while he was heading south on U.S. 61, Ray claims, that he first heard that Martin Luther King had been shot. A few days later he learned that James Earl Ray was named as the number one suspect.

The FBI found only one witness who identified the shooter as Ray: Charles Stephens, who at first denied seeing Ray leave the motel, then, after spending time in jail as a “material witness,” decided that it was Ray after all. Stephens’s common-law wife, Grace Walden, protested that Charlie was too drunk at the time to have seen anything. She also swore that Ray was not at the roominghouse at the time King was shot. In July 1968 Grace was placed in a mental institution. Upon her release in 1979 she proclaimed that she had been locked away in an insane asylum for eleven years of torment because she had said that it was not James Earl Ray who shot Martin Luther King. And after those eleven years of misery, she still swore that the killer was not Ray.

On December 3, 1998, Jim Green, fifty-four, spent six hours with Martin Luther King’s son, Dexter King, Rev. James Lawson, and William Pepper, Ray’s attorney on the appeal. At this meeting Green confessed that he, too, had worked for “Raoul” and had been in on the plot to assassinate King.

As a teenager, Green had joined the Peace Corps and soon found himself contacted by the FBI. Green said that there were two weeks after agreeing to work with the FBI of which he has no memory, but he remembered being a covert agent in the Missouri State Penitentiary and meeting James Earl Ray as a fellow inmate. It seems likely that Green fell under the hypnosis/drug programming of MK-ULTRA in those two weeks missing from his memory.

After Ray escaped from prison, Green was granted early release and came under the control of “Paul,” an FBI agent, who became his handler. Green joined a friend, Butch Collier, in a life of petty crimes, working jobs occasionally for the FBI. On the night of April 3, 1968, Paul met the two men in their room in Memphis and gave them $5,000. He told them that they would receive $5,000 more once they had killed Martin Luther King and James Earl Ray on April 4.

At around 3:30 P.M. Green climbed to his assigned rooftop position on an old office building in the next block south of Bessie Brewer’s roominghouse on Main Street. He was armed with a .357-caliber rifle. He observed James Earl Ray come and go three or four times from the roominghouse but followed orders not to kill him before King had been assassinated.

At a few minutes before 6:00 P.M. Ray came out of the roominghouse and drove off in his Mustang. By this time, Butch Collier had taken his position in back of the boardinghouse, directly across from the Lorraine Motel. At 6:01 P.M. Green heard the shot from Collier’s rifle that killed Martin Luther King.

Moments later, he saw Paul and Collier emerge from the shadows. Paul tossed the evidence into the doorway of Canipe’s Amusement Company while Collier jumped behind the wheel of the white Mustang that Paul had driven to Memphis. Paul had intended to dump the rifle in the back seat of a murdered James Earl Ray’s Mustang, but Ray had gotten spooked and Green had not been able to kill him. That blew the FBI’s open-and-shut murder case of finding the “dead” assassin Ray with the death-dealing rifle in his Mustang’s back seat. In fleeing the scene minutes before the assassination, Ray had also escaped the .357 magnum in the hands of Memphis police detective John Talley, whose orders were to kill Ray if Green missed.

Collier drove two blocks up the street to drop Paul off at a parked Memphis Police Department squad car, then headed back to pick up Green. Green tossed the rifle in the trunk with several other firearms, and the two men headed for the Mississippi River Bridge toward Arkansas.

Meanwhile, James Earl Ray was calling his contact, Raoul, to ask him what to do—only to find that the telephone had been disconnected. Paul, the FBI agent, and Raoul, the mysterious criminal with wads of money, were most certainly the same person. Ray was now running not only from the FBI, who had named him Public Enemy Number One, but also, unknowingly, from Collier and Green, who still had orders to hunt him down and kill him.

In 1995 William Pepper, the appeal attorney, published Orders to Kill, in which he asserted that Ray had been set up by a hit team of agents of the federal government. On March 24, 1998, the CBS news team of 48 Hours conducted a blistering attack on Pepper and revealed that his new witness, James Green, had been arrested for “possibly running a methamphetamine lab.” Green was held for ten days, then charges were dropped, after the CBS team had left town.

Green put his story on the Internet a few years ago. According to Lyndon Barston, a student of the King assassination, Green knew details that could only have been known by someone who was there on that fateful day when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.

Jim Green seems to have dropped out of sight. Some reports say that he is deceased. James Earl Ray died in 1998. All records of MK-ULTRA and the CIA’s various mind-control experiments were ordered destroyed.

Who really killed Martin Luther King Jr. may remain a mystery until the FBI opens its files in 2027.

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