Min­uteby haunt­ing­minute, as­sas­si­na­tion thatscarred Amer­ica’ssoul

A shot rings out from a bath­room win­dow Martin Luther King lies dy­ing In hours, race riots erupt across US 50 years on...

Daily Mail - - Confidential - by Jonathan Mayo

Wed­nes­day, April 3, 1968. 11am

Doc­tor Martin Luther King, 39, ar­rives at the Lor­raine Mo­tel in Mem­phis from his home in At­lanta. Since his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech in 1963 he has taken on a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance as the spir­i­tual and po­lit­i­cal leader of black Amer­ica. the hopes of mil­lions of peo­ple yearn­ing for equal­ity rest on his shoul­ders.

Dr King is ac­com­pa­nied by his friend, rev. ralph Aber­nathy, and is here to lead a demon­stra­tion in sup­port of san­i­ta­tion work­ers on strike af­ter two of their col­leagues were crushed to death by a mal­func­tion­ing rub­bish truck.

He checks in to the mo­tel and is given his usual $13-a-night twin-bed­ded room which he al­ways shares with ralph Aber­nathy — num­ber 306 on the first floor, over­look­ing the court­yard. tonight he is due to speak at a nearby church.


on a dirt track in ten­nessee, a slim 40year-old man takes a long card­board box from the boot of his white 1966 Mus­tang.

He takes out a high-ve­loc­ity rem­ing­ton ri­fle and starts tak­ing shots at trees and rocks. the man is James Earl ray, an army vet­eran on the run from Mis­souri State Pen­i­ten­tiary, where he is sup­posed to be serv­ing a 20-year sen­tence for armed rob­bery. As well as a lengthy crim­i­nal record, he has deep-seated racist views and a yearn­ing to be a part of his­tory.

the shop as­sis­tant who sold ray the ri­fle took an in­stant dis­like to him, think­ing: ‘He’s the kind of fel­low who buys a ri­fle prob­a­bly to kill his wife and gives guns a bad name.’


At the Ma­son tem­ple church, ralph Aber­nathy in­tro­duces Dr King. As he speaks, the shut­ters at the back of the church are bang­ing in the wind. the noise makes Dr King vis­i­bly ner­vous.

Since Pres­i­dent Kennedy was shot in 1963, he’s felt vul­ner­a­ble, telling a friend that if the pres­i­dent can’t be pro­tected, then he cer­tainly can’t be.


Dr King is stand­ing in the pul­pit of the Ma­son tem­ple church. He has been speak­ing en­er­get­i­cally for 40 min­utes with­out notes. ‘I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a peo­ple, will get to the promised land! So I’m happy tonight. I’m not wor­ried about any­thing. I’m not fear­ing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the com­ing of the Lord!’ the con­gre­ga­tion roars its ap­proval.

Thurs­day, April 4, 3am

Dr King and his aides fi­nally ar­rive back at the Lor­raine Mo­tel. there is a sur­prise wait­ing for him — his younger brother, Al­fred Daniel, known as A.D., has trav­elled from his home in Ken­tucky to sup­port the strike. the brothers chat for a fur­ther hour.


tEn miles away from the Lor­raine Mo­tel, James Earl ray buys a lo­cal pa­per. A front page story re­veals Dr King is stay­ing at the Lor­raine.


In At­lanta, Dr King’s wife coretta is shop­ping with their daugh­ter Yolanda, look­ing for a dress for her to wear on Easter Sun­day.

Although she be­lieves Easter should be a sa­cred day and not a time to show off new clothes, coretta doesn’t want to add to her chil­dren’s un­hap­pi­ness at their fa­ther’s fre­quent ab­sences, with them be­ing the only ones with­out some­thing new to wear.


In A.D.’s room, Martin and his brother are on the phone to their mother, Al­berta. they are play­ing a trick on her — each dis­guis­ing their voices, pre­tend­ing to be the other. Al­berta is de­lighted be­cause she rarely gets to speak to both of her sons at once.

A short dis­tance away, James Earl ray knocks on the of­fice door of a run-down room­ing house on South Main Street.

the man­ager Bessie Brewer opens the door a cou­ple of inches.

‘Do you have a room to rent?’ ray asks.

She takes him to room 5B. ray looks in­side and asks for the bath­room. Bessie points down the cor­ri­dor to a door with ‘toi­let & Bath’ painted badly in red on it.


JAMES Earl ray pays for the room with a 20-dol­lar bill and gives his name as John Wil­lard. Bessie dis­likes his smile, which is more like a sneer. She finds it odd that he has no lug­gage.


onE of Dr King’s key lieu­tenants, An­drew Young, ar­rives at A.D.’s room at the Lor­raine. ‘Well, look who’s here!’ ex­claims ralph Aber­nathy and grabs Young in a bear hug. Dr King picks up a pil­low and throws it at Young — and the others join in the pil­low fight, laugh­ing hys­ter­i­cally.


out­SIDE the room­ing house, James Earl ray, who has been stalk­ing Dr King since the mid­dle of March, opens the boot of his car, takes out a long bun­dle wrapped in a yel­low and green blan­ket, then walks up to his room. In the bun­dle, ray has a zip bag con­tain­ing toi­letries, socks, a towel, shoe pol­ish, beer, a por­ta­ble ra­dio, a box of car­tridges — and the rem­ing­ton ri­fle.


Dr King is sit­ting on a bed at the Lor­raine Mo­tel, watch­ing the lo­cal news. they are show­ing the end of his speech from the night be­fore: ‘So I’m happy tonight. I’m not wor­ried about any­thing. I’m not fear­ing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the com­ing of the Lord!’

two hun­dred feet away, James Earl ray climbs into the bat­tered claw-foot bath­tub in the bath­room of his room­ing-house and looks out of the win­dow. He has an un­in­ter­rupted view of the mo­tel.


ovEr the road from the mo­tel, two Mem­phis po­lice­men named Ed red­ditt and Wil­lie rich­mond are watch­ing Dr King. their job is to keep an eye on him dur­ing his stay in the city — part of a 40strong task force of po­lice and FBI agents guard­ing ev­ery build­ing he plans to visit. For the past 13 years, Dr King and his fam­ily have been the tar­get of nu­mer­ous death threats and in re­cent months white su­prem­a­cists have placed a $50,000 bounty on his head, a re­ward ray hopes to claim.

the au­thor­i­ties know that in a na­tion where racial ten­sions are so raw, if any­thing were to hap­pen to Dr King it would be cat­a­strophic.

the po­lice­men’s van­tage point is in­side the rear door of a fire sta­tion — they have stuck a sheet of news­pa­per over a glass door panel and cut two slits at eye-level, giv­ing them a per­fect view of the mo­tel. they watch Dr King and Aber­nathy emerge from A.D.’s room and head up to room 306 on the first floor. James Earl ray sees them, too.


In In­di­ana where he’s cam­paign­ing, Se­na­tor robert Kennedy is tak­ing ques­tions at a univer­sity meet­ing.

His brother Jack (JFK) was killed in Dal­las five years ago, and the Se­na­tor is now run­ning for pres­i­dent. A young black man asks Kennedy: ‘Your speech im­plies that you are plac­ing a great deal of faith in white Amer­ica. Is that faith jus­ti­fied?’

Kennedy replies: ‘Yes, and faith in black Amer­ica is jus­ti­fied, too.’


rALPH Aber­nathy is sit­ting in a chair by room 306’s win­dow, try­ing to get as far away as pos­si­ble from an un­pleas­ant smell com­ing from the bath­room — his friend’s Magic Shave Pow­der.

Dr King has sen­si­tive skin and the pow­der al­lows him to re­move his stub­ble with­out us­ing a ra­zor. Dr King emerges from the bath­room wip­ing his face with a towel.

He and his friends have been in­vited to din­ner at the home of a lo­cal min­is­ter, the rev. Billy Kyles.

there’s a knock on the door and Kyles walks in. Dr King is strug­gling to get into his shirt — the col­lar is too tight. Kyles laughs and says ‘Hey, Doc, you’re get­ting fat!’


tucK­Ing in his shirt-tails, Dr King walks out of his room onto the mo­tel bal­cony. He calls to his driver, Solomon Jones, ‘Start the car, I’ll be down in two min­utes,’ and walks back into his room.

James Earl ray is in his bed­room, watch­ing through his binoc­u­lars.

He packs all his be­long­ings in his zip bag, puts the ri­fle in the card­board box and cov­ers them with a blan­ket then heads to the bath­room. He locks the door, stands in the bath­tub, lifts up the win­dow five inches and gets out the ri­fle.


DR King walks out of his room once more, pulling down both lapels of his black silk jacket. He leans over the bal­cony and sees one of his aides, 26-year-old Rev. Jesse Jack­son, is wear­ing a brown turtle­neck.

‘Jesse, we’re on the way to Rev. Kyle’s home for din­ner, and you don’t have a tie on!’ ‘Doc, the pre­req­ui­site for eat­ing is an ap­petite, not a tie,’ Jesse replies.

In the fire sta­tion, pa­trol­man Wil­lie Rich­mond writes in his note­book: ‘5.59pm. Dr King walks out of room and on to bal­cony again.’

A fire­man named George Loen­neke, who has come to the back of the build­ing in search of cig­a­rettes, asks Rich­mond if he can have a look through the peep­hole cut into the news­pa­per on the win­dows. They both look at Dr King lean­ing on the rail­ing just 150 feet away.

At the room­ing house, Wil­lie An­schutz, the ten­ant in 4B, tries to get into the bath­room, but the door is locked.


RALPH Aber­nathy is stand­ing in front of a mir­ror, putting on some Aramis af­ter­shave. Sud­denly he hears what sounds like a fire­cracker.

A Rem­ing­ton-Peters, soft-point, metal-jack­eted bul­let en­ters the right side of Dr King’s face just be­low his mouth, frac­tur­ing his jaw and then ex­it­ing his face and hit­ting his neck, sev­er­ing nu­mer­ous ar­ter­ies and frac­tur­ing his spine in sev­eral places, com­ing to rest in the left side of his back.

He falls back­wards, his hands shoot­ing up as if to hold his head.

Fire­man George Loen­neke sees it all through the hole in the news­pa­per. He shouts, ‘Dr King’s been shot!’ and runs out of a side door and across the street.

Fire­men and other po­lice of­fi­cers also run to­wards the mo­tel, some with pis­tols ready.

Dr King is ly­ing in a pool of blood, his feet are against the bal­cony rail, his knees are raised, his right hand is out­stretched, his left flung back be­hind him. His brown tie has been cut in two just be­low the knot and blood is pump­ing from the wound. Ralph Aber­nathy kneels by his side. He thinks he sees fear in his old friend’s eyes.

‘Martin, Martin, this is Ralph. Don’t be afraid, it’s go­ing to be all right.’ Dr King tries to say some­thing. His eyes are fixed on Aber­nathy.

At the room­ing house across the street Wil­lie An­schutz sees a man leav­ing the bath­room, cov­er­ing his face with one hand and car­ry­ing some­thing wrapped in a yel­low and green blan­ket in the other.

‘I thought I heard a shot,’ An­schutz says. ‘Yeah, it was a shot,’ the man mut­ters.

Fire­man George Loen­neke ap­pears by Aber­nathy’s side on the bal­cony and holds a towel un­der King’s head. Aber­nathy says to An­drew Young: ‘My God, take his pulse — can you feel any­thing?’ ‘Yes, I do — I do,’ he replies.

Three doors along, in Room 309, young doc­u­men­tary maker Joseph Louw runs along the bal­cony to­wards them. He has his cam­era and as a po­lice­man shouts, ‘Where’d the shot come from?’ he takes the iconic pic­ture of the as­sas­si­na­tion — Ralph Aber­nathy, Billy Kyles, An­drew Young and other aides point­ing in the di­rec­tion of the room­ing house. Dr King lies at their feet.


JAMeS earl Ray runs out of the room­ing house onto the street. He sees po­lice cars parked out­side the fire sta­tion and pan­ics. Guy Ca­nipe, who runs a record store be­low the room­ing house, hears a thud out­side the door. He looks up and sees a man walk­ing away; he leaves the store in time to see a white Mus­tang pull off at speed. Ca­nipe spots a bun­dle in the door­way. The bar­rel of a ri­fle is pok­ing out from un­der a blan­ket. Two po­lice­men ar­rive, guns drawn.

Ralph Aber­nathy runs into Room 306 and sees Billy Kyles ly­ing on the bed, pound­ing his fists and shout­ing: ‘Oh, Je­sus! Oh, Je­sus!’ Aber­nathy tells him: ‘Cut that out! Get an am­bu­lance!’


ON the bal­cony, Jesse Jack­son places both hands in Dr King’s blood and wipes them on the front of his turtle­neck sweater.

An am­bu­lance screeches to a halt in the court­yard be­low. A stretcher is brought up to the bal­cony and Dr King is car­ried down the stairs and into the am­bu­lance. The towel has now been placed over his face to hide the wounds.

Ralph Aber­nathy climbs into the am­bu­lance and holds his friend’s right hand in both of his. The am­bu­lance pulls away, siren wail­ing. The driver shouts into his ra­dio ‘Give me the lights!’ A but­ton is pressed at Fire Head­quar­ters and the traf­fic lights on the route to the near­est hos­pi­tal, St Joseph’s, turn green. One of the po­lice­men who car­ried the stretcher looks down and sees his trousers and boots are cov­ered in blood.


ON the Mem­phis po­lice ra­dios a call goes out to watch out for ‘a young white male, well- dressed, be­lieved in late model white Mus­tang, go­ing north on Main from scene of shoot­ing’.


JeSSe Jack­son goes into Room 306 to call Dr King’s wife Coretta at home in At­lanta. ‘Those eight or ten steps to that phone was like a long jour­ney,’ he said later.

Coretta picks up the phone. ‘Coretta, Doc just got shot.’ It was the call she’d been ex­pect­ing for years. She asks Jack­son for more de­tails but he is eva­sive. ‘He was shot in the shoul­der,’ is all he will say. She says she’ll catch the next flight to Mem­phis.


IN Wash­ing­ton, At­tor­ney Gen­eral,

Ram­sey Clark is on the phone to Pres­i­dent Lyn­don John­son, giv­ing him news from Mem­phis.

John­son tells him ev­ery avail­able FBI agent must be as­signed to track the as­sas­sin.


DR Ru­fus Brown, the sur­geon on duty, rushes into Emer­gency Room No 1 of St Joseph’s Hos­pi­tal. A nurse grabs his sleeve and says: ‘It’s Dr Martin Luther King!’ He or­ders the pa­tient to be hooked to a car­dio­graph ma­chine and be­gins a tra­cheotomy to help him breathe — the mon­i­tor shows there is still a strong heart­beat.

In At­lanta, Dr King’s chil­dren are watch­ing the tele­vi­sion. Their pro­gramme is in­ter­rupted by a news bul­letin. ‘Dr Martin Luther King Jr, has been shot in Mem­phis, at 6.01pm . . .’ They run into their mother’s room. She is on the phone. ‘Mama! You hear that? What do they mean?’

Coretta holds up a fin­ger for them to be quiet. She hangs up, but be­fore she can speak, the phone rings again.

It’s An­drew Young call­ing from a pay­phone out­side the Emer­gency Room. He tells her that Martin is in a crit­i­cal con­di­tion but is still alive.

Coretta’s daugh­ter Yolanda cries, ‘Don’t tell me! Don’t tell me!’ as she runs from the room.


LIEu­TENANT Jim Papia and Cap­tain Ray Jewel of the Mem­phis Po­lice are in the bath­room on the sec­ond floor of the room­ing house. Papia peers out of the open win­dow to­ward the Lor­raine Mo­tel. ‘Yeah, you could get a good shot from here’, he says.

Jewel spots a dirty palm print on the wall and scuff marks from shoes in the bath­tub. It’s clear the as­sas­sin stood here.


RoBERT Kennedy is board­ing a plane for Indianapolis and is told Martin Luther King has been shot and in­jured. There is no news yet of whether he’s sur­vived. Kennedy re­mem­bers the meet­ing he’s just at­tended and says to John J. Lind­say of Newsweek mag­a­zine: ‘You know, it grieves me that I just told that kid this [ that he had faith in white Amer­ica] then I walk out and find out that some white man has shot their spir­i­tual leader.’

In Emer­gency Room No 1 Ralph Aber­nathy and Dr King’s sec­re­tary and body­guard Rev. Bernard Lee stand against a wall, watch­ing 10 doc­tors work on Dr King on the op­er­at­ing ta­ble. Ev­ery now and then a nurse asks them to leave. They ig­nore her.


A DoC­ToR asks Ralph Aber­nathy. ‘Are you his friend? It would be the mercy of God if he did pass, be­cause the spine is sev­ered and there has been aw­ful brain dam­age.’

7.05 pm

DR Martin Luther King Jr is pro­nounced dead. Ralph Aber­nathy watches the neu­ro­sur­geon put down his in­stru­ments and walk away from the op­er­at­ing ta­ble. Dr Ru­fus Brown tears off the tape from the car­dio­graph ma­chine that shows Dr King’s fi­nal heart­beats, and puts it in his pocket as a sou­venir. Aber­nathy no­tices that on the wall is a sil­ver cru­ci­fix with the fig­ure of Je­sus look­ing down on his friend.


‘MoMMY, when will Daddy be back?’ Coretta’s son Dex­ter asks his mother as she’s about to leave the house for the air­port. ‘I’ll call you from Mem­phis and let you know.’ She kisses all four chil­dren good­bye.


AT the White House, Pres­i­dent John­son is told Dr King has died. He im­me­di­ately can­cels a trip to Hawaii for peace talks on Viet­nam. John­son can hear sirens of fire en­gines just a few blocks from the White House. Riots have bro­ken out in the cap­i­tal.


AT At­lanta Air­port, Coretta Scott King is walk­ing to­wards the gate to board her plane with friends. To Coretta it all seems ‘un­real, night­mar­ish’.

James Earl Ray is head­ing for At­lanta as fast as he can. He’s heard on the news that po­lice are look­ing for a man in a white Mus­tang so he keeps to quiet roads.


AT the air­port, At­lanta mayor Ivan Allen walks up to Coretta: ‘Mrs King, I have been asked to tell you that Dr King is dead.’ His body has al­ready been taken to the Mem­phis morgue.

The re­sults of the au­topsy on Pres­i­dent Kennedy had been dis­puted, so Mem­phis district at­tor­ney Phil Canale and chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner Dr Jerry Fran­cisco are de­ter­mined this one will be done by the book.


CoRETTA ar­rives home. on the way back she’d been try­ing to work out what to tell her chil­dren. Ber­nice and Dex­ter are asleep in bed, Martin and Yolanda are still up. Tears run­ning down her cheeks, Yolanda says to her mother: ‘Mommy, should I hate the man who killed my daddy?’

‘ No, dar­ling, your daddy wouldn’t want you to do that,’ Coretta replies.


RALPH Aber­nathy must of­fi­cially iden­tify Dr King be­fore the au­topsy. He touches Dr King’s cheek. ‘Yes, that’s him,’ he says.


THE phone is con­stantly ring­ing at the Kings’ home. Pres­i­dent John­son calls and tells Coretta: ‘I want you to know how deeply Mrs John­son and I feel for you and your fam­ily.’

Robert Kennedy says he’ll help in any way he can. To­mor­row, Coretta will fly to Mem­phis to bring her hus­band’s body home.

In the morgue, Dr Fran­cisco ex­tracts the bul­let from Dr King’s body and scratches ‘252’ on it — the au­topsy num­ber — then puts it in an en­ve­lope. Tonight it will be flown to the FBI in Wash­ing­ton.


AT the Lor­raine Mo­tel, a maid in tears ti­dies Room 306. out­side on the bal­cony, Mem­phis pho­tog­ra­pher Ernest Withers, who has taken pic­tures of Dr King since the start of the civil rights move­ment, uses a piece of card to fill two small bot­tles with his blood as a keep­sake.

Shops are looted in Mem­phis as news of the as­sas­si­na­tion spreads. Even low-fly­ing po­lice he­li­copters are be­ing shot at and 4,000 Na­tional Guards­men are drafted in to main­tain or­der. There is ri­ot­ing in 130 uS cities; Times Square in New York is full of peo­ple — black and white — chant­ing ‘Free­dom now’.


JAMES Earl Ray is on his way to At­lanta. As he drives he’s throw­ing out of the win­dow any­thing in­crim­i­nat­ing. He’s al­ready stopped once to wipe the Mus­tang clean of fin­ger­prints.

Robert Kennedy is ex­hausted and de­spon­dent. He says to an aide: ‘You know that fel­low Har­vey Lee oswald, what­ever his name is, set some­thing loose in this coun­try.’ Four weeks later, Robert Kennedy will be shot dead by an as­sas­sin.

Satur­day, June 8, 1968

AT Heathrow Air­port’s Ter­mi­nal 2, po­lice­man De­tec­tive Sergeant Philip Birch no­ticed a man in a beige rain­coat walk to­wards a pass­port desk. Birch recog­nised him im­me­di­ately from the FBI’s most wanted list. He tapped the man on the shoul­der. ‘I say, old fel­low, would you mind step­ping over here for a mo­ment?’ The 65day hunt for Martin Luther King’s killer was over.

Af­ter the mur­der Ray fled to Canada, ac­quired a fake pass­port, then on to Europe where he spent time in Lon­don and Por­tu­gal. When ar­rested he was tak­ing a flight to Brus­sels. His fin­ger­prints had been found on a num­ber of items in­clud­ing the ri­fle and the binoc­u­lars.

James Earl Ray would plead guilty, thus avoid­ing a trial and the death penalty, and be sen­tenced to 99 years in prison for the mur­der. He died, aged 70, still in cus­tody. Many peo­ple, in­clud­ing mem­bers of Dr King’s fam­ily, still doubt he was the killer. He never col­lected any bounty.

In 1979 the House Se­lect Com­mit­tee on As­sas­si­na­tions con­cluded James Earl Ray fired the shot that killed Dr King, but that there was a like­li­hood of a con­spir­acy.

Both Repub­li­cans and Democrats sup­ported a me­mo­rial built in hon­our of Dr King, along­side pres­i­dents Abra­ham Lin­coln, Thomas Jef­fer­son and Franklin D Roo­sevelt. Dr King’s birth­day is now a na­tional hol­i­day in the united States when his dream and ideals are cel­e­brated.

JOnathan MayO is the au­thor of D-Day: Minute By Minute and the as­sas­si­na­tion of JFK: Minute By Minute, pub­lished by short Books.

Hor­ror: As Dr King lies fa­tally wounded, wit­nesses point in the di­rec­tion of the gun­shot

Tragedy: Dr King gives a speech in 1967 an­damana­cled and a man­a­cled Ray re­turns to the U.S. U S

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