Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the martyrs of the 20th century. Born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, King began his career as an assistant minister at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He landed the job while pursuing his doctorate degree in systematic therapy at Boston University. He received his Ph.D. on June 5, 1955. His thesis was titled “A Comparison on the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson.” There’s no doubt that King was an intelligent man with a bright mind.
King participated in countless events throughout his life. In 1955, King got involved in the Montgomery bus boycott, which led to the bombing of his house. He was arrested, but was eventually released after the U.S. District Court announced Browder v. Gayle to end racial segregation on Montgomery buses. In 1963, King represented the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He delivered a 17-minute speech titled “I Have a Dream” in front of a large crowd at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The march ultimately put an end to racial segregation in public schools nationwide. In 1965, King attempted to organize a march after not being able to attend the Selma to Montgomery marches. In 1966, King and the SCLC formed a coalition with the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations under the Chicago Freedom Movement, uncovering racial steering of white-black couples. In 1968, King organized the Poor People’s Campaign, addressing economic justice issues. All in all, King’s death came as a shock to a lot of people.
Let’s take a closer look at 15 conspiracies still surrounding King’s death.
15. Mystery Man Named Raoul
James Earl Ray was a convicted murderer who assassinated King on April 4, 1968. Ray fatally shot King at 6:01 pm CST. As a result, King fell to the ground of the second-floor balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The bullet went through King’s right cheek, destroyed his jaw, and traveled down his spinal cord before staying in his shoulder. Ray was convicted of the murder after entering a guilty plea to forego a jury trial.
Ray insisted that a mystery man named Raoul—whom he met in a bar in Montreal, Quebec, Canada in 1967—deceived and framed him. Ray said that Raoul handed him money for a white Mustang and told him to purchase a rifle and rent a room in a motel. Ray also said that Raoul was upstairs when the shot was fired at King.
No witnesses were found in the five cities—Los Angeles, California; New Orleans, Louisiana; Birmingham, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia; Memphis, Tennessee. Ray traveled prior to the murder. Turns out, Raoul was a retired autoworker from New York. The Justice Department cleared the autoworker, saying that his daily work records showed that he couldn’t have accompanied Ray in those cities. Raoul was nothing more than a fabricated man in Ray’s mind.
14. Ray’s Brothers Involved In Shooting
The committee focused on Ray’s associates, including his brothers Gerald and John. They viewed the probability of a financial motive in the assassination as a general indication of conspiracy. However, the finding didn’t bring the committee any closer to identifying Ray’s accomplice(s). A lot of Ray’s activities suggested his pre-assassination involvement with others, but there wasn’t any immediate evidence of their identities.
The committee directed its attention to Gerald and John for a variety of reasons. Both had criminal backgrounds, including financially motivated crimes. They were also struck by the useful evidence that one or both of the brothers helped Ray throughout the pre-assassination phase. In 1977, the Justice Task Force criticized the FBI’s original investigation for failing to investigate the brothers’ possible involvement with Ray before and after the assassination. In addition, Ray’s persistent refusals to identify his co-conspirators following the assassination would be better understood if his evidence connected to his family members.
13. The Second Gun At The Scene
Loyd Jowers owned a bar named “Jim’s Grill” that was located below the section of the boarding house where Ray was staying. He originally told police that he didn’t see anything unusual that night. Police searched the bar for three hours and were unable to find any evidence. He later said that a man from the bushes entered through the back door of his bar and gave him a rifle to hide.
Ray’s final lawyer, William Pepper, filed a civil lawsuit against Jowers on behalf of King’s son Dexter. None of the prosecution’s evidence was presented in the civil trial. Jowers, who had already died, didn’t show up. He only testified in an earlier case where he denied the story about a second gunman with a second rifle. At one point, he told Memphis investigators that there was no second rifle. In 1998, Dexter won a jury’s verdict that there was a conspiracy involving Jowers.
12. Man Kneeled Over King’s Body
A man was kneeling over King’s body in a photo taken on the second-floor balcony with King’s aides pointing in the direction from which the shot came. The Federal Bureau of Investigation concealed the man’s identity in the early stages of the investigation so the civil rights staff didn’t know who he was at the time, but he turned out to be an undercover cop named Marrell McCollough. He was assigned to infiltrate a black power youth group. His police supervisor said that he had King’s head on his lap as he held him.
McCollough eventually left the Memphis police department and joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1974 as a non-operational employee. In 1978, McCollough testified in the House Assassinations Committee hearings, saying that he had run up to the balcony to give first aid. In 2000, a Justice Department report confirmed McCollough passed a lie detector test, clearing him of any involvement in King’s death.
11. Chauffeur Told Police He Saw A Man In The Bushes
Solomon Jones served as King’s chauffeur on his Memphis visits. He told police that he ran into the street after the shot was fired and saw a man running away in the brush from across the motel. He said it looked like the man had a hood over his head as he was in a bush on the west side of Mulberry with his back towards him. His debatable account became the catalyst for most of the conspiracies that followed.
Police interviewed all of King’s aides and none of them saw someone in the bushes below the second-floor motel where Ray was staying at. Former U.N. Ambassador, Andrew Young, attorney Chauncey Eskridge, the Reverand Bernard Lee, and minister Samuel “Billy” Kyles were among those witnesses who were near King at that time. Investigators of the U.S. Justice Department later said that Jones probably saw nearby police officers rushing towards the deadly scene.
10. Bar Owner Hired A Hitman
Jowers was also involved in another conspiracy. In 1993, he said that produce warehouse owner, Frank Liberto, handed him $100,000 to hire a hitman to murder King. He also said that the hitman he fired wasn’t Ray.
Liberto was the company president of the Latch Produce Store. He was identified as a white heavy-set man. The FBI and the Memphis Police Department interviewed Liberto, his family members in New Orleans, and his vice president, James W. Latch. All of them denied any involvement in Dr. King’s assassination. However, both Liberto and Latch admitted making derogatory remarks about Dr. King in front of their customers.
After a seven-month investigation, Memphis District Attorney, General Bill Gibbons, reported that he couldn’t find any evidence to prove that Jowers was involved in the murder. In 1993, ABC’s Primetime Live broke Jowers’ story in 1993. Liberto died prior to the ABC exclusive. In 1993, ABC denounced Jowers as an imposter.
9. Floyd E. Newsum Dismissed False Statements
On the night of April 3, 1968, firefighter and civil rights activist, Floyd E. Newsum, listened to King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top” speech at the Mason Temple in Memphis. On his way home, Newsum returned a phone call from his lieutenant and was told that he had been temporarily transferred from Fire Station 2—located across the street from the Lorraine Motel—to Fire Station 31, effective April 4. It was unclear who told the only two black firefighters, Newsum and Norvell E. Wallace, not to show up to work that day. Newsum was told that the order came from the Memphis Police Department while Wallace was told that his life was threatened so he had to stay home.
During the investigation, Newsum testified that they didn’t need him at his new station, but he was instead needed at his old station because his departure left it out of service unless if someone else was attributed to his company in his stead. After questioning Newsum many times, the court eventually told him that he was transferred by request of the Memphis Police Department.
8. Ed Redditt Showed His True Feelings
After the Newsum and Norvell fiasco, Middle Tennessee writer Mike Vinson wrote about a similar removal of Memphis Police Department detective Ed Redditt from his surveillance post at Fire Station 2 before King’s murder.
Redditt kept an eye on King from the firehouse across the street from the motel. He testified that when the police accompanied King’s party on April 3, 1968, he noticed something that was unusual and told inspector Don Smith that nobody else was there. He also said that he asked the fire department if he could enter and observe from the back.
In a post-trial interview, Redditt talked about how his testimony was part of a cover-up, describing it as a total farce. In a closed session, he was roasted by the committee for eight hours. After that, he told them that he was a friend of the investigation. In addition, he angrily said that if the purpose behind the King conspiracy was to protect the country, just tell the American people so they’ll be happy instead of deceiving them.
7. Carthel Weeden Remained Minimal
Carthel Weeden was the District Chief of the Memphis Fire Department. He was also the captain of Fire Station 2. In 1968, he testified that he was on duty on the morning of April 4 when two Army officers approached him and told him that they wanted a lookout for the Lorraine Motel. He mentioned that they carried briefcases and added that they had cameras. He showed them to the roof of the fire station and left them at the edge of the northeast corner behind a barrier wall. From that point on, the officers had a bird’s eye view of King’s balcony doorway and were able to look down on the area adjacent to the fire station. They fled the scene following the assassination.
In the testimony, Weeden provided his full name and address. He was a retiree of the Memphis Police Department who owned a construction company. He also said that no authors and journalists spoke to him about the incident. He tried to be quite vague.
6. Douglas Valentine’s Debatable Testimony
Douglas Valentine is an author of nonfiction books such as The Phoenix Program, The Hotel Tablocan, and The Strength Of The Wolf. Valentine belongs to a small group of journalists who have the intelligence to look at the present and possess the ability and courage to write about those topics and the grace to bring the action to life.
Valentine’s testimony filled in the background of the men that Carthel Weeden took up to the roof of Fire Station 2. While Valentine was writing The Phoenix Program on the CIA’s infamous counterintelligence program against Vietnamese villagers, he spoke with military intelligence veterans who were re-deployed from the Vietnam War to the 1960’s anti-war movement. They told him that in 1968, the Army’s 111th Military Intelligence Group kept King under a 24-hour surveillance. Its agents were in Memphis on April 4. In The Phoenix Program, Valentine wrote that they reportedly watched and took photos while King’s assassin moved into position before taking aim, firing a shot, and walking away from the scene.
5. Russell G. Byers Was Offered $50K By St. Louis Lawyer
The federal government aggressively pushed the lone gunman theory, but its explanation was rejected by millions of Americans. At the time of Ray’s sentencing, Ray interrupted the proceedings to say that he disagreed to U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark’s statement that there wasn’t any conspiracy involved. Three days later, Ray attempted to withdraw his plea of guilty, but the court refused.
From that moment on, there was a tug of war between conspiracy believers and lone gunman advocates. In 1979, the U.S. House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that there was probably a conspiracy that began in St. Louis, Missouri. They offered a reward for King’s death by two racists, one of whom was a patent attorney. Both of these men were dead by 1978. The conspiracy began when someone told the FBI in 1974 that Russell G. Byers claimed that he was offered $50,000 to murder King, but turned down the offer. The FBI put the information in a memo and filed it away.
4. John Kauffman Was Mentioned Later In Byers’ Testimony
Byers’ testimony came down to the fact that he befriended a stockbroker-turned-drug-dealer named John Kauffmann, who owned the Bluff Acres Motel in Barnhart, Missouri. Kauffmann allowed Byers to store his stolen cars at the motel. In 1967, Kauffmann asked Byers if he’d like to make $50,000. They left the motel, went into a farmhouse on a hill behind the motel, and Jack Sutherland opened the door for the two men. Sutherland wore a Confederate colonel’s hat with the cavalry insignia of crossed sabers. He led them to a den decorated with Confederate flags, swords, and bugles. He made an offer to either arrange or kill King.
Byers testified that he didn’t know who King was in 1967 and left the hearing, allowing Murray Randall to take a stand. Randall verified Byers’ story minus a few parts. First, Randall didn’t recall Byers telling him about the offer in 1968. Second, Rendall thought the amount of cash that was offered to Byers was about $10,000. Third, Randall didn’t believe the story. He recalled Byers passing on the offer because it was too dangerous.
3. White Knights Offered A $100K Boundary
In their book, The Awful Grace of God, authors Stuart Wexler and Larry Hancock chronicled a dozen assassination attempts against King by white supremacist groups such as the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the National State’s Rights Party.
Previously unreleased FBI reports gathered from Freedom of Information Act requests discovered that the White Knights reached out to outsiders to put bounties on King of up to $100,000 at least twice. The authors presented an interesting argument that Ray responded to the bounty. They wrote that Ray got involved with King’s murder after hearing about the White Knights’ bounty while sitting in prison in 1967.
Other FBI files connected the White Knights to J.B. Stoner’s NSRP and their move to Meridian, Mississippi in 1968. When King was killed, several White Knights said that they attended a meeting with Stoner.
Three years later, the White Knights put out another bounty on King. This time, Stoner and the NSRP appeared to have been involved. Similar bounties circulated around various prisons during the 1960’s. Former inmate, Donald Nissen, told the FBI about the $100,000 bounty that was put on King by the White Knights. Nissen said that he learned about the bounty just before his release from the U.S. Penitentiary, Leavenworth in Leavenworth, Kansas, from a fellow inmate named Leroy McManaman, who allegedly knew Donald Sparks, a member of the Dixie Mafia.
2. Military Intelligence Agents Seized A Photo Of The Real Killer
Pepper said that military intelligence agents went onto the roof of the fire station from across the motel with cameras to spy on King, and they captured a photo of the real killer. He also insisted that when the shot occurred, a man took out his camera, stretched it all the way around to the left and into the bushes, caught the shooter lowering his rifle, and claimed that Ray wasn’t the killer.
However, Pepper never actually saw that photo. He only admitted that he was informed about it, tried to obtain it, and was prevented from doing so.
After a protest ended in violence, agents from the 111th Military Intelligence Group were sent to Memphis. Weeden brought two agents to the roof of the fire station, but those agents decided the roof was very revealing. He continued, saying if you were up there, anybody could see you from across the street.
Weeden told CNN that it was probably two days before the murder when the agents were on the roof. Weeden said that they weren’t there when King was shot. This statement virtually eliminated any possibility that such a photo could exist.
1. U.S. Government Set Up A Treacherous Plot
Pepper also claimed that the U.S. government pointed the finger at Ray after hiring a hitman to kill King. He said that the Green Berets loitered around as backups in case the hitman missed. The CIA, the FBI, the Army intelligence, and the Memphis police were also involved in the alleged plot. In his 1995 book, “Orders to Kill: The Truth Behind The Murder of Martin Luther King,” Peppers wrote that Billy Eidson, the leader of the Green Berets, was reportedly killed to ensure the plot’s secrecy.
The military cablegram Pepper produced was declared a counterfeit. In addition, Eidson was found alive and well. He was furious at the allegations of him being involved in the murder. The Green Berets were also furious. In spite of all the anger, Pepper’s book was published and it hit the bookstores the same month that Ray died, generating a lot of speculation. Pepper convinced King’s family of their truthfulness. In an episode of ABC’s Turning Point on June 19, 1997, Coretta Scott King, along with the couple’s children, announced their belief in Ray’s innocence and the existence of a government plot.
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