Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

James Earl Ray: The Man Who Killed Dr. Martin Luther King

The Road to Memphis

In December 1967, Ray, who had been living in Los Angeles for about a month, drove east from LA to New Orleans, Louisiana with a friend he had met in Southern California, Charles J. Stein. The purpose of the trip was to pick up Stein's sister's children and return to Los Angeles. The cost to Stein, among other things, reportedly was to join former Alabama Gov. George Wallace's segregationist political party. Single-gunman theorists point to this fact as an indication of Ray's racist beliefs. Two days later he checked out of the hotel on Chartres Street near the French Quarter in New Orleans and returned with Stein and the two children to Los Angeles. "We had a good time crossing the country — no police, no car trouble, no flying saucers," Ray wrote in his autobiography.

It was in New Orleans that the die was cast, according to Ray. While Stein picked up the children, Ray claimed he met with Raoul who once again promised him a Canadian passport after another smuggling job. In addition to the passport, Raoul would give James somewhere between $10,000 and $12,000. This time the contraband was to be guns.

James Ray settled down in the early days of 1968, enrolling in dance classes, a mail order locksmith class and visiting Las Vegas on New Years Day. He moved around somewhat, but remained in the vicinity of Los Angeles. Ray underwent minor plastic surgery in February 1968. He told his surgeon that he wanted a more aquiline nose because he was an actor, but in reality Ray wanted to alter his features so that he no longer matched photographs of himself (as Galt), which he had been circulating among "lonely hearts" clubs across the country. Many investigators believe this demonstrates Ray's intention to commit a major crime that would result in a manhunt for him. Sending out pictures of Eric S. Galt across the country and then deliberately changing Galt's appearance would certainly create confusion among law enforcement personnel.

On March 17, 1968, Ray filed a change of address form for Galt with a post office in Los Angeles. He gave a general delivery address in Atlanta, Georgia as his future destination. Several days later, Ray turned up in New Orleans, dropping off a package of clothing with the mother of Charles Stein's nieces.

Over the next week, Ray, by his own admission to Huie, began stalking King. First in Selma, Alabama, then to Montgomery and then Birmingham, Ray followed the civil rights leader as King made his preparations for a march on Washington, DC. Eventually King returned to Atlanta where Ray followed him. Ray remained in Atlanta until at least March 28. The next day, Ray showed up at the Aeromarine Supply Company in Birmingham, Alabama and asked to see a number of high-powered hunting rifles.

In his conversations with Huie, Ray claims that he met Raoul a second time when he dropped off the package for Stein in New Orleans and that Raoul also met him in Atlanta in late March. It was at that Atlanta meeting, Ray claimed, that Raoul told him to buy guns for a future sale in Memphis.

"Raoul explained to me what he wanted me to do and that was to get a large bore deer rifle fitted with a scope, plus ammo, also to inquire about the price of cheap foreign rifles," Ray wrote in a letter to Huie. "After I had bought the rifle we would take it to the buyers and if it was OK I would then buy 10 of them, the scoped ones, and about 200 of the cheap foreign ones."

At Aeromarine Supply, using the alias Harvey Lowmeyer, Ray examined several rifles and chose a Remington Gamemaster Model 760. This .243 caliber pump action rifle is a small caliber gun, but packs sufficient power to knock down a deer at 300 yards. In addition to the Model 760, Ray chose a Redfield variable scope, 2x to 7x power. For ammunition, he selected Norma hollow-point 75-grain bullets. The entire package cost him about $250. Under the firearms laws current at that time, the salesmen at Aeromarine Supply were not required to check or make note of Ray's identity.

Later that day, Ray phoned Aeromarine and said he was unhappy with the Model 760 and wanted to exchange it for something with more power. The next day, Ray returned and this time selected a Model 760 30-06 caliber rifle. He had the Redfield scope mounted on the new Model 760. The 30-06 is the type of rifle Ray was trained on in the army, and fires the army-specified Springfield 30-06 cartridge, featuring a 150-grain bullet, which exerts 2,370 foot-pounds of force at 100 yards. "Accuracy is there: crisp trigger and precision rifling, helping you put that buck in the freezer," Remington Arms wrote about their fastest non-automatic big game rifle. The new rifle cost Ray $265.85.

Bullet and rifle, Tenn Sherrif's Dpt (CORBIS)
Bullet and rifle, Tenn Sherrif's Dpt
(CORBIS)

Ray told Huie that he spent a leisurely couple of days heading from Birmingham to Memphis, where Raoul told him to rent a room at 422 ½ Main Street on April 4. That address is the location of Bessie Brewer's Rooming House across from the Lorraine Motel. He claimed he never returned to Atlanta after purchasing the rifle, but stayed instead in Mississippi. Huie, however, who retraced every step of Ray's travels from the time he rode out of Jefferson City in the bread truck, was unable to find the motel Ray claims to have stayed at in Mississippi. On the contrary, the owner of the rooming house in Atlanta where Ray stayed prior to buying the rifle remembers Ray staying there until the first days of April 1968. Importantly, Martin Luther King was in Atlanta preparing for his march on Washington while Ray said he was in Mississippi.

Regardless, on April 3, 1968 Ray came to Memphis, Tennessee and rented a room in a hotel downtown. The next day, he moved to 422 ½ Main Street. Martin Luther King Jr. had just a few hours to live when Ray checked in.

 

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