2 – James Earl Ray Was a Career Criminal on the Run
IF Ray was indeed a patsy, then the alleged conspirators chose well. When it emerged that James Earl Ray was King’s assassin, it made perfect sense. He was a white supremacist who had been in and out of prison his entire life. In fact, he was on the run after escaping from prison in 1967. Ray was born to an extremely poor family in Illinois in 1928. The family moved to Missouri in 1935 after Ray’s father passed a bad check. The move was deemed necessary to stay ahead of law enforcement, and this is how the younger Ray lived his life as an adult.
Ray joined the United States Army late in World War II as a teenager; he had dropped out of school aged 15. He saw some action in Germany, but overall, Ray was not cut out for life in the military. His first criminal conviction came in California in 1949 when he was arrested for burglary. Three years later, Ray was sentenced to two years in prison for the armed robbery of an Illinois, cab driver. Ray wasn’t out long when he was back in jail again, this time for mail fraud in the town of Hannibal, Missouri in 1955. He was sentenced to four years in the notorious Leavenworth prison.
Once again, he wasn’t a free man very long when he was caught stealing $120 during an armed robbery in St. Louis. Despite the paltry sum of money stolen, Ray’s record meant the authorities threw the book at him. He received a 20-year sentence which was to be served in Missouri State Penitentiary. Ray spent several years in prison before he hatched an escape plan. In 1967, he managed to flee from jail by hiding in a truck that transported bread from the facility’s bakery.
Ray was determined to stay out of prison this time and kept moving throughout North America. He spent a short time in Toronto and Montreal in Canada along with several American cities including Chicago, St. Louis, and Birmingham, Alabama. For a while, Ray lived in Mexico where he tried to forge a career as a pornographic movie director. As always, he was a failure and returned to the United States after being jilted by a prostitute he fell in love with. He arrived in Los Angeles in November 1967 and soon found himself attracted to the racist rhetoric of George Wallace who was in the midst of his presidential campaign. Ray even volunteered at the Wallace campaign HQ in Hollywood.
He planned to move to Rhodesia (modern-day Zimbabwe), and in March 1968, he underwent a rhinoplasty. By now, he had planned to murder King, and he arrived in Atlanta on March 24. He circled King’s residence and church on a map, and after a brief stop in Birmingham, Ray was back in Atlanta by the end of March. He had purchased a rifle and ammunition while in Birmingham, and when he returned to the state of Georgia, he read that King was planning to travel to Memphis. On April 2, Ray packed his backs and set out to kill Martin Luther King Jr.