ORDERS TO KILL -- THE TRUTH BEHIND THE MURDER OF MARTIN LUTHER KING
PART III: THE INITIAL INVESTIGATION
Chapter 8: Reentry: Late 1977-October 15, 1978
During the next nine years I had virtually nothing to do with the civil rights or antiwar movements, having walked away after Dr. King's funeral. I had no hope that the nation could be reconstructed without Martin King's singular leadership. There quite simply was no one else. Ralph Abernathy and I had had only sporadic contact during those nine years. I had completed degree studies in education and law and written two books, and he had taken on and then been forced to give up, with some bitterness, the leadership of the SCLC.
IN LATE 1977, during a telephone conversation, Ralph told me he wasn't satisfied by the official explanation of Dr. King's murder and wanted to have a face-to-face meeting with the alleged assassin of his old friend. He said he would welcome an opportunity to hear Ray's story and assess it directly for himself. Would I arrange such a meeting and accompany him?
His interest in the case was clearly motivated by the activity of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). HSCA investigations into the murders of President Kennedy and Dr. King were in progress at the time.
The HSCA had been formed in 1976 in response to a growing public disbelief in the conclusions of the report of the Warren Commission on the assassination of President Kennedy. Public confidence in government had been shaken early on by the allegations of New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, the Watergate scandal, and the 1973 Senate Judiciary Sub-Committee Report ( detailing the widespread surveillance of American civilians by army intelligence). This was followed by the Rockefeller Commission Report issued in June 1975 (detailing CIA domestic activities against American civilians) and the findings of the 1975 House Judiciary Committee (detailing the FBI's counterintelligence program [COINTELPRO]). Confidence in the government sank even farther, if possible, as a result of the 1976 Church Committee Report (which contained one hundred pages devoted to FBI and other government agency harassment and surveillance of Dr. King), and the 1976 House Intelligence Committee report (covering the domestic activities of the CIA).
Walter Fauntroy, a former colleague of Abernathy and King, was chairman of the HSCA subcommittee investigating King's assassination. Although I was skeptical of such committees, having experienced congressional investigations of the antiwar movement a decade earlier, there was a general air of expectation that perhaps, at last, some of the hitherto unanswered questions would be addressed. It occurs to me now that Abernathy may well have been looking for a way to make his presence felt in this process.
To properly assist Ralph, I knew I had to do a considerable amount of preparation. I agreed to help him as long as no meeting took place until I believed that we were ready. I wasn't going to become involved in any way that would embarrass King's memory or allow Ralph to be used by a clever lawyer of Ray's. I believed we were likely to have only one opportunity to put some serious questions to Ray and I wanted us to make the most of it. It was clear that Ralph would be interviewed by the press at the end of our session, and any position he took would have to be based on solid information. If this were not the case, his renewed interest in the case could well prove to be an embarrassment to him- self and a disservice to Ray's latest effort to obtain a trial. Ray had been trying to get a trial for nearly ten years. If the man was innocent, I certainly didn't want to hurt his chances for release. Ralph agreed to these ground rules, as did Mark Lane, Ray's lawyer at the time.
I read everything I could find about the killing, but there wasn't a great deal available. One of the earliest and most prominent works was Gerold Frank's An American Death,  which became, in effect, the official account of the case. Years later, I came across an internal FBI document dated March 11, 1969, the day after Ray's guilty plea hearing. This memo to Hoover's number two and closest confidant, Clyde Tolson, came from Assistant Director Cartha DeLoach. Specifically, he wrote:
Now that Ray has been convicted and is serving a 99-year sentence, I would like to suggest that the Director allow us to choose a friendly, capable author, or the Reader's Digest, and proceed with a book based on this case.
A carefully written factual book would do much to preserve the true history of this case. While it will not dispel or put down future rumors, it would certainly help to have a book of this nature on college and high school library shelves so that the future would be protected.
[Underneath this is handwritten the words "Whom do you suggest?"]
I would also like to suggest that consideration be given to advising a friendly newspaper contact, on a strictly confidential basis, that Coretta King and Reverend Abernathy are deliberately plotting to keep King's assassination in the news by pulling the ruse of maintaining that King's murder was definitely a conspiracy and not committed by one man. This, of course, is obviously a rank trick in order to keep the money coming in to Mrs. King, Abernathy, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We can do this without any attribution to the FBI and without anyone knowing that the information came from a wire tap.
On the very next day, DeLoach transmitted an addendum in which he stated the following:
If the Director approves, we have in mind considering cooperating in the preparation of a book with either the Reader's Digest or author Gerold Frank. ... Frank is a well known author whose most recent book is "The Boston Strangler." Frank is already working on a book on the Ray case and has asked the Bureau's cooperation in the preparation of the book on a number of occasions. We have nothing derogatory on him in our files, and our relationship with him has been excellent. 
At the bottom of this addendum is handwritten the word "O.K." and the initial "H."
Also at the bottom of DeLoach's letter to Tolson is a handwritten reference to George E. McMillan, which apparently refers to the bureau passing certain documentation to author George E. McMillan. McMillan, who had well-known intelligence connections, published a book on the case, The Making of an Assassin, which was allegedly a psychological profile of Ray and very much supported the bureau's lone assassin theory. 
Gerold Frank brought to light a few issues of interest. He revealed the presence of Memphis police detectives in the fire station across the street monitoring activity at the Lorraine, and the withdrawal on the afternoon of April 4 of one of them, Ed Redditt, ostensibly for his own safety after there had apparently been a threat on his life. He also mentioned the absence of an all points bulletin (a general alert describing the suspect) and a citizens band broadcast that drew police attention away from the downtown area where the shooting took place. He attributed the broadcast to a teenage hoaxer. Frank also disclosed a rumor that an eleven-year-old boy had seen the shooting and run into the fire station.
William Bradford Huie's book, He Slew the Dreamer, published in 1968, was compromised from the outset because the author had entered into contracts with two of Ray's lawyers, agreeing to pay them in exchange for information and leads that the defendant would provide in response to written questions carried to him by the lawyers.  Initially, Huie clearly accepted the existence of a conspiracy, even stating that the state's main witness, Charlie Stephens, was too drunk to be transported by cab driver James McCraw around the time of the shooting. Huie abruptly switched positions, however, to contend that Ray was a lone assassin.
During the early years after the killing, these books and the mass media gave prominent voice to significant aspects of the state's case. The prosecution's scenario was put out to the world as the final word.
The State's Case
The accused assassin was described as a racist whose motives for the crime were a hatred of blacks -- Dr. King in particular -- and a desire to achieve the recognition that responsibility for such a crime provided. The state rejected out of hand the existence of a shadowy figure named Raoul who Ray claimed set him up and directed his movements from the moment of their first meeting in August 1967 until the afternoon of the killing. (James never learned how the man spelled his name and spelled it differently at various times, eventually adopting the spelling "Raoul," although the more prevalent spelling of that Latin name is "Raul" which I have elected to use throughout.) The state claimed that Ray had allegedly stalked Dr. King for some time, beginning the weekend of March 17, 1968, when Dr. King arrived in Los Angeles.
Around March 22, Ray was in Selma, Alabama, near where Dr. King was scheduled to organize for his Poor People's Campaign. He was placed in Atlanta during the last week in March, leaving on March 30 to purchase the rifle. The state alleged that on March 31 he returned to Atlanta, where he left clothes at a local laundry on April 1. The Atlanta map discovered with Ray's belongings left behind in the Atlanta rooming house allegedly had markings around the locations of Dr. King's house, church, and office. Carrying the murder weapon with him, Ray arrived in Memphis on April 3, the same day on which Dr. King began his final visit to that city.
On April 4, Ray drove to the downtown area and rented a room under the alias John Willard in the seedy rooming house at 422 Y2 South Main Street. While being shown around by landlady Bessie Brewer, he would reject one "housekeeping room" in the south wing of the house for a smaller' 'sleeping room' , in the rear of the north wing. This room had a view of the Lorraine Motel, where, allegedly, Dr. King always stayed when he was in Memphis. The old rooming house had separate entrances for each wing. The room chosen by Ray, 5-B, which adjoined that of two long-term residents -- Charles Quitman Stephens and Grace Walden -- was at the end of a hall and near a rear-facing bathroom overlooking the motel balcony where Dr. King was standing when he was killed. (See chart 2, page 57.)
At one point during that fateful afternoon, Ray bought a pair of binoculars at the York Arms Store on South Main, allegedly driving there, and on his return parked his car in front of Canipe Amusement Company, just south of Jim's Grill. (See chart 3, page 58.) He then returned to his room, where he allegedly moved furniture around, placing a chair near the window so that he could better surveil the motel. Later on he allegedly entered the bathroom at the end of the hall and locked the door. He knocked a screen from the window down to the backyard area behind the rooming house. This overgrown yard ended at an eight-foot wall that rose up from Mulberry Street directly opposite the balcony. Standing in the bathtub (where scuff marks were left) and waiting for the right moment, he rested the rifle on the windowsill. At 6:01 p.m. he fired a single shot, the recoil from which dented the windowsill, and in his haste he neglected to eject the spent cartridge. The shot traveled just over two hundred feet, striking Dr. King in the lower right side of his face, the bullet traveling downward and breaking his jaw, damaging his upper spine, and coming to rest just under the skin below the left shoulder blade.
CHARTS 2 & 3: SOUTH MAIN STREET
Immediately after the shooting, Ray allegedly ran to his room, gathered his few belongings into a bundle, and ran down the front stairs, being viewed, as he ran, by Charles Stephens. (Another tenant, Willie Anschutz, also saw a man, whom he couldn't identify, run from room 5-B down the hall carrying some sort of package.) The state would say that, once on the street, Ray saw a police car parked facing the street near the sidewalk in the driveway of the fire station which caused him to panic and drop the bedspread-wrapped bundle in the recessed doorway of Canipe Amusement Company. He then jumped into his white Mustang just south of Canipe's and drove to Atlanta, where he abandoned the Mustang.
Ray then made his way to Canada and eventually to England as Ramon George Sneyd, in whose name he was able to obtain a passport, The state contended that in his determination to get as far away as possible, and in line with his racist inclinations, he explored the possibility of going to Rhodesia. When he was unable to arrange this during a trip to Portugal, he returned to England, where he robbed a bank. He was finally apprehended at Heathrow Airport while on his way to Brussels, where he had intended to explore other African emigration possibilities.
As to the funds he needed to live on during his fugitive period beginning April 23, 1967, the state contended that he committed various robberies, first in Canada and later in the United States. No evidence whatsoever existed of Ray receiving assistance from anybody, except perhaps members of his own family.
The picture of James Earl Ray that emerged then -- as put out by the authorities from the time he was first identified on April 19, 1968, until he entered a plea of guilty on March 10, 1969, and ever after -- was that of a dangerous career criminal who was also a bitter racist and a loner.
The only substantial dissenting voice in print in the early years after the assassination was that of investigative writer Harold Weisberg, who relied heavily on the findings of journalist Matt Herron (who was on the scene), news reports, articles, and telephone interviews.
Weisberg's book, Frame Up,  published in 1971, raised a number of new issues. They included the following:
He also briefly discussed a Louisiana state trooper named Raul Esquivel, whose Baton Rouge barracks contained a telephone whose number Ray had allegedly called. Weisberg obtained the number from Los Angeles Times reporter Jeff Cohen, who said he was given it by Charles Stein, whom Ray met in California and who rode with him from Los Angeles to New Orleans in December 1967. Stein allegedly had seen Ray dial the number and wrote it down.
Weisberg drew attention to the potential conflict of interest arising out of the literary contracts signed by Ray, his successive lawyers, and author William Bradford Huie. He also discussed at length the hostility of Hoover and the FBI toward Dr. King and the harassment he suffered at their hands. He developed early on a case for a conspiracy, with Ray as a pawn manipulated by a man named Raul.
Mark Lane 's book, Code Name Zorro, published in 1977, provided other new information pointing to leads and discrepancies in the state's case.  Lane referred to the fact that a "screen" of bushes behind the rooming house had been cut down some time after the shooting. He disputed the official reason given by the MPD that the order to remove detective Redditt from his post shortly before the shooting was a result of a threat on Redditt's life. Redditt also told him that the Invaders were infiltrated by a black undercover cop who was an agent provocateur for violence and illegal activity. Redditt met him years later when the agent, who was undercover, pleaded for his cover not to be blown, saying that he was currently working for the CIA.
Lane's account further disputed the official story by contending that Dr. King had never previously stayed at the Lorraine. He quoted Memphis reporter Kay Black, who had covered some of Dr. King's earlier visits. She said that she remembered him staying at the Claridge Hotel, and before his last visit she didn't even know where the Lorraine Motel was located. Lane also questioned what had happened to the rooming house's register, which had long since disappeared.
Clearly only the secondary press attempted to raise the issues of the case and generate discussion about Ray's guilt or innocence.
Quietly and behind the scenes, as other commitments allowed, I began to investigate. When I became aware that on September 10, 1976, the MPD burned all the files of its intelligence bureau, despite an effort by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to prevent their destruction, I realized that a reconstruction of the events leading up to the assassination was going to be that much more difficult.
I TURNED WITH NEW INTEREST TO THE ACTIVITY OF THE HSCA. The first year of its work had been turbulent. Its first chief counsel, former Pennsylvania prosecutor Richard Sprague, a tough, honest professional, had been summarily replaced by Cornell University law professor G. Robert Blakey in early 1977.
Following Sprague's removal in the wake of concerted personal attacks against him by the press, it was evident that the scope of the subcommittee inquiry on Dr. King's death had become restricted solely to James Earl Ray and his brothers, John and Jerry.
In an interview with Sprague shortly after his dismissal, he told me he had taken the job because he was promised a free hand by the Ninety-fifth Congress, yet hardly had the commit- tee been organized when House Speaker Tip O'Neill demanded, in order to justify additional funds, that it "prove" to the Congress there was a conspiracy. Sprague maintained that after he left, the committee's approach changed drastically. Whereas he had been committed to an open-ended, formal investigation for as long as it took and regardless of where it led, the new chief counsel clearly favored an approach that Sprague termed "evaluative" (as opposed to "investigative"), which focused on closing rather than opening doors. Articles, books, and stories were evaluated individually, without cross- referencing, so they couldn't be used as sources for new information. Sprague was cynically resigned to the fact that the public didn't care. He believed that Congress and the executive branch were at best never interested in a real investigation and at worst committed to covering up the truth. Chief deputy counsel Robert Lehner eventually resigned, disagreeing with Blakey's decision LO limit the investigation to the Ray brothers.
During the HSCA investigation, the media again turned their focus on Ray. Time set the tone in its January 26, 1976 issue with an article variously referring to him as a "narcotics addict" and a "narcotics peddler," based on George McMillan's book.  Missouri Corrections Department chief George M. Camp tried to contact McMillan for details about the allegation in his book that Ray financed the killing of Dr. King by selling drugs as an inmate. Camp stated publicly that McMillan's charges were "totally unsubstantiated" and that he wanted McMillan to "either put up or shut Up."  Aside from the St. Louis Post Dispatch's coverage, Camp's refutation was ignored around the country.
A UPI wire service release on January 25, 1978 -- at the beginning of the last year of the investigation -- also variously referred to Ray as having gone "insane" (1963-1964), sending an "obscene letter" to the post office (1967-1968), constantly reading "girlie magazines," harassing "two women with late night telephone calls" (1967- 968), being involved with "drug traffic" and even having "cheated fellow prisoners in crooked card games."
ROBERT BLAKEY WAS A PURPORTED EXPERT ON ORGANIZED CRIME who had taught at both Notre Dame and Cornell law schools. At Cornell he was the director of its Institute of Organized Crime, and previously he served as a special attorney with the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the U.S. Department of Justice under Robert Kennedy.
As my investigation proceeded during these early days, I re- viewed a copy of a most unusual affidavit executed by Blakey on February 4, 1976.17 It was prepared and submitted to the court in a civil action brought by Cleveland- Las Vegas crime syndicate leader Morris Dalitz against Penthouse magazine as a result of an article that alleged the involvement of organized crime in the development of Rancho La Costa California resort.  The allegation of criminal involvement was tied to Dalitz's involvement with the project.
Blakey, as an expert witness, contended that Moe Dalitz had no connection with organized crime.  This was extraordinary because it was by then a well-established fact that Dalitz was a long-time major syndicate operator. Subsequently, on September 10, 1979, the Wall Street Journal noted that Dalitz had long been identified by federal authorities as an ongoing senior advisor to organized crime.
Because the murder of Dr. King could well have involved elements of organized crime, I was concerned that the counsel steering the investigation would take such a position only a short time before he took over control of the HSCA. (Blakey's expert opinion was ultimately not accepted and Penthouse's defense of the piece was successful.)
I was also very uneasy with the new chief counsel's apparently cozy relationship with the CIA and the FBI, which moved him to give the intelligence agencies influence over his staffs requests for files, documents, and records. Other factors were unsettling as well: the early removal of twenty-eight staffers, the insistence on secrecy (even the requirement that all staff sign nondisclosure agreements, with harsh penalties for violation), the instruction to staff members that they were to have no contact with critics without Blakey's personal authorization, and the absence of accountability of committee consultants to anyone beyond the immediate committee leadership. I was thus led to conclude early on that the reconstituted committee leadership had no intention of conducting an independent investigation.
My misgivings about the HSCA were reinforced when in the summer of 1978 I learned about a clandestine assignment given to previous FBI informer and HSCA undercover agent Oliver Patterson to establish a relationship with Ray's brother Jerry, and to provide as much information as possible from these contacts. He was instructed to obtain hair samples from Jerry and to go through his personal things from time to time, looking for anything that might be of interest, including correspondence.
In August 1978 Patterson was instructed to publicly discredit Mark Lane, who was James Earl Ray's lawyer at the time.
In a sworn statement dated August 14, 1978, Patterson stated that his HSCA handlers instructed him to give a private interview to New York Times reporter Anthony J. Marro on Monday, August 7, 1978, in which he was told to accuse Mark Lane of being gay, state that Lane had told him that he knew there was no person named Raul, and further allege that his [Patterson's] own undercover work had confirmed James Earl Ray's guilt.
When Lane (tipped off by Susan Wadsworth, a friend of Patterson's) uncovered the plot and confronted Patterson, Patterson agreed to cooperate with him. Consequently, when Marro arrived at noon at the designated St. Louis hotel he found himself walking into a room filled with news cameras and reporters. He ran from the room with Lane behind him asking whether he wanted the truth. Lane then addressed a press conference, and with Patterson and Wadsworth present revealed the history of the HSCA's illicit use of Oliver Patterson. Affidavits setting out details about this matter were executed by Wadsworth, and another friend of Patterson, Tina Denaro.
Chief counsel Blakey subsequently issued a statement in which he said that a complete investigation of Patterson's allegations would be made but that on the basis of a preliminary investigation, "the Committee categorically denies each and every allegation of wrongdoing. It states with assurance that no federal, state, or local law, or any rule of the House or of the Committee has been violated by the investigator or by any other member of the Committee staff."
Patterson never repudiated his allegations against the committee.