Profession: Assassin of Martin Luther King Jr.
Why Famous: Prior to his infamy, Ray left school at fifteen and was briefly in the United States Army, serving in Germany at the end of World War Two.
During his life he was convicted of a burglary in California, the armed robbery of a taxi driver in Illinois, mail fraud in Florida, and armed robbery again, this time of a store, in Missouri.
As a repeat offender, he was finally sentenced to twenty years—from which he escaped in 1967 by hiding in a transport truck.
Subsequently he sought to make a living while avoiding capture. During this period he attempted, and failed, to kickstart a career as a pornographer in Mexico.
In 1968 he had facial surgery in Los Angeles to obscure his identity. Some time after this he seems to have begun preparing for his most infamous crime: the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
First Ray moved to Atlanta, where King lived, and then travelled to Alabama to purchase a rifle—ostensibly for a hunting trip with his brother—under the alias 'Harvey Lowmeyer.' Ray then drove back to Atlanta, where he read in the newspaper that King was to return to Memphis, Tennessee.
On April the 2nd, 1968, Ray set out from Atlanta to Memphis. Two days later, on the 4th of April, Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by a single shot from the rifle purchased in Alabama.
After firing from the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, Ray fled to Atlanta. Ray was later captured in London and ultimately deported to Tennessee where he confessed and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
Ray later sought to recant his confession, firing the lawyer who advised him to confess; he sought a trial, which this advice had denied him. Interest in his version of events led to a televised mock trial conducted by the lawyer William Pepper—a friend of King in his later years.
Altogether the case remains far from closed, with many of King's friends and family unsatisfied with the official narrative.
- 1968-04-04 US civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee
- 1968-06-08 James Earl Ray, alleged assassin of Martin Luther King Jr., captured
- 1969-03-10 James Earl Ray pleads guilty to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr.
- 1977-06-10 James Earl Ray (Martin Luther King's killer) escapes from prison
- 1977-06-13 Convicted Martin Luther King assassin James Earl Ray recaptured
- 1997-03-27 Martin Luther King's son meets James Earl Ray, his father's killer