KLTV.com Web Exclusive - Conspiracy Theory: The Assassination Of Dr. King

Exterior of the Lorraine Motel in January, 2008.
Exterior of the Lorraine Motel in January, 2008.
Shelby County Criminal Prosecutor John Campbell lays out mountains of evidence from his investigation.
Shelby County Criminal Prosecutor John Campbell lays out mountains of evidence from his investigation.
The Lorraine Motel on the night of King's shooting.
The Lorraine Motel on the night of King's shooting.

40 years after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., conspiracy theories abound about the civil rights icon's death.

Moments after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and fell to the concrete balcony outside his motel room, fingers pointed in the direction of an unseen assassin.

"You saw that picture of us pointing," recalled Rev. Jesse Jackson.  "Reverend Kyles is in that picture.  Andrew Young is in that picture.  We were saying to the police, 'You guys are coming this way...the bullet came from that way.  Don't come here, go there!'"

Many people present when King was shot remain convinced the man convicted of King's murder, James Earl ray, did not act alone.

"There was definitely a conspiracy," Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles said.

Indeed, according to Shelby County Criminal Prosecutor John Campbell, it did appear several people were behind the murder- at least at first.

"(There were) several names," Campbell said. "John Galt. Harvey Lowemeyer.  They originally approached this as a conspiracy case because they had all these different names.  It took several days to figure out that it was all the same person."

That person was James Earl Ray.

Between 1993 and 1998, Campbell and a small team of investigators re-examined Dr. Kings murder.  The District Attorney re-opened the case after a stunning confession from former Memphis bartender Loyd Jowers.

In 1993, on an episode of ABC's Primetime Live, Jowers claimed Memphis a businessman paid him to employ a hitman to kill King.

"He asked me to handle some money transactions to hire someone to assassinate Dr. Martin Luther King," Jowers said, adding that when asked, he told the man he knew someone who would probably do it.

But, according to Campbell, Jowers' story was not true.  "That initial story fell apart in about two weeks," he said.

Jowers told investigators he threw the rifle used to kill King into the Mississippi River, and he was paid $100,000 that he kept in a stove.  Jowers even named a former Memphis police officer as the shooter.  It was the second man Jowers accused.

"The first guy he claimed to do it was a black gentleman he paid to shoot King, and was supposedly dead," Campbell said. "Well, he wasn't dead.  It turned out he was living in Florida."

Campbell discovered Jowers was hoping to get paid for his story, and told several relatives they could cash in too if they backed him up.  But King's family remained convinced Jowers was part of the murder plot and James Earl Ray did not act alone.

With the help of Ray's attorney, William Pepper, the King family sued Loyd Jowers in 1999. A Memphis jury believed Jowers was part of a conspiracy, and awarded the King family $100.

But the civil suit left many unanswered questions about the rifle that was used, and where the shot came from.  Perhaps the only person who could truly answer these questions was James Earl Ray, who launched his own conspiracy theory three days after confessing to murder.
Ray claimed a mystery man named 'Raul' was the master-mind behind the murder of King, and that he was just a fall guy.

"Listening to Ray talk...he says just enough that he has to," Campbell said. "If you listen to people around him, they're doing all the talking, and occasionally he'll agree with them."

While many believe Ray pulled the trigger that killed King, they have no doubt he had help.

"He was quite a dufuss individual, and he couldn't have done all that by himself," Kyles said.

Jackson agreed.  "It couldn't have been him alone."

Ray avoided authorities for two months before he was captured in Europe, and went to his grave claiming he didn't shoot King.  In an audiotape made months before he died in 1998, Ray recalled instructions he received from Raul.

"He told me he'd like for me to go the movies somewhere, because he wanted to talk to these people privately," Ray can be heard saying in the tape.

Campbell has never believed Ray's story.  "You'd catch him in a lie, and he'd just quit talking," he said. "That's just the way he was."

Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was in the courtyard of the Lorraine Motel the day Dr. King was gunned down, believes the government had a roll in King's death and Ray's initial escape.

"He got out of this city with an alias, out of this country with an alias," Jackson said. "He couldn't have done all that by himself."

Campbell agrees Ray probably had help, but not from the government.  A year before murdering King, he said, Ray escaped from a Missouri prison- one of the roughest in the United States.

"It was common knowledge there how to get documents," Campbell said.

At the time, Toronto was a known hot spot for getting fake identification.  Ultimately, it was Ray's fake Canadian passport that brought him to justice.

"He screwed up and got the name spelled wrong, and had to get another passport with the correct name on it, which is what got him caught, 'cause he had two passports on him in England," Campbell said.

Campbell believes Ray got help from his brothers.  He also had political connections he did not want entered into the record when he pleaded guilty to King's murder.

"A lot of people don't realize it, but he was to some extent involved in the George Wallace campaign (for President)," Campbell said.  "I always thought that was interesting, considering that his brother in St. Louis was very connected with some individuals who were very active in his campaign also, including some individuals who congress later felt actually put a bounty on King's head."
An overwhelming amount of evidence points to Ray: the rifle, the binoculars, the getaway car, and a number of receipts.  Still, the conspiracy theories persist.

"You do have an underpinning...a kernel of truth that these things spring from," Campbell said. "We know that J. Edgar Hoover was doing all kinds of things to Dr. King. We know that.  We also know that Bobby Kennedy approved it, as the attorney general was approving illegal wire taps."

"It's not a hard stretch for people to say if they were doing that, then certainly they were capable of killing him," he added.

Reported by Ursula Madden. Story courtesy of our sister station, WMC-TV in Memphis.