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James Earl Ray

James Earl Ray Mugshot

The arrest of James Earl Ray:

Assassin. That's the word that comes to mind when James Earl Ray's name comes up. Generally, besides being a criminal, there wasn't much else to him.

He was born into a poor Illinois family, dropped out of school at age 15 and served in Germany at the end of World War II.

Ray was frequently in trouble with the law

James Earl Ray various Mugshots

He was convicted of burglary in California in 1949 and was picked up in 1952 for the armed robbery of an Illinois taxi driver, serving two years for that. There were mail fraud convictions that led to a three year stretch at the Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.

Ray was sentenced to twenty years in prison for repeat offenses and escaped from the Missouri State Penitentiary in 1967. He bounced from city to city, eluding recapture and setting the stage for this small time hood to hit the heights of notoriety when he gunned down civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., while King was standing on a motel balcony in Memphis on April 4, 1968.

mlk dead in a casket. Nespaper report of mlk death

Ray fled to Canada and acquired a Canadian passport using a phony name, Ramon George Sneyd. (His other aliases included Eric Starvo Galt.)

James Earl Ray wanted poster

Within two months was arrested at London's Heathrow Airport while trying to leave the UK.

James Earl Ray being arrested

Extradited to Tennessee, Ray admitted killing King, and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. However, three days later, he recanted his confession, saying he made it on the advice of his lawyer to avoid a death sentence in the electric chair.

James Earl Ray in court

He spent the rest of his life trying to withdraw the plea to secure a trial.

However, that didn't mean he resigned himself to being in jail for the rest of his life. Ray turned up again on the FBI's Most Wanted Fugitives list when he broke out of Tennessee's Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary on June 11, 1977.

James Earl Ray on cover of magazines after he broke out of prison

He was recaptured three days later, sent back to the prison and got another year in prison, making for a tidy 100 year package. James Earl Ray died in prison at age 70 in April, 1998, from complications related to kidney disease and liver failure caused by hepatitis.

He was cremated with his ashes flown to Ireland, the home of his ancestors.

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