History In Ink®  Historical Autographs


[Martin Luther King, Jr., Assassination]

James Earl Ray

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“I think I mentioned about the English TV mock trial.

I have finished it but, if I am able to attend the courthouse trial . . . ,

then I will testify there.”

James Earl Ray, 1928–1998.  Convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Typed Letter Signed, Sincerely, J. E. Ray, one page, 8½” x 11”, on plain stationery, Nashville, Tennessee, September 21, 1992.  Accompanied by a 3½” x 5” mug shot of Ray, signed James Earl Ray on the image, with an Autograph Note Signed, J. E. R., on the back.  With original envelope.

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot while he was standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.  Witnesses saw Ray fleeing from a rooming house where he had rented a room across the street from the motel.  Investigators found a package that contained a Remington rifle and a pair of binoculars, both with Ray’s fingerprints on them.  Using the name Harvey Lowmeyer, Ray had previously bought a Remington Model 760 Gamemaster .30-06 rifle, which he had fitted with a Redfield 2x-7x scope.

Ray drove to Atlanta, Georgia, where he picked up his belongings and left for Canada.  He stayed in Toronto for more than a month before he left for England, traveling on a false Canadian passport in the name of Ramon George Sneyd.  He was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport, attempting to travel to Brussels, Belgium, on the false passport when a ticket agent saw Sneyd on the Royal Canadian Mounted Police watch list.

Ray was extradited to the United States and charged in Tennessee with King’s assassination.  He confessed, pled guilty, and received a 99-year prison sentence.  Almost immediately, he recanted his confession, stating that he had pled guilty on the advice of his attorney in order to avoid the death penalty.  He spent the rest of his life in prison unsuccessfully trying to withdraw his guilty plea and obtain a trial. 

Ray did, however, participate in a mock trial for British television, part of his effort to convince Tennessee authorities that he should have a real trial.  The jury in the mock trial acquitted him.  King’s family concluded that Ray was innocent and urged that he be given a trial.  They later sued and obtained a wrongful death judgment against Loyd Jowers, whom Ray mentions in other correspondence that we are offering.  Jowers, who owned a restaurant near the Lorraine Motel, told Sam Donaldson of ABC’s Primetime Live that there was a conspiracy to kill King, that he had hired a Memphis police officer to shoot him, and that Ray was a scapegoat.  There were allegations that the FBI, CIA, and organized crime were all involved.  In 2000, the United States Department of Justice issued a 150-page report that rejected the conspiracy allegations and the findings of the jury in the civil suit against Jowers.

In this letter, which has never been offered on the autograph market before, Ray writes to a correspondent in Belleville, Illinois, near Ray’s hometown, Alton, Illinois, with whom he corresponded over several years.  He returns signed the 1959 mug shot, which he had not seen before, writes of the mock trial, mentions his brother, Jerry (1936–2016), and talks of a radio that needs repair.  He writes, in full (grammar as in the original):

Thank’s for the picture.  I decided to sign & return it since Jerry said he had a copy of it.  It is the 1st time I saw the picture.

I think I mentioned about the English TV mock-trial.  I have finished it but, if I am able to attend the courthouse trial(the co. is renting a courtroom), then I will testify there.  The video I made recently is a back-up in case I can’t appear in the courtroom.

Jerry was here Saturday.  he mentioned the radio he had left with you.  The situation on it is as follows.  when I was transferred here it was taken because it had a small TV on it and only one TV is permitted in this place.  Anyway I sent it to Jerry.  What I ask him to do was either put some crystals in the AM in order to pick up short-wave no. 7453(WWCR)*, or take the TV out and hook up a small shortwave radio where the TV was at and put a plastic over the space left by the tube removal.

The mail room here tries to take about anything that comes in & I don't know about a s.w. band.  Anyway Jerry will contact you and you can let him know what if anything can be done.  I think I can get it done in Knoxville.  Also, the radio you have has a short in it(sometimes won’t play, so I guess there is a loose wire.)  I have a good radio here that has AM-FM & a CD & cassette but the cassette doesn’t have a recording device(will just record off radio), so it is not much good to me.

Anyway don’t go to a lot of bother with it since as I mentioned I think I know someone who can fix it in Knoxville.

Guess that’s about it for now.  The return address [on the envelope] is a friend in Memphis, which I will use until Jerry’s get’s a po box.

*this station promotes the book I have out.

Note, radios with cassette & SW can be bought but the dial has the SW on it.

Ray wrote two books, Tennessee Waltz: The Making of a Political Prisoner (1987) and Who Killed Martin Luther King?: The True Story By the Alleged Assassin (1992). A second edition of Who Killed Martin Luther King? was released with a new epilogue in 1997.  Ray also wrote a postscript in Harold Weisberg’s book Frame-Up: The Martin Luther King-James Earl Ray Case Containing Suppressed Evidence (1971). 

The mug shot that accompanies this letter was taken October 10, 1959, by the St. Louis police.  We do not know whether it is an original print or a reproduction.  Ray has signed with a full signature, James Earl Ray, between his profile and frontal pictures.  On the back, Ray has written “Sept. 92 / First time I saw this pic. / J.E.R.”

The original mailing envelope is typed except that Ray has written the city, state, and zip code, “Belleville, Ill. / 62220,” by hand.  The back bears the stamp of the Tennessee Department of Correction, Riverbend Maximum Security Inst., and notes that “The Department of Correctin has neither censored nor inspected this item. Therefore, the Department does not assume responsibility for its content.”

This letter is in very fine condition.  Were it not for the mailing folds, we would grade it extra fine.  Ray has signed in blue ballpoint.  The mug shot is in extra fine condition, with Ray’s full signature in bold, blue ballpoint as well.  The original mailing envelope is torn open at the top and is in fine condition.



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