Hunting Down an Assassin: The Manhunt for MLK’s Killer

By | June 4, 2019

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American Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929 - 1968) speaks at Quinn Chapel on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois, 1960s. Source: (Photo by Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images)

A tragic and pivotal moment in American history was the assassination of Civil Rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968. Dr. King was standing on the balcony of his room at the Motel Lorraine in Memphis, Tennessee, when he was shot with a Remington hunting rifle that was fired from a window in a boarding house a block away. While the world mourned the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., the FBI sprang into action to track down the assassin. More than two months later, the FBI had their man, James Earl Ray. How did they track down Ray and finally arrest him? Let’s look at the manhunt for MLK’s killer. 

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Dr. King on the motel balcony. Source: (

The Crime

James Earl Ray was a petty criminal and an outspoken racist. A year prior to assassinating Dr. King, Ray escaped from a jail in Missouri and was living on the run. He had a history of ranting to friends and family about his hatred for African Americans and his desire to kill Dr. King. Ray checked into a room in Bessie Brewer’s rooming house, which was located across the street from the Motel Lorraine where King and his entourage were staying. From the bathroom window of his room at the boarding house, Ray had a clear shot at Dr. King’s balcony.