Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

James Earl Ray: The Man Who Killed Dr. Martin Luther King

The Hunt for Ray

In a short period of time, authorities were easily able to piece together Ray's travels since his escape, including lengthytrips to Los Angeles, New Orleans, Birmingham, Memphis (presumably to assassinate King), and eventually to Atlanta, where once again the trail grew cold. Ray's family was of little help to authorities, claiming not to have heard from Ray for some time.

Prison inmates familiar with Ray were questioned with little success; they told of bounties put on King's head, but agents were not able to track down leads on the source of these bounties. One cellmate did tell agents that Ray had talked about how easy it was to get a passport in the name of a Canadian citizen, and that when he escaped, he was going to Canada and from there, abroad.

Fake Canadian Passport
Fake Canadian Passport

Armed with this tidbit of information, the search headed north. "Though the search went through a staggering number of applications, and was based on the comparison of Ray's photographs to those submitted with applications, it proved to be the necessary break in picking up Ray's trail," the official FBI report of the Martin Luther King assassination reveals. After looking over 175,000 applications, on June 1, 1968, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police contacted the FBI to report that George Ramon Sneyd, who bore a striking resemblance to Ray, had been issued a Canadian Passport on April 24, 1968. "Sneyd" purchased a roundtrip airfare from Toronto to London and left for the United Kingdom on May 6.

Across the Atlantic, FBI agents and Scotland Yard took up the chase. The bobbies learned "Sneyd" had turned in the return ticket in exchange for a ticket to Lisbon, Portugal. "Sneyd" arrived in Portugal on May 7, but returned to London on May 17. On June 8, 1968, British immigration authorities stopped James Earl Ray as he attempted to board a plane bound for Brussels, Belgium. The suspected assassin of Martin Luther King Jr. was in custody.

With Ray/Galt/Sneyd in custody in Great Britain, the United States government prepared to request his extradition. Ray protested the extradition and in what would be the closest thing to a trial James Earl Ray would ever receive, the British courts were presented with the evidence against him. The Americans laid out the facts as reported above. A man identified as Ray bought a rifle similar to — if not the same as — the one that killed Dr. King. A man identified as Ray checked into the rooming house across from the Lorraine Hotel. He was seen running from the rooming house dropping a package that contained a rifle very similar to the one — if not the same one — that killed King. His fingerprints were found in a car similar to — if not the same as — one seen fleeing the area after the shooting. His picture was on a false passport application. At the very least, Ray would have been returned to the state of Missouri to finish out his robbery sentence.


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