Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

The Investigation

The FBI became involved after Director J. Edgar Hoover and U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark ordered the department to investigate the possibility of a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which made it a federal crime to use race as a motive to murder or conspire to murder. Of course, the Memphis police continued to investigate because of the murder itself that had been committed in its jurisdiction. Special Agent Robert G. Jensen, the agent in charge of the FBI's Memphis field office took charge of the federal probe.

The early investigation centered on Bessie Brewer's Rooming House where the shots originated. Brewer told authorities that a John Willard had registered with her at sometime between 3:30 and 4 p.m. on April 4, and was assigned to room 5B, which overlooked the Lorraine Hotel. Willard had originally been assigned to room 8, which did not provide such a view, but asked for a change. Willard was described as a well-dressed white man, about 5 feet 11 inches tall, about 35 years old weighing around 180 pounds. Charles A. Stephens, a resident of the rooming house, told investigators that he heard a gunshot coming from the bathroom at the rear of the building (overlooking the Lorraine Motel) and, running to his door after hearing the shot, he saw a man fitting Willard's description fleeing toward the front of the building and down the stairs.

Another resident, William Anchutz, reported hearing the shot and seeing a man fitting Willard's description running away. Anchutz said to the man "I thought I heard a shot," to which the man replied, "Yeah, it was a shot."

Next to the rooming house, two patrons in the Canipe Amusements Company heard a "thud" and saw a man, about 6 feet tall, around 30 years old and neatly dressed, running past the entry to the store. It appeared the man had dropped a package in the doorway of the store as he fled. Moments later, they saw a white Mustang drive away with the man inside. The package was a blanket containing a Remington Gamester Model 760 .30-06 caliber rifle with a scope, a radio, some clothes in a blue zippered bag, a pair of binoculars, a couple of beer cans and an ad for the York Arms Company with an accompanying receipt.

Shortly after, the rifle and scope were traced to a Birmingham, Alabama sporting goods store, the Aeromarine Supply Company. Employees there told agents that a Harvey Lowmeyer purchased the items on March 30, 1968. The salesman who sold the rifle to Lowmeyer described him as a neat, 30-something white male about 6 feet tall and 165 pounds. The binoculars were traced to the York Arms Company in Memphis, and had been purchased two hours before King had been shot. The beer cans were purchased in Mississippi.

Five days after King was shot, police found a Memphis hotel reservation on April 3 for Eric Starvo Galt, who listed a Birmingham, Alabama address and drove a white Mustang. Galt stayed at the Rebel Motel in Memphis for one night: April 3. Through driver's license records, police found that Galt was 36 years old, 5-feet 11-inches tall and he weighed 175 pounds. Galt had blond hair and blue eyes.

Almost a week after the shooting, Galt's white Mustang turned up in Atlanta, Georgia. A search of the vehicle showed Galt had the car tuned up twice in Los Angeles, California. Galt had lived in Birmingham for some time, and talking to neighbors, investigators found Galt had an extreme interest in dancing and took dancing lessons on a regular basis. Since clues pointed to the fact that Galt had spent a period in Los Angeles, dance studios there were canvassed and an important clue was found: a photograph of Eric Starvo Galt.

The investigation bogged down a bit after the discovery of Galt's car in Atlanta, and the FBI turned to its extensive records division for assistance. Using fingerprints found on the rifle and Galt's possessions, the FBI ran a crosscheck against known fugitives. The decision to test against only fugitives was, in the FBI's words "speculative." There was no reason to believe Galt was a fugitive except for the assumption that it was a strong likelihood that King's assassination was not Galt's first crime. The hunch paid off when Galt's fingerprints were found to match an escaped convict named James Earl Ray.


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