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10 Disturbing and Unexplained Facts About James Earl Ray, MLK's Assassin

Each year, the third Monday in January is a celebration to commemorate the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr., the tireless civil rights activist who was gunned down in Memphis, TN, in 1968. But what do you know about James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Martin Luther King? 

Ray was born in Alton, IL, in 1928, the son of working class Scots-Irish parents. In the 1950s, Ray became notorious as a petty criminal, and by the end of the decade he was a failed pornographer who had served some jail time and successfully completed a prison escape. He was a fervent supporter of George Wallace, the Alabama governor who notoriously gave the 1963 "Segregation Now, Segregation Forever," and he was passionate about emigrating to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to be a part of the white minority in power there at the time.

This list details the strange, unstable life of James Earl Ray, a man who confessed to and then spent his life denying the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. 

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  • He Was A Lifelong Con Artist

    Before James Earl Ray got into the business of assassinating one of the most significant individuals in United States history, he was traveling the country (and sometimes even the world) performing petty cons. A brief run down of his rap sheet shows that, after returning from serving in WWII, Ray got arrested for everything from stealing a typewriter in Los Angeles to robbing a cab driver in Chicago and stealing money orders in Missouri. His record is also riddled with other low-budget thefts from all around the country and even bears the mark of numerous attempts to “escape” trials and jail time. Before the end of the 1950s, he had served three years in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.

  • He Was An International Fugitive For A While

    Ray was no stranger to running to the ends of the earth in order to avoid the law by the time he assassinated King. In the 1950s, during his petty con artists days, he fled to Mexico where he lived in Puerto Vallarta as an aspiring pornographer. After he murdered King in 1968, he drove to Toronto, Canada. From Canada, he did a brief stint in Lisbon, Portugal before eventually ending up in London before attempting to go to Brussels, Belgium. He was arrested at Heathrow Airport in London in an attempt to leave the country with his fake Canadian passport.

  • He Confessed To Killing MLK On His 41st Birthday

    Ray confessed to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on March 10, 1969, which was coincidentally Ray’s 41st birthday. After pleading guilty to the crime, he was sentenced to 99 years in prison. However, he recanted his confession three days later, claiming he only confessed in order to avoid a death sentence. He then began revealing elements of a conspiracy plot to kill King of which he claimed to be a very small pawn in order to get a jury trial. This was in vain, however, as he spent the remainder of his life in prison. 

  • He Was Married And Divorced While In Prison

    On Friday 13, 1978, James Earl Ray married Anna Sailing Sandhu, an artist 20 years his junior. The two met while Sandhu was doing drawings of Ray for a TV interviewer. She said they connected through Ray’s “direct gaze” and emotional depth. However, although they spent more than 12 years as a married couple who exchanged lots of love letters in lieu of conjugal visits, Ray filed for divorce from Sandhu in 1990 citing “irreconcilable differences.”