On This Day June 8, 1968: Martin Luther King's killer arrested in London

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James Earl Ray was hoping to fight as a mercenary in Africa when he was captured at Heathrow Airport two months after the 39-year-old clergyman was shot in Memphis.

The white supremacist convicted of assassinating black U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King was arrested in London on this day in 1968.

James Earl Ray was hoping to fight as a mercenary in Africa when he was captured at Heathrow Airport two months after the 39-year-old clergyman was shot in Memphis.

He was extradited to the U.S. and in March 1969 pleaded guilty to murder – although he later recanted and the King family now believe Ray was an innocent scapegoat.

Dr King, a Baptist minister from Atlanta, helped win groundbreaking racial equality reforms by inspiring non-violent protests and civil disobedience with fine oratory.

His iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech was shown in this British Pathe newsreel marking his death.

Ray, who escaped prison in 1967 after committing armed robbery, was implicated in the assassination after police found his fingerprints on the rifle used.

The then 40-year-old former World War Two soldier, who grew up in southern Illinois, fled to Canada and hid in Toronto for a month.


Using the name Ramon George Sneyd, he illegally obtained a Canadian passport, which was easy to do in those days and was a well-known criminal ploy. 

Then he flew to London, where he stayed in back-street hostels in the Victoria, Pimlico and Earls Court area, making a trip to Portugal in between.

He was caught trying to fly to the Belgium, where he hoped to contact an agent who hired mercenaries to fight in Rhodesia, which he greatly admired.



The former white minority-ruled African country, which is now known as Zimbabwe, was then fighting an insurgency led by Robert Mugabe.

But Ray’s alias, which Canadian authorities had by then passed on to the FBI, was recognised by Heathrow staff and he was arrested and soon after extradited.

Yet doubts over his role in the killing have long persisted.

Restaurant owner Loyd Jowers claimed in 1993 that Ray was a scapegoat in a conspiracy involving the U.S. government.

Jowers and ‘Unidentified Co-conspirators’ were later found responsible for Dr King’s death in a civil trial in 1999.

In 1998, Ray, who escaped prison a second time in 1977, died in jail at age 70 from hepatitis C, which he probably got from an infected blood transfusion after a knifing.

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