This is the third in a series of three annual April columns about the MLK assassination that ran in the Tucson Comic News in 1997, 1998, and 1999:
It turns out that Janet Reno had asked her investigators to look into only two allegations. One, whether a Memphis barman named Lloyd Jowers had been telling the truth when he confessed to being a part of a conspiracy to assassinate King, which included members of tile Mafia and the federal government And two, whether a former FBI man named Donald Wilson had been telling the truth when he claimed to have recovered documents from the car of accused lone nut assassin James Earl Ray, which tended to corroborate Ray’s version of the events.
So the DOJ looked into those things, and only those things, and decided that neither man had been telling the truth. So, end of story. It doesn’t mean there was no plot to kill Dr. King, but they’re pretty sure it didn’t involve either of those guys, and they didn’t feel particularly curious about going any farther than that. Conveniently for the DOJ, both Ray and Jowers are now dead, so the trail is getting pretty cold in any case. Inconveniently for the DOJ, a Memphis jury decided six months ago that Lloyd Jowers had indeed been involved with the Mafia and the government in the assassination plot, and awarded damages to the family of Dr. King (who had asked for a token $100 in their efforts to get the truth out).
As it turns out, that was the third time a serious investigation found a conspiracy in the death of Dr. King. The House of Representatives issued a report in 1979 that found a "95% probability" that persons other than Ray were involved. And in 1993, the television network HBO gave James Ray what the government had denied him for 29 years: a trial.
There were problems with each of these investigations, mostly stemming from the fact that the US Government has a lot to hide in this matter. What cannot be brushed aside is the documented history of official hostility to Dr. King and his work. Specifically, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover regarded King as a communist, "the most dangerous man in America, and a moral degenerate," And to deal with the most dangerous man in America, the FBI engaged in a decade long campaign of sabotage, surveillance and harassment, culminating in an unsuccessful attempt to blackmail him into suicide: "There is only one way out for you…you better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation."
With that friendly invitation declined, Hoover issued a memo calling for King’s "removal from the national scene.” And that removal was greatly facilitated by an FBI press release to Memphis papers mocking King for staying in white owned hotels, and wondering why he didn't stay at the black owned Lorraine Motel. The papers helpfully passed this criticism along (without noting its source), and King's entourage duly checked into the Lorraine for what would be his last visit to Memphis.
On the day before his arrival, someone who claimed to be working for King called the Lorraine and switched rooms, so that King's lodging was directly opposite Lloyd Jowers' diner. Of course, none of the actual entourage knew anything about this, And on the final day of his life, the security team from the Memphis Police Department, which shadowed King every time he came to town, was withdrawn.
That afternoon, according to testimony in King vs. Jowers, two men approached the Fire Station across from the Lorraine Motel, and showed credentials from US Army intelligence. They carried two briefcases, which they said contained photographic equipment, and positioned themselves on the roof of the station, where they would have a clear view of the assassination site. Needless to say, none of their "photographs" have been made available to investigators.
The attorney for the King family asked the jury how a simple drifter like James Earl Ray could get Dr. King's security detail removed, and have Army officers stationed overlooking the scene. The jury thought that one over for about three hours. Then they found against Jowers. Said one juror: "We all thought it was a pretty cut and dried case and that there were a lot of other people involved.”
That’s pretty much what the jury in the HBO trial decided, when they found Ray not guilty of killing King. The very idea of a mock trial on TV can be mocked, and has been, but at the time, both sides found it deadly serious. A retired judge presided, and actual Memphis prosecutors handled the case against Ray. The jury was selected from the Memphis voter rolls, and as many witnesses who were still alive gave their testimony. If the Department of Justice is inclined to dismiss the importance of this trial now, they certainly found it important enough back in 1993. The hotel where jurors were sequestered rented the entire floor above them to members of the FBI.
As for the House’s investigation, it was somewhat hampered by the fact that important witnesses kept ending up dead. And unfortunately, the FBI was less than fully cooperative with the investigation. But based on the testimony of one Russell G. Byers, who had previously told of being offered a contract on Dr. King's life, the House Committee decided there was a probable conspiracy in the case. But they had run out of time and money. Congress had created the Committee with a specific deadline, and so they were unable to investigate further.
Of course, Jowers and Byers are not the only ones to have confessed to involvement in this crime. Longtime readers of this column will recall my previous discussions of this case in issues 41 and 56, including the revelations of Jules Roy Kimble. Mr. Kimble was well connected with both the Mob and the US intelligence "community," and he corroborated important parts of Ray's story.
But hey, l guess if the Department of Justice doesn't think there's anything more worth looking into, we should all just leave it at that. If you disagree, though, you might want to check out the book by Ray's attorney, William Pepper, entitled Orders to Kill. Or you can find out more shout the case at the Mary Ferrell Foundation website. But either way, have a nice King Day, next January.