This article was originally published April 1, 2008-- The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. remains one of the most enduring whodunits in American history. Forty years after he was fatally shot on the balcony of a Memphis hotel, conspiracy theories attempt to raise questions about who the killer was.
The most widely accepted theory points to career criminal and admitted racist James Earl Ray as the triggerman. He was at the scene of the crime; his fingerprints were on the rifle; and he confessed to the killing. But days after he pleaded guilty, Ray recanted, opening the door to doubts that he had acted alone.
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The Rev. Jesse Jackson, King’s close friend and eyewitness to his assassination, is one who has his doubts.
"James Earl Ray didn't have the money, nor the upward mobility to have done this by himself: to trail Dr. King, to have been perfectly positioned from his window to Dr. King's bedroom," Jackson said.
Dr. King’s closest associates quickly voiced suspicions that King’s murder was part of a larger plan. In 1998, James Earl Ray died in prison and then-Attorney General Janet Reno reopened a year-long investigation into the killing. Still, assassination theories abound. Some are sensational, others are plausible.
According to one scenario, James Earl Ray was framed by a man name Raul. Ray said he was instructed to get a hotel room and rifle, then hand it over to the mysterious man.
Former Congressman Walter Fauntroy led a congressional probe into the assassination.
“We investigated it, thoroughly, and were not able to identify who Raul was,” Fauntroy said.
But did the U.S. government play a role in doing the deed? According to some, King may have been a target of his own country.
"I can tell you [that] against the backdrop of what I learned, that operatives within the intelligence agencies of our country and within the Mafia were involved, and the extent to which they were involved remains to be seen," said Fauntroy.
And then, there’s the theory of the Memphis bar owner Lloyd Jowers, who says he was paid to hire a hit man to wipe out King.
Fauntroy elaborates on how the FBI reacted to that news.
"The FBI re-opened the investigation and a year later said they didn't see any basis in fact for that, so Lloyd Jowers’ claim has been dismissed, and he has since expired."
But lingering questions about King’s murder remain alive to this day.
Perhaps closure will come in 2029 when the government will finally lift its seal on top secret documents that are sure to reveal more about the killing of King.
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