James Earl Ray
Even though the characters in Mindhunter seem reluctant to profile or interview anyone that’s not a master manipulator or serial killer, John Douglas never passed up the opportunity to speak to a felon. Skyjackers, kidnappers, extortionists, serial rapists, arsonists, bombers, mass murderers and of course serial killers. No one was excluded, especially not James Earl Ray, the man who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968.
A small-time crook, Ray spent over a decade of his life going in and out of various prisons until he was eventually given an extended sentence of 20 years for repeated offenses. However, he escaped by hiding in a bread truck from the prison bakery and fled to Mexico.
On the run for about seven years, his path towards MLK began in 1967 when he returned to the US and became invested in George Wallace’s presidential campaign. A hard-line racist, Ray strongly agreed with Wallace’s segregationist ideas and spent much of his time volunteering for the campaign.
No one knows exactly when Ray got the idea to kill King, except that he had gotten facial reconstruction surgery about a month before the assassination. Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, Ray shot King as he stood outside his motel balcony, and the Civil Rights leader died about an hour later at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Memphis.
Ray was caught after a two-month-long manhunt and was sentenced to 99 years. He died on April 23, 1998, from liver failure and kidney disease caused by complications from hepatitis C.