Best Known For
James Earl Ray is best known for assassinating civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., in 1968.
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After shooting King, Ray immediately fled, setting off a manhunt that would last more than two months and cover five countries. At the time, it was said to be the FBI's most expensive and biggest investigation in its history.
Finally, on July 19, 1968, the FBI caught up with Ray in London and extradited him to the United States. Ray pleaded guilty to the murder, something he'd spend the rest of his life trying to reverse, and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
In the years following Ray's arrest, questions arose about his exact involvement in King's murder. Ray himself countered that he was not the only one involved in the crime. He insisted that a man he'd met in Canada, who went by the name of Raoul, had orchestrated the murder and ultimately shot King.
Later, in the early 1990s, he suggested a conspiracy involving the government had been behind the assassination. Even a 1978 special congressional committee said there was the "likelihood" that Ray did not act alone.
Toward the end of his life, Ray, whose sentence had been extended to 100 years after he escaped from prison in 1977, had the support of an unexpected ally: the King family. Not long before Ray's death, Dexter King, Dr. King's son, visited the man presumed to be his father's killer. Ray, who was feeble and sick from hepatitis C, was asked by King about his involvement in the assassination. "I had nothing to do with killing your father," Ray said. "I believe you," Dexter King responded, and shook his hand.
Ray died in prison in Nashville, Tennessee, on April 23, 1998.
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These individuals have etched their names into history by plotting and executing the murders of prominent people. Whether their motivations were political, obsessive, or just plain insane, their high-profile murders earn them fame, fear and revulsion from the public. John Wilkes Booth shocked the nation when he assassinated Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theater, James Earl Ray's assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. was a tragic chapter in the civil rights struggle. See our picks, along with full biographies, photo galleries and videos, of these and other infamous assassins, who changed the course of history in the most brutal of ways.
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