James Earl Ray’s Arrest at Heathrow in 1968

James Earl Ray's passport photos

James Earl Ray’s passport photos 1968

At 11 o’clock in the morning on Saturday, June 8th 1968 an immigration officer at Heathrow Airport peered at a passenger’s Canadian passport, looked up and said casually;

Would you please step into our office for some routine questions, Mr Sneyd.

The man he called Mr Sneyd offered no protest and followed him into the office. His demeanour changed as soon as he saw a policeman in the room and he blurted out, “Oh God, I feel so trapped”. The bespectacled Mr Sneyd was found to not only have another passport on his person but also a .38 caliber revolver stuffed in his back pocket.

An hour later Scotland Yard’s Detective Chief Superintendent Tommy Butler, a man who had become well known to the British public after the arrest of the Great Train Robbers four years previously and not particularly prone to shyness when it came to publicity, arrived at Heathrow to make the arrest. The observant immigration official’s initial suspicions were confirmed by the senior policeman and fingerprints proved that Sneyd was, in reality, Illinois-born 40 year old James Earl Ray – the escaped convict accused of assassinating Martin Luther King on April 4 in Memphis Tennessee.

Martin Luther King with Lyndon Johnson in the background

Martin Luther King with Lyndon Johnson in the background

Heathrow in 1968

Heathrow in 1968

Air Traffic Control at Heathrow in 1968

Air Traffic Control at Heathrow in 1968

The bloody balcony in Memphis where Martin Luther King was assassinated

The bloody balcony in Memphis where Martin Luther King was assassinated

Four days after he had fired the Remington rifle that had killed Dr King, Ray had driven across the Canadian border and rented a room in Toronto. It was well-known amongst American prisoners, and Ray had been an habitual but unsuccessful criminal pretty well all his adult life, that it was ludicrously easy to get a Canadian passport. All you really had to do, essentially, was swear that you were Canadian and ask for one. Ray requested a passport under the name of Ramon George Sneyd – a Toronto policeman whose name was probably picked at random from a city directory. On May 6 he flew on a BOAC plane to London and on the following day he flew on to Portugal.

The fake passport used by James Earl Ray

The fake passport used by James Earl Ray

Ray's flight details from Toronto to London

Ray’s flight details from Toronto to London

The FBI, meanwhile, had launched their biggest manhunt in their history but there seemed to be almost no leads at all. On June 1, however, there came a big break. At the FBI’s request (they were also aware of Canada’s lax passport rules), the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had been checking hundreds of thousands of passport photos and eventually they came across a picture that closely resembled the escaped convict and the only real suspect for Martin Luther King’s murder – James Earl Ray

While this was all going on, Ray was in Lisbon working out his next move. He attempted to change his fake passport but only got as far as changing the ‘d’ in Sneyd to an ‘a’ – telling the Canadian consul: “My name has been misspelled,” and with no questions asked he was issued with a new passport on May 16.

Earls Court 1968. Photographer Bill Holmes

Earls Court in 1968. Photographer Bill Holmes

The following day Ray flew back to London and anonymously stayed in one of the hundreds of back-street seedy hostels around the Victoria, Pimilico and Earls Court areas of London. On May 28 he checked into the New Earl’s Court Hotel situated at 35-37 Penywern Road – a seedy and run-down street in those days. Jane Nassau the receptionist at the hotel helped Ray with the confusing 5p and 10p coins that had been introduced a month or so before. She later stated that: “I recognised his southern drawl and wondered why he had a Canadian passport.”

jane Nassau, the receptionist at the New Earls Court Hotel

jane Nassau, the receptionist at the New Earls Court Hotel

Room 54 at the New Earls Court Hotel

Room 54 at the New Earls Court Hotel

The New Earls Court Hotel in 1968

The New Earls Court Hotel in 1968

The very door key for room fifty-four used by Ray at the New Earls Court Hotel

The very door key for room fifty-four used by Ray at the New Earls Court Hotel

On June 5 Ray moved again, this time staying at the Pax Hotel at 126 Warwick Way (equally seedy in the late sixties) which was run by Swedish-born Mrs. Anna Thomas. She later told reporters that for the next three days Ray never left his room for more than 20 minutes. He even refused to to emerge for four telephone calls, two of them from an airline. When she brought breakfast to Ray’s door:

“He was always fully dressed. I had the idea that he never got undressed for bed.”

Mrs Thomas, the proprietress of the Pax Hotel in Pimlico

Mrs Thomas, the proprietress of the Pax Hotel in Pimlico

Ray's room at the Pax Hotel

Ray’s room at the Pax Hotel

The Pax Hotel, 126 Warwick Way in 1968

The Pax Hotel, 126 Warwick Way in 1968

It was never revealed how he got the number, but on June 6 while staying at the Pax Hotel, Ray mysteriously telephoned Ian Colvin, a senior journalist at the Daily Telegraph and asked him for a contact who could help him to become a mercenary. Colvin offered an address in Brussels and it was to there Ray was heading when he was arrested at Heathrow two days later.

FBI Wanted Poster

FBI Wanted Poster

western-union-telegram

finger-prints

The police van bringing James Earl Ray to court

The police van bringing James Earl Ray to court

There must have been a rugby scrum of reporters around these phone boxes outside Bow Street Magistrates Court, June 14 1968

There must have been a rugby scrum of reporters around these phone boxes outside Bow Street Magistrates Court, June 14 1968

Ray was charged at Cannon Row police station with possessing a forged passport and having a firearm without a certificate but on June 14th when he entered the witness box at Bow Street Magistrates Court for his extradition hearing, he flatly denied that he had killed Martin Luther King. Roger Frisby, his British lawyer, asked him these questions:

“Are you the man who was arrested at London Airport?

“Yes”

“Did you know Dr. Martin Luther King?

“No Sir”

“Had you ever met him personally in your life?”

“No Sir”

“Have you ever had any grudge of any kind against him?”

“No Sir”

“Did you kill Dr. Martin Luther King?”

“No, Sir”

Ray almost certainly did kill Martin Luther King and he was quickly extradited to the States and charged with his murder. He confessed to the assassination on March 10, 1969, (although three days later he wrote a letter to the court asking that his plea be set aside – the judge refused the request) and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

James Earl Ray back in America

James Earl Ray back in America

On June 11, 1977, Ray and six others escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Tennessee but recaptured three days later. A year was added to Ray’s previous sentence, to total 100 years.

James Earl Ray died in 1998 at the age of 70 from complications related to kidney disease caused by hepatitis C probably contracted as a result of a blood transfusion given after a stabbing while at Brushy Mountain.

35-37 Penywern Road today, the former site of the New Earls Court Hotel

35-37 Penywern Road today, the former site of the New Earls Court Hotel

Bakers Hotel (formerly the Pax Hotel) at 126 Warwick Way today

Bakers Hotel (formerly the Pax Hotel) at 126 Warwick Way today

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Dion and the Belmonts – Abraham, Martin and John

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27 Responses to “James Earl Ray’s Arrest at Heathrow in 1968”

  1. LondonLee says:

    Well you learn something new every day. Well you don’t really but today I did. I had no idea James Earl Ray fled to London and stayed in Earl’s Court of all places. I’ll never think of those back streets there the same way again.

  2. J.D. King says:

    Always, my fave-rave blog.

    1968 = Beggar’s Banquet, Vincebus Eruptum and a couple of assassinations.

    ‘Twas a time.

  3. Emm says:

    Wow! That is fascinating. I also had no idea King’s assassin fled to London.

  4. belinda ackermann says:

    fascinating
    it is such a treat to read your blogs
    infact the only blog i read

  5. Conrad says:

    Not the only blog I read, but the most fascinating.

  6. AndrewC says:

    great piece of history, fantastic .. thanks for sharing this .. I always wait in anticipation for your updates.

  7. Fascinating insight into James Earl Ray’s connection with the coolest city in the world.

  8. ciera says:

    it makes me sick to my stomach to read this rip matin luther king jr.

  9. Thanks for publishing about this. There’s a mass of important tech info on the internet. You’ve got a lot of that info here on your web site. I’m impressed – I try to keep a couple blogs somewhat up-to-date, but it’s a struggle sometimes. You’ve done a big job with this one. How do you do it?

  10. Volvar says:

    I believe the immigration officer was Ken Human who retired several years ago as a chief immigration at Terminal 1, Heathrow. I wonder if there are any papers in the National Archives.

  11. Gee says:

    Jane Nassau the receptionist at the Earls Cout hotel could not possibly have ‘helped Ray with the new 5p and 10p pieces’ as these were not introduced until 1971. Great feature otherwise.

  12. nickelinthemachine says:

    Hi Gee, The 5p and 10p coins were introduced earlier in April 1968 presumably to get the population used to them. They were originally the same size and weight as the one and two shilling coins that were in circulation at the time. I can remember thinking exactly the same as you when I read the original Life magazine article, so I went away and checked. Thought I’d correct you! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T4wr93OpmbU

  13. A good friend of mine’s mother was the nurse who stitched Ray up after that stabbing. She currently works as a missionary in Panama. Great article!

  14. Douglas A. Wallace says:

    I visited James Earl Ray in Bend of the River Prison outside of Nashville
    Tenn. On Monday morning following Thanksgiving ion November 29, 1993.

    As an attorney I was interested in following up a lead that I had received in the mail earlier that year that indicated Ray was not the assassin of King. My interview established that he was indeed a patsy.

    Unfortunately, his court appointed attorney advised confession was used to defeat any and all attempts to have a trial to establish his innocence.

    Dr. William Pepper held a mock trial and a jury found Ray innocent of the charge.

    It is my opinion that based on the information I received in early 1993,
    actually as an intended deterrent/confession from the real culprit(s), that Ray will yet be exonerated for that crime.

  15. Douglas A. Wallace says:

    I visited James Earl Ray in Bend of the River Prison outside of Nashville
    Tenn. On Monday morning following Thanksgiving November 29, 1993.

    As an attorney I was interested in following up a lead that I had received in the mail earlier that year that indicated Ray was not the assassin of King. My interview established that he was indeed a patsy.

    Unfortunately, his court appointed attorney advised confession was used to defeat any and all attempts to have a trial to establish his innocence.

    Dr. William Pepper held a mock trial and a jury found Ray innocent of the charge.

    It is my opinion that based on the information I received in early 1993,
    actually as an intended deterrent/confession from the real culprit(s), that Ray will yet be exonerated for that crime.

  16. Maurice says:

    To Mr. Wallace, dear sir there are many conspiracy theories out there on who “really killed King”. I know it’s difficult to fathom that a 4 time loser like Ray could stalk & kill King. But sir I just have to disagree. The evidence is overwhelming. Bottom line, Ray killed King. Did he have help? Of course he did. He indeed took many secrets to his grave

  17. Brian says:

    There is no forensic evidence that any shot was fired from that bathroom.
    Further, there is no credible evidence Ray was even in Memphis after 4 p.m. (Bourbon Charlie Stephens didn’t see Ray or anyone else.)
    The rifle was dropped in front of the Canipe Amusement Company doorway BEFORE the fatal shot struck King.
    And that rifle was never tested for firing by the FBI. I wonder why. Their agents testified under oath that they always test weapons in crimes for firing. Harold Weisberg had two agents deposed on this. Further, Weisberg searched government files at their request to find the record of this barrel swab. There is none.
    They did test the first rifle that Ray purchased—the one that couldn’t be fired. They tested that one; there is a record of that.

  18. g the g says:

    its unlikely he was the main killer or even hit king with a bullet

  19. Before I comment let me please point out that James Earl Ray did NOT die of a kidney related disease. He needed a liver transplant and would most likely be alive today except the commissioner of the Tennessee penal system refused to allow him to have one, using private funds – no tax payer money was to be used.

    I know its difficult for a person with a closed mind to see the facts when they parrot the rumors and the lies they have been spoon fed by the media, as they pass on misconception as truth but James Earl Ray did NOT kill Dr. King and he was not even aware that a plot existed.

    The government refused to allow him to test the alleged murder weapon for close to 27 years. Use your common sense people -its simple, if he was guilty, he would have had his lawyers fight to prevent the state from testing the rifle and not the other way around. What did they want to hide? I’ll tell you. They did test it and Judge Brown ruled that it was NOT the murder weapon.

    A jury in a civil suit by Coretta Scott King against Loyd Jowers, found in her favor and by default stated that James Earl Ray was innocent. Jowers said that Ray was a patsy, chosen to take the blame and that he had nothing to do with it. The government offered Ray his freedom if he would admit his guilt and he refused even though it meant he would die in prison. James Earl Ray said that he would not admit to doing something that he did not do.

    The facts are available. Read ” An Act of State – The Execution of Martin Luther King by William Pepper or A Memoir of Injustice by Jerry Ray and Tamara Carter

  20. tiffany kees says:

    i’m so sorry for martin

  21. VXIII says:

    This is quickly becoming my new favorite blog, such well researched articles and beautiful photos…

  22. Annie Hawker says:

    I have a subpoena sent to my mother in the UK to attend the trial in Memphis, Tee. on November 12 1968 ( State of Tennessee vs. James Earl Ray. No. 16645)

  23. Stephan says:

    I was alive during this time in history, only a boy I do not remember anything about the killing of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was born on August 23rd, 1959. The only thing I can say is I will never judge another
    unless I see the person doing the crime at the time with my own eyes, to do other is to bear false wittness against others and that is a sin.
    To forgive is something I think that Dr. King Jr would want us all to do. To forgive the person whom killed him, to judge someone as the murderer I can not say and will not only that I feel sorry for the soul that takes a life, and I will pray for that person whom was killed in hopes that they knew the Lord Jesus Christ and for the person whom killed because in killing they prove to me that they know not the true nature and being of Jesus Christ and unless they change will be lost forever into the firey pits of Hell. God the Father, Jesus Christ, and The Holy Spirit created us all and if we do nto faulter to sin and the Devil and hold Jesus Christ up as our Savior then and only then can we live like Christ and then and only then can we understand why he came here and died and came back to show us the true way of his heart and the way to eternal salvation.

  24. Ben Cooper says:

    I was booked into the Earls Court Hotel very shortly after by my employer Mitchell Construction/Kinnear Moodie. I found some American girlie magazines in the bedside table of the room in question and only later when I heard of Earl Ray’s arrest put 2 and 2 together. I did think it strange that the room had not been thoroughly cleared.
    Ben Cooper

  25. JILL AMADIO says:

    I heard that James Earl Ray was ID’d by the police at Heathrow partly through measurements taken of his ears. Anyone confirm this?

  26. [...] March 10, 1969: Barely a year after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., James Earl Ray pleads guilty to the assassination of civil rights leader. While King was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, Ray shot and killed him. Ray fled to Canada and two months later was detained in London’s Heathrow Airport while trying to leave the United Kingdom under a fake Canadian passport. Officials at Heathrow noted that the name on his passport, Syned, was on a watch list; subsequently, the saw that Ray was carrying another passport with a second name. Police extradited Ray back to the U.S.A where he was indicted. Photo [...]

  27. keianna morrison says:

    I am doing a mlk project and we need to say about his asassintion and I’ve got 10 facts for that page thanks for talking byee

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