When civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968, it sparked a two-month manhunt that spanned several countries.
James Earl Ray, a small-time criminal who had escaped from a Missouri prison one year earlier, was the subject of the manhunt. Ray came under suspicion after investigators connected him to a hotel reservation made under the assumed name Eric Starvo Galt. They began tracking Ray and questioning his friends and associates, revealing Ray's multistate trek and potential plans to head out of the country. A search of 175,000 passports turned up one under the name George Ramon Sneyd that looked suspiciously like Ray. Ray, posing as "Sneyd," was tracked to Canada, Portugal and the United Kingdom. He was arrested on June 8, 1969, at Heathrow Airport in London.
After confirming his identity, Ray was extradited to the U.S. where he confessed to King's murder. A bundle found at the crime scene included a rifle with Ray's fingerprints on it. Ray entered a plea and was sentenced to 99 years for King's assassination. Three days later, Ray recanted, saying he was part of a conspiracy. By 1997, the King family agreed that Ray did not act alone and offered their support for a new trial. While awaiting this trial, Ray died in 1998 at age 70 [sources: CBS, CNN, Gribben].
Author's Note: 10 Biggest Manhunts of All Time
Researching some of the world's largest manhunts -- and criminal acts -- offered an interesting glimpse into history. I was particularly intrigued with Ned Kelly and the mental images his homemade suit of armor conjured. What I didn't expect, though, was to discover rumors that John Wilkes Booth lived out his days as a citizen in Oklahoma or Texas. Although there's no proof that it's true, it's interesting to think about a fugitive's ability to assume another identity -- an act that would certainly have been easier in the days before camera phones and social media. If Booth attempted the same today, surely #boothsighting would trend on Twitter.
- Biography. "James Wilkes Booth." (May 6, 2013) http://www.biography.com/people/john-wilkes-booth-9219681
- Brooks, David. "Boston Shutdown and Manhunt Was Unique, but That Doesn't Mean it Won't be Repeated." The Telegraph. April 21, 2013. (May 9, 2013) http://www.nashuatelegraph.com/news/1001075-469/boston-shutdown-and-manhunt-was-unique-but.html
- Carlsbad Current-Argus. "Massive Manhunt for Fired LAPD Officer Christopher Dorner Leads to San Bernadino Mountains." Feb. 7, 2013. (May 6, 2013) http://www.currentargus.com/ci_22538891/massive-manhunt-fired-lapd-officer-suspected-2-killings
- CBS News. "Boston Marathon Bombings: Timeline of Events in the Manhunt for Bombing Suspects." April 19, 2013. (May 6, 2013) http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-57580402-504083/boston-marathon-bombings-timeline-of-events-in-the-manhunt-for-bombing-suspects/
- CBS News. "James Earl Ray: Timeline." Feb. 11, 2009. (May 6, 2013) http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-7878.html
- CNN. "Adam Gadahn Fast Facts." March 23, 2013. (May 6, 2013) http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/23/us/adam-gadahn-fast-facts
- CNN. "James Earl Ray, Convicted King Assassin, Dies." April 23, 1998. (May 6, 2013) http://www.cnn.com/US/9804/23/ray.obit/
- Crime Library. "The Biggest Escape in British Penal History." TruTV. (May 6, 2013) http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/photogallery/escapes-and-manhunts.html?curPhoto=6
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Al-Qaeda." (May 9, 2013) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/734613/al-Qaeda
- Ford, Dana. "Renegade Ex-cop Dorner Died From Single Gunshot to Head." CNN. Feb. 16, 2013. (May 6, 2013) http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/15/us/california-dorner-death/index.html?hpt=hp_t1
- Gribben, Mark. "James Earl Ray: The Man Who Killed Dr. Martin Luther King." TruTV. (May 6, 2013) http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/terrorists_spies/assassins/ray/1.html
- Jonsson, Patrik. "Little Houdini: Infamy by Stealing Crystal Gayle's Tour Bus." Christian Science Monitor. (May 9, 2013) http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0812/Elias-Abuelazam-arrested-four-famous-modern-manhunts/Little-Houdini-infamy-by-stealing-Crystal-Gayle-s-tour-bus
- McElroy, Damien. "Colonel Gaddafi Died After Being Stabbed with Bayonet, Says Report." The Telegraph. Oct. 17, 2012. (May 6, 2013) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/9613394/Colonel-Gaddafi-died-after-being-stabbed-with-bayonet-says-report.html
- Melnick, Meredith. "Muammar Gaddafi." Time. Oct. 20, 2011. (May 6, 2013) http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2002407_2002427_2097411,00.html
- Minch, Jack. "Boston Marathon Manhunt Could Cost $1 Billion." North Adams Transcript. April 20, 2013. (May 6, 2013). http://www.thetranscript.com/ci_23067670/marathon-manhunt-could-cost-1-billion
- Tomlinson, Simon. "Killer Ex-cop Who Left Three Dead in LA Shooting Spree Sends CNN's Anderson Cooper a Bullet-Riddled Coin and Manifesto Declaring Vendetta Against Police Department That Fired Him." Daily Mail. Feb. 7, 2013. (May 6, 2013) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2274956/Christopher-Dorner-left-3-dead-sent-Anderson-Cooper-bullet-riddled-coin-vendetta-LAPD.html#axzz2KAse9614
- White, Adam. "Ned Kelly." Time. Oct. 20, 2011. (May 6, 2013) http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2002407_2002427_2002424,00.html
- White, Adam. "Osama bin Laden." Time. Oct. 20, 2011. (May 6, 2013) http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2002407_2002427_2002420,00.html
- White, Adam. "Theodore 'Ted' Kaczynski." Time. Oct. 20, 2011. (May 6, 2013) http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2002407_2002427_2002426,00.html
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