The Gun That Killed Martin Luther King, Jr.
A Remington Model 760 Gamemaster
At 6:00 P.M. on April 4, 1968, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. stepped onto the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Seconds later, a single .30-06 round mortally wounded the 39-year-old civil-rights leader.
King had arrived at the motel on March 29. He was in Memphis to show his support for striking black public-works employees. Planning to attend a meeting on the evening of April 4, he stepped out onto the balcony outside of room 306.
James Earl Ray had positioned himself in the second floor bathroom of a boarding house across the street from the motel. He was armed with a Remington Model 760 Gamemaster, a pump-action hunting rifle chambered in .30-06 and outfitted with a two-by-seven scope.
After serving in the Army during World War II, Ray turned to petty crime in the late 1940s. In 1966 he was sentence to 20 years in prison for armed robbery, but he escaped in 1967. In ’67 the racist Ray volunteered for George Wallace’s segregationist presidential campaign.
At the beginning of ’68 he traveled to Birmingham, Alabama, where he purchased the Model 760 Gamemaster, the scope and a box of 20 rounds from the Aeromarine Supply Company. After reading of King’s visit to Memphis, Ray traveled there on April 2.
Ray’s fatal shot struck King in his right cheek, breaking his jaw and traveling through several vertebrae as it continued downward through his spinal cord. It severed his jugular vein and a major artery before lodging in his shoulder.
King collapsed. He was rushed to rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital where, despite doctors’ best efforts, he was pronounced dead at 7:05 P.M. Across the country, Americans poured onto the streets in anguish and anger.
Ray stashed the rifle. Police later recovered the weapon and found Ray’s prints on it. The killer fled to Ontario and, in June, flew to London on a false passport. He allegedly was hoping to travel on to Rhodesia. He was extradited back to Tennessee and, almost a year after the assassination, he confessed.
A judge sentenced Ray to a 99-year prison sentence. He died of Hepatitis C in 1998.
King was laid to rest on April 9. A third of a million mourners joined a three-mile procession. Today the Lorraine Motel where King died is the National Civil Rights Museum.