In August 1967, four months after King called the US government the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” three months after 30 members of the Black Panther party marched, armed, into the California state capitol and onto the front pages of newspapers worldwide, J Edgar Hoover, the head of America’s domestic law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, issued the following directive: “The purpose of this new counterintelligence endeavour is to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralise the activities of black-nationalist, hate-type organisations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership and supporters.”
In late March 1968 Martin Luther King Jr. came to Memphis to support a strike by the predominantly black garbage workers. Things began badly. On March 28 King led 6,000 protesters on what was supposed to be a peaceful march. But the march disintegrated into violence between police and demonstrators. Governor Buford Ellington called out the Tennessee National Guard at 12:30 pm. and at 2:00 pm, sixteen year old Larry Payne, a black high school student, was shot and killed by Memphis cops. The policemen claimed that Payne was attempting to loot a service station on South 3rd Street, and that he attacked them with a butcher knife.
King returned to Memphis on April 3, intending to lead the workers on a second march, which he was determined would not turn violent.
There was a Black Panther-inspired group called The Invaders, who were staying at the Lorraine Motel to help MLK organize a planned march with the striking garbage workers. Coby Smith was a black revolutionary in Memphis at the time of the assassination of Dr. King. A founder and leader of the Memphis-based Invaders (patterned on the more famous Black Panthers and Blackstone Rangers). The Invaders were ordered to leave the motel after getting into an argument with members of MLK’s entourage.
On April 4, a few minutes before 6 PM, King walked out on the balcony outside his second-floor room at the Lorraine Motel. He was preparing to attend a dinner at a local minister’s house and was bantering with his chauffeur in the parking lot below. At one minute past six, a single shot crashed King onto his back.
As soon as he was shot, Marrell McCullough was the first to point to the window of Bessie Brewer’s boarding house, from where James Earl Ray allegedly shot King. It turns out that McCullough had been in the military police, and was hired by the 111th Military Intelligence Group in 1967. At the time of King’s death he was working for the Memphis Police department’s Intelligence Division, but still reporting directly to the 111th.
Merrell McCollough, the man kneeling beside Dr. King in the famous photo of his assassination, checking his vital signs. Mr. McCollough’s mission was to infiltrate the Invaders, a group of young people were in Memphis to help provide additional security for Dr. King and civil rights workers during the Sanitation Strike. Mr. McCollough was later hired by the CIA in 1974, and his employment in the CIA was independently verified by Sam Donaldson.
Mccollugh had attended a meeting with the Invaders and King on the night before the assassination, and he was still on the premises of the Lorraine Motel when King was shot on 4 April 1968 – even though the Invaders has been ordered to leave by Reverend Jesse Jackson and Memphis-based Reverend Billy Kyles. In fact, McCullough was the first person to reach King. As he explained to the HSCA, “I ran to (King) to offer assistance, to try to save his life.” McCullough said he pulled a towel from a nearby laundry basket and tried to stop the bleeding.
McCollugh state in testimony that he was there to visit the Invader’s room rented at the Lorraine. This room was in the courtyard below King.
At the 1974 evidentiary hearings the state argued that the first officer on the scene was Inspector N.E. Zachary. This was retracted when Zachary conceded he was several blocks away at the moment. Then the state contended the first to discover the bundle was Shelby County sheriff’s deputy Bud Ghormley. This too was contradicted by Deputy Vernon Dollahite, who in 1975 told a Justice Department inquiry he was the first one there. The Justice Department and the FBI calculated it took Dollahite one minute and 57 seconds to reach the bundle from the time he heard the shot.
Dollahite’s testimony is extraordinary. As he raced around the corner, he didn’t see a Mustang pulling away and he didn’t see any blanket-wrapped bundle. Only after he entered Jim’s Grill beneath the rooming house, told everyone to stay put, and came out again did he spot the bundle lying in a doorway a few yards away. He and the FBI agreed that whoever had the bundle probably saw him coming, hid behind the staircase door until Dollahite went into Jim’s Grill, then ran out into the street, throwing down the bundle while the deputy was inside.
There’s an obvious problem with this scenario. How could Ray run out of the doorway, throw down an incriminating bundle, and then manage to climb into a white Mustang and drive off unnoticed–within the seconds it took Dollahite to emerge from Jim’s Grill just a few feet away?
Before the murder, Merrell was introduced to Jowers as a policeman. Right before the assassination, McCullough had been in Jim’s Grill meeting with four other men. One of whom was another member of the police force named Lt. Zachery
Background: In July 1967, at the direction of the FBI (and with the assistance of the CIA), the Memphis Police Department (MPD) formed a four-man Domestic Intelligence Unit (DIU) specifically to infiltrate and undermine the Invaders. Nor does Kowalski explain, in this regard, the significance of the January 1968 appointment of Frank Holloman, a 25-year veterans of the FBI, as Chief of Public Safety in Memphis. As Chief of Public Safety, Holloman managed the city’s police and fire departments. Holloman served much of his FBI career in the South, including a tour in Memphis and seven years as inspector in charge of J. Edna Hoover’s Washington office. It also is important to know that the DIU, under Lieutenant Eli Arkin, was Holloman’s top priority.
Assisting the FBI and the MPD DIU was a special detachment of the 111th Military Intelligence Group (MIG), headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia. Commanded by Major Jimmie Locke, this twenty-member special detachment was assigned to Memphis on 28 March 1968 as part of a Civil Disorder Operation code-named Lantern Strike (under USAINTC OPLAN 100-68). LanternStrike was a training exercise designed to facilitate the working relationship between the 111th MIG, the MPD, the Tennessee National Guard, and the FBI, in their common effort to monitor and, if possible, disrupt any civil disorder that might arise in Memphis as a result of a Sanitation Workers strike..
Described as “short, stocky, and dark,” Marrell McCollough was born in Tunica, Mississippi in 1944, and after earning a general equivalency high school degree, he enlisted in the US Army, serving “mostly” as a Military Policeman. According to what may or may not be accurate military records, McCullough was discharged in February 1967 and then fell off the radar screen for six months, until he entered the MPD police academy in September 1967. In February 1968 he became a full-fledged policeman and was assigned as an undercover officer in Eli Arkin’s DIU. His code name was “Max” and his job was to infiltrate the Invaders, which he did. Because he owned a VW hatchback, and because he claimed to be a Vietnam veteran, McCullough was made Minister of Transportation by Coby Smith.
McCullough’s FBI reports are still available in FBI archives, but most of his police reports were destroyed by the MPD in 1976, after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against City of Memphis. The files that survive indicate that McCullough liked to smoke pot with the Invaders, with whom he consorted for over a year, until he set up a drug bust in which many top Invaders leaders were entrapped. After that McCullough stayed in the MPD in other roles until he joined the CIA in 1974
According to the official account by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), Dr. King was killed by one shot fired from in front of him; the shot emanated from the bathroom window at the rear of a rooming house at 422 South Main Street in Memphis. The shooter was James Earl Ray, who had purchased the rifle using an alias and transported it from Birmingham, Alabama, to Memphis in order to kill Martin Luther King, Jr.
Paris Match did a reconstruction showing the shooter position and view.
The exact position of King at the time of the shooting is not known, so the HSCA concluded that the shot could have come from the bathroom window or from the ground in front of the Lorraine Motel. Engineering tests on the bullet trajectory thus can be viewed as “inconclusive.” Witnesses claimed King was leaning over the railing on the balcony when he was shot, and they described King as being thrown backwards off his feet. This would mean King was shot from below rather than from above. The HSCA concluded the bullet could have come either from above or below from the bushes.
More Background: On the evening of April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King and his friends were getting dressed to have dinner with Memphis minister Billy Kyles. King was in Room 306 on the second floor and hurried to get dressed since they were, as usual, running a bit late. While putting on his shirt and using Magic Shave Powder to shave, King chatted with Ralph Abernathy about an upcoming even
Around 5:30 p.m., Kyles had knocked on their door to hurry them along. The three men joked about what was to be served for dinner. King and Abernathy wanted to confirm that they were going to be served “soul food” and not something like filet mignon. About half an hour later, Kyles and King stepped out from the motel room onto the balcony (basically the outside walkway that connected all the motel’s second-story rooms). Abernathy had gone to his room to put on some cologne.
Near the car in the parking lot directly below the balcony, waited James Bevel, Chauncey Eskridge (SCLC lawyer), Jesse Jackson, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young, and Solomon Jones, Jr. (the driver of the loaned white Cadillac). A few remarks were exchanged between the men waiting below and Kyles and King. Jones remarked that King should get a topcoat since it might get cold later; King replied, “O.K.”
Kyles was just a couple steps down the stairs and Abernathy was still inside the motel room when the shot rang out. Some of the men initially thought it a car backfire, but others realized it was a rifle shot. King had fallen to the concrete floor of the balcony with a large, gaping wound covering his right jaw.
Abernathy ran out of his room to see his dear friend fallen, laying in a puddle of blood. He held King’s head saying, “Martin, it’s all right. Don’t worry. This is Ralph. This is Ralph.” *
Kyles had gone into a motel room to call an ambulance while others encircled King. Marrell McCollough, an undercover Memphis police officer, grabbed a towel and tried to stop the flow of blood. Though King was unresponsive, he was still alive – but only barely.
Within fifteen minutes of the shot, Martin Luther King arrived at St. Joseph’s Hospital on a stretcher with an oxygen mask over his face. He had been hit by a .30-06 caliber rifle bullet that had entered his right jaw, then traveled through his neck, severing his spinal cord, and stopped in his shoulder blade.
The doctors tried emergency surgery but the wound was too serious. Martin Luther King, Jr. was pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. He was 39 years old.
On the morning of April 4, Ray used information from the televised news as well as from a newspaper to discover where King was staying in Memphis. Around 3:30 p.m., Ray, using the name John Willard, rented room 5B in Bessie Brewer’s run-down rooming house that was located across the street from the Lorraine Motel.
Ray then visited the York Arms Company a few blocks away and purchased a pair of binoculars for $41.55 in cash. Returning to the rooming house, Ray readied himself in the communal bathroom, peering out the window, waiting for King to emerge from his hotel room. At 6:01 p.m., Ray shot King, mortally wounding him.
Immediately after the shot, Ray quickly placed his rifle, binoculars, radio, and newspaper into a box and covered it with an old, green blanket. Then Ray hurriedly carried the bundle out of the bathroom, down the hall, and down to the first floor. Once outside, Ray dumped his package outside the Canipe Amusement Company and walked swiftly to his car. He then drove away in his white Ford Mustang, just before police arrived.