Neil Pierson's Reviews > Hellhound on His Trail

Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides
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Aug 06, 11

Read in July, 2011

The mystery of James Earl Ray will never be solved. Not whether he murdered Dr. Martin Luther King. Of course he did. But why?

Ray was a dead-bang loser. He was pretty good at two things: (1) Getting into jail; (2) escaping from jail. It seems to have never occurred to him to make an honest buck. He settled on armed robbery to pay the bills and aspired to direct pornographic movies. And he was a racist.

But there were (and are) a lot of racist, career criminals around, and they didn't assassinate a civil rights leader. Why did Jimmie Ray? It wasn't an impulse crime. He stalked King for several days.

Hampton Sides tries on the idea that Ray's audacious act came out of devotion to George Wallace's presidential campaign of 1968. But I don't think even the author is convinced.

Ray spent his remaining years in a Tennessee prison (except for a day or two after he escaped). He spent the time dreaming up an accomplice, "Raoul" and peddling the story to conspiracy theorists. Why not? He didn't have anything else to do, it passed the time, and who knows where it could go? He was in for life, so being charged with perjury was hardly a deterrent.

A Missouri prison guard summed it up: "Ray was nothing around here."

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Kate One of the biggest "WTF?!" moments for me was near the end when you realize how messed up James Earl Ray's family was... a sister who died playing with matches? a family that burned down its own house to stay warm? If it were Faulker, I guess we'd call it southern gothic, but since it's real life I guess I have to call it just plain tragic.


Neil Pierson Kate wrote: "One of the biggest "WTF?!" moments for me was near the end when you realize how messed up James Earl Ray's family was... a sister who died playing with matches? a family that burned down its own h..."

Seems like one sibling was more screwed up than the next. Not to mention the parents...


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