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Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin

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On April 23, 1967, Prisoner #416J, an inmate at the notorious Missouri State Penitentiary, escaped in a breadbox. Fashioning himself Eric Galt, this nondescript thief and con man—whose real name was James Earl Ray—drifted through the South, into Mexico, and then Los Angeles, where he was galvanized by George Wallace’s racist presidential campaign.

On February 1, 1968, two Memphis garbage men were crushed to death in their hydraulic truck, provoking the exclusively African American workforce to go on strike. Hoping to resuscitate his faltering crusade, King joined the sanitation workers’ cause, but their march down Beale Street, the historic avenue of the blues, turned violent. Humiliated, King fatefully vowed to return to Memphis in April.

With relentless storytelling drive, Sides follows Galt and King as they crisscross the country, one stalking the other, until the crushing moment at the Lorraine Motel when the drifter catches up with his prey. Against the backdrop of the resulting nationwide riots and the pathos of King’s funeral, Sides gives us a riveting cross-cut narrative of the assassin’s flight and the sixty-five-day search that led investigators to Canada, Portugal, and England—a massive manhunt ironically led by Hoover’s FBI.

397 pages, Hardcover

First published April 27, 2010

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Hampton Sides

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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 2 books247k followers
August 6, 2019
”We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place.

But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up the mountain, and I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised Land.

I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord.”

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His last speech in Memphis.

Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. was among the most gifted men of his generation. He looked presidents in the eye and demanded their attention. He was the spiritual leader of his people. He masterfully kept the Civil Rights movement from spiralling out of control by advocating nonviolence and at the same time instilling everyone with hope. In his final speech, from which I’ve quoted a snippet above, it was as if he could feel the cold hand of death on the back of his neck. He was tired. He was on the verge of trying to step down from being the leader of the movement. The burden was too heavy. The stress was consuming his life. He had a powerful voice, and his words were like poetry. He was a virtuoso of cadence. He made audiences weep with grief and relief. He made them laugh like children. He inspired them with visions of a future that was not a mirage, but fully achievable.

We haven’t seen his like since.

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James Earl Ray

James Earl Ray, a.k.a. Eric Stavo Galt, a.k.a. Harvey Lowmeyer, a.k.a. John Willard, a.k.a prisoner #416J, a.k.a. Ramon George Sneyd, a.k.a the man in 5B, was a man in search of himself. He’d escaped prison and hadn’t existed under his own name for some time. The Galt alias was probably from John Galt, the hero of his favorite novel Atlas Shrugged. ”I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” This famous line from the book was supposedly one of Ray’s favorite quotes. So how does assassinating King have anything to do with achieving that manifesto?

Maybe if Ayn Rand had written something more like this:

To kill someone greater than thyself does not raise thyself higher.

He was kicked out of the army for his ineptness and his inability to adapt. He took courses to be a bartender, a locksmith, and bought expensive cameras with the thought he would become a porn director. None of these professions were ever realized. He was on to the next one before the ink on the last certificate dried. He also, inexplicably, liked to dance and spent a small fortune taking classes to become better. He was a supporter of George Wallace, the segregationist from Alabama, and even spent some time working for his campaign. Every authors who has ever written about James Earl Ray will fully admit that they never reached a point where they felt like they really knew him. Even those who met him and interviewed him came away more baffled than enlightened.

”He seemed to have what psychiatrists call the ‘duping delight’. He loved to launch people on crazy searches, even people who were trying to help him.”

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Tens of thousands of wanted posters were distributed.

What Hampton Sides does in this book is take us back a full year before that fateful day when James Earl Ray leaned out of the bathroom window of a flop house and took away one possible destiny of the United States with one bullet. We ride along with Ray as he meanders his way through a slew of interests that never take hold. It is as if he decides on a whim that he needs to do something big, something that would make him famous, and something that would secure his place in history. He was trapped in a small bubble of right wing verbosity and believed that millions of Americans hated King. The rhetoric of Wallace can not be blamed for setting Ray on his course, but it certainly gave him a nudge, a defined purpose for an undefined life.

And then there is J. Edgar Hoover.

He absolutely loathed King. He thought he was a fraud, a trickster, an enemy of the United States. He had him followed and wiretapped. He had hours of recordings of King being amorous with his numerous mistresses. Hoover even at one point authorized a “greatest hits” tape be sent to King’s wife, Coretta, along with a letter accusing King of being everything short of the Devil himself. It infuriated Hoover that King could do what he was doing and not face up to the consequences.

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The irony of this story is that Hoover had to launch the largest manhunt in U.S. history to find the man who assassinated his most hated enemy. The last thing that Hoover wanted was King martyred. He wanted him exposed.

Sides put me right there in the action as if I were riding in that white Mustang with James Earl Ray. I was also sitting with King in the hotel room at the Lorraine in Memphis listening to the weariness in his voice as he tried to muster the energy for one more campaign. I felt the radiating hatred of J. Edgar Hoover. I listened to President Johnson fume about the betrayal he felt when King came out against the Vietnam War. It was a contentious time, and barely did the nation have time to grieve properly for the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. before Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. It felt like the world was descending into a chaos it could never come back from.

”Some Americans don’t want to believe that one miserable person can bring such tragedy on our country and impact so powerfully on the destiny of us all.”

This book is so well researched and the data is so well presented that I can honestly say this is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read. Highly Recommended!

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,498 followers
December 2, 2017
I was not particularly interested in the character of Martin Luther King’s killer, James Earl Ray, but I trusted Sides to make the story of his crime and manhunt interesting and a means to elucidate the history of this time. I was already batting a 1,000 with three five-star reads among his books (Blood and Thunder, Ghost Soldiers, and In the Kingdom of Ice). His genius lies in telling an historical story like a novel, conjuring up characters with personal details and putting their dramatic actions in the context of social trends in a way that elucidates aspects of the big picture about human nature.

It’s painful how vulnerable we are on the safety of our public leaders in the face of random twists in the psyche of a rare individual. It’s almost easier to accommodate to the killers being part of a conspiracy of true believers and adherence to political causes. If a fanatic or opportunist cabal is behind the murder of our heroes, then we have more of a target for our anger. If a targeted assassination or mass killing of our people arises from insanity or hermetic obsession, it’s more like the empty “why” of a traffic accident or lightning strike. How could a nobody like Oswald have the capacity to pull off the JFK assassination and change the course of a nation? As Sides lays out for us, James Earl Ray was another such nobody. Someone who drifted from one low-paying job to another, got hooked on the faster rate of pay from robbery, and eventually got caught and served some time in prison.

The psychohistory of Ray is not a draw for me, and nor is it for the killer of Robert Kennedy, Sirhan Sirhan, later that fateful, depressing year of 1968. But I did get a surprising lift out of his craftiness in escaping prison and successfully staying on the lam for over a year. If in this narrative we are going reopening the wound we got then of losing our best hope for achieving peaceful race relations and a key voice for ending the Vietnam War, let it be to some kind of mastermind. The quirky aspects of his personality that Sides shares puts a human face on the killer, which somehow makes it less of a challenge than to deal with a total maniac. That he was obsessed with self-help schemes (a book on personal “cybernetics” always at his side), ballroom dancing, and dressing well while living in hovels relieves me by suggesting evil acts do not arise from supreme devils (in sort of a “Sopranos” effect or takeaway from a Coen brothers’ production).

The story of Martin Luther King in his last months and retrospective on his accomplishments was a valuable part of my reading experience. I didn’t have much curiosity going into this book, as I figured I knew enough about the man and how he deserved a Nobel Prize for applying Gandhi’s lessons to the institutions of segregation and disenfranchisement of blacks. But I was fascinated to learn how he related to and inspired his contentious inner circle, sustained the constant surveillance, harassment, and dirty tricks of Hoover’s FBI, and pursued in his last year the rights of all American poor in a mission beyond that of black civil rights. The reason he was visiting Memphis was for a peaceful demonstration in support of a garbage workers’ strike, involving mostly black workers in very low-paying jobs under dangerous, unhealthy conditions. It was so easy for Ray to find out about the motel where King’s party usually stayed and set up shop with a telescopic rifle in a flophouse with a line of sight on the balcony entry of King. He would have gotten away clean if he had planned his getaway better and not been forced to leave his bag with the rifle and other belongings.

The courage of King to knowingly face the dangers of his mission is pretty awe inspiring. Sides puts it succintly:
I believe King anticipated James Earl Ray. The night before his death he spoke of the threats that were out there “some of our sick white brothers.” Like Robert Johnson waiting for his hellhound to come, King had spent much of his career looking over his shoulder for some deranged redneck to take him. If there was ever a sick white brother, Ray was it.

It was an education to go behind the scenes with his friends and family in the aftermath. Coretta’s courage and magnanimity. Ralph Abernathy trying to fill his shoes as the head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Jesse Jackson presenting a false story to the media of being at King’s side at the end. Andrew Young befuddling the FBI by stating “We aren’t so much concerned with who killed Martin, as to with what killed him.” King’s circle working together to continue the march in Memphis despite the riots that exploded all around the country (about 50 people died). Abernathy leading the “Poor People’s Campaign”, which was capped by 3,000 representatives of the poor setting up camp in the National Mall for months of protest of unjust disparities in their conditions.

King’s funeral was an event of world significance. So much hope for America was dashed and darkened with his death. Though President Johnson had allied with King in accomplishing major civil rights legislation, he refrained from attending the funeral, which Sides surmises was because he “could not quite bring himself to honor the man who had so brazenly undermined him on Vietnam.” All who attended couldn’t help be plagued by all the extreme possibilities about those responsible for the assassination:
Along the funeral route, angry mutterings could be heard. Johnson had done it. Wallace had done it. The Klan, the White Citizen’s Council, the Memphis Police Department. The Mafia, the CIA. The National Security Agency, the generals who ran the war King condemned. In a society already marinated in conspiracy, it was only natural that every form of collusion would be bruited about.

Reverend King’s persona for the nation had such a moral force that his death assumed mythi overtones according Sides’ insight:
…he was a black Moses, parting the waters, leading his people on their great exodus out of Egypt. It was an image he consciously and repeatedly invoked even in his last speech in Memphis—“I may not get there with you but we as a people will get to the Promised Land.” With his assassination, however, the analogy suddenly shifted to the New Testament: King had become a black Jesus, crucified (during the Easter season, no less) for telling society radical truths. If this new analogy was to carry any biblical resonance, then the entire apparatus of the state and culture must be compliant in the Messiah’s death—King Heron, Pontius Pilate, the Levites and the Pharisees, the long arm of the Roman Empire. As Coretta herself said, “There were many fingers on the rifle.”

An irony of the tale is that King’s nemesis, the FBI (Hoover pegged him as a dangerous degenerate commie), did a marvelous job resolving the case. They building on a trail out of small clues and eventually worked their way through the layers of his various identities and residences (I won’t spoil that fun, but a laundry marker from time spent in L.A. was critical at one point). He was such a loner and vagabond, it took them two months to catch up with him. By that time he had used a fake passport to travel to and hide in Portugal, Toronto, Montreal, and London, and was about to head to Rhodesia by way of Belgium when he was caught (he thought to work as a mercenary for their white supremacist regime).

In the same way we reach to blame ISIS when someone voluntarily adopts their beliefs and commits an atrocity, we can’t help wonder how much the hate rant of Ray’s hero Governor George Wallace of Alabama can be blamed for empowering Ray to act:
He didn’t literally say “Go kill King” yet Wallace and other segregationists created an inflamed environment in which a confused but also ambitious man like Ray could think it was permissible perhaps, even noble, to murder King. The signals Ray was picking up enabled him to believe that society would smile on his crime.

This kind of thinking has obvious parallels to the escalation of both hate speech and hate crimes in Western nations today. Ultimately, Sides comes round to a complex answer for why Ray killed King:

I’ve come to think that he was guided not by a single motivation but a cluster of submotivations that spun in the blender of his unsettled mind. Yes, he was a racist. Yes, he wanted money. Yes, he was mentally ill—his skewed thoughts intensified by a lifetime of using amphetamines. Yes, he loved the chase, and never felt more alive than when he was running from authority. But what really motivated him, I’m convinced, was a desire for recognition. Herein lies a paradox: though he spent his criminal career striving for anonymity, he desperately wanted the world to know he existed. He longed to do something bold and big and lasting. Sadly, like so many before him, he realized the best way to leave his mark was to gun down an international figure who was young, eloquent, and charismatic.
… Ray is just one of a long line of American nobodies who’ve left their permanent stain on history.

James Earl Ray, the nobody who almost got away.
Profile Image for Monica.
583 reviews611 followers
March 3, 2019

Every time I read a history book about the late 60s it reminds me of how little America has changed in 50 years. This was really a blend of true crime and historical analysis of the last days of Martin Luther King Jr. Sides has accomplished a rather remarkable thing here: a compelling historical account and a riveting chase drama.

So, on April 4, 1968 James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King Jr end of story, right?! Well not so fast. There is a story behind James Earl Ray and his mindset and his upbringing and his record of crime and of escaping incarceration (he was a convict at large when he shot King). But Sides doesn't just profile Eric Galt (yes Galt from Atlas Shrugged) aka James Earl Ray. No, Sides goes into great detail as to what was going on in Martin Luther King Jr's world too. But we can see in the writing that Sides completely respects King and in the book elevates him and his character regarding social issues. Indeed in interviews, Sides specifically states that his respect and admiration for King were magnified after writing this book.

But most striking (for me) in Sides book written in 2010 is how it inadvertently reflects on how little times have changed. It's almost gut wrenching the similarities that are ongoing today with the world of 1968 (and 2010 when the book was published).

Loosely this quote could apply to the Iraq war, America's current foreign policy especially regarding Iran and Russia with our treaties (or lack thereof), America's involvement in Syria, and of course the ludicrous border wall on one border:
"The conflict has “strengthened the military-industrial complex, it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation, it has played havoc with our domestic destinies, and it has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation.”

Though this refers to the FBI response to the assassination of MLK, unfortunately one can imagine these very attitudes in the FBI during the Obama administration and in the matter of the 2016 election. This kind of partisanship should give pause about how Americans are being served by the FBI. In my mind because of an FBI such as this, we have a President Trump:
Two agents, who happened to be standing next to each other when the news came in, succinctly captured the office’s divergent opinions on King. The first, Arthur Murtagh, allowed as how he thought King’s death was a tragedy. “He was a credible person,” he said. “He was doing what he could to help his people.” The agent standing next to him, James Rose, chastised Murtagh for his naïveté, and the two colleagues became embroiled in a heated argument. Rose said King was a Commie, a charlatan, and a threat to the nation’s security; he was trying to take over the country and give it to the Russians.

And guess what? Gun control is an issue unique to America and Ramsey Clark knew about it in 1968.
“We are virtually unique among nations in our failure to control guns,” he would write. “Destroyers of life, causers of crime, guns had once again scarred our national character, marking another terrible moment in our history.”

MAGA!! Replace Negroes with Mexicans or Muslims. Replace "assassin" with "people who separate children from their parents":
The assassin is a coward; he committed his foul act, and fled. But make no mistake, the American people are in part responsible. The assassin heard enough condemnation of King and of Negroes to feel that he had public support.

Shades of today's and yesterday's culture echo. Hosea Williams sentiments are ever present:
"I’m not near as worried by that one man as about the system that produced him—the system that killed President Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. We are concerned with a sick and evil society.”

Sides wraps up the book with commentary on Ray but in my view could be talking about a cross section of America today.
"I found him to be deeply disturbed, but disturbed in ways that said much about American society in the late 1960s. He yearned for a purpose and a goal. He was a kind of empty vessel of the culture, filling his lonely hours with self-help advice, national fads, pop trends, and the constant natter of the news. All these jumbled stimuli flooded into what was essentially an incoherent identity: On a deep level, Jimmy Ray didn’t know who he was."

I highly recommend this book. You may think you know the story, but trust me, you do not. You just know how it ends. Reading Sides is illuminating, fascinating and riveting.

4.5 Stars

Read on kindle
Profile Image for Mikey B..
974 reviews357 followers
November 7, 2021
Page 209 (my book) Lady Bird Johnson - after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4th, 1968

“It was one of those frozen moments, as though the bomb had fallen on us…We were poised on the edge of another abyss, the bottom of which we could in no way see.”

This book gives us in remarkable and tragic detail the last days of Martin Luther King Jr. with the intensive follow-up investigation of his assassin – James Earl Ray (who was very adept at using many aliases).

It also captures a nation fragmented. The segregationist George Wallace was campaigning for the Presidency (he was supported by James Earl Ray), President Johnson had just announced that he would not run to be President, Martin Luther King Jr. was in the process of organizing a Poor People’s Campaign with disenfranchised groups (Black, Latino, Native Americans, poor folks from Appalachia…) to encamp on the Washington Mall to bring attention to the government of the plight of poor people across the nation. And, of course, the Vietnam War was a constant plague for the entire nation.

King was journeying back and forth in his busy schedule to help resolve a strike of garbagemen in Memphis – two men had just recently been killed by an old and obsolete garbage truck that mal-functioned. They were striking for better working conditions, a higher salary, and for recognition of their work. King had been called by local Memphis activists to help them with their cause for economic equality.

Martin Luther King Jr. had come to realize that the next great struggle was to ameliorate the poverty and the working conditions of the millions of poor people in the United States. After passage of civil and voting rights legislation – the next step was to create equitable economic conditions in the richest country in the world – to eliminate the huge gap between the very poor and the very wealthy.

Page 350 Ramsey Clark Attorney General on the Poor People’s Campaign

“For poverty is miserable. It is ugly, disorganized, rowdy, sick, uneducated, violent, afflicted with crime. Poverty demeans human dignity. The demanding tone, the inarticulateness, the implied violence [of the Poor People’s Campaign] deeply offended us. We didn’t want to see it on our sacred monumental grounds.”

We also come away with a very vivid portrait of James Earl Ray. When he killed Martin Luther King Jr. he was thirty-nine years old. He was a loner and I would speculate very lonely. He never seemed to have had a meaningful relationship with anyone – male or female (from time to time he frequented prostitutes). He was indoctrinated with hate for Black people. As the author speculates in the “Afterword” he was looking for recognition – which he sadly and ultimately got.

This book is riveting to read. One has to acknowledge the F.B.I. in their relentless pursuit of the assassin. They excavated many levels of detail of the personality of James Earl Ray; he was a furtive individual. Even though many in the F.B.I. detested Martin Luther King Jr., particularly its leader J. Edgar Hoover, they realized that their institution and their jobs were on the line. It was essential for their reputations to track down this assassin.
Profile Image for Matt.
3,673 reviews12.8k followers
April 10, 2018
With the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) a few days ago, I felt it appropriate to read Hampton Sides’ stellar account of the lead-up to the event and the hunt for the killer. I’d heard much about it and knew that I would be in for something that would educate me, as well as provide context for this important event in more recent American history. Sides delivers a powerful narrative of the year preceding the King assassination, from multiple perspectives. America in the late 60s was a hotbed when it came to civil rights, particularly with MLK’s marches and the push by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to bring attention to events in the Deep South. Depicting some of the SCLC’s goals, Sides provides the reader with some excellent sentiments about the danger lurking in the shadows, particularly in Alabama, Mississippi, and even into Tennessee. Meanwhile, former Alabama Governor George Wallace was in the middle of a campaign for president, seeking to solidify the southern sentiment about the need for segregation and keeping those of colour at bay. While a smaller and less impactful narrative, it does provide the reader with some insight into southern thinking from one of its most notorious political figures. Another man with his eye on MLK and hatred towards the cause was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Sides provides the reader with an insightful perspective into how little the Director felt for the SCLC’s cause and the issues that MLK kept raising. Sides repeatedly quotes sentiments Hoover made about the movement, feeling it was nothing but a collective of troublemakers. This would prove important as the story progresses. Perhaps most important of all is the narrative surrounding Eric Galt (pseudonym used by James Earl Ray), depicting his travel from Atlanta to Mexico and even out to Los Angeles, all after his 1967 prison break, explained in detail during the opening chapter. Sides weaves quite the tale as Galt sought to stay off the radar while creating his new persona. With MLK’s arrival in Memphis for another march, Galt chose a flophouse close to where the leader stayed and made final preparations to undertake a dastardly event that would rock the civil rights movement and American history. After the shots that would lead to MLK’s death, Galt fled the city, leaving a vague trail as he sought to hide from authorities of all kinds. This secondary run on the lam left Galt to flee to Toronto, the largest city in Canada. Sides explores the ongoing bait and switch techniques Galt undertook as he sought to disappear off the North American continent, especially when American officials locked in on his identity and he became the most sought-after fugitive by the FBI. The rush by the FBI to find MLK’s killer and bring him to justice contradicts its director’s earlier dismissal of the radical, though this is not lost on Sides or the attentive reader. The final race to locate and bring Galt (now identified as James Earl Ray) to justice leaves the latter portion of the book’s narrative full of twists that will captivate the reader. Even fifty years after the event, Sides injects enough drama and detail to keep any curious reader on the edge of their seats. Highly recommended to lovers of recent US history, particularly those trying late 1960s. Sides has what it takes to breathe life into an old debate that seems to have become highly relevant again.

My interest in the MLK assassination has been percolating for a long time, as I enjoy reading about the civil rights movement in the US and 1968 as a year of action. I recently read a piece of fiction related to the MLK assassination, positing some interesting theories, which piqued my interest to find some factual accounts related to these events. Sides discusses in his introduction that much of the narrative is tied together by his extensive research, which allows for a strong narrative that captivates the reader’s attention. Using the opening portion of the book to lay the groundwork for many key actors prevalent to the larger narrative, this permits the reader to have a better handle on the political and social picture in 1968 America. The detail to which Sides goes to explore both MLK’s movement and Galt’s journey across the continent provides a vivid picture that permits the reader to almost feel present at each event. What might be most interesting of all is Sides’ great focus on the path Galt (Ray) took, leading to a time in Canada and Europe before being caught inadvertently as he sought to travel further. Sides provides such a fluid writing style that the storytelling almost seems fictitious in its detail. As one fellow reader commented to me, the story progresses in such a way that each night of reading can end with an intense cliffhanger, even with the final outcome firmly branded in history texts already. It is worth noting that Sides does not appear ready to plant ideas of conspiracy or point fingers as Ray’s involvement in a larger planned movement, but rather to gather vast amounts of the readily available documentation to create a stellar narrative that any interested reader can enjoy. With chapters of various lengths, all full of factual depictions, Sides shows himself to be a sensational historian that can entertain as well as educate. I can only hope to find more of his work to see how he tackles other events that shaped American history.

Kudos, Mr. Sides, for your powerful piece that touched on all those aspects about which I wondered. I hope many will take the time to explore this and other pieces surrounding those most important 20th century events in America’s long history.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

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Profile Image for Josh.
291 reviews148 followers
March 8, 2022
Hampton Sides knows how to construct a narrative so fluidly that it is what you would call a page turner; It goes without saying that he's writing about the assassination of one of the most important people in America's short history, yet I found myself not wanting to put the book down.

See, I grew up in one of the southern states called Tennessee. Martin Luther King's assassination by James Earl Ray in 1968 in Memphis, TN is one of its most infamous heinous gifts to United States history, but to be honest, I couldn't have told you anything about James Earl Ray and why he wanted to kill MLK (specifically) prior to reading this book. In my nearly 42 years, I knew of him being shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel, but not where from, at what angle, what conspiracy theories, etc. Is there a reason why I don't know this or never really heard about it? I suppose I could've read into it earlier in life, but guess what? We skipped over that bit in my everyday schooling that I participated in for 13 years of my early life. Now, did I know where JFK was killed, from where, at what angle, the conspiracies involved? Yes. I'd have to say I did. Was I more intrigued about it throughout my life. Yes, I'd have to say I was. The fact of the matter is, I was taught more about the assassination of one important man in history over another -- a contemporary of his that met the same fate. Was it the fault of my school system? Sure. Was it the fault of the time I grew up in? (Yes, exactly, correct and absolutely - this is where you get 4 multiple choice answers and you have to select the best answer or select all).

I will digress a bit here before I get to my feelings about the book itself, but I will make my point succinctly and without fail.

The American education system during the 1980's-late 1990's (not to mention many years prior to this and perhaps after) was unequivocally biased towards learning more about the white man than any other person in history. Yes, I said white man. Not white people, but white MEN. I'm a man, I know this, but I can keep it real.

Ok, enough of that.

In alternating sections, Hampton Sides brings forth the life of Ray and the life of King and after the assassination, continues with Ray's getaway and the FBI's spending more than 2 million dollars to hunt him down (which calculates to around 16.3 million in 2022 US Dollars).

This book focuses mostly on James Earl Ray (using various aliases, mostly Eric Stavros Galt) and his life after breaking out of Missouri State Penitentiary in April 1967. Travelling far away and just enough not to get caught, Ray was under the radar that the FBI couldn't have known what he'd eventually do. As a George Wallace sympathizer, Ray's racism and narcissism led to his decision to kill King.

Prior to his death, MLK was scheduling a march in Washington. He wanted to bring forth his idea of the Poor People's Campaign which was "to meet with government officials to demand jobs, unemployment insurance, a fair minimum wage, and education for poor adults and children designed to improve their self-image and self-esteem". In the late 60's, there were riots in many cities with violence running rampant, but King was of the non-violent mentality, which was a bit antiquated at the time amongst many radicals and free-thinkers alike. This campaign was to bring people from both sides and unite them in what they called "Resurrection City", a makeshift tent commune-like area along the National Mall. Unfortunately, he didn't get the chance to go through with his idea and others who tried just didn't have the charisma or the fortitude to get it done.

The book doesn't ask "What could've happened if MLK wasn't assassinated?" or "What else would he have accomplished?". I think the answer to that is that he accomplished as much as he thought he could.

Until his death, James Earl Ray claimed he was innocent, but there was more than enough evidence to convict him and I believe he was guilty. Sides discusses his early family life and you could make a psychological assessment that his poor and neglectful upbringing eventually caused him to become who he was, but it was that poor and neglectful upbringing that Martin Luther King stood up for. His Poor People's Campaign was exactly that; for all people, no matter race or gender and that's the irony of much of the hate that people still show today.
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,302 reviews119 followers
February 13, 2019
James Earl Ray came from a family rich in murderers, rapists, bank robbers and conspiracy theorists. As for Ray, he was a chameleon taking on various identities as needed. Just during the period that the FBI pursued him for King’s murder he assumed the personas of Eric Starvo Gault, Paul Bridgeman, John Willard, Harvey Lowmeyer, and Ramon Sneyd. He could spin a plausible personal history in the blink of an eye. He successfully escaped the country and was on his way to Rhodesia, where he felt he would be treated as a hero for killing King. That was not to be. He was caught by MI5 as he was boarding a plane to Brussels.

It is still not entirely clear why he targeted King. Yes, he was a virulent racist—but so were many others during that time. He was excellent at masterminding prison escape plans. Indeed, he had escaped from prison just before he began stalking King. But, he also wanted to be a mercenary, a bartender, and a pornographer. The racist invective of Alabama’s Governor George Wallace may have been Ray’s inspiration. But, no one really knows.

It is not clear where Ray’s money came from as he traveled from state-to-state, country-to-country. Sides suggests that some money may have come from a fairly large bank robbery that was never solved. Honest work does not appear to have played a role.

Sides has written a highly readable true crime account of how the FBI tracked Ray down in order to bring him to justice. We also learn about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the key men around him—Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson; J. Edgar Hoover who deplored King’s womanizing and Ramsey Clark, President Johnson’ Attorney General. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Mariah Roze.
1,015 reviews920 followers
February 16, 2019
I read this book for the Diversity in All Forms! Book club. I enjoyed the read and learned so much! I suggest this book to everyone.

"On April 23, 1967, Prisoner #416J, an inmate at the notorious Missouri State Penitentiary, escaped in a breadbox. Fashioning himself Eric Galt, this nondescript thief and con man—whose real name was James Earl Ray—drifted through the South, into Mexico, and then Los Angeles, where he was galvanized by George Wallace’s racist presidential campaign.
On February 1, 1968, two Memphis garbage men were crushed to death in their hydraulic truck, provoking the exclusively African American workforce to go on strike. Hoping to resuscitate his faltering crusade, King joined the sanitation workers’ cause, but their march down Beale Street, the historic avenue of the blues, turned violent. Humiliated, King fatefully vowed to return to Memphis in April.
With relentless storytelling drive, Sides follows Galt and King as they crisscross the country, one stalking the other, until the crushing moment at the Lorraine Motel when the drifter catches up with his prey. Against the backdrop of the resulting nationwide riots and the pathos of King’s funeral, Sides gives us a riveting cross-cut narrative of the assassin’s flight and the sixty-five-day search that led investigators to Canada, Portugal, and England—a massive manhunt ironically led by Hoover’s FBI."
Profile Image for Louise.
1,632 reviews285 followers
October 7, 2019
This is a thriller; and it is real. You know the outcomes: first MLK will be shot and then James Earl Ray will be caught. Sides still has you at the edge of your seat. It is not historical fiction, a “true life novel” or any other liberty-taking genre. It is a well documented history of a major 20th century event. The only book that comes close in my experience is My Thoughts Be Bloody: The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth That Led to an American Tragedy by Nora Tilton (co-incidentally) about an earlier assassination and manhunt).

As I relived these events, Sides provided new (to me) context. For instance the “I may not get there with you” speech is more meaningful when you understand King’s mental state, his reservations about the movement (had it peaked?) and his staff’s dissention (local operations? or national marches? Vietnam?) and the near hopeless situation of the sanitation strikers. The Memorial March through Memphis is even more emotional when you understand that the leaders believed that the movement was on trial. The presence of Senator Georgia Davis (and the naming of others) gives a new cast to Coretta King as an official Sphinx-like widow and adds to the understanding of Jackie Kennedy’s visit. I had not previously thought about how, on the day of the RFK funeral, the announcement that Ray was caught made the FBI director’s day.

Two issues stood out to me because of their eerie relevance for today.

- -J, Edgar Hoover was not just keeping a file on Martin Luther King, he was actively undermining him with… Yes… fake news (Shades of Comey’s announcement about the Weiner computer).

- - Ray/Galt/Willard/Sneyd, etc. was held up as a hero and groups that we know today as the “alt-right”, raised money for his defense.

There are a few smaller items that stood out
- - Jesse Jackson - shown as a publicity hound from the start.
- - Ramsey Clark – shown to have a deep commitment to the investigation.
- - LBJ - in disengagement
- - J. Edgar Hoover - wanted to catch the assassin because he knew that many, who knew his negative obsession with King, would think he had a hand in it.
- - Dr. King - seemed deliberately late for a home cooked meal (an imposition on the cook). Had he been on time he’d have foiled at least this shot.
- - Ray’s interests in locksmithing, hypnotism and positive thinking are understandable, but dancing lessons?
- - I’m glad, at the end, Sides says something about how Ray might have funded his post-escape life… I would think he was committing small below the radar crimes.

The book needs an index and could use more photos, but it is still a 5 star book.
Profile Image for Jim.
894 reviews2 followers
April 15, 2012
What could have been an utterly gripping account of the assassination of Martin Luther King was marred, for me, by an attention to detail that bordered on the lunatic. In this account, Martin Luther King wouldn't vist a shop on the High Street to by some gum, for example. Oh no. That would be far too general. The author would more likely write, "Dr King pushed through the swing doors of the Woolworths on 365A High Street and took out his Sears Wallet to extract one of the three five dollar bills therein as his eyes scanned the confectionary before him. After six and a half seconds, he selected a packet of Wrigley's Cherry flavoured chewing gum, opened the packet and discarded the wrapper in a beige wastebasket that sat three feet and two inches from the cash register's chair. Paying the fifty nine cents, plus six cents sales tax, he chose the third stick from the packet and slowly raised it to his mouth, some of the sugar coating lodging itself under the fingernail of the third finger of his left hand." After a while, this was driving me almost to distraction. The author is good enough to paint a vivid picture without this crippling attention to detail, and I caught myself wondering if he was a borderline research eccentric (he has the name for it anyway.) If you can pare down the detail, however, this is a cracking read in lot of ways, and captures the location, people and time in a vivid way. Yes, the detail does help create this, but there's just too much of it.
Profile Image for Jason.
33 reviews62 followers
August 2, 2020
This has to be perhaps the creepiest book I've ever read! Telling the story of assassin James Earl Ray's trek of madness "Hellhound on his Trail" goes deep within and under the surface of one of the most heinous crimes in American History. The story begins a full year before the events of April, 1968 with Ray's prison escape. Delving into the psyche of just who James Earl Ray really was, the reader joins him on a bizarre trip through his ghoulish transformation. We see him, rootless going from job to job, relationship to relationship. However, the book does get a bit murky as to when Ray, a one-time devotee of firebrand segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace, decides to stalk Martin Luther King. But when he does the story itself becomes almost unputdownable. It all leads up to a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee as Ray takes one shot out the window of a flophouse bathroom irrevocably changing the trajectory of American History for all time. For as strange as this entire story is; to me the most unsettling part was those people that unknowingly assisted Ray in his nefarious, deadly plot.

The FBI-led manhunt takes up about 70% of the story. Originally, J. Edgar Hoover wanted the Memphis police to have exclusive control over the investigation. This is somewhat amazing seeing how Hoover himself led a vicious campaign to undercut and undermine King at any and all costs whatsoever. Attorney General Ramsey Clark oversees what turns out to be (up to that time) the biggest operation in FBI history. Suffice to say, how authorities actually caught one of the most wanted man on the planet is a nail-biter for sure.

Profile Image for MK Brunskill-Cowen.
272 reviews5 followers
March 1, 2010
I wish I could give this book 6 stars - it deserves it. This book reads like a psychological thriller where the reader follows the hero and the villain as the move towards their fateful meeting. He captures the time, place and feelings of those involved, and we can feel the tension as JE Ray checks into the flophouse from which he fires the gun while Dr. King relaxes with his associates. He portrays Dr. King as a real human, warts and all, which only intensifies the importance of his mission. Likewise, Sides also tries to get inside JE Ray as he plots, plans and flees. Well-researched, fabulously written, this is one amazing book.
Profile Image for Tim.
193 reviews84 followers
August 11, 2022
I found this book shameful in it dishonesty. And thus disrespectful to the memory of Dr Martin Luther King. There was never any sense the author was interested in unravelling the truth of King's assassination. Rather the motivation seemed to be to use wholesale the simplistic official version and turn it into a page-turning best-seller thriller. For a non fiction book the author spends a lot of time, too much time, imagining what James Earl Ray was thinking.

Half way through this book I watched a documentary putting forward the conspiracy argument, that the assassination was carried out by government offices, the mafia and the Memphis police and orchestrated by Hoover. I can't say I believed this implausibly complex version of events either. There seemed a lot of wishful thinking involved. Its undoubtedly more worthy of his stature that King was killed by organised forces than by a solitary nutjob. Each side in the argument leaves out inconvenient details. Each side in the argument slanders the reliability of the witnesses of the other side. One thing both sides agree on was that Hoover and the FBI's treatment of King was disgusting. If Hoover didn't have King and the Kennedy's killed in deed he certainly sent a message that greenlighted any assassination attempt. It's interesting the King family came to believe in Ray's innocence. I don't believe he fired the shot - it would appear modern ballistics have proved the rifle with his prints on it was not the murder weapon - but I don't believe he was wholly innocent. It's hard otherwise to believe he could be so gullible. But reading accounts of America's 1960s assassinations can make you realise how gullible we can all be, our willingness to believe one witness and disbelieve another a question largely of our own political and existential position.
Profile Image for Steve.
917 reviews134 followers
January 22, 2019
Thinking about this book today ... on MLK's Federal Holiday ... and appreciating the fact that I read it. (It's not new, and Hampton Sides has written plenty of other (really) good stuff, including his latest book, on the Korean War, On Desperate Ground.) There are innumerable books about King and related topics, but, well, ... I like Sides' stuff, and he was on my mind today, so....

* * *

This is a terrific book, and anyone interested in the history of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Civil Rights Movement, J. Edgar Hoover, the history of the FBI or, quite simply, the Sixties, should put this one on their shelf. (Similarly - much as I hate to say this - anyone who enjoys crime fiction will probably enjoy this - it's that good, but there's no fiction to be found here.)

Plenty of critics may whine that (1) most of what's here is well known and has been in the public domain for some time; and (2) Sides' account of the time, the events, and the players is so detail oriented a reader with limited attention span could drown in the minutiae. There's a kernel of truth there. But I couldn't put it down, and I recommend it without hesitation (although, if you only give an author one chance before you read more of his or her books, I'd suggest you start with Ghost Soldiers, which is a more remarkable story and - frankly - encompasses a tale far less familiar to most contemporary readers).

In retrospect, I wish Hampton Sides was older (OK, significantly older than me), and I wish he'd been writing and publishing so that I could have read his books in high school (and even college) instead of the far-too-often disappointing and unnecessarily dry material assigned in history courses. Sides has become one of my favorite authors, quite simply because (1) he makes historical events come alive and (2) his books, quite simply, are a pleasure to read. Yes, yes, he's a creative and tireless researcher - and he deserves significant credit for that. But it's his ability to repackage historical events into compelling, captivating, entertaining, and - let's be frank here - enjoyable and eminently readable stories that has won me (and so many other readers) over.

I've read reviewers refer to Sides as part a unique community creating the modern era of historians - craftsmen (and craftswomen) plying a trade referred to as the New Journalism, (or, for the post Tom Wolfe era, the New New Journalism) - readers find that the unofficial group includes Erik Larson, Laura Hillenbrand, Nathaniel Philbrick, and even Jon Krakauer (who has been less consistent, but merits inclusion when he's at his best) and there's something to that.... Let's throw in Daniel James Brown (for his glorious Boys in the Boat,) and Mitchell Zukoff (who is very good, but - to my mind - not quite as sublime as the rest). I've been impressed with all of these authors' works, and I'd love to see high schools and history teachers embrace their excellent work to open the minds and fire the imaginations of the next generation of readers.
Profile Image for Srividya Vijapure.
216 reviews301 followers
March 12, 2019
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brother¬ hood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be trans¬formed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. l I have a dream ... I have a dream that one day in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”

Being a 70s child, with parents who were well read and well informed, I grew up cultivating within me a love and admiration for the 60s. Looking back today, I realise that no decade is without its share of good or bad, but back then and because of that even now, the 60s holds a very special place in my heart. With my country celebrating its third decade of freedom where religion and caste was still used for the detriment of our nation, people like Martin Luther King became ideals for both the young and the old. Not surprisingly, they still exist on the same pedestal even today, given that while there is in a sense a kind of freedom, the world still hasn’t completely thrown out discrimination on the basis of colour, caste, religion and culture. My childhood, therefore, was characterised with these great figures and their speeches being eulogised, so much so that I mourned their loss as if I had known them personally. Tucked between Nehru’s independence day speech at the stroke of midnight and Tagore’s beautiful poem ‘Where the world is without fear’, was Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech.

Being a history buff as well as one who is curious about true crimes, I was very keen to read this book, when my buddy Manju suggested it. It definitely added more appeal as it was about the murder and subsequent investigation of Martin Luther King. In Hellhound on his trail, Hampton Sides gives us a well-researched and quite a detailed book where we not only get to learn about the crime and the investigation but we also get to know a bit about MLK and his temperament during those last few days, the killer Eric Galt, the city of Memphis and of course the political scene in the USA along with the FBI and their reservations about MLK and the subsequent intensive search for the killer and, if I may use the term, the final deliverance of justice to the man they hated.

The book starts with James Earl Ray escaping from prison, an escape that is both ingenious as it is simple. No prison has ever been built that Ray hasn’t escaped from. We get a small glimpse of the man who will go onto make history later, if only by virtue of being an assassin. Ray’s escape is followed by a detailed description of the apathy in the southern states towards the blacks, where oppression and hatred rule the roost and injustice hits you in the face. In Hellhound on his trail, Sides shows us the real America of the 60s. In the cacophony of voices that are screaming to pull your attention towards a great American dream being realised, you can’t help but get distracted by the dissonance created by the homeless, the war veterans, the people living in squalor, the injustice meted out towards the marginalised sections of society and more importantly the underlying tensions that are clearly visible in the South where the ‘blacks’ are held back only because of MLK and his vision of nonviolent protests as the way towards realising true equality. Sides beautifully captures how this single voice is also ebbing slowly and steadily but still can’t be done away with completely because of the respect that people have towards this man called Martin Luther King.

Given that this book is not an autobiography of King but talks about his murder, we aren’t given a complete view of King and his history. However, this doesn’t mean that we don’t get to know King at all. In Hellhound on his trail, Sides shows us a King who is more human than an inspirational figure, more a man than a leader; although we do get to see the other side of MLK as well, if only in fleeting. MLK, in this book, has according to Hampton Sides, reached the end of his life, at least mentally and therefore much of his speeches, interactions and inner dialogues reflect that stage where a man is quite at a peace and yet not completely peaceful with what he has achieved. As I was reading through MLK’s inner mind and his conversations with Ralph Abernathy, I felt that somewhere in his mind MLK must be chatting with the Lord saying, “Miles to go before I sleep, Lord, miles to go before I sleep”, and yet when he does sleep he does so in peace, at least from within. Hampton Sides deserves all credit for bringing this inner turmoil and then later peace within a man who has worries that only a few can even accepting as theirs.

If you thought the book was all about MLK then you are wrong, as the book is equally about Ray or Eric Galt as he goes by initially. We are taken deep into Ray’s mind as if that might provide an answer for why he committed the crime and what made him who he was. We get a lot of answers in this book about Ray and his past as well as his present when on the run from the law but what we learn, while not surprising, is actually quite anticlimactic in nature, which is how these kind of criminals usually end up being; almost disappointing and yet so deeply relevant psychologically that one wonders whether this race of criminals will ever be vanquished completely.

Hellhound on his trail doesn’t only focus on these two individuals but also talks about the political situation in the country as well as the third main party to this crime, the FBI. From the word go, we come to know that the FBI isn’t a fan of MLK and is always looking for ways to prove him to be a fraud. They seek all kinds of approvals which the legal department (favourable to MLK) refuses to give, which creates an even deeper hatred towards the man. And yet, or maybe because of that, the FBI is intensive in its search for MLK’s killer and doesn’t give up until he is found and justice is delivered. A dichotomy indeed if you think about it, the agency that hates King goes all out to find his killer and deliver justice. Sides takes us through the entire hoopla that starts from the beginning of what we can call the last few days of King till the time his killer is caught and sent to prison for his crime and is quite detailed about the same making it really rich reading. Similarly, we get to see how the White House and the governors of the States respond to King’s style of protest as well as his entire persona and following.

The key is in the details, is apparently what Hampton Sides believed, and what I loved the most about this book. This book is not for those who want instant answers or a fast paced thriller, although there are plenty of thrills in this book. When you start this book, you are actually transported to the 60s in America and live each and every moment that took place during the last few days/months of King’s life and after his death. You become King or Galt or the FBI while reading the book, such is the effect of the prose. King’s insecurities, his infidelities, a topic that Sides doesn’t shy away from, become your own as does Galt’s behaviour, his thrill of getting away from another prison, his life on the run before and after killing King, his impulses, his mistakes, and finally the realisation that there is nowhere to go, they all become yours. The tensions in Memphis, the pain of the garbage workers, King’s disbelief at how a seemingly quiet protest could turn violent are not mere words in the pages of a book but real incidents and this is only because of the author’s well researched and detailed writing that actually takes you back in time into the thick of things and the skin of the people as opposed to leaving you feeling merely like an onlooker. A lot of people might find this need for such detailing boring or unnecessary but I disagree as it is this detailing that brings about the rich experience that you would expect from such books that talk about true crime.

Hellhound on his trail also showcases that man isn’t all black and white but has shades of grey in him. Be it MLK or Galt or Hoover or even President Johnson, everyone is fallible and it is learning from these mistakes that makes one great, not never having made any mistakes. People might argue that certain mistakes are unpardonable, but then who are we to pass judgements? King had certain flaws that contradicted with him being a preacher. He got away with it because of his ability as well as that of his team’s to keep them separate from the cause. Whatever he might have been in personal life, he was a man who truly believed in equality and fought for it in the most principled manner and therein lies the difference. His dedication towards his cause and towards his principles of nonviolence is admirable and should be respected, for he did and died for that cause. If not for that dedication, if not for that principled living, he wouldn’t have had any enemies or people who misunderstood him and wouldn’t have been killed, that’s something we all should remember and acknowledge.

In a world, where intolerance is the key word and where injustice still rules the roost leading to discrimination and violence on the basis of race, caste, religion, creed and culture; we need another King or at least we need to inculcate in ourselves the values that he stood for and hope that someday the world would definitely be rid of inequality and discrimination. I end this review using the same words that he used all those many years ago and which are relevant even today, albeit with some small changes

“I have a dream…. I have a dream that someday my daughter or her children or her children’s children will live in a world that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of religion, caste, colour or race. I have dream that someday inequality of every kind will be a thing of the past and the world will hold hands together in harmony. …. I still have a dream”
Profile Image for Barry Sierer.
Author 1 book55 followers
January 29, 2020
Hampton Sides tells the story of two men on a collision course, and the time they lived in. A time when racial violence wasn’t just feared, it was expected.

James Earl Ray (known usually as Eric Galt) escapes from prison in Missouri and lays low in Mexico. Over time, he attempts to develop skills as a pornographic photographer and a lock-smith with no success. He moves to Los Angeles and becomes an avid supporter of presidential candidate George Wallace. Galt (Ray) is a perpetual wanderer. He is not considered overly intelligent but is immensely clever. He usually keeps to the fringes of society, but those who get to know him find that he has a deeply imbedded hatred of blacks.

At the same time; Martin Luther King is under the immense strain of constant travel, marital stress, and depression. As the civil rights movement thrashes about trying to find a new purpose, King feels the walls of his life and work closing in around him and knows he must re-invigorate the movement.

When sanitation workers go on strike in Memphis, King finds his new focus and Galt finds he has a target that he can track due to King’s commitments to support the strike. The book follows both men closely till King’s assassination in April.

Following King’s death, the book shifts to the multi-agency hunt for Eric Galt. Hoover despises King on many levels but answers to a boss, Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who is an admirer of King. For different reasons, both know it is essential to capture Galt, alive.

While the FBI is the primary driver of the manhunt, other agencies played essential parts in its success including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and New Scotland Yard.

The book may seem scattered in the first half but comes together nicely at the half way point.

Sides goes to lengths refute the idea that Galt (Ray) was part of a larger conspiracy and can explain away most things adequately except for one. When Galt escaped Memphis, the police were lured away by a “phantom” car chase that was broadcast from an unknown radio source. This broadcast allowed Galt to escape the Memphis PD dragnet. I don’t normally buy into conspiracy theories but Side’s explanation that this person was an unknown “prankster” is not enough for me.

Besides this detail, this is an excellent read and well worth the time.
Profile Image for Mahlon.
314 reviews124 followers
January 25, 2016
In Hellhound on his Trail, Hampton Sides chronicles the events leading up to, and the subsequent investigation into the assassination of Martin Luther King Junior, which culminated in the capture of James Earl Ray. Sides highly detailed account is often told from Ray's perspective, which makes for some harrowing reading. Sides has the sense of drama of a master Mystery novelist, which will keep readers in suspense even though they already know the final outcome.

The best and most complete book I've read on the King assassination. A very important work. I highly recommend the audible version which the author reads himself. I was grateful to see that Sides is completely unbiased, which can be hard when discussing the FBI and King in the 60's, he takes Hoover to task when necessary, while at the same time, praises the Bureau for their exhaustive and thorough investigation, he lays out the case so clearly and succinctly that the majority of readers will come away convinced that there couldn't have been a conspiracy, and that Ray did indeed act alone.

If I had one criticism it would be that I would've liked more insight into Ray's motivation, but the book is so well researched that I have to conclude that maybe Sides didn't find much either. Ray's hatred of Negros was clearly a factor, but he seemed to be on the fringe of a few hate groups, rather than being a full-fledged member. He seems to have been more motivated by notoriety and the thrill of the chase, than any racial agenda.
Profile Image for Pete daPixie.
1,505 reviews3 followers
March 4, 2019
I was recently introduced to 'Hellhound on his Trail', when the book was featured as the BBC Radio 4 'Book of the week', where excerpts are read over five days. Last week I bumped into the book on the shelves of the local town library.
According to Mr Sides, King's killer was a stalker, who pursues his victim across the U.S. in his guises of Harvey Lowmeyer, John Willard and Eric Starvo Galt. After the shooting the assassin heads north through America into Canada via Detroit and onto Britain and Portugal as Paul Bridgman and Ramon George Sneyd, before being apprehended at London's Heathrow Airport, and revealed as James Earl Ray, just after the shooting of RFK.
The story begins as Ray escapes from the Missouri Jeff City State Pen, only to end in 1977 with Ray's brief escape from Brushy Mountain's walls. The main narrative twists and turns throughout, following Ray and King's movements through '67 and '68. Over 400 pages here.
Should I put this book in my 'conspiracy schmiracy' shelf. Readers should put this book aside and get to the truth, i.e. 'Act of State' or 'The Plot to Kill King' both books by William Pepper.

Addendum:-Unfortunately I believe MLK was assassinated by the MPD with assistance from FBI & military intell. Mr Ray was a patsy. The supposed kill weapon was defective & ballistic evidence was rigged. http://www.veteranstoday.com/2013/04/...

They're spoon-feeding Casanova, to get him to feel more assured.
Profile Image for Porter Broyles.
418 reviews37 followers
February 1, 2020
Three time convicted robber James Earl Ray was not a criminal mastermind, but after he assassinated Martin Luther King, he succeeded in evading the FBI and other law enforcement agencies for over two months.

This book tells his story.

Sides, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. Sides knows how to tell a story. If you want spoilers, there are other reviews that will trace them for you. I am not going to do that---I think that would ruin the fun.

I will say that this is one of those true stories that is told in a manner that it could easily be made into a movie.
Profile Image for Shira.
Author 3 books164 followers
March 10, 2019
How ironic that the very systemic and societal issues which led to the dysfunction of the Ray family were the same issues that Dr. King was addressing: through the Poor People's March. How ironic and how sad that economic issues have been so obfuscated and confounded with invented racial issues that the very people who should be cooperating to end oppression for all, instead compete, even become violent, perpetuating the cycle. Dr. King, as the author points out, was working to help families exactly like the poor family of the man who killed him. Talk about voting against your own interests, and with a gun, no less. Dr. King's call for a Basic Income, housing for all, and a revamping of our economic system would have and still will benefit every last person on earth: the poor, by bringing up the floor of poverty to a living consistent with human dignity, and the rich by preventing another inevitable turning of the tables so often seen in history, from the Helot Rebellion to the storming of the Bastille. This book is nearly a novel, written in a shifting third person style that is highly engaging, while also using just enough omniscient narrative reminders of the evidence and sources to remind the reader that this is, in fact, real. And still relevant. Please read this book, and then read the Commission report, and then, write your reps!

(Note added March 10th, 12019: An excellent companion book to this one is Separate and Unequal, by Steven M. Gillon: Separate and Unequal: The Kerner Commission and the Unraveling of American Liberalism, Separate and Unequal: The Kerner Commission and the Unraveling of American Liberalism which I am reading now...)

Let's #EndPoverty & #EndMoneyBail by improving these four parts of our good #PublicDomainInfrastructure 4: (1. #libraries, 2. #ProBono legal aid and Education, 3. #UniversalHealthCare , and 4. good #publictransport )Read, Write, Ranked Choice Voting for ALL!!!!, Walk !


February, 12019 HE

Profile Image for Hajarath Prasad Abburu.
120 reviews33 followers
February 21, 2019
A very authentic looking, very detailed narration of the last few days of the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

As the author pointed out in the introduction, this is a non fiction work written with a novelist's tools. This approach works very well for the book, except for the tedious beginning. Some parts, especially the evolution of the city of Memphis could've been written in a better way or chopped off for better impact.
Profile Image for Dax.
231 reviews107 followers
December 20, 2017
Sides is one of the finest historians working today. While his research is always thorough, it’s his ability to construct an entertaining narrative that separates him from many of his peers. In “Hellhound on His Trail,” Sides patiently expands the backstory of MLK’s assassin. This allows him to slowly build the manhunt to a crescendo and expertly peal back the many layers of the killer’s complicated personality one at a time. And he manages to do this without bogging down the pace of the book. Not quite as fantastic as “Blood and Thunder” but an excellent read.
Profile Image for Barnabas Piper.
Author 11 books888 followers
November 22, 2017
Sides does a remarkable job telling a story woven through with detail. The story itself is incredible, almost too much to be believed. And such a tragedy, one of the greatest our country has ever known. One of the best works of popular history writing I've read.
Profile Image for Rafal.
306 reviews18 followers
June 30, 2018
To bardzo ciekawa książka. Doskonale zdokumentowana, wartko poprowadzona historia, z której można dowiedzieć się wszystkiego o zabójstwie MLK i pościgu za jego zabójcą. A także poznać cały społeczno-polityczny background. Czyta się bardzo dobrze, szczególnie część poświęconą śledztwu, bo wtedy książka naprawdę nabiera tempa.

Ale i tak jestem odrobinę rozczarowany. Myślę, że przeszkadza mi styl. Typowy dla książek reportażowych język, w którym narrację przeplata się cytatami prawdziwych postaci, odniesieniami do rzeczywistości. Mieszanka beletrystyki z publicystyką... W zasadzie to powinno być fajne, ale w tym wypadku bardzo często miałem wąpliwości, po co ten czy inny cytat został wtrącony. Czasem wyglądało to tak, jak by pojawiał się tylko po to, żeby uzasadnić benedyktyńską pracę dokumentującą. Bo skoro jest fajny cytat, to szkoda byłoby go nie wykorzystać, nawet jeżeli nie bardzo pasuje.

Problem wydawniczy to brak spisu zdjęć. Przydałby się.

Ale cieszę się, że przeczytałem. Nie znałem tej historii ze wszystkimi szczegółami, więc warto było.
Profile Image for Bart Thanhauser.
216 reviews14 followers
January 19, 2021
This book is a quick, exciting read, sure, ok. Got that out of the way. Here are the bigger things that struck me about the book and the time (before my time) that I didn’t know.

Realization #1: Holy fuck, America was on the rocks. Not even considering the Vietnam War, hippies, and the anti-war movement (which was substantial, and today seemingly much more visibly eulogized), the fault lines in America were significant, shifting and causing tremors throughout the US. Forget the utterly stupid, completely draining partisan bullshit we’ve suffered through the past 5 years. This partisan rhetoric, the crazies on each pole, and my parent’s somber assertions that they’ve never seen such a politically polarized time in their life actually seems tame. Race riots, the assassination of two Kennedys, MLK, more riots, a potent (although unwinnable) George Wallace candidacy. America was going through some big, painful, frightening shifts. The mood of the nation, in its most worrisome moment, I think was best summed up by Senator Frank Church who said, “The nation is steeped in violence—it is the curse of the land.” Man, is that a depressing reflection of where our nation was.

Realization #2: One of the great mysteries of the assassination was James Earl Ray’s motive. But wrapped into this question and the mini-mystery surrounding it is a disturbing message about America at that time. Ray was clearly crazy. He was clearly racist. But he didn’t seem to carry either of these characteristics in spades. He was racist, but not in as visibly deep and disgusting as a KKK member (prior to the assassination). He was crazy, but his criminal history was more that of a petty, and largely unsuccessful criminal, and in interviews after his arrest, he came across as strange, and disturbing, but not as frighteningly psychopathic as you would expect of the man responsible for one of the most soul-shattering assassinations in the 20th century. Perhaps this is the most disturbing thing about MLK’s assassination; the fact that for his time, James Earl Ray—George Wallace campaign worker, bartending school graduate, petty criminal, and itinerant—was the murder and not someone further on the margins of society. Or as, Sides sums it up quite well, “How could such an insignificant person single-handedly bring down a towering figure of history.” And, a reflection of the deeper strains running through the world at large, is the fact that Ray was almost able to achieve his goal of reaching southern Africa. The feasibility that he could actually reach Rhodesia and get away is another disgusting reminder that not only could one of the less-crazy crazies in our society commit such a disgusting crime, but that he could reasonably expect to escape and find amnesty and shelter in a country racist enough to accept (or at least, protect) this mindset.

Realization #3: Related to this point, is the idea of a possible conspiracy in connection to MLK Jr’s assassination. This is an afterword to the book and rightfully so. Hampton Sides, offers a convincing reason of why conspiracy theories do not belong in the heart of the book. King lived his life not vilifying individuals, but “instead [trying] to focus on engaging the larger social forces at work in any given situation.” In that vain, Sides, quoting Young (King’s friend) sums it all up well “We aren’t so much concerned with who killed Martin, as with what killed Martin.” It is the society and the state of America that carried power for me in this book more than the mystery and thriller aspect of the novel. Sure, the manhunt for Ray is compelling and in many ways remarkable stuff, but at its heart, Sides makes a convincing argument that it’s the what not the who.

Realization #4: None of the figures involved, nor any historical figures, nor any human humans are perfectly perfect or perfectly abject. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great speaker and leader. A symbol of non-violence, equality, and peace. But he was not a perfect man, and this imperfection for a man leading a peaceful movement was a heavy burden. MLK Jr. had many mistresses and was a faithful husband. In contrast, J. Edgar Hoover, the founder and first director of the FBI (and standing director for decades) was a weird guy. Leave aside the rumors that he was gay (he always took his vacations with the FBI’s second in command, they booked rooms that were side-by-side). He hated MLK Jr. He thought he was a fake. A commie who slept around. Yet in spite of this polar opposite reputation, Hoover helped lead “the biggest investigation ever conducted, for a single crime, in U.S. history,” and in capturing Ray—a stunning feat in itself—was “the FBI’s finest hours.”

I thought this book was well worth reading for the dark time in American history that it masterfully brings to life. I thought the chase of Ray—the real selling point of the book—was good and fun to read, but nothing special.
Profile Image for Lady ♥ Belleza.
309 reviews36 followers
December 11, 2013
This book opens with the escape from Missouri State Penitentiary “Jeff City” at Jefferson City of Prisoner #416J on April 23, 1967. Through out the book we follow his travels to Mexico, where he is going by the name Eric Starvo Galt. We follow him as he travels north to California, then west to New Orleans, Atlanta and Memphis. He bought a gun using the name Harvey Lowmeyer and rented a room in Mrs. Brewer’s rooming house as John Willard. From the bathroom of the rooming house he shot Martin Luther King while Dr. King was standing on the balcony of his room in the Lorraine Hotel.

Narrowly escaping the police in Memphis Galt travels to Canada where he obtains a Canadian passport in the name of Ramon George Sneyd due to Canada’s policy of “Welcome to Canada, We Believe You”. By this time due to the mountain of physical evidence Galt had left behind and an enormous amount of manhours the FBI had discovered that his name was really, James Earl Ray. Ray was trying to get to Rhodesia, he was arrested by Scotland Yard detectives minutes before he was about to board a plane to Brussels, Belgium.

With interviews and consulting published works the author is able to recreate the movements of the principal members of this narrative. He details the massive efforts made by the FBI in their search for Dr. King’s assassin, as well as the help provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Scotland Yard. He chronicles what was happening in King’s life at the same time and also the effect his death had on his movement and the country, the riots, Resurrection City and the signing of the Civil Rights Bill.

Mr. Sides has a way of writing that carries you along, while not being ‘thrilling’ or ‘suspenseful’, I found this to be an absorbing read. The narrative never lags and while detailed is not repetitive or boring. I stayed up to 2 a.m. to finish it and highly recommend it.
Profile Image for Katherine Addison.
Author 12 books2,719 followers
January 24, 2016
The thing I particularly admire about this book (beside the fact that it is both well-written and well-researched, proving that the two things can coexist in the same work), is the way that Sides follows so many different paths, both as they twist together toward the assassination and as they unravel in a dozen different directions after. The underlying backbone of the book is James Earl Ray's trajectory, but Sides also follows Martin Luther King, Jr.--both as a man and (horribly but necessarily) as a corpse--the inner circle of the SCLC's leadership and the dreadful collapse of the Poor People's Campaign (fifty years later and we still need Dr. King back--there has been no one like him, either before or since); Coretta Scott King; the garbagemen's strike in Memphis; the FBI, including their patient backtracking of every damn piece of Ray's matériel . . . Sides' prose is beautifully lucid and he approaches each of his subjects with the same patience, attention, and empathy. (Empathy. Not the same as sympathy. He has no sympathy for Ray at all, but he does his best to have empathy for him, even as that project becomes more and more self-evidently hopeless.)

Sides objects, in the afterword to the paperback edition, to his book being called a thriller--"it implies," he says, "that I've turned a national tragedy into an entertainment of sorts." The book is entertaining to read--in the sense that it keeps you engaged and actively interested--but it is not an "entertainment." What makes it compelling is the way Sides lays all the pieces of the assassination out, like the gears of a clock on a piece of black velvet, and patiently, one by one, explains how they worked. It's painfully compelling, both as historiography and as a lament for everything that Ray destroyed.
Profile Image for Mmars.
525 reviews94 followers
February 10, 2013
Q: Who is Eric Gault?

Stumped? Join the crowd.

A: Eric Salvo Gault is the pseudonym of James Earl Ray, Martin Luther King’s assassin.

Hampton Sides chooses to use Ray’s pseudonyms as he tells how Ray escaped from prison in Jefferson City, lived on the lam for several months, and then as an escaped convict, assassinated Martin Luther King and evaded a national and international man-hunt from April 4, 1968 in Memphis to June 8, 1968 in London.

As to Martin Luther King, Sides focuses on his life and the events nearing the assassination. He gives enough background for the reader to understand why King’s life was in danger and makes the city of Memphis seethe with emotion when a strike is brought on when two black garbage workers meet their fate in their truck’s augur and racist statements demean the humanity of these working men.

No stone is left unturned in this telling. All the major players are here – the aging Herbert Hoover, Governor George Wallace, Lyndon Johnson, Ralph Abernathy and Jesse Jackson. But it’s the little people who unknowingly encountered him that linger in my mind. The people who rented him rooms, sold him his gun, gave him his passport, etc.

It’s fascinating. It’s chilling.

I do have a quibble. There are no numerical notations in the text. I often found my skeptical self questioning how Sides knew what he knew. Plus, he often surmised what Ray/Galt must have thought. I didn’t pay attention to the notes until I finished the book. The notes use phrases like “the conversation was based on”, or, “Ray was thought to have” etc. I do believe Sides meticulously researched this book and told it to the best of his ability and still highly recommend this book. It’s entirely worth the read.
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