Hellhound on His Trail

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And while this is no personal expose, Sides is frank and matter-of-fact about King’s well-known failings in his personal life.  While this story is well-known, it’s still a little disconcerting to see how his inner circle of “reverends” (all supposedly friends with wife Coretta) did far more than turn a blind eye to King’s infidelities; they actually were his active collaborators. In fact, the mistress who stayed at the Memphis hotel with King the night before he was shot was so comfortable in their company that she instinctively got into the ambulance with King as he was about to be rushed to the hospital.

One thing for sure, this won’t be Jesse Jackson’s favorite book on the assassination.  Sides pulls no punches on how Jackson, with callous aforethought, literally “waved the bloody shirt” to get attention and claim a prominent role in events that he didn’t deserve.

But Jackson wasn’t the only one who spent more time making political hay than mourning a friend.  The funeral was an event that made the Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone memorial of a few years ago look like a small gathering of grieving close friends, and a smaller moment provided by Andrew Young summed it up in telling fashion.

When FBI agent Cartha “Deke” DeLoach came to King’s inner circle to assure them that every possible resource was being harnessed to find the killer, Young was all but disinterested.  “We aren’t so much concerned with who killed Martin as with what killed him,” he told a surprised DeLoach.

The largest manhunt in the history of American law enforcement came to be directed by Ramsey Clark, a left-wing Attorney General whose liberal president was suspicious of him and whose loathing of FBI Director Hoover was returned in spades.  They were hunting a killer whose target had been somewhat of a nemesis for Hoover, and the victims’ closest colleagues and witnesses to the event were all but hoping it would be exposed that the FBI somehow had been involved.  You can’t make this stuff up, and Sides takes full advantage of the drama.

As for the assassin, James Earl Ray remains still enigmatic after all these years. Sides delivers a chilling portrait of a sociopathic criminal drifter looking for meaning in his life. but the essence of Ray remains impenetrable. In his flight from justice, Ray first hid the most sought-after car in the U.S. in plain sight in Atlanta, not far off the King funeral procession route. He then fled to Canada and London, all the while harboring the illusion he would make a good mercenary in Rhodesia.

Ironically, a liberal prohibition against the British press’ publishing pictures of mere “suspects” helped Ray avoid capture for quite a while in London — until a dogged effort of sheer man hours and old-fashioned police work of pawing through passport records finally uncovered the lead that led to Ray’s arrest.

While debunking conspiracy theories is not the purpose of the book, they make little sense when one reads the book’s detailed narrative.  If Ray had outside help or a plan for escape, the author concludes, there’s no way he would have done it this way.

Hellhound on His Trail is great reporting and great writing.  This is no surprise from the author of Ghost Soldiers (the basis for the movie The Great Raid) and Blood and Thunder, which ingeniously personalized the story of westward expansion by telling it through the eyes of Kit Carson.  Whatever quibbles historians may have with Sides’ methodology, this is a gripping and essential accounting of one of the 20th Century’s signature events.

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  • tim heekin

    I agree this is a fun book but the author gives no satisfactory explanation as to how Ray financed his strange goings on. Oddly, this lack of explanation adds to the remaining mystery and intrigue about the whole affair. Clearly Ray had some help from somebody and the author volunteers that Ray's criminally active brothers were probably his helpers. Maybe but the book ends with a big, mysterious compelling unknown. A helluva movie could be made of this particularly if they don't leave out King's clintonlike proclivities.

  • USMCSniper

    Now, nearly 29 years after his father’s death, Dexter King met with James Earl Ray in a small room at the Lois DeBerry Special Needs Facility, Ray’s current home. Dexter faced Ray, and after several awkward minutes of small talk came to the question to which so many want the answer: “I just want to ask you for the record, did you kill my father?” “No I didn’t,” came Ray’s reply. And in a display of the grace and compassion for which his family has long been known, Dexter King replied, “I just want you to know that I believe you, and my family believes you, and we are going to do everything in our power to try and make sure that justice will prevail.” To this day he believes that Ray never killed his father. He probably is right.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/DavidForsmark DavidForsmark

      He is most definitely wrong.

      • USMCSniper

        Oh sure, and Ex Marine "fall-guy" Lee Harvey Oswald bought some piece of crap italian ancient bolt action garbage rifle with wierd caliber ammo through the mail order where it could be traced and he left it at the alleged scene of the crime, when he could have bought an untraceable remington or winchester 308 and ammunition with a scope at any sports department or gun shop that is a real sniper rifle and oh yes the Dallas police department found him in a movie theater in the dark less than an hour later and he gets conviently blown away by the Mafia thug Jack Ruby who was seen with him in Cuba a week earlier, and all Kennedy's wound photos and medical records dissappear from the Dallas County Hospital. Hmmm,,,, yeh sure,,oceanfront Arizona property, perpetual motion, immortals from the highlands,,, I understand.

  • guestspeaker

    And after the Robert Kennedy shooting, Jacquelyn Kennedy said 'they're killing Kennedy's!' whereupon she took her children and went to live in Europe.

    The new world people will stop at nothing to bring their plans to fruition. Remember HWB when he followed his congressional address with a soft, almost whisper, "And we will!"


  • badaboo

    This book is a novel at best , and the intention of the editorial seems to be an inference that King was a "socialist " . Everyone capabable of cognizant thought KNOWS Ray didn't act alone .If you're the type who likes to read noivels , it's probably a good book by a pretty good author , however it's fiction as far as I 'm concerned .If as an author , you add , what you think people were to have been thinking as far as real characters in the book , then yea you got a good book to make a fiction movie , and nothing else . And I think historians may have more than" quibbles" , and not for methodology .

  • badaboo

    So what's your point here Forsmark ? Just hawking a good novel ? Or trying to make a political point regarding King , with , of course 2020 hindsight .

  • badaboo

    Sides "methodology " makes the book a novel , not to be confused with non-fiction .And just by your description , I think Historians would have more than just "quibbles " .

  • badaboo

    So , from where I'm sitting , it's Forsmark opining on a book which contains Sides 'opining .

  • badaboo

    Oh an Mr.Forsmark , King was much more than "somewhat a nemesis " to Hoover . Hoover was obssesed with bringing King down , but that is not to say Hoover had anything to do with the assassination .And anyone who knew Hoover whether leftwing or rightwing , that thought just may have crossed their mind .

  • badaboo

    USMCsniper , you're dead on , but we'll never know , all involved are most likely dead by now or close to it . And as for King , Earl Ray did not act alone , and in fact may have not been the assasin . If everyone was so sure of that , then they wouldn't have been asking him that question until he died .

  • badaboo

    glad this is off the "front page " …shouldn't have been there to start with . people are trashing Jefferson and even Lincoln these days ….and this atleast in it's PURPOSE is no different .
    Forsmark …. most people haven't just "fallen out of a christmas tree " . your editorial belongs on a book review blog , when you put it up here , it's rather transparent as to your motives .