THE MAKING OF AN ASSASSIN: The Life of James Earl Ray by George McMillan
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THE MAKING OF AN ASSASSIN: The Life of James Earl Ray

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The trashy life of James Earl Ray--and his father Speedy and his father before him--is the subject of McMillan's singular book on the man who murdered Martin Luther King. Dropping out--of school, jobs, the community--was how the Rays (or Rayns, or Raynes, or Ryans--even their name was vagrant) lived. That is, when they weren't in prison: Speedy, Uncle Earl, ""Jimmy"" and his younger brothers Jerry and Jack have all done time for robbery, theft, and other forms of ""hustling."" Most of McMillan's book is devoted to earlier years: to the time in Ewing, Missouri when the family still straddled the line between ""lower-lower"" class and the criminal world; to Jimmy's adolescence when he became an infatuated Nazi and the mother Ceal gave up on life and began to drink. Quasi-literate, product of the ""mean fears and prejudices"" of towns that boasted that no nigger had ever spent a night there, James Earl Ray is, for McMillan, a figure emblematic of ""the distance that stretches between our mythic image of American life"" and the sordid underside of neglect and deprivation. ""Jimmy"" with an IQ of 108 was the ""smart"" one of the family--he would succeed. The author's unorthodox research (he spent six years on the book) entailed ladling out some $4,000 to various family members to encourage them to talk about their lives. From the lies, half-truths, alibis and contradictions he encountered he has pieced together a story as remarkable as it is cheerless. There's no new ""theory"" of the killing here, only the long pedigree of an assassin's bullet.

Pub Date: Oct. 19th, 1976
Publisher: Little, Brown