By Craig McKee
Thanks to the nearly four-decade investigation by human rights lawyer William Pepper, it is now clear once and for all that Martin Luther King was murdered in a conspiracy that was instigated by then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and that also involved the U.S. military, the Memphis Police Department, and “Dixie Mafia” crime figures in Memphis, Tennessee. These and many more incredible details of the King assassination are contained in a trilogy of volumes by Pepper culminating with his latest and final book on the subject, The Plot to Kill King. He previously wrote Orders to Kill (1995) and An Act of State (2003).
With virtually no help from the mainstream media and very little from the justice system, Pepper was able to piece together what really happened on April 4, 1968 in Memphis right down to who gave the order and supplied the money, how the patsy was chosen, and who actually pulled the trigger.
And the most stunning revelation in The Plot to Kill King – which some may question because the account is second hand – is that King was still alive when he arrived at St. Joseph’s Hospital and that he was killed by a doctor who was supposed to be trying to save his life.
“That is probably the most shocking aspect of the book, that final revelation of how this great man was taken from us,” Pepper says. (By the way, when I quote Pepper as having “said” something I mean in our interview. If I’m quoting from the book, I’ll indicate that.)
The hospital story was told to Pepper by a man named Johnton Shelby, whose mother, Lula Mae Shelby, had been a surgical aide at St. Joseph’s that night. Shelby told Pepper the story of how his mother came home the morning after the shooting (she hadn’t been allowed to go home the night before) and gathered the family together. He remembers her saying to them, “I can’t believe they took his life.”
She described chief of surgery Dr. Breen Bland entering the emergency room with two men in suits. Seeing doctors working on King, Bland commanded, “Stop working on the nigger and let him die! Now, all of you get out of here, right now. Everybody get out.”
Johnton Shelby says his mother described hearing the sound of the three men sucking up saliva into their mouths and then spitting. Lula Mae described to her family that she looked over her shoulder as she was leaving the room and saw that the breathing tube had been removed from King and that Bland was holding a pillow over his head. (The book contains the entire deposition given by Johnton Shelby to Pepper, so readers can judge for themselves whether they think Shelby is credible – as Pepper believes he is.)
In fact, a second invaluable source was Ron Adkins, whose father, Russell Adkins Sr., was a local Dixie Mafia gangster and conspirator in the planning of the assassination even though he died a year before it took place. Ron told Pepper he had overheard Bland, who was his family’s doctor, tell his father that if King did survive the shooting he had to be taken to St. Joseph’s and nowhere else. As Pepper describes it:
He remembers Breen Bland saying to his father, ‘If he’s not killed by the shot, just make sure he gets to St. Joseph Hospital, and we’ll make sure that he doesn’t leave.’
Ron, who was just 16 when the shooting took place, was apparently taken everywhere by his father in those days, and he was able to recount many details of what happened as the assassination was planned and carried out.
“I definitely found him credible,” Pepper says. “I found him troubled, I found him disturbed in a lot of ways by things that went on earlier in his life.”
His deposition is also contained in the book, which Pepper explains was important so that readers could judge the statements for themselves.
“What I wanted to do was to make sure that the entire deposition of these critical moments and this critical information was there, so that one could go and read the depositions and see that I was being accurate,” Pepper says.
Besides describing what he heard Bland tell his father, Ron Adkins described the many visits made to Russell Sr. by Clyde Tolson, J. Edgar Hoover’s right hand man. Known to Ron as “Uncle Clyde,” the high-level FBI official often delivered cash to the elder Adkins for jobs he and his associates would carry out on behalf of Hoover. Among those the younger Adkins said were paid to supply information about the activities of Martin Luther King were the reverends Samuel “Billy” Kyles and Jesse Jackson.