Shelby County officials find new film of James Earl Ray - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Shelby County finds new film of James Earl Ray

James Earl Ray James Earl Ray

(WMC-TV) – The Shelby County Register's Office has found reels of film that contain the only known images of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassin as he pleaded guilty in court.

The film was actually discovered about a year ago when the county released newly-found, written records on James Earl Ray.

But that film has never been viewed because the machine that recorded it no longer exists, and the process of having it transferred has been held up by government red tape.

Boxes hold more than three hours of film associated with one the most famous events in American history. They're rare images of Dr Martin Luther King's assassin James Earl Ray.

"It's like finding buried treasure," said Shelby County Registrar Tom Leatherwood.

The film was discovered last year in a desk at the sheriff's office and was taken with a camera the sheriff purchased in 1968. Notes suggest deputies were rolling on moments the public's only seen in still photos and some of the images may not exist elsewhere.

"Are there picture of James Earl Ray engaging in a push up contest with guards or just pacing in his cell like a tiger at the zoo," asked Leatherwood. "We don't know."

But what each frame holds will remain a mystery until the film can be transferred to a different format.

However, that's not going to be as simple as taking the tapes and dubbing them to a different format. The film hasn't been sitting in a climate controlled environment, so it may be damaged and need to be restored.

"That's our first priority," said Leatherwood. "If we don't get that right we will never know what's on here."

Multiple efforts to get the county to fund the restoration and conversion have stalled.

"Our ultimate goal is to have these tapes digitized and free to the public on our website along with the other material," he said.

Leatherwood is on a mission to find the money and the experts necessary to give the images their public place in history.

Leatherwood doesn't expect that the tapes hold a smoking gun that will rewrite history, but he feels certain that if the film is restored it will hold images of Ray that no one has ever seen unless they witnessed them in person.

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