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Ghosts of Los Angeles: Hatred Takes a Room

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Los Angeles has long been associated with any number of horrific murder cases: the Manson, Night Stalker and Hillside Strangler most prominent among them. It is a little-known fact, however, that one of the most notorious murders in American history - one that was carried out thousands of miles east of the city - was actually planned in the City of Angels, smack dab in the Center of Hollywood. It was in a room in a small, low-rent hotel on Hollywood Blvd. that assassin James Earl Ray began to formulate his plan to murder civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The building, which was known in 1968 (the year of King's murder) as the St. Francis hotel, still stands at 5533 Hollywood Boulevard., just west of Western Avenue. The building has changed very little in appearance in the almost 44 years since prison escapee Ray (using the alias Eric Galt) checked into the motel in November of 1967. It was here in a single room that Ray, while working for the presidential campaign of notorious segregationist George Wallace, first begin to think seriously about killing the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

While staying at the St. Francis, Ray spent his spare time taking dancing lessons, attending and graduating from bartending school, and not long before departing on his murderous mission back east, obtaining a $200 nose job from a local plastic surgeon. Ray also frequented what was then the hotel's bar (The Sultan Room, now a martial arts / yoga studio), and also spent many hours watching the television in his room, on the back of which investigators later found scrawled the words "Martin Luther Coon."

In March 1968, four months after checking in to the St. Francis, Ray set out for Atlanta, the hometown of Dr. King. One month after that, on April 4th, 1968, after tracking King to Memphis, Ray fired the shot that fatally wounded Dr. King on the balcony of the downtown Lorraine Motel. The national anger and riots that followed the shooting almost threatened to kill Dr. King's dream, but within a week order was restored, and the civil rights leader's principals of non-violence emerged victorious.

The St. Francis, re-christened the Gershwin Hotel in 2000, was profiled in a 2005 article in the LA Weekly, although it makes no mention of it's most notorious prior resident. The hotel has recently closed.

Ray, captured at Heathrow Airport in England two months after the assassination of Dr. King, died in prison in 1998.

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