At Winter Watch, we focus on anomalies that defy the imagination. Such is the case with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) on April 4, 1968. For our view of this hit, please see the commentary of Judge Joe Brown and James Corbett clip at the bottom of this post. Judge Brown was hearing a James Earl Ray case and had concluded that Ray could not have been MLK’s shooter.
What we are focused on in this post is the incredible ensemble of cointelpro infiltrators, spooks, police agents and agent provocateurs surrounding MLK. They were so pervasive that we wonder if at the end MLK had anybody loyal by his side at all.
The iconic photo of the fallen MLK after he was shot in the face was taken by Joseph Louw (1945–2004). Make what you want of the Johnny-on-the spot timing of it. Louw was from South Africa, had graduated from Columbia University the year prior and worked for the Public Broadcasting Laboratory (PLB), an experimental public television series created by National Educational Television (NET) in New York City. Just three days after MLK’s death, production group Pioneers of Thirteen aired the unfinished PBL documentary.
The stunner, however, is the guy bending down next to King, checking his pulse. His name is Merrell McCullough, and his code name was Agent 500. Also inexplicable is the presence of the pointing cleaning lady at far right — inexplicable given that it was 6 p.m., long after housekeeping duty hours. What cointelpro agency was she with? You will almost never see this photo showing the cleaning cart, which is invariably cropped out.
McCullough represented himself as a member of the local Invaders, which was a younger, more militant Memphis civil rights group — but he was, in fact, an undercover agent of the police whose intelligence was passed along channels that led to the FBI.
Agent 500 served as a spy under Frank Holloman. In July 1967, at the direction of the FBI (and with the assistance of the CIA), the Memphis Police Department (MPD) formed a four-man Domestic Intelligence Unit (DIU) specifically to infiltrate and undermine the Invaders and the civil rights movement.
In January 1968, Frank Holloman, a 25-year veteran of the FBI, was appointed as Chief of Public Safety in Memphis. In this role, Holloman managed the city’s police and fire departments. He served much of his FBI career in the South, including a tour in Memphis and seven years as inspector in charge of J. Edgar Hoover’s Washington office. It also is important to know that the DIU, under Lieutenant Eli Arkin, was Holloman’s top priority.
Merill McCollough enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving “mostly” as a military policeman. According to what may or may not be accurate military records, McCullough was discharged in February 1967 and then fell off the radar for six months. He then entered the MPD police academy in September 1967. In February 1968, he became a full-fledged policeman and was assigned as an undercover officer in Eli Arkin’s DIU. His code name was “Max” and his job was to infiltrate the Invaders, which he did.
McCullough’s FBI reports are still available in FBI archives, but most of his police reports were destroyed by the MPD in 1976 after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against City of Memphis. McCullough joined the CIA in 1974.
And Agent 500 wasn’t the only spy at the Lorraine Motel that evening. The area was dense with agents on the day of King’s assassination. More of Holloman’s men were surveilling King from across the street, next door to the flophouse and Jowers’ restaurant. They hid behind windows covered over with newspaper, holes cut out for their binoculars trained on King’s every move. They’d been tracking King since he arrived in Memphis.
An extensively researched article in the Memphis Commercial-Appeal in 1993 tells of Army intelligence lurking nearby, monitoring King from a “sedan crammed with electronic equipment.” Meanwhile, Hoover’s Black Probe effort in Atlanta had developed a high-level mole in King’s SCLC, accountant James Harrison, to accompany the electronic surveillance that recorded King virtually anywhere he lived and worked.
Was it so bad that even one of Memphis’ more influential pastors and a supposed MLK ally present at the assassination was involved, one Rev. Billy Kyles? Watch one of the greatest Freudian slips of all time.
The following is extracted from a Coretta Scott King lawsuit. Both the King family and James Earl Ray were represented for decades by attorney William Pepper.
Then we move directly into the government of the United States , their agents themselves. We’ve learned that the 111th Military Intelligence Group based at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia, were here. They were in Memphis. They had Martin King under surveillance. That as open — quote, open surveillance, eye-to-eye surveillance.
They had him under surveillance. Eli Arkin of the Memphis Police Department Intelligence Bureau, Intelligence Division, said they were in his office. He has he has admitted they were in his office. They were here.
There was another section here that was involved in covert surveillance of Martin King. “Covert” means bugging, wiretapping, that type of activity. That was done at the Rivermont when he was here on the 17th or 18th. You heard a witness say he was one of three people who were effectively a surveillance team. They had Martin King’s suite bugged, every room of it bugged, including the balcony. If he wanted to speak privately and went out on the balcony, they would pick it up by relay from the roof.
That covert — that type of covert surveillance was carried out by another agency, usually the Army Security Agency. So there we have those two agencies involved very clearly here.
Then there were photographers. Remember those photographers that Captain Weiden talked about. They were on the roof of the fire station. He put them there. Who were they? They were a psychological operations team, and they were there and they photographed everything throughout that day. That means, ladies and gentlemen, that there is a film of everything that happened, photographs of everything that happened buried somewhere. We tried long and hard to unearth it unsuccessfully, but it is there and it is hidden, as it was hidden from this jury it is hidden from the American people. Maybe the media one day will let you know that it exists. But it is there. They took those photographs.
But then there is another group that is more sinister. They are not more sinister because of what they did, because they didn’t really do anything, but we know they had a presence. And that was a special eight-man sniper unit that was here in Memphis. They were all part of the 20th Special Forces Group. They were here and they were assigned and they were trained for an operation, for a mission, in Memphis. You heard testimony by a man who himself was a national security council operative who was very involved in Iran-Contra activities, who had been a long-standing operative, if you will, of the government of the United States and whose best friend was a member of that sniper team. There was no reason in the world for his best friend other than in a moment of whatever, anguish or burden, desire to relieve himself, to talk about this, this mission that he was on which he was assigned to in Memphis which was aborted, but he was assigned to it.
The next text was part of the complaint. Pepper believed that Memphis police officer Frank Strausser was the trigger man and Captain Earl Clark the spotter.
CORETTA SCOTT KING, et al,
Vs. Case No. 97242
LOYD JOWERS, et al,
EXCERPT OF PROCEEDINGS
December 8th, 1999
Before the Honorable James E. Swearengen,
Division 4, judge presiding.
Dr. Coby Smith:
Merrell McCullough was our director of transportation. He had the only car and the only gas. So we made him the minister of transportation. That should have made us leery right there.
McCullough was a very accessible person. He would come to my home every day, as he would go around all the Invaders. When I met him, he was introduced to me by what we call the Riverside Invaders, who brought him into the organization.
Q. Did you later learn that he at that time was working undercover for the Memphis Police Department?
A. Yes. I was invited down to the police department after Dr. King was assassinated, and I was introduced to him by inspector types of the Memphis Police Department as Officer Merrell McCullough.
Q. And would it surprise you to learn that he was brought into Mr. Jowers’ restaurant by another officer and introduced as Officer Merrell McCullough?
A. I did not know about that until much later on, but I was extremely surprised. I think one of the reasons I was surprised is because we felt that there were people who would infiltrate our group, but we did not have any idea that the infiltration was of a nature broader than the local police department.
We knew that many members of the — many men who are now members of the police department, in fact, the former police director who has just recently resigned, was also an undercover agent in our organization.
Q. Dr. Smith, do you know where Merrell McCullough is employed today?
A. I understand he is employed at the Central Intelligence Agency out of Langley, Maryland .
Q. Langley , Virginia ?
Mr. Charles Cabbage
Q. Did you recall a gentleman in your group named Merrell McCullough?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. What part did he play with your group?
A. Merrell first came into the organization because of the activities that we were conducting out at Memphis State . We were organizing the Black Students Association out there. Merrell I think was attending classes out there. I think John B. Redding told him.
He was interested and wanted to learn more about the condition of black people in this condition, so John brought him to the apartment where we were generally holding these meetings, which were generally open to anybody who wanted to attend, they could come. And Merrell came.
Q. Do you know where Merrell McCullough was when you left the room that day?
A. He and Reverend Orange gone out shopping or something like this. We knew that he was the police, but what can you do about this. You know you are going to be infiltrated. We made him minister of transportation. He had a car. We gave him something to do.
Then when we made the alliance with SCLC and began to work with SCLC, he came along with the group. So now he is moving driving people around, some of the SCLC staff people around. It is just of the one of the quirks the way things happened. He ended up driving the SCLC staff around. We did not know he was as highly connected as he was.
Judge Joe Brown, who was the last to hear the James Earl Ray case, declared he was not the shooter, nor was the weapon claimed used.