Assassinations: Miami Link,
Martin Luther King
to Part I
Reference: Miami Magazine, Volume 27, Number 12, October
1976. Posted here with permission of the author]
Assassinations: Miami link,
FBI ignored its Miami
Told of information
our investigation, a Justice Department attorney
aback called the previously unpublished police memo'
as interesting a
piece of information as I've ever heard'
By Dan Christensen
At 6:01 p.m. on April 4, 1968, a single shot rang out in
Tennessee. In that moment, the civil rights movement
The assassin(s) who struck was not alone in knowing that Dr.
Luther King Jr. was destined for violent death. A
police/FBI informer had learned of a plot and warned his
This astonishing revelation is one of several previously
facts contained in a series of 1968 Miami Police Department
obtained by Miami Magazine in its probe of Dade County's
link to the
assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin
Last month Miami Magazine exposed new evidence and raised
concerning the Kennedy killing. Much of our
information came from
materials provided to law enforcement agencies by
informant and two-bit union organizer, Willie Augustus
In this report on King, Somersett, who died in 1970, is
again the chief
Copies of Somersett's debriefings, contained in police memos
were furnished us, almost as an afterthought, by Dade
Seymour Gelber while he was aiding our investigation of the
assassination. The Dade State Attorney's office cannot
files on the matter, despite an exhaustive search undertaken
months ago at Miami Magazine's request. Miami police,
public information officer, would only say, "We don't have
any files on
that subject at all. I don't know if it was destroyed
Martin Luther King Jr. first went to Memphis in March, 1968
organize the 1,300 mostly black sanitation workers who had
striking since Feb. 12 for higher wages and better working
conditions. While there, he led a parade on behalf of
strikers, represented by Local 1733 of the American
State, County and Municipal Employees.
Violence Flared and one black youth was killed, 60 were
injured and 200
arrested. Deeply disturbed, King suspended his
promised to return to Memphis when the situation calmed.
Somersett's dour prediction in Miami came in a confidential
dated April 25, 1968, written by former police Lt. Charles
H. Sapp and
addressed to Miami's late Chief of the Police Walter E.
The memo begins:
"On Wednesday, April 17, 1968, informant 88' (Somersett's
name) went to Atlanta, Ga. in an effort to find more
concerning the death of Martin Luther King. This
remained in Atlanta until April 22 and returned to Miami on
1968. Informant contacted me (Lt. Sapp) and we met in
downtown area of Miami. This informant states that on
1968 he was in Washington, D.C., attending a (National)
Board meeting, and when it adjourned he overheard a
between members of the Longshoremen's Union and the
Union in which they discussed the sanitation workers'
Memphis, (the crisis that brought King to Memphis).
stated that when Martin Luther King returns to Memphis, we
any alternative but to kill him. He has stopped being
and is interfering as a labor organizer and has caused one
Memphis and one man's death and that he is hurting the labor
rather than helping it.'
"When the informant returned to Miami on April 4, he heard
by the news
media that Martin Luther King had in fact returned to
Memphis and was
going to lead a parade the following day. This
that he might be a suspect and questioned concerning
might happen to Martin Luther King. He went to a
and garage operated by Mr. Frank Love, on the corner of NE
and 10th Street, and during a conversation, told him that he
that Martin Luther King would be assassinated that night and
reasons for believing so. This statement was allegedly
front of Frank Love (now dead) and two or three of his Negro
at the garage. This occurred at approximately 4 p.m.,
King was murdered at approximately 7 p.m. (EST).
"On April 25 this reporter (Lt. Sapp) contacted Frank Love
at his place
of business and Mr. Love reluctantly verified the statements
the informant. Also, one of the Negro employees, at
known only as George, verified the informant's statement
remains unidentified today)."
What Sapp doesn't say in the memo, but told me when I asked
that Somersett had made the same prediction to him, as well,
prior to the murder.
"He called me at my home the night before King was killed to
know that if something happened he didn't want to be
connected to it,
"Sapp recalled. (Apparently, Somersett feared his
background as a
KKK member and blatant racist made him a suspect.)
"I don't think that I told the FBI before Martin Luther King
assassinated because the information he gave me was so
continued, "but I know I definitely did (tell them)
also passed on all subsequent information developed."
Did Willie Somersett, a veteran FBI undercover informant,
give the news
directly to the FBI prior to the shooting? Says Sapp,
even guess if he did...but he certainly was working for the
that time, as well as with us."
Martin Luther King Jr. returned to Memphis on April 3, 1968,
and along with his entourage, checked into the Lorraine
That night, in a fiery speech before 2,000 followers, King
know what fate awaited him. "It really doesn't matter
now," he shouted, "because I've been to the
mountaintop! And I
don't mind. Like anybody I would like to live a long
longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about
now. I just want to do God's will! And he's
allowed me to
go up to the mountaintop, and I've looked over and I've seen
promised land...So I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about
I'm not fearing any man!"
Within 22 hours this Nobel Peace Prize winner would be
killed on the
balcony of the Lorraine Motel by a sniper's bullet that
would rip into
his neck and jaw and sever his spinal column. He would
Two months later, after an international manhunt, James Earl
habitual criminal, penny-ante hood and escapee from the
Penitentiary was captured at London's Heathrow
March 10, 1969, he pleaded guilty to first degree murder in
death and was sentenced to 99 years in jail. In what
has come to
be called his mini-trial,' Ray hinted of a conspiracy.
By 1968, Willie A. Somersett's relationship with the FBI had
long and enduring one. Independent accounts given by
Rufus, and Miami Detective Sgt. Sapp, indicate the
in the early 1950's while Somersett served time for white
slavery in a
federal prison in Atlanta. In return for his good
works as a
stool pigeon on the inside, he was released early and
continued to sing
for the federals whenever they called. He later
clientele to include the Miami PD, ostensibly, says Sapp,
feared and mistrusted the Bureau.
Perhaps his most important role came on Nov. 9, 1963 when he
wing extremist Joseph A. Milteer were tape-recorded by Miami
undercover agents as Milteer described President Kennedy's
murder in Dallas. Almost incidentally during that
Milteer spoke of an earlier plot to kill King in Atlanta by
Brown, a Klan member who reportedly died in 1965.
After King's death in 1968, this 1963 tape-recording would
the Miami PD and Dade State Attorney's investigation into
death. Judge Gelber, then an assistant attorney
Florida, says another reason was a similar threat made in
May, 1964 by
a former Miami house painter, (name withheld), who Somersett
planned to kill King on May 17, 1964 in Mobile, Ala.
In a letter dated April 9, 1968 Gelber wrote then-U.S.
Ramsey Clark, telling him of these threats. A reply,
following week by one of Clark's asides, indicated the FBI
informed of Gelber's statements. Gelber, however,
from either Clark or the FBI again.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1968, at the State of
expense, Somersett continued to explore the King
assassination in tripe
around the South. In the additional memos we have
April 30, June 11, July 3, July 8 and August 29) no mention
again made of Somersett's prediction. The proposal for
Somersett's undercover investigations, contained in the
April 30 memo
written by Sgts. Everett Kay and E.W. McCracken, simply
refers to the
1963 Milteer tape as the basis for action.
"Informant 88' feels that by contacting such persons as the
(Milteer and Brown) information will be gained as to what
people, if any, are involved in this assassination."
The use of "concealed electronic devices" to tape-record
Somersett's conversations also was suggested.
It appears that Somersett, out of contact with Milteer and
the Kennedy assassination when they began to suspect he was
informant, did not know of Brown's death in 1965.
the tape-recording as a rationale for investigating, there
is no real
indication that Somersett ever contacted Milteer on the
King Jr. matter.
According to former Miami Police Sgt. Everett Kay,
was tried only once, in Atlanta, and failed to produce any
results. No memorandum on this particular incident was
Perhaps Somersett's suspicions about Milteer were
valid. In a
trip to Milteer's home in Quitman, Ga., in late July, I
found a letter
dated April 19, 1968 written to Milteer by Woody Kerns, his
friend and political ally (they both belonged to the
In the first paragraph, Kerns, a West Virginian, makes a
cryptic reference, apparently to the King assassination.
"Looks as though you (Milteer) and the hunted suspect were
capital area about the same time. They found a car
say." Kerns evidently was referring to Atlanta, where
the FBI had
recovered a car that purportedly belonged to King's killer.
That brief statement is the only reference to King's death
the detailed correspondence Milteer kept. More might
expected because Milteer hated King. But no
Getting back to Somersett, the June 11 memo describes trips
he made to
South Carolina, New Orleans and Alabama. In South
Somersett met with Belton Mims, who he called the first
the Grand Dragon of the South Carolina Klan. The memo
Mims said nothing of King, but did say a plot to kill the
Congressman Adam Clayton Powell was in the works, and
Somersett see Leander Perez, an extreme racist and political
Louisiana, while he was in New Orleans. When Perez,
who died in
1969, couldn't be found, Willie Somersett moved on to
where he talked with the former Miami house painter referred
The painter didn't speak of King either, at this time, but
to Somersett some terrorist acts he claimed to have
recently. He also told Somersett plans were being
kill Charles Evers, brother of the slain civil rights leader
In the July 3 memo, events turn once again to Martin Luther
killing. In it, "88" states that he traveled again as
an agent of
the Miami PD to Memphis on June 21 "and began circulating
order to obtain information in regards to the assassination
"After getting settled in (a) room, I went to the
King was killed and made friends with a number of people,
and white, and had a few drinks with them and began
incident along with other racial matters. I was
introduced to a
man by the name of Charles O. Stevens (sic) at Jim's Club...
that he had been questioned with regards to the killing of
Luther King and he had lied to the police and FBI, saying he
something about it, whereas he did not."
Charles Q. Stephens, to whom Somersett apparently referred,
was one of
the State of Tennessee's chief witnesses against James Earl
Harvey Gipson, Stephens' lawyer, claims, "He is the only
can directly connect Ray to the crime. They couldn't
extradited Ray (from England) without Stephens'
Somersett's statement severely impeaches Stephens'
has already been under attack by many critics because of his
drinking. If Stephens truly perjured himself, the
case against James Earl Ray is further damaged. (Asa
his testimony Stephens is currently fighting a legal battle
assorted reward monies offered in this case totaling
In the same July 3 memo, Willie Somersett also tells of side
made to Whitehaven, Tenn. And Southhaven, Miss., suburbs of
"I attempted to locate a fellow (name withheld) who works as
a private detective and ham
radio operator in Whitehaven, Tenn. And is supposed to be
involved. I could not locate him, but my conversation
around there made insinuations to the fact that this (man)
unknown deputy sheriff may have been involved in jamming the
somewhere in the Martin Luther King case."
Somersett was confused about this incident. The CB
not jammed after the shooting, rather false broadcasts were
which drew attention away from the south side of the city,
claims, he fled during his escape from the scene.
should be noted here that Ray, who has long since renounced
plea, does not deny having been at the site of the
contends that he was simply an unwitting accomplice and that
later coerced by his attorney, the famed Percy Foreman (whom
will recall from the sensational Candy Mossler murder trial
plead guilty. Ray's latest efforts to win a new trial
quashed, and he has stopped appealing.)
Returning to the memos, we find that on the morning of July
previously mentioned Miami house painter. The painter
his rage at the death of a young schoolteacher, Kathy
was shot by police as she allegedly participated in an
attempt to blow
up the home of a prominent Jewish citizen in Meridian,
companion, Thomas Albert Tarrants III, was wounded. "X
painter) said that they are going to set up things in
he is going to kill all the Jews, niggers and the policemen
interfere. . .'we will burn Mississippi if necessary,' "X
Tarrants is now serving a 30-year sentence in Mississippi.
In the final memo of August 29 Somersett describes a meeting
with X in
Mobile during which the Ainsworth-Tarrants incident was
discussed. According to X, not only was Tarrants being
the Mississippi bombing attempt, he also was being
connection with the king murder. "X says that the car
used to jam the police cars on relaying messages of the
killing of King
on Aug. 4 (sic) was a car used by Thomas Tarrants. X
they have information from the police that Tarrants is
talking to the
FBI and it looks as if several people may be indicted by the
government in connection with a bank robbery and murder in
of Mississippi and Tennessee, including himself, X, who
Tarrants to stay at his home a week or ten days after the
Martin Luther King." Miami Magazine has been unable to
if X's information proved true.
In that same memo of August 29, Somersett also tells of a
representatives of Jim Garrison, the New Orleans district
gained notoriety for his sensational JFK murder conspiracy
Garrison's people were eager to obtain the fruits of
labors, but there is no indication that he ever cooperated
As in the case in Miami Magazine's story last month on
Kennedy's assassination , we can only speculate on the real
significance of all this. The list of specific
question raised is
practically endless, but revolves around one central issue:
the FBI do about this information?
There is no evidence, on the record or off, to indicate the
anything, for no mention of these incidents has ever been
before. When given the opportunity to comment on our
the FBI refused.
Thomas L. Wiseman, FBI special agent in Washington,
"assigned in a
supervisory capacity to the Freedom of Information-Privacy
of the Records and Management Division," says, in an
affidavit filed in
response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit by
researcher Harold Wiesberg, that "the only suspect in the
King assassination was Eric Starvo Galt, subsequently
James Earl Ray."
How can this be? Willie Somersett was a long-time FBI
and, according to declassified FBI documents, the G-men
"reliable." If so, how could FBI agents simply ignore
bombshells he was dropping in their collective laps?
have had more suspects if, as they claim, they conducted a
investigation. They must also have had grave doubts
reliability of star witness Charles Stephens.
No one has been as accurate as Willie Somersett in
assassinations since the Soothsayer warned Caesar to "beware
of March" two millennia ago. The FBI knew this, but
did nothing about it.
Motivation for this non-action by the Bureau may have come
late J. Edgar Hoover. It is no secret that Hoover
and used all the power in his command to try and thwart
This climate was hardly one in which to conduct an impartial
Because of the revelation of the attempts to harass Dr.
Department of Justice has been reviewing the files compiled
both before and after his assassination. Until now,
officials have been saying that nothing has been uncovered
suggest that the FBI's investigation of the assassination
was less than
thorough. Told of Miami Magazine's findings, most
about Somersett's prediction, Michael Shaheen Jr., the
Justice attorney in charge of internal investigations in
"This is as interesting a piece of information as any I've
ever heard," he said. "I am very interested in
There are also other people who feel, for these and other
the King case should be fully and publicly reopened.
Bernard Lee, executive vice president of Dr. King's Southern
Leadership Conference, said, "We believe Ray is not the lone
and that Dr. King was the victim of a well thought-out
conspiracy. We had hoped Ray would get a new trial,
but that did
not materialize. There should be some kind of new
Judge Gelber believes, "All the avenues haven't been
explored in the
King assassination. The investigation was cut short by
guilty plea. There was no Warren Commission to
publicly air the
facts. What is necessary is a legislative
satisfy the public that everything has been looked into."
Finally, State Attorney Richard Gerstein, who has spent
aiding us in our dual investigations, noted wryly, "I don't
person with even minimal intelligence believes Ray acted
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