Cotton Coated Conspiracy

A book review:

My review of this excellent book is posted at Amazon. Snippit: “Author John Roberts book, Cotton Coated Conspiracy (Book one) is a deep dive into the history of Fayette County, Tennessee based on the testimony of John McFerren. The subtitle is “An investigative series of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”. For those familiar with the MLK assassination, John McFerren was the person who testified that he overheard several men at LL&L Produce Company on April 4, 1968. One said “They ought to shoot that son-of-bitch”. Upon entering the building, McFerren heard a heavyset man scream into the telephone “Kill the son-of-a-bitch on the balcony and get the job done. You will get your $5000.” After shopping for produce, McFerren returned to the front of the store, this man then said “Don't come out here. Go to New Orleans and get your money. You know my brother.” These conversations occurred between 4:45 and 5:15 PM on the day of the assassination, and are part of the official record”. Full review here:

I encouraged Mr. Jim DiEugenio to read the book and write a review which he did. DiEugenio is an expert on political assassinations, and is credited with writing Oliver Stone's “JFK Revisted: Through the Looking Glass”. He is a regular contributor to Black Op Radio podcasts and has written several books on the subject, the best and most recent is titled simply “The JFK Assassination”. “Destiny Betrayed” is also an excellent book on the subject.

DiEugenio wrote a negative review at his Kennedys and King website, posted here:

Below is my review of Jim's review of Cotton Coated Conspiracy.

At my urging, Jim DiEugenio reviewed the book Cotton Coated Conspiracy, written under a pseudonym of John Roberts. Jim DiEugenio is, in my opinion, the one of a handful of truly knowledgeable people on political assassinations, and his website “Kennedys and King” is an invaluable resource. Having met the author of Cotton Coated Conspiracy, I am convinced his story is more accurate and detailed than previous versions of this event, offered by Harold Weisberg (Martin Luther King The Assassination-1969), Phil Melanson (Martin Luther King Assassination: New Revelations on the Conspiracy and Cover Up-1994) and the current expert on the King assassination, Bill Pepper. I was not expecting a great review, partly because the author has not identified himself, which is quite unusual. And author Roberts goes on the offensive, criticizing Bill Pepper in detail (see chapter 5: “Pepper Shaker”). Roberts book follows his own journey getting to know Mr. John McFerren and then deeply researching the circumstances around his testimony.

In the event the reader is not familiar, John McFerren is, as DiEugenio describes, “...was a noted civil rights leader in Fayette and Haywood counties. He was instrumental in organizing voting drives and in getting schools integrated. He also helped organize Tent City. This was needed because many of the whites in the area began to evict African Americans due to these integration effort “. Again, quoting Jim's review, “The following Thursday—his regular day to drive in from outside Somerville to pick up his produce—was April 4th. McFerren said that he walked into the warehouse unnoticed. Liberto was on the phone. He said to the other party, “Kill the sonofabitch on the balcony and get the job done. You will get your $5,000.” The second owner, a thin white man with a scar, noticed he was there and asked him what he wanted. McFerren said he was just picking up his usual produce. A call came in that this second man picked up. He gave the phone to Liberto, and Liberto said, “Don’t come out here. Go to New Orleans and get your money. You know my brother.”

Much of Jim's criticism of the book is around what is not covered. I suspect that Jim had formulated his response, and therefore decided he could skim through the remaining chapters, because the review suffers from two significant omissions. The first omission is failure to recognize that this is intended to be a five book series. (The cover of the book states it is “book one”). This is a problem because the author intends on writing four more books which will cover the omissions that DiEugenio found so baffling.

I will continue my review of Jim's review with this paragraph: From here, the book shifts to the capture of Ray in England, his extradition to Memphis, and the legal proceedings against him. At this point, the reviewer began to have some real trepidations about the path ahead. First, its apparent that the authors—whoever they are—want to go with the orthodoxy that Ray was a racist. Author John Avery Emison shows that such was not the case. There is no credible evidence for this and the evidence that has been produced has been made by rather suspect writers. (The Martin Luther King Congressional Cover Up, pp. 72, 73, 84, 88)

In my opinion, the book does not shift to the capture of Ray, but rather defers that subject to a future book. Secondly, the author does not discuss the question of whether Ray is a racist or not, and the author does not believe Ray to be a racist.

The criticism begins in earnest when he asserts that Charles Stephens testimony was used to extradite James Earl Ray from England, and cites Harold Weisberg. From there the reviewer writes “Today, using Charles Stephens in the MLK case is the equivalent of using Howard Brennan in the JFK case. When you do this one forfeits credibility”. While that is true, he is asserting that the author's story is dependent on Stephens testimony in some way. But the book does not assert that. Robert's book does not include information contained in the six paragraphs in DiEugenio's review about Stephens dependability as a witness because the book does not rely on Stephens testimony, but instead is built around McFerren's story, a fact that DiEugenio does acknowledge in his conclusions. His lengthy comments regarding Charles Stephens has little to do with the crux of the story as told by McFerren to Roberts.

Mr. DiEugenio continues with this puzzling comment. The author “maintains that McFerren is correct about Ray”. Correct in what way? My understanding is that Robert's book indicates (as McFerron believed) that Ray was involved with Liberto, who was mob affiliated, as well as other big players in the area, like Mayor Yancy. But he was not the shooter. Is the reviewer agreeing or disagreeing with this?

The reviewer then goes on to state in this important paragraph that “The anonymous authors of the book are so intent to back up McFerren that they do not even note that this story clashes with what their witness said about Liberto. If one recalls, Liberto told the man on the phone he would get paid by his brother in New Orleans. Did the guy get paid twice?”. McFerren himself heard the comments inside the warehouse made by Liberto. One of his informants related, and McFerren stated in an affidavit, “that his informants gleaned information that the Mayor of Somerville collected money from local businessmen to pay for King’s assassination”. The problem with this criticism is that both things can be true. Robert's relating a comment made by a McFerren informant does not change what McFerren himself testified to over and over again. In my opinion, this is a weak criticism.

DiEugenio then indicates his disbelief that Ray could have stayed at Yancy's residence on April 2nd, quoting Weisberg. The author does have evidence contraindicating Weisberg's writings that Ray stayed at the DeSoto Motel on April 2nd.

Skipping ahead, Jim DiEugenio writes this:

In other words, there are many problems with McFerren’s evidence. And the authors seem to feign blindness about them. This allows them to launch the second part of their rather bizarre conspiracy theory. Which seems to suggest that everyone who heard this McFerren evidence was somehow in league to conceal what the authors think was the true plot to kill King: the one with Somerville and Yancey as the nexus. This wide ranging and, at times, interactive, ongoing, decades-long conspiracy, includes the following persons and agencies:

  1. Mark Lane (pp. 178–79)

  2. William Pepper (throughout)

  3. Donald Rumsfeld (p. 157)

  4. John Mitchell (p. 158)

  5. Journalist Ted Poston (p. 159)

  6. Author Robert Hamburger (pp. 159–62)

  7. The Department of Justice (pp. 162, 172–74)

  8. The HSCA (p. 167)

This is the most problematic statement in his review, as it implies that the author has linked them altogether in effort to cover up McFerren's testimony (page 176 to 181). While the reviewer acknowledges that the Nixon era government was not interested in Civil Rights or solving the King assassination, he is accusing the author of including them in a coverup. But the book Cotton Coated Conspiracy merely notes that contacts with Rumsfeld and Mitchell occurred but there was no response, similar to the authors complaints about Poston, Hamburger, the DOJ, and the HSCA. The fact that many people ignored McFerren indicates that everybody was running away from the story (true) but not that some conspiracy existed involving all of these people/organizations, nor does the book allege that. In other words, the author believes that that the eight people/organizations listed did ignore McFerren's testimony, but nowhere is it alleged that they colluded in this effort.

On the other hand, author Roberts does point out that McFerren had more to say about the Ray/ Liberto connection (page 66). And, the author speculates based on McFerren that it is possible the FBI, Memphis Police Department (MPD) and other West Tennessee authorities may have colluded in the effort to cover up the link between Liberto and Ray (page 71). A future book will explore the Liberto aspect, so it is understandable that DiEugenio did not find this evidence compelling, as there is so much more to that story.

From there, DiEugenio attacks the author for attacking Bill Pepper and Mark Lane. Although I thought the author's critique of Pepper is accurate, I find the tone of the books attack on both to be disquieting, and so I will leave it to the reader to make that judgment. I will add that in a private communication with Mr. DiEugenio, it appears that Jim was unaware of the allegations of sexual impropriety involving Bill Pepper, which are documented in the book.

The second and more critical omission is that the author is clearly on the path of naming a different shooter that those mentioned by Bill Pepper. During the important trial to which DiEugenio refers, Lloyd Jowers implicated Earl Clark as the shooter, reported by Pepper in “Orders to Kill (1995). In “The Plot to Kill King” (2016) Pepper implicates Frank Strausser (pg 237, hardcover). On page 336 of Cotton Coated Conspiracy, the author Roberts points to a person he refers to as Very Very Dangerous. He offers hints of his identity by references to his address, his presence across the street at the time of the assassination, and discussion about two of his important contacts. The author implies that much more information is available to make this accusation, and that evidence will require another book(s).

DiEugenio may be correct in criticizing Robert's failure to write about Bill Pepper's achievements, one being the Jower's court case. On the other hand, the author critiques the Jower's trial in great detail (page 130), a critique worth considering.

DiEugenio failed to mention two outstanding aspects of Robert's book. Chapter 8 is a deep dive into the history of McFerren's tapes, something no one else has investigated to this degree. Although Jim dismisses the involvement of Wilder and other key players in West Tennessee, Robert's has provided deep research into this aspect, most of which will be revealed in an upcoming volume.

To conclude, the author, pseudonym John Roberts, is in the process of writing a five book series which differs from previous works by Pepper and others. The author lives in the area, and was able spend considerable time with McFerren and to meet and interview people not available to the previous authors, who were limited by geography and time. If one has the patience to follow the 5 book series, the reader will find that the shot did not come from in front of the rooming house but instead from the fire station, and the author will name the shooter. It has taken years for American History to acknowledge the links between the Mafia and our intelligence agencies, specifically the FBI and CIA. The author believes a similar nexus existed in Memphis and surrounding areas. Subsequent books will delve into these connections. I disagree with Jim DiEugenio's review (and thank him for writing it!) because I believe that Roberts has studied the players with a level of detail that no one else has achieved, and I believe his conclusions to be correct. The five book series will be needed to “prove” his points, so the reader of Cotton Coated Conspiracy should be patient and eagerly await the future books.

Another criticism addresses the identification of Ray as provided by McFerren, which DiEugnenio believes does not describe Ray. This is fair as the research around this issue will be addressed in a future book.

While I understand and expected the criticism about John Roberts being an pen name, the author has repeatedly stated, and somehow get ignored, when explaining the fact that Roberts IS NOT IN THE STORY! He is only only only a storyteller that enables the book to be told in THIRD PERSON. Otherwise, Randall Stephens would be constantly referring to himself, using words like “I, me, etc.” There seems to be an ongoning inference by you and others that Roberts was somehow one of the investigators. While you and I know who Roberts and Stephens are, nowhere in the book is it implied stated etc that Roberts was anything other than the author.