Indigo Films produced an investigative report on the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the television show “America Declassified.” The report took the forensic evidence of the crime scene, both past and present, and recreated it in another location to see what could be learned. 

King was shot and killed by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., on April 4, 1968. But as with the assassination of John F. Kennedy, many conspiracy theories have surfaced regarding King’s death.

Indigo hired Jack McAdoo, a surveyor, to collect forensic data at the crime scene for the purpose of re-creating the trajectory of the shot or shots that were fired by the assassin or assassins. This data would be reviewed and used by Mike Baker, an ex-CIA agent. Baker also would analyze the validity of the trajectories and would test-fire a weapon at the remote location to confirm the trajectories.

McAdoo collected the forensic evidence of the crime scene for two locations that represent the possible firing locations. The beginning point for trajectory No. 1 would be from the rooming house’s communal bathroom window. The beginning point for trajectory No. 2 would be from the “bush area.” McAdoo also surveyed the point of impact on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

Trajectory No. 1

McAdoo surveyed the communal bathroom of the rooming house, both inside and outside of the window. The inside was sealed off as an exhibit to the National Civil Rights Museum. Even though access was limited inside, he was able to measure the bathroom and compare it to crime scene photos to confirm the possible muzzle position of the weapon. The outside of the window was measured using a Trimble R6 GNSS system, tracking 15 satellites.

McAdoo measured the second floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel where the point of impact occurred. He located positions below the balcony on the ground, and then he took measurements from the ground to the point of impact. Autopsy records determined the point of impact. He calculated the height differential between the sill of the bathroom window and the point of impact on the second floor balcony. To illustrate the trajectory for the cameras, McAdoo positioned pink nylon twine at both ends.

Trajectory No. 2

Crime scene photos and the museum staff helped determine the “bush area” location. The muzzle position in the “bush area” was based on Baker’s extensive career at the CIA. McAdoo surveyed the area using a Trimble R6 GNSS system. A partial topographic survey was done to assess the different potential shooting positions. McAdoo then discussed with Baker the probable locations, and they made a decision based on forensic evidence surveyed, the record documents, and Baker’s knowledge of criminal behavior. The “bush area” was generally level and a position was chosen. A gold nylon twine was positioned from the chosen location to the point of impact.

Remote Location

A corn field in north Shelby County, Tenn., was chosen as the remote location to recreate the crime scene at the Lorraine Motel. Indigo Films built a target location that represented the second-floor balcony.  A bathroom was constructed replicating the conditions of rooming house bathroom and placed on a scissor lift. McAdoo then used the forensic data to position the two firing points in their correct geometric position that replicated the two trajectories. Baker fired several times along the two trajectories to test their validity and analyze the conditions of each.

Surveying is not just boundary work

Technology has advanced rapidly in the surveying profession. Surveyors now can obtain vast amounts of data in a minimum amount of time. The precision and accuracy of the data has projected the profession into new areas of practice. One of those areas is forensic surveying. In crime scene investigation, data is very important and the precision and accuracy of how the data is collected is paramount. Surveyors will become a key professional in the collection of and determining the validity of the theories arrived at from the crime scene.

To find out the results of McAdoo’s work, watch the Dec. 22 episode of “America Declassified” on the Travel Channel.