Last Thursday, Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office revealed they’re conducting an initial inquiry to adjudicate whether the Feb. 21, 1965 assassination of human rights activist Malcolm X in Washington Heights should be reinvestigated. The following day Netflix began streaming their six-part documentary series “Who Killed Malcolm X?” which delves a bit deeper into the case than most previous ones have.
The series names the four men––along with Newark, N.J. Nation of Islam Mosque No. 25 member Talmadge Hayer, who was captured at the scene––who allegedly carried out the brazen afternoon execution at the Audubon Ballroom. It also explains that two of the three men convicted in 1966 were innocent. Although this isn’t new information, the recent documentary movie has motivated authorities.
“DA Vance has met with representatives from the Innocence Project and associated counsel regarding this matter. He has determined that the DA’s office will begin a preliminary review of the matter, which will inform the office regarding what further investigative steps may be undertaken. DA Vance has assigned Senior Trial Counsel Peter Casolaro and Conviction Integrity Deputy Chief Charles King to lead this preliminary review,” Danny Frost, director of communications, said in a statement.
The late Herman Ferguson, and several other OAAU members, recalled that bodyguard Rubin Francis instinctively shot two people upon seeing Malcolm ambushed. Infuriated spectators tore at Talmadge X Hayer (now Mujahid Abdul Halim) who had been shot in the leg and toppled, until cops rescued him.
Ferguson recalled seeing cops helping a man outside “who was obviously in great pain, holding his midsection” being rushed into a squad car, which sped him away. “I never found out who that guy was. The police were in a hurry to get him out of there.”
Days later Norman 3X Butler (Muhammad Abdul Aziz) and Thomas 15X Johnson (Kahlil Islam)––from Harlem’s Mosque No. 7––were also arrested and charged. Hayer confessed to murdering Malcolm, but said Butler and Johnson were innocent. Being that they were familiar faces to Malcolm’s security, from when they were at Mosque No. 7, it’s very doubtful they would have gotten inside.
During a March 6, 1965 OAAU meeting after Malcolm’s death, Japanese American activist Yuri Kochiyama scribbled some notes on a paper explaining they’d gathered “to establish stability from this crisis.” And that “Ray Woods is said to have been seen also running out of Audubon; was one of two picked up by police. Was the second person running out…”
Woods was later identified as an undercover New York City cop with the Bureau of Special Services and Investigation (BOSSI). It’s unclear if he was an intended target, mistaken as part of the hit squad, or struck by a stray. Also, initial published reports the following morning revealed that “two men were in custody,” however later editions claimed it was only one.
At the request of attorney William Kunstler––who was attempting to reopen the case––Hayer named his accomplices in a 1978 affidavit as Ben Thomas, Leon Davis, Wilbur McKinley and William Bradley. Kunstler’s efforts were unsuccessful.
Barry Scheck, a co-founder of the Innocence Project, said that “based on this evidence, we are troubled that the conviction was not vacated in 1978.”
While the Emmett Till and Martin Luther King Jr. murders have been re-investigated, Malcolm X’s still remains shrouded in mystery. Supporters are seeking similar avenues to open a new case.
Paula Johnson, co-director of the Syracuse Cold Case Justice Initiative, says the “purpose of the Emmett Till Act is to fully investigate and resolve just such killings.” The account placing Ray Wood at the scene, warrants further investigation into the knowledge or role of law enforcement in Malcolm X’s death.”
Rachel Dretzin, one of the documentary’s directors discussed an “open secret,” saying, “What got us hooked was the notion that the likely shotgun assassin [Bradley] of Malcolm X was living in plain sight in Newark, and that many people knew of his involvement, and he was uninvestigated, unprosecuted, unquestioned.”
Detective Anthony Bouza states that, “The investigation was botched,” and a “parallel tragedy lies in the NYPD’s obvious stonewalling of any release of records.”
Activists contend it was intentionally done and are demanding that all relevant surveillance files be made available “and disclose what Ray Wood, Gene Roberts, and its other undercover officers reported.”
In the documentary Aziz expresses skepticism. “I just don’t believe in these people. I got 20 years of my life to show that I shouldn’t believe in them.”