NOTE: This was written on February 25 to expose the book about Ray Wood as a hoax
If the Shabazz Center doesn’t start doing a better job of vetting its guest speakers, it’s going to become a laughingstock. In the past few years, the center has called a press conference under the pretense of presenting new information in the assassination of Malcolm X. These occasions have taken on added significance due to the presence of one or more of Malcolm’s daughters, all of whom were under the age of six when he was murdered at the Audubon Ballroom (home of the center) on February 21, 1965.
Last February, Ark Media commanded center stage to encourage people to watch its six-part series on the assassination. The directors, who appeared on stage with DC tour guide Abdur Rahman Muhammad and the ubiquitous Henry L. Gates, claimed that the series would prove that Norman Butler and Thomas Johnson were not involved in the brazen public execution.
The only problem with that assertion is that it’s untrue. Agreed, that’s a huge problem. The attempt to win exoneration has stalled, largely because there are photos showing Butler outside the Audubon moments after the assassination, and because numerous eyewitnesses selected Butler from a six-person lineup.
Ark Media was able to win the support of the Innocence Project. When I was contacted by the Innocence Project, the representative seemed shocked when I mentioned that there was actual film footage showing Butler at the Audubon. Even though I sent him the link to the footage and sent still photos, the Innocence Project apparently has too much pride to admit that it has been bamboozled by a slanted six-part series.
Now comes 2021 and February and yet another group of characters claiming new evidence in the assassination. This time the team was led by the equally ubiquitous Benjamin “Ben” Crump, the Florida attorney who seems to represent the family of nearly every black victim of a fatal police encounter.
Crump would do well to take a public speaking course. His delivery is disjointed and distracting. If he has a speech impediment, as many on the internet have speculated, then I supposed there’s nothing to be done about it.
Something can and should be done, however, about his unhealthy habit of posing as a drum major for justice before he knows all the facts. At the press conference on February 20, he introduces a man named Reginald “Reggie” Wood Jr. while three of Malcolm X’s daughter look on. Mr. Wood is a distant relative of Raymond “Ray” Wood, a one-time two-bit agent provocateur who died last November following a bout with colon cancer.
Reggie Wood announced that he was there with a monumental revelation. He showed the audience a typed letter purportedly dictated and signed by Ray Wood. The letter lists a statement of facts, namely:
1. Raymond A. Wood was an undercover police officer for the New York Police Department from April 1964 through May 1971.
2. Ray had recently (January 2011) learned of the death of Thomas Johnson (convicted in 1966 as a conspirator in the assassination), who died in August 2009. Battling cancer, Ray was “deeply concerned that with my death [Johnson’s] family will not be able to exonerate him after being wrongly convicted in the killing of Malcolm X.”
3. Without any formal police training, Ray was hired as an undercover agent and assigned to entice two alleged key members of Malcolm X’s security team into a felonious crime so they would not be available to protect him on February 21, 1965 at the Audubon.
4. He was at the Audubon on February 21, 1965 where he was “identified by witnesses while leaving the scene. Johnson, whom he believes was his doppelganger, “was wrongfully convicted to protect my cover and the secrets of the FBI and NYPD.”
Then came the monumental revelation: Reggie had a 99-page book he could sell you so you could read all about the “confessions of a black NYPD cop in the assassination of Malcolm X.”
I knew Reggie was about to pull a fast one the minute he started flashing the book to the audience comprised mainly of reporters and paparazzi. Crump and a couple of attorneys stood behind Reggie onstage.
On the back cover, Crump describes the book as “revealing and riveting,” and the once-famous activist Susan Brownmiller calls it “a powerful book. I urge you to read it.”
So I read it after a documentary filmmaker offered me a free copy. I have bought enough of these crappy little pamphlets masquerading as books to know not to waste my money on them. Why do I call it a pamphlet?
1. It’s less than 100 pages of text. The text is large and there is overly abundant white space on every page. This suggests that the book was composed in Microsoft Word and then converted to PDF format. The large type and white space is usually indicative of a book by an untrained writer with little or nothing to say.
2. The first 28 pages dwell on minutiae. It begins with the writer hearing from the down-and-out sellout Ray after many decades. He’s ill and broke and he wants to know his long-lost relatives. There’s a photo of Ray at the beach in Florida, a very scant narrative about Ray’s childhood with the author’s father, followed by oodles and oodles of things having no bearing on Ray’s years as an “undercover brother” for the Bureau of Special Services (BOSSI), the scandalously un-American unit of the NYPD.
The next couple of chapters tells us what a “handsome” man this Ray was, so cool and such a smooth talker that few women could resist him. But we also learn that Ray is a bum, a perennial slacker who plans to get through life by hustling. In a flashback, we learn that like George Washington, Ray chopped down a cherry tree on someone’s property one time but he did not tell a lie. “I chopped down the cherry tree,” he tells the white man on whose property said tree was chopped (okay, it might not have been a cherry tree; maybe it was a small white oak).
2. The author probably didn’t intend to portray Ray as a bum, but that’s the impression one gets. He dropped out of high school in senior year (1951-1952) because he was so traumatized by the “terrible accident” that ended the life of his father, Adolphis Wood, who worked as a merchant marine.
If you did a double-take when you read “Adolphis,” you are not alone. The misspelled name of Ray’s father is one of many indicators that Reggie knows almost nothing about Ray Wood. He refers to his subject as “Raymond A. Wood,” but apparently he never bothered to ask Ray what the middle initial stood for. In fact, Ray’s father’s name given name was Adolphus, and Ray’s middle name was Adolphus.
Reggie mentions that Ray spent time in an orphanage, but tells us nothing about Ray’s parents or Ray’s brother, Roland, who died at Bellevue Hospital two months after birth.
It’s a mystery why Ray would be traumatized by the death of a father who abandoned him to sail the high seas. Records on “Adolphus the Sailor Man” show that he spent nearly his entire adult life in the Merchant Marine.
Had Reggie bothered checking, he would have known the correct spelling of Adolphus. His research is reprehensible and a key reason why I suspected the book was a hoax.
After wandering aimlessly, Ray joined the U.S. Air Force a few years later for a four-year stint. When it was over 1956, Ray moved from one unskilled job to another in New York City.
2. In 1959, he met a real pretty girl there who educated him about the civil rights movement. He was only interested in joining the Congress of Racial Equality as a means of keeping close to this fair maiden.
3. Ray’s so-called confessions don’t begin until page 42 of the 99-page book, and even then, there are no revelations. The chapter describes how in November 1964 Ray entrapped four of his friends in a bone-headed plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty. Ray’s admission that the entire boondoggle was his idea is nothing new. In fact, there is absolutely nothing here that can’t be found within six minutes of an internet search.
Where's The Beef?
4. The next chapter is where the issue of credibility begins, and it gets us to the main problem with the book. The author had over a decade to record Ray’s ruminations about his years in law enforcement, yet Reggie never did so. Rather, he spent the whole time jotting things down in a single notebook. I kid you not: a decade of confessions from a certified stool pigeon in one notebook. “I’ve use the same composition notebook I used that first night throughout the years, using it to write down the details of Ray’s youth, his beginnings in New York, and his time with the NYPD,” he tells us in a rambling and repetitive author’s note. That alone tells you that he didn’t learn much.
5. The author reproduces over two pages a Village Voice article written by Brownmiller in 1964 about Ray. This is followed by a six-page transcription of the same article. He also spends several pages talking about recent police brutality cases, apparently in homage to Crump, or maybe just to add more pabulum to this unadulterated crap.
6. A three-page Acknowledgments reads like a letter an actor composed for an awards show. He sends a shout-out to his daughter, Breonna. “My baby girl, my protégé, I can’t say enough about how proud of you I am.” Then one to dear old dad. “Where do I start? When I was a very young boy, I sat on the parade field and watched you lead a group of young soldiers in drill.” Yada yada yada. Just mind-numbing drivel having nothing to do with the so-called confessions of a remorseful turncoat.
The crux of the book is a claim that left my head spinning like the little girl in “The Exorcist.” According to Ray, the whole reason for the addle-brained plot to blow up the Statue of Liberty was to make sure that two of his alleged cohorts, Walter Augustus Bowe and Khaleel Sayyed, would be in jail on February 21, 1965, the day chosen by the FBI and NYPD to orchestrate the assassination of Malcolm X. According to Ray, Sayyed was the chief person in charge of Malcolm’s security.
On February 16, Bowe and Sayyed were arrested and incarcerated, and Ray was lauded by his “handler” at BOSSI and even by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who took much of the credit for the bust. The subsequent trial proved what accused activists suspected, namely that Ray had provoked the entire episode, committing most of the crime’s elements later blamed on them. They were all convicted and Ray got a pat on the face and a shiny detective badge.
But the “undercover brother” wasn’t done.
Now that he had left Malcolm X without Sayyed, his head of security, Ray was ordered to attend the meeting at the Audubon on February 21. He was puzzled by the assignment, the author tells us ad nauseum, because he was afraid that someone might recognize him from the Statue of Liberty incident.
By the way, Sayyed was never, ever in charge of Malcolm X’s security detail. Rueben Frances and Charles Kenyatta played the role sometimes, but because people had regular jobs and couldn’t afford to do security full-time, the guards and those in charge of security were always in flux. I suspect Reggie pulled that one out of his as . . . I was saying . . .
Ray wasn’t very good as an agent, which is why his days as an operative were numbered. His cover was blown during the 1964 incident in which he and Herbert Callender, a leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in New York City were arrested for trying to perform a citizen’s arrest of Mayor Robert F. Wagner Junior. Ray was promptly released, of course, while Callender was carted off to the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital, wondering why he agreed to such a hair-brained idea.
“You Can Call Me Ray, or You Can Call Me Jay, but you don’t have to call me Johnson.”
Ray’s reticence disappeared as soon as he was reminded by an unnamed presumed FBI handler (remember the unnamed CIA handler in “The X Files”?) that no one in Malcolm’s organization would recognize him because newspapers and TV reporters had never shown his face. “A photo of Ray had even made it into the news,” he writes on page 58, “though it only revealed a partial view of his face.”
Two pages later, the sinister stranger tells Ray that he should have no fear of being recognized at the Audubon because “all of you Blacks look alike. . . Besides, only the side of your face was shown in that news photo” (page 60-61). On the very next page, Reggie reminds us that Ray’s identity as a Secret Agent Man was secure because his “whole face had not been shared yet with the public, only a side shot” (page 62).
This is the first major red flag. The writer is clearly oblivious to the fact that very clear photos of Ray’s mug appeared in newspapers and on television following his entrapment of Herb Callender. Ray would certainly have known about this and so would his bosses at BOSSI. And the Unnamed Handler. His photo appeared on page 12 of the New York Times edition of July 16, 1964 and other newspapers.
But let’s get back to Reggie’s story – I mean Ray’s story.
Confident that no one would recognize him, Ray “chose a seat in the front of the [ball]room.”
Here it should be noted that Ray was over six feet tall, so sitting in the front row was the last thing an intelligent undercover agent would have done. Ray attributes mistakes he made to the NYPD’s failure to provide him with any training before sending him on undercover assignments. Apparently they also failed to give him common sense.
Within minutes of taking a seat on the front row, Ray saw several men stand up and begin shooting Malcolm X. He ran from the building but was apprehended by several members of the crowd who thought he was the light-skinned man shooting Malcolm.
I’m beginning to really smell a dead rat now. I have studied the assassination long enough to know that none of the three shooters was described as a light-skinned black man. Here are their photos:
Norman Butler in custody
Luckily, says Reggie, police fought off the men holding Ray and placed him the back of a squad car. He was held for several hours at a local police precinct. When he saw a photo of Thomas 15 Johnson in the newspaper a week later, it suddenly occurred to him why his handlers wanted him at the Audubon that day. Eureka! It was so people would mistake him for Johnson, whom he describes as a dead ringer for himself.
People, you can’t make this stuff up. I mean that literally. You can’t make up stuff so important to African American history and its leaders and think that no one is going to question you. This concocted alleged confession is as asinine as the Statue of Liberty plot. No wonder Bowe and others laughed in his face when Ray first broached the idea. It appears from the book that Ray’s IQ and Reggie’s IQ are lower than the writer’s age (between 47-57).
The story is a complete fabrication. Police obtained a list of everyone who was inside the ballroom that fateful day and subsequently interviewed them. Scholars, using evidence from interviews and police records, noted the names of most of the people seated on the front rows. Neither Ray’s name nor his aliases appear. Moreover, the people on the front rows were identified days after the assassination.
Second, it is well known now that Thomas Johnson was not the man who fired the shotgun at Malcolm X. He was been positively identified as William Bradley, a longtime Nation of Islam member who spent 20 years in prison for armed bank robberies. So if no one saw a light-skinned man firing at Malcolm X, what possible reason would BOSSI need Ray to be there.
In fact, former BOSSI detective Tony Bouza told author Garrett Felber in 2015 that Ray had nothing to do with the case. None of the documents from the trial of the assassins, from police interviews, or from witness statements mention Ray Wood or Ray Woodall or any of his other aliases.
Third, no one in their right mind would mistake Ray for Thomas Johnson. Johnson was about 5’10” tall, while Ray was at least 6’2” tall. Ray was much slimmer than Johnson. Johnson’s face had a round shape while Ray’s face was more oval.
What Reggie has done is take a snippet from a journal which mentions Ray. To wit, Malcolm X aide Yuri Kochiyama recorded gossip that “Ray Woods[sic] 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.”
Reggie cites the Felber article, yet he tries to argue that Ray was the man some witnesses claimed to have seen running out of the Audubon. There is video of the scene outside the Audubon immediately after the assassination. The man being held by the crowd is Thomas Hagan, the assassin captured at the scene. No one else was involved in a scuffle except Bradley, who's trying to free Hagan.
As for the olive-skinned man witnesses saw being placed in a police car, the most logical explanation to date is that it was William Harris, the audience member who was struck in the abdomen by a stray bullet.
Neither Reggie nor Ray explain why BOSSI would want to frame Johnson. Finally, as for Johnson being an innocent victim, people forget that Johnson and Butler were out on bail at the time of the assassination following their failed attempt to kill dissident Black Muslim Benjamin Brown. Johnson told me in no uncertain terms that he intended to kill Brown when he stuck the muzzle of the rifle against his chest but the weapon jammed. He fired again and wounded Brown.
Consequently, Butler and Johnson were going to prison anyway, and for a very long time. And this ridiculous book is going into the paper recycling bin with all the other useless paper.
On February 26, Kelly G. Wood, the daughter of Raymond Wood, notified a news outlet in New York that the letter displayed by Reggie Wood at the news conference was fake, and that her father did not sign it. The odd thing about the typed letter is that it's not notarized, and there were no witnesses to the signing.
Reggie Wood has not been available for comment. He and Crump did appear on "Democracy Now!" this weekend to hype the book. I hope you get a refund if you bought this.