Ray Wood was an undercover New York Police Department officer in the 1960s who confessed while dying from cancer that he unwittingly helped the NYPD and FBI conspire to assassinate Malcolm X, according to Wood’s family and their attorney.
They say Wood, who was also Black, wrote a letter making the confession. In a dramatic news conference on February 20, 2021, Reggie Wood, Ray Wood’s cousin, read the confession letter and presented it to Malcolm X’s daughters.
Attorney Ben Crump, who helped lead the news conference, wrote on February 21, 2021, “On this day 56 years ago, Malcolm X was assassinated for speaking truth to power. They may have taken his life, but they can’t silence his impactful voice as a prominent activist for the civil rights movement!”
During the press conference, Crump referred to Wood’s letter as an “astonishing revelation from the past.” He called it “riveting” and 56 years past due.
Malcolm X, age 39, was assassinated inside the Audubon Ballroom in New York City, on February 21, 1965, during a speech. Three men, Talmadge Hayer (also called Thomas Hagan), Norman 3X Butler and Thomas 15X Johnson were all convicted of murder in the case, but only Hayer admitted involvement and said the other two men were innocent. An earlier Netflix raised serious questions about the investigation and murder. Malcolm’s death was only the beginning of the tragedies to hit his wife and family. Hayer said other people were involved, and that he would name them. He was released from prison in 2010.
The Manhattan DA has previously announced his office is examining those convictions. “Several months ago, the Manhattan District Attorney initiated a review of the investigation and prosecution that resulted in two convictions for the murder of Malcolm X. The NYPD has provided all available records relevant to that case to the District Attorney. The Department remains committed to assist with that review in any way,” the New York Police Department said in a statement to ABC 7, when asked about the Wood revelations.
Here’s what you need to know:
Ray Wood Entrusted His Confession to His Cousin, Reggie
Ray Wood’s cousin Reggie Wood explained during the press conference that he turned to a family member who is a graduate student, and they worked to find credible corroborating evidence for Ray Wood’s statements.
She explained that they found such evidence, including a letter applauding Wood for his undercover work in the Statue of Liberty bomb plot, which is a key part of Ray Wood’s Malcolm X information.
According to Crump, the NYPD and FBI “orchestrated this meticulously” by working for weeks to coerce the two people Malcolm X depended on most for security into a “scheme to blow up the Statue of Liberty.” They had no violence in their past but fell for it and were arrested, and Ray Wood was the person who “coerced them to do this plot,” said Crump. This left the civil rights leader unprotected.
He said authorities used Ray Wood “as a pawn like so many Black people.”
Reggie Wood said he is “the cousin of Raymond A. Wood, who was a Black undercover New York city police officer in the 1960s. I met him for first time in late 2010. He had been estranged from our family over 46 years.”
He said that an aging Wood was experiencing health problems and wanted to reconnect with family before he died, so Reggie moved him to Tampa, Florida, so he and his family could look after Ray. In 2011, he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.
“Shortly after, he confessed to me a series of detailed accounts of what he participated in during his time as a police officer,” said Reggie. “Ray told me not to let him take this to his grave but to please wait until he passed away to come forward with this information.”
He lived until 2020. “I have carried this confession secretly in fear of what could happen to my family and myself if the government could find out what I knew,” said Reggie Wood. He said that Ray also “lived in constant fear for 46 years, worried what the FBI and NYPD would do to him if he told the dark secrets that he held that helped destroy Black leaders and Back power organizations.”
After Ray Wood died, Reggie said he found a “confession letter” that Ray had written and mailed to his father in 2011. He said that Ray was full of guilt, and the letter details his involvement in the assassination of Malcolm X, as well as the FBI and NYPD’s.
“He conspired to help the NYPD assassinate Malcolm X,” said Reggie.
Unsure what to do with such powerful information, Reggie Wood reached out to Crump, who advised him to publish a memoir, which he has now done.
“By making this information available to the world, everyone will know at the same time, and I will no longer have anything to hide,” Reggie Wood said. “On behalf of Ray, he wanted the world to know that he is deeply sorry.” He said he hoped the information helps Malcolm X’s family.
“As a Black man I am disgusted to know what happened 60 years ago is still going on today,” said Reggie Wood, urging people to “stand up against systemic racism and corruption in policing.”
Ray Wood’s Letter Confessed That He Coerced Malcolm X’s Security Guards Into Felonious Behavior to Remove Them as Malcolm’s Protection
Wood then read the letter. He said he preserved it for the district attorney in hopes there will be an effort to exonerate those “Ray was concerned had been convicted because of his actions.”
The letter starts, “I, Raymond A. wood, being of sound mind and body, wish to confess the following. I was a Black New York City undercover police officer from April 1964 through May 1971.”
The letter says that Wood felt he “participated in actions that in hindsight were deplorable to the advancement of my own Black people.” He wrote that his actions were taken “under duress and fear that if I did not follow the orders of my handlers, I could face detrimental consequences. Presently I am aging with failing health.”
He wrote that he had recently learned of the death of Thomas Johnson and was concerned that with his death, Johnson’s family wouldn’t be able to exonerate him “after being wrongfully convicted in the killing of Malcolm X.”
Wood wrote that he tried to quit the New York force after witnessing repeated brutality but was threatened with alcohol and drug trafficking charges if he “didn’t follow through with the assignment.”
He wrote that he was “told to encourage leaders and members of the civil rights groups to commit felonious acts,” including the Statue of Liberty bombing, a plot “created by my superior.”
He was told to draw the two men who were “key players in Malcolm X’s crowd control security detail” into “a felonious federal crime so they could be arrested by the FBI and kept away” from Malcolm’s security the day he was killed.
The two men were arrested “just days before the assassination.” He wrote that he wasn’t aware that “Malcolm X was the target” at that time.
He said he was also ordered to be at the Audubon ballroom and was identified by witnesses leaving the scene. He said that Johnson was later arrested and wrongfully convicted to protect his cover and the “secrets of the FBI and NYPD. I have carried these secrets with a heavy heart. I regret my participation in this matter.”
One of Malcolm’s daughters said in the press conference that there had always been “uncertainty about the assassination… any evidence that provides greater insight into the truth behind that terrible tragedy should be thoroughly investigated.”
Crump said the Congressional Black Caucus should consider forming a Malcolm X Commission to exonerate those wrongfully convicted and to ensure Malcolm X’s family gets justice, which could require “compensation to address the wrong.” He said they don’t know the names of Wood’s handlers.
Crump Described the Revelations as a ‘Truth That Has Been Secret for Far Too Long’
Crump described Wood’s account as a “truth that has been secret for far too long.”
He compared the slain civil rights leader to the modern Black Lives matter movement, adding that “Malcolm X is the personification of Black Lives Matter. The past is prologue.”
What Wood revealed was part of a pattern of the government targeting civil rights leaders in the 1960s, said Crump, comparing those actions to a string of police shootings in present times. He said that people were wrongfully accused because of the plot described by Wood, including the mother of slain rapper Tupac Shakur.
Crump said Malcolm X’s family wants “restorative justice.”
He said they want to “have those civil rights leaders wrongfully convicted over 50 years ago to have them exonerated. They were not criminals. They were freedom fighters and for that the U.S. government discredited them and took away their liberty.”
Attorney Ray Hamlin, who was also at the press conference, said Malcolm’s assassination “tore through the fabric of this community…we are here decades later with information from an undercover Mew York City police officer that I understand has recounted in chilling detail his involvement and the involvement of New York city police, the FBI…the fact of the matter is the world lost an icon.” But he said a family lost “a father and a husband.”
The Family of Malcolm X Went on to Suffer Additional Tragedy
Malcolm X was married to wife Betty and together they had six children, all daughters. Betty Shabazz died relatively young in 1997. According to her obituary on CNN, Malcolm’s wife died after suffering severe burns at the age of 61. Even worse, it was suspected that her 12 year old grandson started that fire, CNN reported. (You can read about the lives of Betty’s and Malcolm’s six daughters today here.)
Betty Shabazz struggled to live for some time after the blaze. According to CNN, she was in extremely critical condition after suffering third-degree burns over 80 percent of her body in the fire at her home in Yonkers, New York.
She eventually succumbed to her injuries. CNN reported that her grandson was arrested on suspicions he set the blaze because he was unhappy he had been sent to live with his grandmother. She lived for less than a month.
That grandson also died tragically. Then 28 year old, Betty’s grandson Malcolm Shabazz was killed in a bar fight in Mexico City in 2013, according to Guardian.
The Guardian reported that Malcolm was the son of Qubilah Shabazz, one of six daughters that Malcolm X had with Betty. Qubilah had witnessed her dad’s assassination in 1965 when she was just 4 years old.
Betty Shabazz married Malcolm X, then the spokesman for the Nation of Islam, in 1958, seven years before he was assassinated. She later became an activist and had “a career in university administration,” Biography.com reported.
READ NEXT: The Man Who Created the Netflix Documentary.