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Was the West Memphis Three Case a Modern Day Witch Hunt? The Crime and Inventigation.
My Introduction to the West Memphis Three
Late one night near the end of 2013, I was looking through the documentaries on The Dare Wall when I came across a documentary called West of Memphis. I read the description and though it sounded very interesting.
As I started watching I was shocked, it was horrific. But as I watched I was saying to myself, something about this doesn't add up I have to know more. So I stopped the documentary and began to research online and I was right. Nothing about this added up.
I have spent over twelve months researching, learning about the case, watching every documentary I can find, reading every interview and documents I can find and reading hundreds of pages of trial transcripts to better understand this case.
Because of the amount of information and the complexity of the case, I have decided to write smaller chapters.
Top - Christopher Byers, Middle - Michael Moore, Bottom - Steve Branch
Top - Mark and Melissa Byers, Middle - Terry and Pam Hobbs, Bottom - Todd and Diane Moore
Arial View of Robin Hood Hills
Arial View of Neighbourhood Leading to Robin Hood Hills
May 5th, 1993
The afternoon of May 5th, 1993 was like any other afternoon. School let out at 3pm, Steve Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers went home as usual.
About 3:30pm Michael Moore went to Steve Branch's house. Steve asked his mother Pam Hobbs if he could go bike riding with Michael. At first, Pam said no because she had to go to work at 5pm, but Steve promised he would be home by 4:30pm, so Pam said it was alright, Pam told him that if he wasn't home by 4;30pm he would be grounded for two weeks and not be allowed to ride his bike during that time. The two boys left happily on their bikes. A short time later Christopher Byers arrived at Steve Branch's house looking for Steve. Pam told him that Steve and Michael had just left on their bikes. Christopher left to find Steve and Michael.
When Steve failed to return home at 4:30pm, Terry Hobbs (Steve's step-father) and Amanda (Steve's sister) drove Pam to work. On the way they drove past Michael Moore's house to see if Steve was there, but when he wasn't they continued to Pam's work. Terry said that he would look for Steve.
At approx. 5:20pm Mark Byers (Christopher's step-father) saw Christopher riding a skateboard on the street near their house, Christopher was taken home and punished for not staying home like he had been told to, he was then told to remain at home and clean up the car-port. He was last seen by his step-father at 5:30pm, as he was leaving to collect Christopher's brother Ryan from the local courthouse.
At approx. 6pm, Diana Moore (Michael's mother) saw Michael riding bikes with Steve and Christopher, she was about to tell them all to go home, but they rode off before she had a chance.
When Mark Byers arrived home with Ryan at about 6:30 and found that Christopher was gone again, he drove around the neighbourhood in an attempt to locate his step-son. When he couldn't find him he contacted West Memphis Police Department. He was told to wait until 8pm before he could be reported missing.
At 8pm, Mark Byers again contacted West Memphis Police Department to report Christopher missing. Officer Regina Meek arrived at the Byers home to take a statement. Officer Meek began to take the report but was dispatched to investigate a bloody man at nearby Bojangals restaurant. About 15 minutes later, Diana Moore went over to the Byers home and informed them that she had seen Christopher with Michael and Steve at 6pm riding on the back of Steve's bike and that they were riding towards an area known as Robin Hood Hills. Mark Byers, Melissa Byers, Ryan Byers and Diana Moore began to search the Robin Hood Hills area shortly after 8pm, by which time it was already dark.
Pam Hobbs learned her son had not returned home at approx. 9pm when Terry and Amanda picked her up from work. In a statement given to the police Pam states that when Terry and Amanda arrived to pick her up, Terry hopped out of the car and walked inside the restaurant to use the phone, he didn't tell Pam who he was speaking to. The Hobbs family drove home where Pam quickly changed her clothes then headed out to join the search. By this time there were several people already searching including several friends of Ryan Byers and Officer Moore from West Memphis Police Department. The group searched until approx. 11pm.
Shortly after 11pm, Mark Byers contacted the sheriff to request the search and rescue be sent to help look for the three missing boys. He was told to contact Denver Reed, the leader of the Crittenden County search and rescue team the next morning. He then left again with Ryan to continue searching the area around the Blue Beacon Car Wash. Still unable to find any trace of the boys Mark and Ryan Byers returned home. Upon their return they were met by Melissa Byers, Terry Hobbs, Diana Moore and Steve Branch's Grandfather, after a short conversation it was decided they would search the Robin Hood Hills area again.
Police Investigating the Crime Scene
May 6th, 1993
At 1:30am, Sergeant Ball from West Memphis Police Department drove to the Byers home to inform them that a search for the three boys was being conducted in the area.
Sergeant Ball left at about 2am. By this time, Tony Hudson, a friend of Mark Byers, arrived and he and Mark went to search the empty Mid-Continent building, as they thought the boys may be hiding out there. When they arrived, they noticed a black van parked nearby. As it was locked, they assumed that it belonged to one of the workers at the building site, which was in the process of being rebuilt.
They searched until approx. 3am, when they decided to stop and begin searching again later in the morning.
By 6:30am, Mark Byers had spoken to Denver Reed from Crittenden County search and rescue and had made arrangements to meet him at 8am. Mark Byers, Terry Hobbs, Diana Moore and several other people continued to search the Robin Hood Hills area while they waited for the search and rescue team to arrive.
Once the search and rescue team had arrived, the search continued until 1:45pm.
The Pipe Leading to Robin Hood Hills
Shoe and Cap Found Floating in the Water
Steve and Michael's Bikes Were Found in the Water Either Side of the Pipe
Red Flags Mark Where the Bodies were Discovered
The Worst Possible Outcome
Shortly before 1:45pm, Sergeant Mick Allen was searching around a drainage ditch in the Robin Hood woods. He saw what appeared to be a child's shoe floating in the water. In attempting to retrieve the item, he slipped and fell into the water, revealing the submerged, naked and restrained body of Michael Moore.
As the crime scene tape was put up around the area, a small group of police come to the area to help with the search. They soon discovered the submerged, naked and restrained bodies of Steve Branch and Christopher Byers.
As the bodies were taken out of the water and placed on a narrow back beside the ditch, Crittenden County Coroner, Ken Hale was contacted and briefed of the situation. He arrived several hours later. He pronounced the three boys deceased by 4pm.
Inspector Gary Gitchell had the grim task of informing the distraught families.
The Bungled Search for Evidence
Police began to search the area for evidence, but there was very little to be found. The two bikes belonging to Steve Branch and Michael Moore where located in the water beside a pipe a short distance from where the bodies were found.
At the crime scene itself the only evidence to be found besides some articles of children's clothing was a shoe print and evidence that a small flat bank had been washed down, as there was mud on the grass.
The sticks that were used to pin down some of the clothing were not collected for six months, meaning that it is unlikely that the sticks collected were the actual sticks that were used to hide the clothing in the water.
The only blood found at the scene was found on the bodies themselves and a small amount on the bank where the bodies had been placed after they had been removed from the water.
Cause of Death Form for Christopher Byers
Misinterpretation of the Autopsies
The autopsies of the three boys were conducted at the Arkansas State Crime Lab by Dr. Frank Peretti.
All three boys had suffered similar injuries, they were all naked and "hog-tied" with shoelaces. It had been concluded at the crime scene that the boys had been raped, but no evidence of rape was discovered during the autopsies. There was however anal dilation, which was mistaken as evidence of rape, but which had occurred naturally at the time of death.
It was concluded that abrasions found on the bodies were caused by a knife with a serrated blade, even though no knife or any other weapon were found at the crime scene.
Dr Perettti also concluded some of the injuries were consistent with sexual mutilation
Injuries Received - As Per Autopsy Report
Cause of Death - Multiple Injuries.
Cause of Death - Multiple injuries and drowning
Cause of Death - Multiple injuries and drowning
Multiple facial contusions, abrasions and lacerations
Head injuries - multiple facial abrasions and contusions
Multiple facial abrasions, contusions and lacerations
Contusions and abrasions of ears
Multiple abrasions and contusions of lips
Fractures of base of skull
Multiple scalp lacerations and contusions
Fractures of base of skull
Subarachnoid hemorrhage of cerebral and cerebella hemispheres with fracture contusions
Multifacal subgaleal contusions and edema
Subarachnoid hemorrhage of cerebral and cerebella hemisperes
Abrasions of front of neck with no evidence of neck muscle injuries
Multiple fractures of calvarium and base of skull
Binding of hands and feet
Genital mutilation with absence of scrotal sac, testes, skin and head of penis, with multiple surrounding gouging and cutting wounds
Subarachnoid hemorrhage and contusions involving the cerebrum and cerebella hemispheres
Contusions of penis with superfical scratches
Binding of wrists and ankles in "hog-tie" fashion
Dilation of anus
Binding of wrists to ankles behind back in "hog-tie" fashion
Multiple contusions, abrasions and lacerations of torso and extremities
Multiple contusions, abrasions and lacerations of torso and extremities
Defense type injuries of hands
Wrinkling of hands and feet
Evidence of drowning
Water in sphenoid sinus
No semen found
Washer woman wrinkling on hands and feet
Pulmonary edema and congestion with blood, frothy fluid in airways
No ethyl alcohol found
Anal dilatation with hyperemia of anal/redtal mucosa
Small amount of Carbamazepine found
Petechial hemorrhage of heart, lungs and thymus
No evedence of disease
No evidence of disease
Pulmonary edema and congestion
No drugs found
Asperation of water into sphenoid sinus
No alcohol found
No test for semen was conducted
No semen found
No drugs found
No evidence of disease
Supposed Evidence of Satanic Cults in West Memphis
No motive, no evidence...Must Be Satanic
The West Memphis police struggled to build a case, there was no evidence and they could see no motive as to why the three boys had been so visiously murdered. That is until Lieutenant Sudbury had a conversation with Crittenden County Juvenile Officer Steve Jones.
It was during this conversation it was agreed that the murders had strong overtones of cultic sacrifice. Steve Jones then informed Lietenant Sudbury that he knew of one person that was not only involved in cult activities, but was also capable of committing a crime of this nature. That person was eighteen year old Damien Echols. It was agreed that they would meet at Damien's home and interview Damien.
Once word of satanic cults was mentioned, the media and West Memphis community went into a frenzy. Reports of satanic activity came from everywhere as satanic panic took over West Memphis.
Questions Given to Damien by the West Memphis Police
The following is an extract of the transcribed noted made by Lieutenant Sudbury after he had spoken to Damien.
On this day, the day after the bodies were found, I asked Steve if he would meet me at Damien's residence in order to interview Damien.
In fact the day after the bodies were discovered, I went to 2706 South Grove and met with Steve Jones whereas we talked to Pamela and Eddie Hutcheson, the mother and step-father of Damien. Neither Pamela or Eddie objected to our talking to Damien. On this day, with Pamela and Eddie's permission, we talked to Damien in his bedroom and on this day I took a Polaroid of Damien Echols. At this time I observed Damien to have a tattoo on his chest of a five pointed star or pentagram and as best I remember one other tattoo on his shoulder or arm. I am unsure of the nature of this tattoo.
[signed] Lt. James Sudbury.
Interviewing Damien Echols
By all accounts, Damien Echols did not fir the "normal" teenager profile. He wore black clothes, black boots and a long black trench coat. He listened to bands like Mega Death and Metallica and was interested in a number of religions, but found his calling in the Wiccan religion. He was considered a social outcast. He was also suffering from server depression, made numerous suicide attempts and had been hospitalised a number of times.
The day after the bodies were discovered, Lieutenant Sudbury and Steve Jones arrived at the Echols home in the Broadway Trailer Park at 12pm. After briefly speaking with Damien's parents, permission was obtained to speak to Damien.
The following day Damien was again interviewed by Lieutenant Sudbury and Detective Ridge and asked to answer a questionnaire. While speaking to the police, Damien made the following responses to questions asked to him during this interview:
- He had been practicing Wicca for about 5 years.
- On the 4th of May, he was at home in bed until around 12pm. He then went to Lakeshore Trailer Pak, because he had once lived in the park and still had a lot of friends there.
- He had only purchased the necklace he was wearing at the mall the weekend before. He said the pentagram was a good symbol in the Wiccan religion.
- On the 5th of May, he was with his girlfriend Domini Teer and friend Jason Baldwin. They were at Jason's uncles house. He said he called his mother to come and pick him and Domini up.
- His mother picked them up and dropped Domini at her home in Lakeshore Park.
- He went to visit family friend, Susan Sanders that afternoon with his father, mother and sister. They were there from around 3pm until around 5pm.
- When they arrived home, he phoned his friend Holly George and they talked until around 11:30pm.
- On the 6th of May, he went to Lakeshore Park, where he stated he learned the boys were missing from both Jason and Jason's mother.
- Steve Jones had been to see him a couple of days prior to the interview. He had told him about the boys testicles being cut off and that someone had urinated in their mouths. He also said that may have been the reason the boys had been put in the water, to wash the urine out.
- The person that committed the murders was sick and the murders were some kind of thrill kill.
- In Wicca, the penis was a symbol of power and the number three was a sacred number.
Subject Description - Damien Echols
Blood and Hair Consent Form - Damien Echols
Blood Samples - Damien Echols
Polygraph Consent Form - Damien Echols
Polygraph Results - Damien Echols
Interviewing Damien Echols Continued
- Damien described a different Jason Baldwin (not his friend) he stated that this Jason Baldwin was eighteen years old, weighed three hundred pounds and was about 5'9" tall. He said this Jason lived in West Memphis, was known to smoke dope, was mean and was known to kill snakes just for the sake of killing.
- He said that he knew L.G. Hollingsworth only through Domini. He said L.G. Hollingsworth was kind of weird.
- He said he had heard some guy had cut the boys up and that they most likely died of mutilation. He then stated that he had heard they had been placed in the water and may have drowned, he said he had heard one of the boys had been cut and one of the boys may have been cut more than the others.
- He said he felt the murders may have been committed in order to try to scare someone.
- He thought there was most likely one person had committed the crime, because if there were more people involved there would be the constant fear of them going to the police about the crime.
- He was asked if water had any type of meaning in either Wicca or black magic, he stated water was a type of demonic symbolism.
- He also said that all people have a demonic force and that they can control the force within themselves.
- Damien said the person that committed the murders probably felt good and felt that they had power to do what they had done.
- He said the reason the victims were so young was because the younger they are, the more power the person committing the crime would gain.
- He explained the power of 3. What you do comes back to you three fold.
- He stated his favourite book in the Bible was Revelations, because it talked about what was being done by the devil and all the suffering being done by people at the hand of the devil.
- He believed the killer knew the boys, he said the boys would have been easy to control and the killer would not have worried about the boys screaming due to the location of the crime scene. He said the killer most likely wanted to hear the screams.
- He said it was scary that the police were doing a psychological profile on him.
- He also stated he was on antidepressant medication.
- He said the person that committed the crime probably thought it was funny and didn't care if they got caught.
- He said that the police should be looking for stones, candles, a knife and some kind of crystal in the area.
- He said the person that committed the crime was most likely local and would not leave the area.
- He said he smoked the cheapest brand of cigarettes he could find and that he though sex was boring.
It was felt that Damien was arrogant and cold while giving his answers. It was noted that he had the letters E V I L tattooed across his left knuckles and he said Jason Baldwin also had the tattoo and his.
Damien was then asked if he would submit to having hair and blood samples taken and would be willing to take a polygraph examination. Damien did not object to these requests.
The polygraph examination concluded Damien was being untruthful and that he was in fact involved in the murders. However, Damien was released without charge.
Answers to Police Questionare - Jason Baldwin
Talking to Jason Baldwin
The police tried to speak with Jason Baldwin at his home on May 9th. He was given the same list of questions that had been given to Damien, which he answered. Jason said that on May 5th he was at his uncles house mowing the grass. As the police were asking Jason questions, his mother arrived home. She was quiet upset and accused the police of picking on her son, she informed them that she did not want them speaking to Jason. The police tried to reason with her but it made no difference.
Jason was not interviewed again, he was also not asked to submit to a polygraph examination.
"Mr Bojangels" - Mr Bojangels is the name given to an unknown black man who entered Bojangels restaurant at approx. 8:40pm on the night of May 5th, 1993. He appeared to be mentally disorientated and bloody enter the ladies washroom. Marty King, the manager of Bojangels restaurant contacted police, officer Regina Meeks responded to the call, she drove to the drive through window and spoke to Mr King, she was told that the man had just left and there was blood on the walls and in the ladies washroom. Officer Meeks did not enter the restaurant.
Upon hearing of the discovery of the three boys bodies only a mile away, Mr King again contacted the West Memphis police to report the incident of the pervious night, thinking there may be some connection between this man and the children's murders. This time the police came and investigated the washroom and took blood samples and a pair of sunglasses the man had left behind.
When asked about the blood samples during the trials Detective Ridge admitted that the samples had never been tested because they had been lost.
From the Interview with Chris Morgan and Brian Holland
Chris Morgan and Brian Holland - Were briefly considered as suspects in the early days of the investigation, as they had both abruptly moved to California four days after the bodies were discovered. The pair was arrested in Oceanside, California on May 17th, 1993 and both submitted to a polygraph. The results of the polygraphs indicated deception for both in regards to involvement in the murders.
Upon further interviewing Chris he detailed his long history of drug use and claimed that he may have killed the victims, but could not remember due to blackouts and memory lapses. He quickly recanted his statement.
Blood and urine samples were sent to West Memphis police, but there is no indication that these samples were tested or any further investigations into the pair were conducted. Chris's statement was debated at length during the trials, but was barred from admission as evidence.
John Mark Byers - was the adoptive father of Christopher Byers. He was first interviewed on the 19th of May 1993. He voluntarily gave blood and hair samples. During the filming of Paradise Lost, he gave on of the film crew a hunting knife, which appeared to have traces of blood on it. The knife was examined and the blood was determined to be consistent with Christopher's blood type. When asked about the blood he stated that he had no idea how the blood would have gotten on to the knife. During the filming of the second Paradise Lost documentary he voluntarily sat for a polygraph, which determined he was telling the truth and was not in anyway connected or involved in the murders.
Aaron Hutcheson and Police at Crime Scene
A Possible Witness
On May 27th, another young boy, Aaron Hutcheson came to the Marion Police Department with his mother Vikki Hutcheson. He clamed not only to knowing who had murdered the three boys but that he present during the murders and even forced to hurt one of the other boys.
He stated that the boys had a club house in the Robin Hood Woods and that they played there a lot. I said he mainly played there with Michael Moore and Christopher Byers and that sometime they watched men doing "nasty" stuff.
He claimed that they would hide and watch the men doing "nasty" stuff he referred to one of the men as "the skull commander". He was asked if "the skull commander" wore a necklace and if the necklace had a pendant on it. He stated that "the skull commander" had a necklace with a skull and a snake in the skulls eye. He also said that the snakes tongue was sticking out. He said that "the skull commander" wore a black t-shirt. When he was asked to describe the men, he replied that some of them had long hair to their neck. He also said Steve never saw the five men.
He stated that on one occasion he saw the men being mean to a dog and another time when he saw the men cut the head off a cat and eat the cat's body. He also claimed that all of the men had big knives that looked like they had blood on them and that they had pouches to keep them in.
He was then asked if the boys ever played in the water, to which he replied no. He was then asked what they did with their bicycles when they were going into the woods. He said that they would leave them beside the pipe.
He stated that on May 5th he wanted to go to the woods with his friends, but his mother wouldn't let him, but he went anyway. He said he thought that they were going to go and watch the men and got caught and that the men killed them.
He stated that the boys were killed at the treehouse they played in by a satinist who spoke Spanish, there was no tree house located were he indicated. His statements were wildly inconsistent and he was unable to identify Jessie Misskelley Jr, Jason Baldwin or Damien Echols from a photo line-up.
Vicky Huchenson, Aaron Hutchenson's mother would become a very important witness for the police. She was originally at the Marion Police Department on another matter. She was asked by the police to place hidden microphones in her home and organise to meet Damien Echols, through Jessie Misskelley Jr. The police stated that the recordings of this meeting were "inaudible" although Vicky stated the recordings were in fact audible, she also stated at that time that Damien had made no incriminating statements.
Vicky later gave a statement, under oath about attending a Wiccan meeting a couple of weeks after the murders with Damien and Jessie. She said that Damien had made drunken statements about killing the three boys.
Subject Description - Jessie Misskelley Jr
Jessie Misskelley Jr's First Interview
With the statements by Aaron and Vicky Hutchenson implicating Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr, West Memphis police were certain they had enough evidence to interview Jessie, whom at the age of 17 had an iq of 72.
On the morning of June 3rd, 1993 Detective Sergent Allen and Detective Ridge went to Jessie's home and asked Jessie's father if they could talk to him at the West Memphis Police Department. His father said that was fine and Jessie left with the two detectives.
During the morning Jessie submitted to a polygraph examination, the polygraph concluded that Jessie showed deceite when asked about his involvement in the murders.
While speaking to the police Jessie stated on the night in question he was in another town at a westling match and there were several people that could confirm this.
After several hours of questioning Detective Ridge and Inspector Gitchell began to record Jessie's statement at 2:44pm, they began by asking him what he was doing on the morning of May 5th, 1993. Jessie stated that he received a phone call from Jason Baldwin who asked him to go to West Memphis with Damien and himself, Jessie said that he had said no because he had to work, but went with them anyway.
He then went on to describe what happened when they were at Robin Hood Hills.
This interview was concluded at 3:18pm.
Audio of Jessie Misskelley Jr's First Interview
Jessie Misskelley Jr's Second Interview
A second interview was conducted shortly after to clarify some of the information Jessie had given in the first statement. Jessie recanted his statements a short time later.
Audio of Jessie Misskelley Jr's Second Interview
Inconsistencies in Jessie Misskelley Jr's Statement
Although Jessie Miskelley Jr confessed to involvement in the deaths of the three boys, there was some key facts that he got wrong.
- The time the murders took place.
- What time the boys entered the woods.
- What the boys were tied up with.
- What the boys were assaulted/attacked with.
- How the boys were tied up.
- That the boys were sexually assaulted.
- That the boys were choked
A Community Wanting Vengeance
Police Make Arrests
After only one month of investigating and a very inconsistent apparent confession from Jessie Misskelley Jr, which he quickly recanted, the West Memphis police firmly believed they had enough evidence to make arrests.
On June 3rd, 1993, the West Memphis Police Department arrested three teenagers for the murders. They were Damien Echols (18), Jason Baldwin (16) and Jessie Misskelley Jr (17).
Each of the teenagers were charged with three counts of capital murder.
Left- Damien Echols, Middle - Jessie Misskelley Jr, Right - Jason Baldwin
As this case is still receiving a lot of attention and opinions about it can become extremely volatile, I ask that as always all comments remain respectful.