The Victims The Place Time It Was The Crime The Investigation The Convicted
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The Victims The Place The Investigation Time it was The Crime The Convicted
May 5, 2013. Twenty years - a personal perspective.

Poor Chris, Michael and Stevie. You deserved better, you deserved justice. I began to be seriously interested in this case twelve years ago. At that time, it had both immediacy and an air of impossibility. How could the police, in this day and age, pursue demons at the expense of an ordinary investigation? Why didn't they have extensive interviews with the parents of the victims? Even if they did not consider them as suspects they possessed invaluable information on suspects, lurking strangers and what they had seen during their search that night. Among the six parents and step-parents who lived with the victims only Mark Byers underwent a lengthy interview, this two weeks after the crime.

Terry Hobbs stated both family and co-workers believed he was guilty from day one and continued to believe him guilty after the trial and convictions of the West Memphis Three. This family in-fighting led to him shooting his brother-in-law. And yet Hobbs was not interviewed at all in the months after the crimes. Remarkably, in spite of the intense scrutiny this case has received over the years, this open secret, these accusations stayed within the family.

In contrast, the police interviewed school children about rumors, traveling to Mississippi, Marked Tree, Arkansas and other locations to add their stories to a score of tales from local children. How could they have been so willfully incompetent?

How could Detective Bryn Ridge have heard Jessie Misskelley's confession and described it as "so close to perfect that we have to believe it?" The confession was at best muddled, virtually free of information, or more specifically, information provided by Misskelley. Detectives Ridge and Gitchell did describe injuries, weapons and the geographic location of the crime.

The role of Dr. Dale Griffis, the so-called cult researcher sworn in as an expert witness first interested me in this case. Initially, he seemed to me to be a blowhard. Investigating him further, he proved to be a first class charlatan. His claims to expertise, his misinformation about cults, were comical. How could people not see through him the moment he opened his mouth? He represents the symbolic center of this case. The Satanic panic of the late 80s, early 90s was as ridiculous as the hundreds of other conspiracy theories which lurk at the corner of our lives. In this instance, however, conspiracy madness reached out to ruin the lives of three innocent teenagers.

The prosecution and the judge played fast and loose with ethics in order to shove this case through. They had to rely on evidence not presented to the defense in advance and to the testimony of young children. Those in authority never seemed to consider the alternative explanation for why the case was weak: the accused were innocent.

Twenty years have passed. With the additional passage of time, to me, this case seems to have become a distant history, relevant to another day, to be added to the stories of Salem and other hysterias. These feelings belie a reality, this case isn't irrelevant. The injustices presented here echo in other forms and, if we don't learn from the past, we repeat it. Another seminal case of the time, the Central Park "wilding" case has fallen apart. Although four individuals confessed, all have been set free. For those in New York, this case was second only to OJ Simpson in terms of local consciousness. And it was all a lie.

This case consumed about ten years of my life. I have undertaken two personal trips from Puerto Rico to visit West Memphis to look for evidence. I have scrutinized the case in agonizing detail. I have compiled lists of addresses, reconstructing everyone in the neighborhoods determining where they moved afterwards and checked whether they appeared in National Sex Offenders lists. I humored myself, telling myself I had become someone like those who obsessed about Jack the Ripper. For years this case teased me with more and more information coming out. In the meantime interest in this case grew from a sizeable group of insiders sharing information into a national and international cause célèbre. The West Memphis Three were released from prison. Finally, they are allowed to pursue their lives.

I've moved on. Over my years of involvement in this case, I became married and have had my first child, now five years old. In the past two years, I've set this case aside, not following developments, not updating these pages. I have focused the same amount of time on writing. I have sold one novel, A Predatory Mind, (see bottom of page for description) and am working on another.

On these pages I present a large amount of research regarding this case. In terms of the information presented I am not responsible for most of the unique findings, just for their compilation and for the research which goes in to filling in the details. This was probably the first murder case that became crowd-sourced in its investigation. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of pages of source material are available online. In light of that, my contribution sometimes seems small.

My heartfelt thanks to those who helped pore over these documents and all of those who have dedicated so much time to this case. I hope that, in spite of the increasing haze of the years, justice may yet be found.

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This website intends to be a thorough investigation of the matters surrounding the disappearance and murders of Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore. All told this site has approximately 160,000 words, equivalent to a 700+ page book. Many of the pertinent topics are covered here. Others are not. With few exceptions, this site does not endeavour to follow the latest developments and legal machinations of the case. 

This site does not primarily deal with the West Memphis Three. While this site does discuss the injustice committed against them, it is more directed to the crime against the murder victims. There are no photos of the dead children or their injuries on this site. It is best they are remembered as they were in life.

Recently, two new documentaries regarding this case have been produced. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky is the third in a series of documentaries that have, as a whole, advocated the innocence of those sent to prison. These documentaries are one of the primary reasons this case has maintained such a high level of national attention. West of Memphis, a documentary by Amy Berg, further investigates the dysfunctional justice surrounding this crime telling the full story of injustice. I was interviewed for this latter documentary. 

Purgatory poster West of Memphis A Predatory Mind

INTRODUCTION

    As though part of a morbid Grimm's tale, three eight-year-old boys headed into the woods at the setting of the sun. And with the last of daylight, they disappeared. What happened then was unspeakable.

    This site is dedicated to the brief lives of Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore. These pages are dedicated to finding the truth about their deaths in West Memphis, Arkansas that took place on or about May 5th, 1993.

    The gruesomeness of the crime made it sensational nationwide news. With the subsequent arrests and trials and the allegations of occult sacrifice the notoriety increased. The media followed the story with countless reports and articles. The story became the fodder of Geraldo and Maury Povich.

    Three teenagers were charged with the crimes. Each pleaded innocent. After a pair of trials remarkable in their strangeness, each was convicted. But the story didn't end there. Through two books and two documentaries, websites, multiple episodes of TV true crime shows, and the interest of prominent and famous people the convicted have achieved a celebrity status as "The West Memphis Three."

    In this case there are unhealed wounds as deep as those made on the victims. For those who believe in the innocence of the convicted, there is the belief in an ongoing injustice and that the actual murderer has gone free. For those who believe in the guilt of the convicted, the unceasing publicity of the convicted steals the focus from the victims. This is especially true for the families of the victims who live with the constant memory of the pain of the tragedy. This log is dedicated to the community of all of those touched by this crime.


Log of Pages     Sources and Resources    Principles of this website      Index

MOST RECENT ADDITIONS.
JUNE 20, 2011. The tangled tale of the evening of Officer Meek is examined
MAY 31, 2011. The incredible saga behind Misskelley's post-arrest confessions is presented
MAY 27, 2011.  How black t-shirts became infamous in this case.  
MAY 17, 2011. The page regarding Terry Hobbs has been extensively updated.
MAY 17, 2011. The circumstances surrounding Misskelley's confessions are explored.  
OCTOBER 1, 2010. The question of Whodunnit is further explored in The Hole in the Center of the Case.
MAY 15, 2009. The event-filled two days of May 5th and 6th are explored in Night and Day.
MARCH 6, 2009. The triumphs and the downfall of the Crittenden County Drug Task Force are recounted in West Memphis Confidential.
FEBRUARY 24, 2009. Chapter 12 (Whodunnit, The Crime Scene) has been added to the case narrative.
JANUARY 19, 2009. Chapter 10 (Later Evidence) and Chapter 11 (DNA) have been added to the case narrative. 
JANUARY 5, 2009. The case is presented in narrative form with the first nine chapters complete. The series begins below and continues through the links at the bottom of each page or else here.  (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

 

A Twilight Kill

    The phases of the moon are tricks of light and shadow. For the moon to be full, it must rise when the sun sets. On May 5th, 1993, as daylight disappeared, the round moon crested the Memphis skyline. The Mississippi River, at that time turbid and swollen from a season of floods, separated the Tennessee Metropolis from its Arkansas namesake, West Memphis, a trucking hub and home to 30,000. With dusk deepening over the small town, three eight year old boys had already been missing for two hours. By the next day they would be found dead, brutalized, hog-tied and sunken in a ditch. 

    Dana Moore, mother of victim Michael Moore, last saw her son from a distance as he and his friends disappeared around a bend. Her son was in his cub scout uniform aboard his bicycle while his second grade schoolmates, Chris Byers and Stevie Branch shared a bike. Childhood friend, Kim Williams reported accompanying Michael and Stevie to the edge of a patch of woods called Robin Hood Hills. Another childhood friend said Chris Byers dropped by his house. This neighbor said Chris told him his stepfather had whipped him and he was running away from home.

    Mark Byers, the stepfather of Chris, was a hefty six foot five. Full-bearded and sporting long hair often tied back in a ponytail, the left side of his face drooped from damage from seizures. Changing into overalls and a long-sleeved shirt he undertook a frantic eighteen hour search, patrolling the neighborhood with his wife, Melissa and his thirteen year-old stepson, Ryan. He would later complain of receiving virtually no help from the authorities. "I called the Sheriff's Department the second time. I said, look, I've had one police officer out here helping me look for these boys." [Mark Byers, May 19, 1993 interview] Byers would describe two occasions when his search took him to the area where the victims were found. "I was out looking until 4:30 a.m. I walked within 10 or 15 feet of where the bodies were found and I didn't see them." [Mark Byers, quoted in West Memphis Evening Times, May 7th, 1993]

    Terry Hobbs, wiry tough with a thick frowning mustache and a glassy gaze, was the stepfather of victim Stevie Branch. He described beginning his search well before nightfall, including passing near the discovery site. Terry would wait until the evening closing time at his wife's restaurant to inform her of her son's disappearance.


    Within two years, Terry Hobbs, Mark Byers and Dana Moore would each be convicted of violent crimes. Hobbs shot and wounded his brother-in-law. Mark Byers would be convicted of using a gun to incite a child to engage in a fist fight. Moore would strike and kill a pedestrian with her car. Melissa Byers would die in the presence of her husband, the cause of death undetermined.
Recently, Hobbs' companion during his search has contradicted his account and DNA and other evidence have been suggestive of his involvement in the murders.

The victims
The victims.  Left to right, Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch.

Family
The family of the victims: Left to right, Terry Hobbs, Melissa and Mark Byers, and Dana Moore.

Continued in, A Twilight Kill, Part Two: True Believers

PRIOR ADDITIONS.

DECEMBER 12, 2008. Several pages have been edited to incorporate recent developments. The new information is summarized here.
DECEMBER 2, 2008.  The robustness of the hair DNA evidence is examined.
JULY 8, 2008.  The format of this website has been updated and improved, thanks to Michael Gillen.  
JULY 4, 2008.  A page has been added describing the effects of the full moon on this case.  
JANUARY 11, 2008.  Bryan Keith Woody.
JANUARY 11, 2008.  Sir Mikeal and The King.
DECEMBER 11, 2007.  The Telltale Hairs.

A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE CASE

[Note: the following summary is meant to guide the novice through the facts of the case.  Each link is to an unique page.]

    On May 5th, 1993, on the night of a full moon, in West Memphis, Arkansas three eight-year-old children, Michael Moore, Christopher Byers, and Stevie Branch, disappeared. They were last seen by family, neighbors and schoolmates about 6:00 pm heading in the direction of a wooded area not far from their houses. The night and day proved busy for the police and their initial search was limited. One of those who would testify as to last seeing the children was also involved in the search.

    Their bodies were discovered the next day in a small patch of woods behind the Blue Beacon Truck Wash, not far from the interstate. The victims had been beaten, cut, bound and sunk in a ditch. Each child had dozens of injuries. At the time, authorities and media speculated whether the crime was related to other area child murders. Neighbors described ominous sightings of white and black vans.

    It was debated whether or not the discovery site was the site of the murders. Its unique geography, bound on one side by a bayou that needed to be crossed by pipe and on another by all night business made entry difficult, however, no blood was found, in spite of one victim bleeding to death. The discovery site became the only designated crime scene and was presented at trial by the state as where the murders took place.

    There was a limited amount of physical evidence at the crime scene. Samples were taken from a large number of suspects which can be used to match DNA. Anomalous fibers were collected from the victims and their clothes. Not all of the children's clothes were recovered from the discovery site: two pairs of underwear and five socks were missing. A spot of wax was found on one of the victims clothes. Other evidence was left behind at the discovery site. The physical evidence is listed here and the crime lab findings, here. Perhaps most significant were a variety of hairs, including those found under the victims' bindings. The results of the DNA tests have been released. One of these hairs has been recently found to match the stepfather of one of the victims, Terry Hobbs, although this match is imperfect. 

    The police began their investigation by canvassing the victims' neighborhood. Early on, the possible involvement of a Satanic cult was taken seriously. Those interviewed in the search for the cult yielded contradictory or ridiculous stories. The investigation echoed an event of the more distant past, including the extensive amount of time chasing down rumors from children including wild stories about a local teenager, Damien Echols. Polygraphs directed the investigation, with individuals who passed being dismissed as suspects. A mysterious hitchhiker with a devil tattoo was noted, but never found. A child molestor with a disturbing history was interviewed. A pair of filmmakers who had recently moved to the area were also questioned. During the course of the investigation, twenty knives were taken into evidence, from the crime scene, from a lake behind where one of the arrested lived and from other suspects. Three sticks gathered from the crime scene would play a role in the trials.

    Damien Wayne Echols, a teenager with a troubled history (1, 2, 3, 4, 5), was visited by police the day after the discovery and would become a central target of the investigation. Damien's best friend, Jason Baldwin, would also become a target, although with some confusion, as there were two suspects with this name.

    Narlene Hollingsworth and her family say they saw Echols not far from the discovery site on the night of the murders. One Hollingsworth was also a suspect.

    On June 3rd, 1993, Jessie Misskelley confessed to his involvement in the murders, also implicating Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin. The confession was presented as evidence for the search warrants and the three were arrested. The confession was attacked by the family of the accused as being inconsistent, by forensic linguistics as being non-informational and, at trial, as being coerced. Misskelley would soon recant and confess again

    The trials took place from January to March of 1994. The motive for the murders was presented as being occult sacrifice with black t-shirts introduced as evidence of the defendant's cult tendencies. Others were presented at trial as alternative suspects including the stepfather of one of the victims, John Mark Byers, a controversial character with an unexamined alibi. Also put forward was a mysterious bleeding man at a Bojangles restaurant less than a mile from the discovery site.

    The three defendants were convicted. Jessie Misskelley was sentenced to life plus forty years, Jason Baldwin received life without parole, and Damien Echols received the death sentence. They are in prison appealing the convictions. The quality of evidence leading to conviction is examined, beginning with Jessie Misskelley and continuing with Jason Baldwin.

BASIC INFORMATION

The victims.

Steve Edward Branch, eight-years-old, 4 ft. 2, 65 lbs, blonde hair. Last seen in blue jeans, white t-shirt on a black and red bicycle.

Christopher Byers, eight-years-old, 4 ft., 52 lbs, light brown hair. Last seen in blue jeans, dark shoes, and white long sleeve shirt. 

Michael Moore, eight-years-old, 4 ft. 2, 55 lbs, brown hair. Last seen in blue pants, blue Boy Scouts of America shirt, orange and blue Boy Scout hat on a light green bicycle.

    [sources: Missing person reports, autopsies. The clothes found were slightly different.]

Time of disappearance.

    Last seen by family members 5:30 to 6:00 pm, May 5th, 1993. Missing person reports filed 8:30 and 9:30 pm.  Last seen by neighbors 6:00 to 6:30 pm.

Time of discovery.

    The bodies of the three were found naked, sunken in a ditch between 1:30 and 3:00 pm, May 6th, 1993.

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Fiction novel from jivepuppi (Martin Hill Ortiz)

A Predatory Mind

Stalked by a killer.

Eight intelligent people are locked in an abandoned library, one is a murderer.
They believe by using reason, they can identify the killer.
They believe by not taking risks, they will be safe.
They are wrong.

     A Predatory Mind is a thriller imagining the consequences of a meeting between the eccentric inventor, Nikola Tesla and the notorious serial killer, Henry H. Holmes.

     In the 1890s, Tesla employed an invention to examine Holmes' mind. To his horror, Tesla realized he not only read the thoughts of Holmes, but received a part of his personality. The inventor halted his experiments, sealing his journals.

     More than a century later, Dr. Gordon Rickert, an unprincipled scientist, is recruited to replicate the research. Soon he and his colleagues discover that Tesla's device has more purposes and dangers than they had imagined. During their investigations they resurrect a long dead evil. Trying to undo the damage, they agree to lock themselves in together. Being killed off one by one, the investigators must determine who among them is harboring a predatory mind.

A Predatory Mind is available from Loose Leaves Publishing for ordering in soft cover or electronic editions.

Visit the site apredatorymind.com for more fascinating insights into the amazing characters of Nikola Tesla and Henry Holmes.




 

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