E178, the Byers knife
The Kershaw Knife
Even more contentious and improbable than "The Lake Knife" was the
tortuous story surrounding a knife from the Byers household, the
"Kershaw Knife." Douglas Cooper, a cameraman for Home Box
Office, was helping film a documentary about the crime and
the trials. Just as the film crew was headed to New York to
break for the Christmas holidays, Cooper was presented a
gift. According to the police notes from his interview. "Rec
Sunday 12-19-93 late afternoon from Mark Byers while at his residence.
. . . Told him I didn't want the gift couldn't understand why he gave
it to me. He said it was sharp. Cut a piece of
paper. It's between us."
The timing of the gift was disputed. From Mark Byers January 26 interview:
Mark Byers: And
uh, one of the man on the film crew from New York City, I think his
name is Kook, the one that had the camera I don't know if he's here are
not, but day when he was here we were talking about knives and he was
real friendly to me and I (inaudible) as a Christmas gift I gave it to
him, you know that all there was to it. If you ever want to see
it or anything he's in possession of it. I gave it to him as a
The timing was potentially significant. On December 20 the Byers house was searched.
Gitchell: Alright when did you uh gave him that knife?
Mark Byers: It was the last time they were down here which was uh, seem like they were down here in November
In New York, after seeing what might have been blood on the knife,
Cooper presented it to the directors of the documentary who, after
consulting with HBO lawyers, sent it to the West Memphis
Police. It arrived on January 8, 1994 and was logged into evidence
E178. It was then sent to Genetic Designs Laboratories to
determine whether the blood was human and, if so, whether the blood
could be linked to any of the victims. The blood was found have
the same HLA DQ-alpha type as Christopher Byers, described in the
Genetic Analysis letter as shared by 9.2% of the population. Blood
samples from Mark and Melissa Byers and Melissa's 14 year old
son, Ryan Clark, were then sent to Genetic Designs to determine whether they could be a possible source of the blood on the knife.
On January 20th, Inspector Gitchell sent a profile of Mark Byers to the
FBI agent Tom Self. Gitchell's notes of their
correspondence state that Self didn't believe Mark Byers was a likely
suspect. As for the knife:
Source and History of knife.
Self went on to recommend:
Wouldn't be unusual- him playing with it + cutting himself + putting it back
Hopefully they can explain the source [Gitchell's notes, January 22, 1994]
Interviews be simotaneous – with Byers, Mellissa + Ryan
The interviews took place on January 26 took place in the Craighead
County Courthouse, on the day of the start of the Misskelley
trial. Ryan was interviewed first and then Mark Byers. Melissa was not interviewed.
Possibly do not know he cut himself [ibid]
Detective Ridge interviewed Ryan Clark. Ryan explained where the
knife was kept and how it was accessible to Chris. However, Ryan
stated that he never saw Chris with the knife and that Chris never
played with knives.
Ryan: No, we...he [Mark Byers] always, he always kept it in his room, we never did mess with it.
Ridge: Okay, Mark kept it in his room?
Ryan: Um hum.
Ryan: Or he kept it by his chair [in the den]. [Ryan Clark interview, January 26, 1994]
Ridge: Okay. Do you ever know of Ryan having the knife?
The essence of the latter exchange was repeated several times
(including Ridge referring to Chris as Ryan). Ryan said that Mark
Byers used the knife while hunting.
Ridge: No. No. I'm sorry. Chris...having the knife.
Ryan: No. Having it, no. I never did...I never did see him mess with it. He never did mess with knives. He never did. [ibid]
Ridge: Did he [Mark Byers], did he hunt? Did he use the knife when he went hunting?
The interview with Mark Byers was high stakes. From the
perspective of the police there was blood on the Byers knife that
matched the victim Chris Byers just at the start of the Misskelley
trial. The police were still waiting on the lab results from the
other family members. Mark Byers began by stating the knife had
never been used and kept in his dresser.
Ryan: Hey, he used to carry it around on his belt whenever he went hunting. [ibid]
. . .no that knife had not been used at all, it just been kept up, put
in my dresser and I didn't use it and the reason why was is because of
those serrated edges.
Mark Byers repeated Ryan's assertion that Chris did not play with
knives and that no one had been cut by this knife.
You couldn't keep it sharp, and he thought it was near because it had a
Velcro case that you could carry it on your belt with, and it kinda had
a grip on it that felt like pachmayr's on a gun, and he just really
like it and admired it and I really didn't like it so I gave it to him
Mark Byers: But no it had not been out in the woods or anything. [Mark Byers interview, January 26, 1994]
Gitchell: Um, did, did any of yours sons ever play with the knife?
Ridge, arriving after the start of the interview and having been told by
Ryan that the knife was also kept in the den by Byers' chair, offers
Mark Byers an out.
Mark Byers: Uh, Christopher never played with knives that I knew about or saw
Mark Byers: Correct no ones been cut with the Kershaw
. . .that Karshaw stayed put up in a top of my chiffarrobe in the
top drawer we got a big chiffarrobe you know and it stayed put up in
the top drawer of it [ibid]
Ridge: Is there a period of time that this knife may have been kept in the den by your chair?
Then Gitchell dropped the first bombshell.
Mark Byers: It seems like when I first got it I trimmed on my finger nails some with it right there under the lamp.
Now, you say when you first got it, is that just that particular day it
may have been there or could it have been there for a period of time?
Mark Byers: Possibly a day or two. [ibid]
Gitchell: And you need to answer this for me, we have found blood on this knife
And then the second bombshell, the blood was human and matched Chris.
Mark Byers answers are adamant and repeated.
Mark Byers: I can tell you where I might assume it might have come from
Mark Byers: Uh, I got a deer this year [ibid]
Okay, Alright, let me, let me go on a little bit further and say
there's a problem with that, I mean I'm not saying that's not true, the
problem is we have sent this knife off and had it examined and it has
the blood type of Chris on it
Remarkably, Detective Ridge summed up the interview as "Byers stated he had cut himself with the knife. . ." [Detective Ridge report, January 26, 1994, John Mark Byers interview]
Mark Byers: Well Gary I don't have any idea how it could be on there
Gitchell: That's our problem
Mark Byers: I have no idea how it's on there
Gitchell: Why, why would this knife have his blood on it?
Mark Byers: I have no idea Gary
Gitchell: That's what scares me
Mark Byers: I have no idea, I have no idea, how it could have any human's blood type on it at all
Mark Byers: I don't even remember nicking myself with it cutting the deer meat or anything [ibid]
The next day, January 27, Genetic Designs released
its analysis including other members of the Byers household. The
blood on the knife not only matched Chris Byers' type, it matched that
of his stepfather, Mark Byers (they are unrelated). The findings regarding the knife
and Mark Byers statements were not made available to the defense for
the Misskelley trial, a point argued in his attorney's appeal.
In the Echols/Baldwins trial defense attorney Val Price
questioned Byers about the knife.
Price: Alright, well the place that the - where did ya'll keep the knife in your house?
When I first received the knife, which was for [a previous] Christmas,
uhh - for a few weeks it was in the living room on a little end table
by my recliner. And then after that, it was put in my bedroom on the
dresser. [Mark Byers testimony, Echols/Baldwin trial]
Price: . . . Did you have any idea how human blood was on that knife?
Mark Byers attempted to explain the discrepancies between his testimony and the January 26 interview.
Mark Byers: Well yes I would have an idea, I cut my thumb. [ibid]
When he was referring to that of why would this knife have any blood on
it, I was under the assumption that he was talking about Christopher's
blood on it, which like I said, I didn't have any idea. He didn't ask
me was there any way that any other type of blood or it's substance
could have been on there because just a paragraph or two up before
that, I told him where I was trying to cut the venison with it.
On the top of page 8, do you recall being asked the question, "I have
no idea, no idea how it could have any human blood on it." You recall
giving that answer?
Mark Byers: Yes sir.
And then it's inaudible from Gitchell and then do you recall stating,
"I don't even remember nicking myself with it, cutting the deer meat,
or anything." Is that the answer you gave?
Mark Byers: Yes sir.
Price: And is that the truth?
Mark Byers: I, at the time when he was questioning me, I didn't re - I mean, I might not have remembered. . . [ibid]
Kershaw knife, close up.