So here goes, my first blog post for True Crime & Wine! There was no question over the case I wanted to Discuss first.
The case of the West Memphis 3 has been a go to of mine for a long time. The whole thing fascinates me and the ups and downs, ins and outs of it have kept me awake countless nights.
So, without further ado, lets jump into the rabbit hole.......
May 5th 1993 began as a normal spring day for Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers. After a long day at school, they decide to venture out together on their bikes and make the most of the warm spring evening.
At around 6.30pm, the trio are seen heading for Robin Hood Hills, a popular daytime hangout for the kids of the West Memphis neighbourhood. This would be the last time the three friends were seen alive.
After not arriving home at the requested times, the boy's families grew concerned and contacted the local police department. It was out of character for them to stay out after their curfews.
After a number of hours, a search team consisting of both members of the public and the local police force was formed. Between them they scoured the areas that the boys had last been seen and were known to hang around. Shoulder to shoulder searches of the Blue Beacon Woods and Robin Hood Hills were carried out until around 3AM but to no avail, there was no sign of the missing eight year olds. The search resumed early the next morning, and parole officer Steve Jones was out scouring the woods. After an hour or so he came across a small sports shoe, with the laces missing. This immediately caused alarm bells to ring and he called for back up.
Sgt Mike Allen arrives on scene to assist with the search. It isn't long before the first tiny body is discovered in the shallow waters of the drainage ditch. After following the stream further, another two bodies are recovered.
Further searches revealed two bikes and various items of clothing that had been concealed under the water by using sticks to pin them to the water bed.
When the bodies were looked at further, it was discovered that the boys had been bound using shoe laces in a "hog tied" fashion. They were tied up from right wrist to right ankle and left wrist to left ankle. They had also been badly beaten. The body of Christopher Byers appeared to have been castrated. They had been stripped completely of their clothes.
This missing persons investigation has now become one of the most high profile murder investigations West Memphis would ever see.
May 7th 1993. The investigation begins.
Due to the location in which the bodies were found and the reputation of the Blue Beacon Woods and Robin Hood Hills, the local law enforcement put forward a motive for the killings. They believed that these murders had connections to a dark source.
Parole officers Steve Jones and Jerry Driver pushed the idea and theory that the murders were of a satanic nature. Robin Hood Hills and the surrounding areas held a dark reputation once the sun had set and the officers were using this and how the bodies had been found to push their theory.
Due to the nature of their jobs, they were able to start looking at suspects who they believed may fit their theory. This is when Jerry Driver named the first of three suspects, Damien Echols.
Damien was an 18 year old high school dropout who was known to the local police for his erratic behaviour and mental health issues. This wasn't the only reason Echols' name became associated with the case.
Damien was open and honest about his interest in the Occult, dark arts, magick and metal music. He wore his hair long and donned predominantly black clothing. He quite clearly fit the description of the person/s who law enforcement felt could be behind the murders.
Under this assumption, Damien was bought in for questioning. He presented himself as a typical cocky teenager with unusual interests, which did him little favour with the officers questioning him. They were already under enormous pressure to find and charge someone for this awful crime. It has long been said that his behaviour during questioning and his interest in such alternative hobbies only encouraged further prejudice from Law Enforcement.
Further interviews with Damien are carried out over the coming days and during these interrogations (Charles) Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley's names are mentioned several times.
Jason Baldwin is questioned and denies having any knowledge of the three boys who were murdered and had never heard of them or their families in the past.
Like Damien Echols, Jason was also seen as being part of the more alternative crowd of the heavily religious town. He too enjoyed listening to heavy metal, had long hair and often sported band T-shirts depicting his favourite rock and metal idols. He loved art and often enjoyed sketching unusual things during art classes, such as skulls. This would usually get him in trouble with his teachers. On the whole he was described as a quiet character but wasn't without the odd clash with the law over minor things.
During the interviews, the aunt of Damien's girlfriend Domini came forward on the 9th of May to report having seen Damien walking near the scene of the murders "covered in mud". This sighting proved to be a further nail in the coffin of Damien Echols and the police began closing in.
Next up for questioning was Jessie Misskelley. He was known to associate with Jason and Damien and was also reportedly interested in the occult and witchcraft. In addition to this, Jessie was reported to have an IQ of between only 67 and 75.
On the 3rd of June 1993 Jessie was spoken to, unsupervised by police. He was told that his help was needed and that there was a $35,000 reward for any information provided that could result in convicting the killers.
Jessie takes a polygraph test, which turns up inconsistent results, however detectives interviewing believe him to be lying when he tells them he had no involvement in the murders or in any witchcraft or satanic activities. Questioning goes on for hours upon hours and is harsh and tiring for Jesse, who is still unsupervised. After several hours of questioning Jessie suddenly changes his story and admits that he, Jason and Damien were indeed responsible for the murders at Robin Hood Hills.
It is widely believed that Jessie was taken advantage of and coerced into the confessions, due to some contradictions he made during interviews that he corrected when confronted by detectives.
Despite this, Jessie's confession was taken seriously and after search warrants were issued for their residences, all three young men were arrested and subsequently charged with the capital murder of Chris, Michael and Stevie with Damien Echols being pinned as the ringleader of the three.
Their trials were set to take place in January 1994.
Part 2 coming next week.
A little note from me - I just wanted to say thank you for all the encouragement and kind words I have received after deciding to launch this blog. I also want to say thank you for bearing with me and being supportive whilst I navigate through the world of blogging and research sharing!