On May 5th, 1993 three young boys disappeared in West Memphis, Arkansas. 8 year old’s, Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers went off to play in the woods…These woods are called the Robinhood Hills, it’s quite popular with the kids in the area. It lies to the south of the wooded area. . The eastern side of the woods is often called Devil’s Den and there is a rope swing that is often used to get across a drainage ditch. To enter the area, you must first cross a large sewage pipe that is supported by steel i-beams on both sides. Though the northern side of these woods is very close to a truck wash, the Blue Beacon. This area is popular with drug users and homeless.
On this particular evening, the three boys were seen by a neighbor of the Branch family. Jamie Clark Ballard stated she had witnessed all three boys playing in her backyard. That would have occurred around 5:30 pm and she watched them leave near 6:30 pm. Though the most curious part of Mrs. Jamie’s statement is that she did not sign an affidavit to this until 2009.
The boys were active cub scouts and trustworthy enough to ride their bikes throughout the neighborhood. The three were classmates at Weaver Elementary School and were often seen playing throughout the neighborhood.
At around 8:00 pm, Christopher Byers’ father, John Mark Byers reports Christopher missing to the West Memphis Police department. Within 10 minutes an officer was at the home to take the report. By 8:30 pm John began to search the area near and around Robin Hood Hills, as he knew his son often played there.
At 9:00pm, the mothers of Steve Branch and Michael Moore also made missing person reports to the police department. The parents of these children searched that evening for the boys with no result. A woman named Narlene Hollingsworth tells police that she witnessed Damien Echols and another boy walking near the edge of Robin Hood Hills that evening around 9:30pm, both had muddy pants.
During the initial search for the boys on May 5th… this wasn’t the only strange thing happening in the area. A call came into the West Memphis Police Department at 8:42 pm that night. The call came in from a local restaurant called Bojangles. The caller stated that there was an African-American man who had entered the building covered in blood and mud, appearing to be confused. He asked for the bathroom and then locked himself into the women’s bathroom. He left feces all over the floor. This man left blood on the wall in the hall from his arm rubbing against it.
By 6 am the next morning, May 6th, the chief of the West Memphis Police department made an official announcement that three boys were missing. Searches began, a helicopter was brought in and volunteers gathered to search for the missing boys.
Later in the day, around 1:45 pm, Steve Jones, a juvenile parole officer who was part of the search effort was looking in a water filled ditch that was near the Blue Beacon truck wash and he noticed a little black shoe.
Trudging through the murky waters of this ditch, Sgt. Mike Allen came upon the body of Michael Moore. Pulling the naked child from the water, the body was arched in a grotesque way. Securing the area, Detective Bryn Ridge searched the watery ditch on his hands and knees.
He found sticks that were lodged into the bottom of the ditch standing straight up with clothing wrapped around the bottom. This kept the clothing from floating away and being spotted.
Moving on in the search, the bodies of all three boys were found. All had been submerged in the water, face down, completely naked and had been hogtied using their own shoelaces. All three boys were covered in injuries and appeared to have been beaten.
The coroner arrived at 4:00 pm on May 6th, 1993 and pronounced the boys dead. After the autopsy, the medical examiner determined that the deaths occurred between 1 am and 5 am.
Based on the sighting by Narlene, authorities began to question Damien Echols. Damien was a local teen who believed in the occult and often wore only black. He heavily believed in wicca, though others would say he was a Satanist. Based on Narlene’s statement Damien was questioned on May 7th, but the officers took no notes during this interview.
On May 8th, Damien is questioned a second time alongside his friend Jason Baldwin. They told authorities they had not heard of the murders of the young boys. By May 10th, Damien is made to take a polygraph test. The examiner determines that he has been untruthful during the test and was involved in the murders. Throughout this time Damien has never had a lawyer present.
Police then move on a few days later to Pam Echols, Damien’s mom, she does in fact give Damien an alibi for the night of the murders. She claims he was at home on the phone with two different girls.
By May 19th, a local woman, Vicki Hutchinson made a statement that she joined Damien Echols and his friend Jesse Misskelley to an esbat near Marion, Arkansas. An esbat is a gathering of witches. She claimed to have seen what she would describe as an orgy and was upset by this… asking Damien to take her home while leaving Jesse at the esbat. Though she testified to this, it was difficult to believe as Damien nor Jesse ever had a vehicle to drive.
Vicki Hutchinson was also the mother of an 8 year old who was a friend of the 3 victims. This boy told authorities that he had frequented Robin Hood Hills with the other boys and had seen five people sitting around singing to the devil and having sex. Or… well he specifically said, “doing what men and ladies do”
Vicki Hutchinson is also polygraphed and passes.
Damien and his two friends Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley are now the sole suspects for the police. They are convinced the three teens have murdered the young boys in a satanic ritual. Authorities decide to now question Jesse Misskelley, though Jesse has an extremely low IQ and absolutely should have had a lawyer present. He was interrogated for 12 hours and his confession was recorded by the West Memphis Police Department. You are about to hear about 15 minutes of the confession. He does discuss in detail the rape, murder and mutilation of young children. Please feel free to forward past this part if it disturbs you.
Based on this confession, the three teens are prosecuted for the murder of the three little boys.
Vicki Hutchinson testified in the trial, a self proclaimed occult expert testified and as for Mr. Bojangles, the man that entered the Bojangles restaurant, one mile away from where the bodies were found… he was essentially ignored by authorities. The blood scrapings that were taken from the restaurant were somehow lost and never recovered. This loss was tremendous as hair coming from a person of African descent was recovered at the crime scene, but there was no way to tell if it came from the same individual.
The defense did use the theory of Mr. Bojangles in their arguments.
A few other alternate suspects were overlooked in these crimes as well. Brian Holland and Chris Morgan were two men from Memphis, Tenn., both had a long history of drug abuse and offenses. They were only looked at initially because four days after the murders, the two men fled to Oceanside, California. They were questioned in Oceanside and took polygraph tests. The results indicated deception regarding the questions regarding the murders.
During the hours and hours of questioning, Chris Morgan told authorities that he had been hospitalized for drug and alcohol abuse and at times would black out and felt he could have committed the murders.
Blood and urine were collected from both men, but this lead never went anywhere. And there is no official explanation as to why it was never researched further.
The last but yet most compelling alternate suspects would be Terry Hobbs and John Byers. Byers was the step father of one of the victims, Christopher. Prior to the murder of the three boys, Byers had many run ins with the law, including terroristic threats, grand theft, and drug abuse. His troubles really began in his youth. In 1973, his parents called police as he was threatening them with a butcher knife. In 1990, he was accused of stealing an estimated $65,000 in jewelry from a store he worked for. No charges were brought but he was taken to civil court. In July of 1992, he was arrested for conspiring to sell cocaine and carrying a dangerous weapon.
Later in December of 1992, he was facing criminal charges regarding $11,000 in stolen Rolex watches.
After the murders John Mark Byers was convinced the three teens murdered the children.. Though later changed his mind and named Terry Wayne Hobbs as the alleged killer. Terry Wayne Hobbs was the stepfather of Steve Branch.
John Mark Byers once more stood in the spotlight three years after the boy’s murders. On March 29th, 1996, a suspicious death occurred. Melissa Byers, mother to Christopher Byers was taken by ambulance to the hospital under suspicious circumstances and pronounced dead.
Melissa was only 40 and had no visible signs of trauma to her body. Though her body was found with puncture marks on the top of her right and left foot, on the inside of her right wrist and the upper right thoracic area. There were Band-Aids covering the punctures on the wrist and thoracic area.
A close friend of the Byers called the police department to inquire what happened to Melissa and she informed the authorities that the Byers had been estranged from each other for a while and Melissa was taking a narcotic called Dilaudid, which can be found on the black market.
Could this death have been drug induced… or?
And lastly we come to Terry Hobbs, who was suspected by many after the murders as well. It’s said that Terry was having financial troubles at the time of the boys’ murders. Terry was married to Pam Hobbs and the two had a four year old daughter. Terry worked at the Memphis Ice Cream company and was home every evening while his wife Pam worked a four hour evening shift at Catfish Island. On the day of the disappearance of the boys, Terry came home from work and he took his wife to work. Arriving back home, he did not see his step son Stevie.
More than a year after the murders Terry Hobbs was in trouble with the law as he physically harmed his wife and shot his brother in law, Jackie Jr. Hicks. Terry served six months in prison for aggravated assault.
In 2011 the three teens who were serving time for the murders, accepted an Alford plea. This means they could be released from prison and maintain their innocence, but they would never have the charges dropped and the felony charges would remain on their records. All were released, including Damien Echols, who was serving his time on Death Row.