The brutal murder of three eight-year-old boys in May of 1993 shook the entire country and brought it to its knees. The boys had been found the day after they went missing from their homes in West Memphis, Tennessee. The three innocent children had been hogtied, sexually mutilated, and beaten to death.
Tried and convicted in 1994, three teens by the names of Damien Echols, Jesse Misskelley Jr, and Jason Baldwin, were thought to be suspects to the crime and were quickly arrested by police, though many people openly disbelieved the teens had anything to do with it. Over 20 years later, we revisit everything from the crime to the investigation to the release of the three teens, now commonly referred to as the West Memphis Three, and take a look at where they are now.
The story gets better and better as you go, and you won’t want to miss what the three are up to now, so be sure to click all the way through!
Hit the ‘Start Slideshow’ button to read their story.
May 5th, 1993 started off as an average Wednesday for eight-year-olds Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers. The three were known as best friends in their neighborhood, constantly riding bikes together and taking part in average little boy mischief. They promised their families that day that they’d return home in time for dinner.
Nowadays, you have GPS trackers in your kid’s bike and cell phones to call them with if they miss curfew. These weren’t options yet available to the worried parents of the boys, who never made it back for dinner. John Mark Byers, Christopher’s adoptive father, first phoned in to the police about the missing boys that evening around seven p.m.
Continue reading for the brutal scene where the boys ended up being found.
When people go missing, you hope that whoever is missing them gets reunited with their loved ones and no harm took place. When children go missing…that’s a whole different ballpark. Police, friends, neighbors, and passersby banned together the following afternoon on May 6th, intent to find the beloved little boys alive and well. Sadly, that was not the case.
They did find the boys that afternoon. A boy’s black shoe was floating in a muddy creek, which ran down into a major drainage canal located in Robin Hood Hills. Further investigation into the ditch here revealed the corpses of the three boys, naked, hogtied with their right and left appendages tied together behind them with their own shoelaces, and mutilated. Their clothes were found in the creek, and police believed the murders were an act of a satanic ritual.
Before we get in to the three who were prosecuted, click ‘Next’ to read about other suspects in the case.
Chris Morgan and Brian Holland
Early on in the investigation, the West Memphis Police Department(WMPD) briefly looked into two other teenagers as suspects to the crime. Four days after the bodies were discovered, Chris Morgan and Brian Holland suddenly took off, fleeing to Oceanside, California. Both with a history of drug offense, Chris was at least presumed to be familiar with all three victims, as he’d driven an ice cream truck through their neighborhood.
The two were arrested in Oceanside on May 17th. After taking part in polygraph exams given by the California police, examiners reported that both of their charts pointed to deceitfulness when denying anything to do with the murder of the three boys. Blood and urine samples were taken from the two suspects and sent to the WMPD, however, they never further investigated the two toward their involvement in the case.
Who else was considered a suspect? Read on to find out.
On the date the boys initially went missing, workers at the restaurant, Bojangles, which is located about a mile from the crime scene, reported a disoriented, unknown black man. He was bleeding, and said to have brushed against the walls of the women’s restroom.
The day after the boys were found, the manager of the restaurant, Marty King, had a feeling that the black male may have been connected to the murder. Police inspected the bathroom where he had gone in, and took blood samples from the walls and tiles. What came of that evidence? Nothing! Bryn Ridge, the detective who was supposed to be handling the blood samples, later testified that he’d LOST them! Suspiciously, a hair belonging to a black male was identified on a sheet that had been wrapped around one of the victims.
Click ‘Next’ to read about the beginning of West Memphis Three’s living nightmare.
Misskelley, Echols, and Baldwin
What would seem to most as your average rowdy teenagers pining for attention with bad behavior, was enough circumstantial reasoning to lead to the arrests of Jesse Misskelley Jr (17), Jason Baldwin (16), and Damien Echols (18). Baldwin and Echols had both been previously held in contempt of court on shoplifting and vandalism accounts and Misskelley had been known for his temper, repeatedly engaging in fistfights with other teenagers at school. Misskelley and Echols were high school dropouts, while Baldwin, who received good grades and loved to draw and sketch, was encouraged by one of his teachers to attend college and study graphic design.
Echols grew up in a poor family that constantly received social worker visits. He rarely attended school and, with the help of a former girlfriend, broke into a trailer during a rainstorm. Later on, he spent several months in an Arkansas mental institution, going on to receive “full disability” status from the Social Security Administration.
Continue reading to get the forced confession that ultimately led to their arrest.
Due to his previous altercations with the law and his fame of being a troubled teen, police questioned Echols about his whereabouts during the time the boys were murdered. His dark expressions in words and clothing and his affiliation with Wiccan beliefs initially told them that he had something to do with it and, since he was friends with him, they also believed his close acquaintance, Baldwin, to have been involved.
Vicki Hutcheson, a local waitress, told police that she knew Jesse Misskelley because he had babysat her son previously, and she knew that he knew Echols. She decided she wanted to “play detective” and with the police’s blessing she talked Misskelley into introducing her to Echols. To the police afterwards, she formulated quite the tale, mostly convincing them that Echols led her and Jesse to a cult-related orgy and that when she refused to participate, Echols promptly drove her back home.
With her account and the harsh interrogation led by Chief Inspector Gary Gitchell, Misskelley switched his denial of the crime, later giving the police everything they wanted to hear: that he, Echols, and Baldwin committed the murders of the three boys. By 10:30 p.m. on June 3rd, 1993, all three teens were rounded up and each were charged with three counts of capital murder.
Click ‘Next’ to read about the trials that proceeded after their arrests.
During Misskelley’s trial in 1994, an expert in false confessions, Dr. Richard Ofshe, claimed that the recording of his interrogation with Gitchell was a classic case of police coercion. For his trial, a jury of seven women and five men was chosen and they claimed that while they may find discrepancies in his confession, they were largely explained by his efforts to make his role in the killings nonexistent.
Representing Misskelley, Dan Stidham said the confession from his client was the result of an immense amount of pressure that broke his will and scared him into saying whatever they wanted him to say. The jury testified that they did not see any evidence of coercion, and that Misskelley could not have been brainwashed. The following day, they gathered in the courtroom to announce their verdict for Misskelley: guilty of first degree murder on all three counts.
Continue on to read about the trials of Echols and Baldwin.
Baldwin’s representative stated that Baldwin was no troublemaker and that he was a good kid who looked after his brothers. He said Baldwin was only there due to police disregarding statements and physical evidence. Echols’s representative, Scott Davidson, played on the fact that Echols was not your average kid, was kind of weird, but ultimately, that there was no evidence to link him to the crime.
During the trial, Echols was hugely linked to occultism, which seemed to build a bigger case than his mental health history. As far as physical evidence was concerned, a serrated knife was found near Echols’s home, which was said to have been wielded by him during the crime. There was also a trace of blue wax found on one of the shirts of the boys that matched the wax of a candle in his room. Toward the end of the back and forth testimonies, the jury finally concluded their verdict, sentencing Baldwin to life in prison without parole, and Echols to death by lethal injection.
Click ‘Next’ to read about the Free the Memphis Three movement and the big names involved.
The Memphis Three Call All Attention
As the years went on, the story of the three convicted teens became an opportunity for observers, including celebrities, to speak their minds against the accusations of the court. A movement was beginning, and the teens were soon being referred to as the West Memphis Three. A documentary crew, who’s initial plans were to record how a group of teens could perform such an awful act, began to notice oddities in the case.
The documentary went on to be called Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and was able to bring the case international fame and attention. The movement grew swiftly, and celebrities such as Peter Jackson, Johnny Depp, and The Dixie Chicks joined the plight to fight for their innocence.
Read on to see what new evidence later on came about, and the minds it changed.
DNA collected from the crime scene was tested in 2007 as advancements in technology have obviously changed the face of evidence. The results showed that there were no matches to the West Memphis Three, and also showed that some markings on the bodies of the victims were the result of animals in the area. Echols’s lawyer filed papers with the court in the hopes of having the matter reheard.
Surprisingly, the application for retrial went in front of the original trial judge, Judge Burnett. He rejected the evidence, stating that the DNA testing was inconclusive. Burnett denied the application for retrial. It was during this time that the minds of people who presumed the three originally guilty, began to change. Even the father of one of the victims, John Mark Byers, became a vocal supporter of their innocence. Another one of the victims’ parents, Pamela Hobbs, publicly called for those trials to be reopened and reheard.
This wouldn’t be the end of hope for WM3. Click ‘Next’ to read what an alternative judge concluded.
Judge David Laser
In 2010, the Supreme Court of Arkansas ordered the judge in the lower court to reexamine the evidence and decide if the DNA collected could exonerate the Three. Judge David Laser replaced Burnett, allowing the application to build steam. The appeal to rehear the trial was successful.
A courtroom in 2011 was packed with celebrities, media, and people involved with the case. After weeks of negotiation, Judge Laser vacated the original verdicts held against Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley. The three suspects were now all in their thirties, having spent over 18 years in prison. The West Memphis Three were now pushing for release on Alford Pleas.
So, what happened? Did the new appeal get the Three released? Read on to find out!
Yes, yes it did. Judge Laser accepted the pleas and let the suspects free, due to time already served in prison. After over 18 years, prison sentences, and threats of Death Row, the West Memphis Three were finally released. They left the courtroom, not shackled, but rather as free men who hopped into an S.U.V. with celebrity Eddie Vedder, another advocate of their innocence.
In an Alford Plea, the defendant agrees to remain guilty on the public record, but states that he is innocent. The judge accepted these terms and let the men walk, seeing it as a win-win for them and the courtroom. Baldwin almost did not accept to agree to these terms, but when he reviewed everything and saw that Echols would have been up for the death penalty, he changed his mind.
What happened next for the Three and where are they now? Click ‘Next’ to find out.
The New Damien Echols
Upon being released from prison, Echols moved to New York with his wife, Lorri Davis, who had first written to him while he was behind bars after seeing the documentary about the case.
Later on, they bought a house in Salem, Massachusetts. Now, he is a very successful artist, traveling around, promoting his pieces, which can be found on display at the Copro Gallery in Santa Monica, California.
What was his reaction to finally viewing the documentary he starred in? Read on to find out.
After viewing the movie, Echols admitted to having a sick feeling in his stomach. He acknowledged that wrongful imprisonment continues to happen all the time. He says it will continue to happen until the justice system is held to a higher standard.
Echols witnessed the case of Steven Avery on Making a Murderer and couldn’t help but sympathize with the person who seems to have gone through what he did.
Where is Jason Baldwin today? Click ‘Next’ to find out.
Jason Baldwin Today
The youngest of the three death row-surviving murderers, Baldwin, moved to Seattle, Washington, with the recommendation of celebrity Eddie Vedder. Baldwin fell in love with the area and had his own home there within months.
After getting married, he provided a first-hand account of what is was like to be arrested and thrown in to prison at the age of 16, which is told in Mary Leveritt’s book, Dark Spell: Surviving the Sentence. He also took part in producing the movie Devil’s Knot, however it caused a tiff between him and Echols as Echols felt it did not depict their events accurately.
He stayed in the limelight for quite a while. Read on to see what he’s done.
Baldwin stayed in-the-know for years, shedding light about wrongful arrests and convictions. For a while, he shared a lot of photos on his new social media account, pertaining to that cause. He also raised over $30,000 with the help of a Kickstarter Campaign in an effort to release a memoir he still promises to release.
Since 2014, there haven’t been as many appearances with Baldwin. He stopped posting photos and hasn’t done any recent interviews. In a previous one, he did say he hoped to attend law school to help certain people in the future avoid being wrongfully convicted. Legit? Or a plan to deter attention away from him with all the good-doings he can squeeze in? You be the judge.
What about Jesse Misskelley? Click ‘Next’ to find out what he’s been up to.
Jesse Misskelley Now
Misskelley remains the only one of the three who’s opted to stay out of the spotlight, and has not been seen much. He immediately moved back to West Memphis after being released. He remains an enigma in many aspects.
In 2013, his father spoke on his behalf after Misskelley shied away from cameras. He said his son was living with his girlfriend and had previously been working in construction until he was laid off. His father then went on to answer why he wouldn’t speak in front of the media, saying the media is the one who sent him to prison in the first place.
Separate but still linked, read on what will tie the three together forever.
Besides the movies, other routes of story-telling have touched on the Three. They thought they would die in prison, and are out nearly 20 years later trying to get used to the advances of technology. There is a line of comic books now and singers have even used them in their own lyrics.
The most prominent way they will ever stayed linked is through the countless, fervent supporters, who still see them as a symbol of the flawed legal system in America. All three of them want to help those who have been, and will be, wrongfully accused.
The Three were released even though over the years, a massive pile of evidence has been built. Click ‘Next.’
No Substantial Evidence? Ahem…
Whether you are convinced they did it, an avid supporter of the group who didn’t think they did it, or just a mere observer passing by and looking in, there is quite a bit of evidence stacked against these guys that doesn’t exactly measure up to people who should have been let free just yet. For example, all three of them have never come up with a legit alibi that measured up during the times the murders were thought to take place.
Echols’s lies of being on the phone with a few different people never measured up. Holly George, Heather Cliett, and Domini Teer, whom he had claimed to have been in contact with during those times, have all falsified his claims. While all of them were in contact with him, there was an obvious gap from around 5:30 p.m. until about eight p.m. Another, Jennifer Bearden, spoke up and said she had actually called Misskelley’s house, who answered and said they (him and Damien) were ‘going somewhere’ and asked her to call back later. Echols told Jennifer that night that Jason’s mom had driven them somewhere, which turned out to be a lie because his mom had been at work until 11 that night.
As for the other alibis, read on to see what you make of it…
Misskelley also got away without ever giving an alibi that checked out. He had stated that he’d been in a karate tournament, but he wasn’t. Obviously, the call from Jennifer Bearden put him at his house just before and just after the incident, with Echols. This alibi was an attempt after his previous alibi failed: that he was “at a party with like, 12 other people.”
After Jason Baldwin couldn’t get his friend or brother to lie for him, he stopped trying to construct alibis all together. In 2008, his lawyer actually stood up and stated that he could not find a reliable alibi witness for Baldwin.
Click ‘Next’ to see how evidence at the scene should have had the case wrapped up in no time.
But, What About That Knife? And That Candle Wax?
Yeah, we’re stumped too. That blue wax was found on the bodies of the victims, as well as in Damien’s room from a candle his girlfriend had given him.
Multiple people also testified that the knife was definitely Damien’s, including his ex-girlfriend who knew it well. The knife had a compass with a pin, which was missing from the compass when found. Strangely enough, a previously thought-to-be bite wound on Steve Branch, matched the exact diameter of that compass, with a central wound for the pin.
But, there’s more. Keep reading for the other chilling evidence that seems to be passing under the radar.
The three boys were hogtied with three separately distinct knots, which would in most cases point to three different criminals who took part, unless someone just knows a lot of knots and decided to get fancy. Echols, although it never seemed to draw much attention, was known to have a well-documented taste for blood. Ummm…what?
Misskelley was also known to confess to the crime numerous times. Whether you want to believe that it was coerced is up to you, but he repeatedly confessed it both before and after being convicted (why would he need to be coerced in to confessing after already being convicted?) and the confessions came not only to the police, but friends, family, and inmates he talked to in prison.
Click ‘Next’ to read about the type of supporters who wanted the Memphis Three freed.
While the case drew in a lot of celebrity attention, there’s no denying that there was a sort of theme among them. Anyone who could relate to a troubled teen, especially Echols who went through a lot growing up, wanted to seem to take part in the increasing fame that promoted their innocence. So, just because they were bad kids (and possibly did something really bad) we should see their innocence?
As hard evidence would come through, advocates of the Free the WM3 movement would not even consider exploring the possibility of their precious convicts actually being capable of performing the act. It seems the front and center attention got lost somewhere in the hype of all the documentaries and people wanting to throw money at the so-called ‘movement’: the main thing to remember here is that three little boys were brutally murdered.
Read on for the sake of the memory of these poor, undeserving boys.
The story here is that it seems the names Jesse Misskelley, Jason Baldwin, and Damien Echols are more commonly known over ‘those three boys’ that were murdered. Those three boys, were Christopher Mark Byers, James Michael Moore, and Steve Edward Branch.
Sadly, the world sees profit and fortune in a case like this. The West Memphis Three are almost seen as celebrities themselves. The movement should have been for the three little boys and instead of people focusing on the suspects, they should have been doing whatever they could to help avoid future abductions and abuse to children. Well, luckily the boys have a memorial to remember the by…