Paradise Lost

West Memphis

West Memphis has seen crime levels considerably above the national average. For example ,in the year of 2006, the violent crime index was 1989.3 violent crimes committed per 100,000 residents. In addition, the national average was 553.5 crimes committed per 100,000 residents. To add on, in 2008, the total murder risk for the city was over two and a half times the United States average, the same applied when compared to the Arkansas state average.

Other forms of crime were roughly the same with the exception of larceny which was slightly above the national average. Of all the crime that has occurred here, there is perhaps no bigger crime and tragedy of that of the murders of three young boys who had set off on a bike ride around their hometown of West Memphis, Arkansas.

The Crime Scene

Around 8:00 P.M. on May 5, 1993, the West Memphis police department received a call from John Byers reporting that his son, Christopher Byers, was missing. Byers and his wife ,Melissa, told an officer that Chris had last been seen about 5:30 working in the yard. Within the next 90 minutes, police responded to two more calls from other parents. Dana Moore said she saw her son, Michael, riding off on bikes with two friends around 6:00, but he never came back home for dinner. Pamela Hobbs said she hadn't seen her son, Stevie Branch, since he left for school. News of the three missing eight-year-old boys led to a search of a four-acre woods near Interstate 40, where neighborhood children would sometimes play. The search, of the woods called Robin Hood Hills, turned up nothing on the first night.

However, the next afternoon, Steve Jones, a juvenile officer, spotted a black tennis shoe floating in the water of a ditch in the Robin Hood Hills. Fifteen minutes later, Sergeant Mike Allen pulled the naked body of a child to banks of the ditch, and yellow crime tape went up around the area. Within an hour, police recovered two more bodies of children. Both were naked, with wrists tied to ankles with shoelaces. The body of one of the boys, Chris Byers, was found with his scrotum gone and its penis skinned. Soon after this, rumors began circulating that the killings might have been the work of devil worshipers. Inspector Gitchell did nothing to deny the rumors when he told reporters that his department was investigating the possibility that the murders were connected with "cult activity."

The West Memphis Three

The West Memphis Three were three teenagers who were tried and convicted, in 1994, of the 1993 murders of the three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Damien Echols was sentenced to death, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences, and Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life imprisonment. During the trial, the prosecution asserted that the children were killed as part of a Satanic ritual.

However, in 2007 DNA found at the crime scene was reinvestigated, and none is found to match the DNA of Echols, Baldwin, or Misskelley. A hair found in a knot used to tie up one of the victims is found to not be inconsistent with Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Stevie Branch. Based on the new evidence, John Mark Byers told reporters that he now believed the three young men convicted were innocent. The new DNA evidence did not convince the judge that a new trial for any of the West Memphis Three was justified, but attorneys for all three appealed Burnett's decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

Where are they now?

All three men were freed in 2011 after critics of the case against the men argued that no direct evidence tied the three to the murders and that a knife recovered from a lake near the home of one of the men could not have caused the boys' wounds. However they still had to say they were guilty, even if they weren't, in order to be freed.

Today, Damien Echols lives in Salem, Massachusetts with his wife Lorri. Jason Baldwin helped produce a film about the West Memphis case called "Devil's Knot," starring Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth. Jesse Misskelley is the one member of the West Memphis Three who has kept a low profile since his release. He lives and works in West Memphis, and doesn't do much talking to the media.

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.