The mystery suspect in the West Memphis Three killings

In 1994, three teenagers were convicted of the murder of three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The convictions were successful largely based on the admissions of one of those teens, Jessie Misskelley. Misskelley admitted to helping kill the boys and told police that he saw Damien Echols, the eldest teen, sexually assault one of the children. Jessie also identified Echols’ friend Jason Baldwin, as being present during the murders.

Jason, 16 at the time of the crime, was sentenced to life in prison. Jessie, 17, was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences. Damien, who was 18, was sentenced to the death penalty.

But seventeen years later all three men were released from prison on a legal plea bargain. DNA evidence proved that the three teens were not at the crime scene and they were freed, with time served.

This means that someone else had to have committed the brutal murders of Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore. However Arkansas will never investigate the real killer or killers. They have no interest in solving the case, continuing to claim that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were the sole killers despite a lack of forensic or other evidence.

Perhaps the real suspect was the man known as Mr. Bojangles.

Stevie, Chris and Mike

On Wednesday, May 5, 1993, three eight year old boys went riding their bikes together in West Memphis, Arkansas. This is a bedroom community, with modest brick homes and trailer parks. According to the 1990 census, West Memphis had a population that was 42% African-American, 57% Caucasian and 1% Other, compared to the neighboring city of Memphis, Tennessee, which was majority Black by 1990, and with a higher per capita income.

West Memphis was essentially the working class suburb for Memphis proper, spilling into a neighboring state where housing costs were lower.

Steve Branch, known as Stevie, lived with his mother Pam, his stepfather Terry Hobbs and a younger half-sister. Stevie was an honors student and like his friends Chris and Mike, was in the Cub Scouts.

(from left) Chris Byers, Michael Moore, Steve Branch

Christopher Byers lived with his mother Melissa, his adopted father Mark and a 13-year old half-brother. By all accounts, Chris was a typical boy although diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication (Ritalin and Carbamazepine). During the last year of his life, Chris was experiencing behavioral changes that alarmed his parents and doctors despite his medication.

Michael Moore lived with his parents Dana and Todd, and a younger sister. Mike loved being in the Cub Scouts and was known to wear his scout uniform just for daily wear. Friends noted that Mike had natural leadership qualities and often took charge among his peers.

On May 5th, all three boys attended school and returned to their homes around 3pm. Chris then went to Stevie’s house, where the two watched Muppet Babies together with Stevie’s little sister. Mike joined the others around 3:10. At 4pm, the three boys left to ride their bikes. One of those bikes belonged to Stevie — it was a recent gift from his beloved grandfather. Stevie was told to be back home by 4:30 by either his stepfather or his mother, who was leaving soon to go to work at a nearby fast food restaurant. The boys were seen riding with other, older boys by several onlookers in the neighborhood.

Sometime before 5:30, another neighbor reported seeing Mike, Stevie and Chris and a fourth, unidentified boy, riding two bikes together about a half mile from the Branch/Hobbs home. At 5:30, Chris’s dad Mark Byers witnessed his adopted son riding a skateboard on his stomach down the middle of the street. Mark brought Chris home, where he spanked him for the incident. Mr. Byers then left to pick up Chris’s older brother, who was testifying in court on a traffic matter. Mark told Chris to clean up the carport before he departed. Chris’s mother Melissa remembered seeing her son in the carport around 5:45pm. That was the last time she saw her son alive.

By 6pm, all three boys were together again on two bikes, riding around the neighborhood. Around 6:30, one neighbor heard Terry Hobbs calling for his stepson to come home. Between 6:30 and 7pm, several witnesses saw the boys riding their bikes toward Robin Hood Hills, a wooded area near the community. By the time of the last sighting around 7, dusk was falling.

Search and Discovery

Just north of the residential area where the three boys lived was a wooded area known as Robin Hood Hills. Essentially, trees had grown up bordering a drainage ditch (TenMile Bayou Diversion Ditch) that spanned the area above the neighborhood, stemming from nearby Glen Bailey Drive to the west. The woods were a common place for kids and teens to hang out, a bit of privacy not far from home, where they could smoke and drink and ride their bikes. Several witnesses reported seeing Branch, Byers and Moore heading into the woods early that evening.

At 8pm, Mark Byers called police to report his son missing. He had already conducted a general search of the neighborhood, looking for Chris, which included a section of Robin Hood Hills where evidence was later found, leading some to believe the search was not thorough. By 9pm, Pam Hobbs and Dana Moore had also frantically called police, searching for their boys. Family, friends and neighbors continued searching the area overnight. Police were involved with the search, but had not yet set up a formal search for the boys.

At 8am, police began a more thorough search throughout the neighborhood and surrounding areas. Hours later at 1:45pm, an officer found a boy’s tennis shoe floating in the water near Robin Hood Hills. Fishing around in the water near the shoe, the officer then discovered the body of a child submerged in the muddy water. The body was hogtied: right wrist tied behind the back to the right ankle, left wrist to left ankle. Another child was found submerged nearby and the third child found a short distance away, also in the water. All three were tied in the same fashion.

A section of the TenMile Bayout Diversion Ditch, near where the boys were discovered

There was evidence (varying) on all three bodies of physical trauma: blood, scratches, contusions and abrasions, cranial fractures, bite marks on the tongue and inside the cheeks, irregular cutting wounds and internal hemorrhaging. At least two bodies showed signs of anal dilation and one boy’s penis had been severed. There was also what appeared to be a serrated laceration caused by a particular type of knife on at least one of the bodies.

Both Steve Branch and Michael Moore’s autopsies showed evidence of bloody, frothy fluid in the lungs and sinus cavities. This fluid is the result of water filling the lungs while the victim is still alive. This contributed to the findings of their causes of death as “severe injury with drowning.”

Christopher Byers’ autopsy however did not reveal the same drowning-related fluid. His official cause of death was “severe injury.”

This means that Chris Byers went into the water already deceased, while Moore and Branch died after being placed in the water.

Although the original time of death was placed at between 9–11pm, it was later amended (pretrial) to between 1–5am on May 6th. That means that someone had the boys until at least one o’clock in the morning — hours after they were reported missing by their frantic parents.

Satanic Panic

Based upon initial evidence of the bodies, detectives suspected that the children had been killed in some kind of demonic sacrifice. Within days of the discovery of the boys’ bodies, they focused on one person as the potential culprit: Damien Echols. Echols was known as a troubled youth. Months before the murders, Damien and his girlfriend Domini Teer were arrested for breaking into a trailer. Police dropped the charges against Teer but Damien was charged with burglary. He also spent time at an Arkansas mental health facility where he was diagnosed with “serious mental illness characterized by grandiose and persecutory delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, disordered thought processes, substantial lack of insight, and chronic, incapacitating mood swings.” (Psychiatrist Dr. George W. Woods, testifying during the Echols/Baldwin trial)

Damien Echols at a pretrial hearing in 1993

Woods also stated, during his trial testimony, that Echols claimed (while at the mental hospital) to have drunk human blood.

When police questioned Echols (along with Jason Baldwin and Domini Teer) on May 9th, he was wearing a necklace with a pentagram — a recent purchase from the local mall. He told detectives that he was a practicing ‘White Witch’ or Wiccan.

The following day, he was brought into the local precinct for a polygraph. The detectives repeatedly discussed sensitive matters about the case with Damien, asking him his opinion about certain aspects of the murders as it might apply to Wicca or the occult:

DAMIEN HAD AN OPINION FOR WHO COULD HAVE DONE THE MURDERS AS BEING SOMEONE SICK AND THAT IT WAS SOME TYPE OF THRILL KILL. HE ALS STATED THAT THE PENIS WAS A SYMBOL OF POWER IN HIS RELIGION KNOWN AS WICCA. HE ALSO STATED THAT THE NUMBER 3 WAS A SACRED NUMBER IN THE BELIEF.

WHEN ASKED IF THE WATER HAD ANY TYPE OF MEANING IN THE WICCA OR BLACK MAGIC, DAMIEN STATED THAT WATER WAS A DEMON TYPE SYMBOLISM AND THAT ALL PEOPLE HAVE A DEMONIC FORCE. HE FURTHER STATED THAT PEOPLE HAVE CONTROL OVER THE DEMONIC FORCE IN THEM.

WHEN ASKED WHAT KINDS OF ITEMS WE SHOULD BE SEARCHING FOR, HE STATED THAT WE SHOULD BE LOOKING FOR STONES IN THE AREA, CANDLES, A KNIFE, AND SOME TYPE OF CRYSTALS. — NOTES ON INTERVIEWS WITH ECHOLS, TEER, AND BALDWIN (DETECTIVE BILL DURHAM, MAY 9, 1993)

Damien told detectives Durham and Shane Griffin that he was with Jason Baldwin and Domini Teer during the afternoon of May 5th at Baldwin’s uncle’s house. Damien then called his mother and asked her to pick him and Domini up at a nearby video store. He and his pregnant girlfriend left with his mother. They dropped Domini off at her trailer home, then he, his mother, sister and father went to visit a family friend. They left there around 5pm, and returned home where he remained for the rest of the night. He spent much of the evening on a long-distance call with a friend in Tennessee — a call that could easily have been traced by law enforcement to prove his alibi.

On Thursday, May 6th, Damien and Domini spent the day at her trailer. Echols told the detectives that he learned of the disappearance of the boys from Jason Baldwin. The boys were found around 1:45 that afternoon, but news would not have circulated until perhaps several hours later. Damien recalled seeing a segment on the local news about the murders.

IN THE PRETEST INTERVIEW, THE SUBJECT DENIED HAVING BEEN IN ROBIN HOOD HILLS ON WEDNESDAY, MAY 5, 1993. HE DENIED BEING PRESENT WHEN THE VICTIMS WERE KILLED AND DENIED HAVING KILLED ANY OF THE VICTIMS. HE ALSO SAID HE DID NOT KNOW WHO KILLED THE THREE VICTIMS.

A TEN QUESTION POLYGRAPH TEST WAS FORMULATED AND THREE POLYGRAPH CHARTS WERE CONDUCTED. THE TEST CONTAINED THE FOLLOWING RELEVANT QUESTIONS:

Q.#3. AT ANY TIME WEDNESDAY OR WEDNESDAY NIGHT, WERE YOU IN ROBIN HOOD HILLS? “NO”
Q.#5. WERE YOU PRESENT WHEN THOSE BOYS WERE KILLED? “NO”
Q.#7. DID YOU KILL ANY OF THOSE THREE BOYS? “NO”
Q.#9. DO YOU KNOW WHO KILLED THOSE THREE BOYS? “NO”
Q.#10.DO YOU SUSPECT ANYONE OF HAVING KILLED THOSE THREE BOYS? “NO”

IT IS THE OPINION OF THIS POLYGRAPH EXAMINER THAT THIS SUBJECT RECORDED SIGNIFICANT RESPONSES INDICATIVE OF DECEPTION WHEN HE ANSWERED THE ABOVE LISTED RELEVANT QUESTIONS IN THE MANNER NOTED.

CONCLUSION: DECEPTION INDICATED

IN THE POST TEST INTERVIEW, THE SUBJECT DENIED ANY INVOLVEMENT IN THIS CRIME. AFTER APPROXIMATELY FORTY-FIVE MINUTES, I ASKED THE SUBJECT WHAT WAS HE AFRAID OF? HE REPLIED: “THE ELECTRIC CHAIR”. HE THEN SAID THAT HE LIKED THE HOSPITAL IN LITTLE ROCK. (HE SAID HE HAD BEEN TREATED THERE FOR MANIC-DEPRESSION) AFTER A SHORT PERIOD OF TIME, THE SUBJECT CEASED TO DENIE HIS INVOLVEMENT. (ADMISSION THROUGH ABSENCE OF DENIAL) HE THEN SAID: “I WILL TELL YOU ALL ABOUT IT IF YOU WILL LET ME TALK TO MY MOTHER.” DETECTIVE RIDGE BROUGHT HIS MOTHER IN TO MY OFFICE TO TALK TO HIM. AFTER TALKING TO HIS MOTHER HE AGAIN DENIED BEING INVOLVED IN THE MURDERS. AFTER APPROXIMATELY TWENTY MINUTES, I ASKED: “YOUR’E NEVER GOING TO TELL ANYONE ABOUT THIS BUT YOUR DOCTOR, ARE YOU?” HE REPLIED: “NO”. — INVESTIGATIVE REPORT (May 10, 1993)
TRIPLE HOMICIDE BYERS/MOORE/BRANCH CASE FILE NUMBER 93050666

Damien was essentially an 18-year old misfit, a dabbler in the occult arts, a bipolar high school dropout, and a bored kid known to brag and boast about things he likely only imagined or read about. He was also highly intelligent and would have enjoyed discussing both his faith and the case with the detectives. At no point did his parents step in and advise him to stop talking.

16-year old Jason Baldwin at a court appearance

Jason Baldwin’s mother did step in, however, which prevented law enforcement from polygraphing him. Detectives couldn’t use Baldwin to corroborate their suspicions about ‘devil-worshipping’ Damien Echols. So, they picked up a third teenager: 17-year old Jessie Misskelley and brought him in for questioning.

Misskelley, who has an IQ around 72, knew Echols and Baldwin although how well is not clear. Misskelley’s questioning by detectives is now viewed as a classic case of police coercion. Jessie was questioned for twelve hours, without his parents or legal counsel present. Within hours, Misskelley became eager to please the detectives and began offering details that, while factually inaccurate, convinced them that he was present for the murders and that the primary killer was none other than Damien Echols.

Detectives also coerced a local woman, Vicki Hutcherson, to invite Echols to her home and record him admitting to the crime. Hutcherson, who was facing other, unrelated charges, later admitted that police were threatening to take her child away from her if she did not comply and provide them with evidence of Damien’s guilt. She gave them a cassette tape with an inaudible recording and eventually recanted her involvement in the case.

The West Memphis Three case is now viewed as one of several during the 1980s and 1990s in the United States that were part of sweeping abuses by law enforcement and educators known as the “Satanic Panic.” During that era, many authorities across the country became convinced that teens, obsessed with heavy metal and rebellion, had sold their souls to the Devil and were committing grievous acts of violence and rage as fealty.

Jessie Misskelley sits in a jail cell

But suspicion of evil rose to the level of gross incompetence and persuasion in West Memphis. Police used Misskelley’s provably inaccurate statements to convict him, and then Echols and Baldwin for murder. There was little physical evidence potentially linking these three teens to the murders of Steve, Chris and Mike: a dot of blue wax found on the shirt of one of the victims which resembled a blue candle that Domini Teer (Damien’s girlfriend) had in her bedroom, and a red fiber on another victim which was identified as being from a robe owned by Jason Baldwin’s mother. Baldwin also had a knife which was similar to the one potentially used in the serrated laceration found on one victim. A fiber on a shirt belonging to Echols also appeared to match a fiber found on one of the bodies.

The only motive for the crimes, prosecutors alleged, was Damien’s devotion to devil worshipping and his mental illness. Baldwin and Misskelley appeared to have just gone along with Damien’s actions.

Paradise Lost

Shortly after the convictions, two filmmakers (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky) traveled to Arkansas to begin filming a documentary for HBO Films. Their effort wound up being the first of a trilogy of movies about the West Memphis Three, and spearheaded a national and highly-publicized effort to throw out the convictions.

In Paradise Lost: The Child Murders of Robin Hood Hills (1996) the documentary explores the trials of Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin and the intense scrutiny and suspicion they faced in their conservative Christian hometown. Chris Byers’ stepfather Mark spoke several times to the filmmakers about his rage and grief over the loss of his son (and his wife, who died of undetermined causes shortly after Chris’s murder). At one point, Byers actually gave a crewmember a knife, who gave it to the filmmakers. They noticed it had blood on it. They turned the knife over to police who tested it and found that the DNA on the knife was similar to Chris Byers but inconsequential.

Paradise Lost, which featured a soundtrack by rock band Metallica, was well-received by audiences. The movie established HBO Films as a stellar producer of highly-regarded documentaries, and a second film was then ordered.

Filmmakers Bruce Sinofsky (left) and Joe Berlinger (right) pictured here with death row inmate and convicted killer Damien Echols (center)

Paradise Lost 2: Revelations was released in 2000. It focused on the growing movement to exonerate the three convicted men, now in their 20s. Echols was undergoing the appeals process for his death sentence, and suspicion was growing among the public around a new suspect: Mark Byers. Byers was an unusual man, and he definitely acting odd during both Paradise 1 and 2. At one point in Paradise 2, Byers confronted the activists protesting on behalf of Damien Echols and denied that he had caused his son’s death.

Associated Press photo of John Mark Byers, stepfather to victim Christopher Byers

During Paradise 2, filmmakers also revealed that a number of high-profile musicians and celebrities had joined the cause to exonerate the convicted men. Johnny Depp, Natalie Maines of the (Dixie) Chicks, and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam were involved in the efforts to throw out the questionable convictions of Baldwin, Echols and Misskelley. Viewers also watched interviews with the three men. It was clear that they were suffering in prison, and perhaps being abused by the corrections officers.

The third Paradise film, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory was not released until 2012 — after Damien, Jason and Jessie were released from prison. It would raise suspicions about yet another potential suspect.

The Alford Plea

After the trial, new forensic science began to poke holes in some of the coroner’s findings. The anal dilation was likely caused by exposure to the water and general physical trauma, and not sexual assault.

Chris Byers’ severed penis was not caused by intentional wounding, but likely from predation. His body, in the water, was exposed to wildlife which would have eaten flesh.

The serrated laceration on one of the victims was later demonstrated to have been potentially caused by any number of knives, not merely the knife owned by Jason Baldwin. And the fiber evidence (to the robe and the shirt) were later found questionable.

Thanks to the high profile this case had gathered in the intervening years since the convictions, supporters of the WM3 were able to raise money to fund another test: this time a testing of the DNA evidence. While DNA science was not, in 1993, to the level it is today, there was some evidence gathered at the scene and which the courts had retained.

Some of the DNA evidence was found in the shoelaces which were used to hogtie the three boys. Their own DNA was found in those laces, and that of an unknown individual.

Stevie’s mother Pam and her husband Terry Hobbs, during the trial

In 2007, that DNA was re-tested and found that it was not a match to Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, or Jessie Misskelley. But a hair found in a knot of one of the laces was found to be “not inconsistent with” Terry Hobbs, Steve Branch’s stepfather. Another hair, found on a tree stump in Robin Hood Hills, matched that of one of Hobbs friends, a man named David Jacoby.

But Stevie Branch lived with Terry Hobbs, and David Jacoby was a frequent visitor to their home. While there may be other reasons to suspect Hobbs of murdering his stepson and his two friends, hair samples alone are not strong enough evidence of guilt. Transference could be the simple answer.

The new DNA evidence was presented to the overseeing Judge, who was not convinced that it merited a new trial for the WM3. But attorneys for the convicted men appealed that decision all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

In November 2010, the highest court in the state rendered an opinion that the new evidence justified ordering a new trial. The circuit court also replaced the original judge. Prosecutors were faced with two options: retrying a case where the evidence now weighed against them and public sentiment had switched in support of the defendants, or letting the three men go free.

A bit of legal maneuvering brought forth an unusual third option: The Alford Plea.

“In an Alford Plea, the criminal defendant does not admit the act, but admits that the prosecution could likely prove the charge. The court will pronounce the defendant guilty. The defendant may plead guilty yet not admit all the facts that comprise the crime. An Alford plea allows defendant to plead guilty even while unable or unwilling to admit guilt … A defendant making an Alford plea maintains his innocence of the offense charged.” — Arkansas Online

By admitting guilt, the men could be released from prison. Jason Baldwin admitted that he did not want to take the Alford deal. He did not want to admit guilt to a crime he did not commit. But in the end, he made the decision — not for himself, but for Damien who was still facing the death sentence.

On August 19, 2011, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley formally pled guilty to murder, accepted the Alford Deal and walked out of prison. They remain free, today.

Freedom: In 2011, the convicted men pled guilty to murder in order to walk free on a legal maneuver known as the Alford Plea. Jason Baldwin, pictured on the right, was reluctant to take the deal but did so to get Damien Echols (left) off death row

But if they didn’t kill those boys, who did?

Mr. Bojangles

There are several other suspected candidates: Terry Hobbs, David Jacoby, Mark Byers and others from the area. Most of the suspects are low level drug dealers and wife abusers.

But the evidence from the crime scene seems to reveal several important factors:

  • A level of malice and control toward the boys
  • A significant amount of strength
  • The ability to keep the boys — alive although potentially harmed — until at least 1 am (potentially about 5–6 hours after they were last seen heading into the woods)
  • The desire to hide the bodies and the intelligence to know that meant covering up the evidence

Could one person alone have been responsible? What would cause the level of rage and malice to make someone want to torture and kill three little boys? And what other evidence was hidden in the water — evidence that was destroyed when the waterway was sandbagged by police within hours of the discovery of the bodies?

I first learned of the theory about “Mr. Bojangles” shortly after Damien, Jason and Jessie were freed from prison. There are a number of online threads speculating about this particular potential suspect.

First: Bojangles is the name of a fast food restaurant. Founded in 1977 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bojangles is a popular eatery across the southeastern United States. They specialize in fried chicken and other down-home fare. In 1993, there was a Bojangles located one mile from where the boys’ bodies were found.

The Bojangles fast food restaurant formerly located in West Memphis, Arkansas

Shortly after 8:30pm, a female diner at Bojangles entered the ladies’ restroom. She came out again immediately after, and approached the staff. She reported that a man was inside the women’s room, bleeding.

Marty King, the restaurant manager, then went to the ladies’ room to investigate. Inside, he did find the man in question: an African American male in his late 20s, sitting on the floor beside one of the toilets. He wore a blue shirt, black pants and a white cap along with white shoes. His feet were covered in mud. One of his arms was in a cast. He also had blood on his face and arm, and seemed disoriented. The toilet, the manager reported, was filled with feces. There was blood and feces on the floor, and a roll of toilet paper nearby appeared to be soaked in blood.

King excused himself, and left the bathroom, unsure what to do. The man left Bojangles immediately after. When King and other employees went back to the bathroom after the man departed, they noticed smear of blood on the wall.

At 8:40pm, the staff called the West Memphis Police Department. Ten minutes later, Officer Regina Meek arrived to investigate. However, she did not park her car and come inside the restaurant. Instead, she drove to the drive-up window and spoke to King there. She took his statement and left Bojangles ten minutes later, without ever setting foot inside or gathering evidence.

We presume that the staff closed the women’s restroom to further traffic at this time, just shortly before closing the restaurant for the night.

The next day, Detective Byrn Ridge came to Bojangles along with Sergeant Mike Allen. They found the staff in the process of cleaning the blood off the wall, and immediately asked them to stop. They then collected blood scrapings from the wall, which were to be sent to a crime lab for analysis.

Those samples were never tested, and the detectives later admitted that they were lost.

Who was Mr. Bojangles, and did he have something to do with the murder of Chris, Mike and Stevie?

Possibly not. While any and all suspects should have been thoroughly (and properly) investigated, there are several things that stand out that diminish this suspect in my eyes:

  • His right arm was in a cast. Mr. Bojangles would not have had the strength and ability to subdue, bind, beat and drown three boys — at least not by himself.
  • He was disoriented. Mr. Bojangles was more likely under the influence of narcotics during this event rather than deranged and murderous. His disorientation might explain why he went into a public place, and then into the wrong bathroom, to tend to his wounds. The fact that the toilet was filled with excrement is also a tell-tale sign here of drug intoxication: crack cocaine (which was a prevalent street drug in the early ’90s) often causes users to suddenly void their bowels.
  • Statistics show that most crime is contained within race. There is very little black-on-white crime, for instance.
  • The man did not appear dangerous. Instead, he seemed as though he were having a medical emergency — perhaps bleeding after an altercation with someone else — and in his intoxication, stumbled into the first place he found to take care of his needs.
  • The boys were not stabbed to death. The blood on the man was likely his own, or someone else’s.
  • The biggest flaw I see in the theory of Mr. Bojangles as the potential murderer of the boys is the timing: this incident occurred around 8:30pm at night. While the boys had not been seen by anyone since around 7pm, and had been reported missing to police by Mark Byers approximately thirty minutes before, we know from the coroner’s reports that the boys died between 1am and 5am. That is four and a half hours, at the earliest, after the bleeding man arrived at Bojangles. Whatever happened to this man, or whatever crimes he may have committed, were long before the boys died.

Now, could he have been involved with their disappearance, or witnessed it? Some theories claim that he might have been a homeless person who stumbled into the woods, saw the boys and their abductor, tried to intervene and was wounded in his efforts. This could even explain why he was disoriented — he ran, in fear for his life and the life of those children — and became exerted. He might have been seriously injured — cut with a knife by the perpetrator, for instance — and hurting so badly that he nearly passed out.

A birds’ eye view of the area where the boys were found. The Bojangles restaurant is seen in the upper left hand corner of this GoogleEarth image.

But why then — if this is the scenario — did the man not immediately tell the restaurant manager that he just witnessed someone attempting to harm three children and was attacked when he tried to step in?

Well, it is certainly possible that the man might have realized that police would not have believed him. That if he was a vagrant, or if he was using drugs, he might not make a believable witness. And he might even have worried that his race made him look more like a suspect, than an innocent bystander.

Other theories center around the proximity of Bojangles to a nearby truck stop. If the man was a trucker and got into an accident, he might have not wanted to go to the truck stop to tend to his wounds. If he was a regular there, he might have been recognized and his employer notified.

Were there any serious accidents reported that night near Bojangles or the truck stop? What about emergency rooms and urgent care centers — was there ever a report of a wounded black male checking in? Did police even look for a black male in his late 20s wearing a cast on his right arm?

I also wonder what else was going on in the sleepy town of West Memphis that night. Were there any 9–11 calls placed that could be referenced? My personal instincts tell me that more than one person was involved with the murders of these kids. I don’t know that it was sexual in nature, although it cannot be ruled out. I wonder if police knew of anyone else in the area who had ever been suspected of kidnapping children, or of binding anyone up for the purpose of torture?

I suspect that whoever did this is no longer alive but that someone out there knows who did it, and will never tell.

I know this is a longer article than I usually share here, but there remain questions about the murder of these boys, nearly 30 years later, that demand to be resolved and clearly, Arkansas isn’t interested in investigating or relitigating the case. As far as they’re concerned, the three teens who spent 17+ years in prison (and death row) are guilty.

An embrace between old friends. The three convicted men known as the West Memphis Three did not serve their sentences at the same prisons.

In fact, Arkansas can argue that the killers even admitted they were guilty. That’s because they gave Jessie, Jason and Damien no other options.

Admit to guilt and go free.

Or stay in prison forever.

Of course, the murdered children stay dead forever, and their families remain in their own special kinds of prison eternally.

And we, the public, we’ll never know who killed those boys. We will never know if Mr. Bojangles did it, or Mark Byers, or Terry Hobbs, or someone else.

But at least we care. At least we search for the truth, even as we come up against more dead ends and unlikely suspects.

The Aftermath

Damien Echols left death row and married Lorri Davis, an attorney. They live in New York City where Echols works as a writer and photographer. He remains a devoted practitioner of magick. We do not know what became of the son he had with his former girlfriend Domini.

Jason Baldwin is currently living in Texas. After his release from prison, he produced the 2013 film Devil’s Knot. In 2017, Baldwin co-founded Proclaim Justice, a non-profit working to free the wrongfully convicted. He is currently in college, with plans to go to law school.

A recent photograph of Jason Baldwin. Jason is working to help overturn the sentences of other inmates who have been wrongfully convicted.

Jessie Misskelley returned home to his father, who died just a few weeks ago in February 2021. Jessie was arrested in 2017 for multiple traffic violations. He was fined $875 but not returned to prison despite the fact that his agreement to the Alford Plea can be rescinded if he is arrested again.

Pam and Terry Hobbs divorced. She now believes that her ex-husband may have been involved with Stevie’s death. The filmmakers of the Paradise Lost HBO films explored this suspicion in their third documentary.

Melissa Byers died just months after Chris’s death, possibly of multiple drug intoxication. Her husband Mark died in 2020 in a car accident.

Mike Moore’s family has kept a low profile.

Terry Hobbs sued Natalie Maines for defamation, after the singer made allegations that he was involved in his stepson’s murder. The case was thrown out. Hobbs later told his story in the 2020 true crime story Boxful of Nightmares: Terry Hobbs’ personal memoirs on the West Memphis Three Murders (written by Vicky Edwards, released by TigerEye Publications.

Terry Hobbs shows off a newspaper after the men convicted of his stepson’s murder were freed

The Bojangles restaurant where the bleeding man was discovered was demolished several years agao. Another restaurant stands in that spot today.

The mystery of who Mr. Bojangles was, and what he might have had to do with the murder of the three West Memphis boys, remains unsolved.

H. Allegra Lansing is the author of The Manson Family: More to the Story ©2019 Swann Publications.

Author of the “More to the Story” true crime nonfiction series. https://www.mansonfamily.net/

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