The Victims The Place Time It Was The Crime The Investigation The Convicted
The Victims The Place Time it was The Investigation The Crime The Convicted

Features of crime scene    Crime scene drawing
Features of the area of the crime scene.  (L) Photo looking northwest. (R) Police drawing.
The photos and text presented below are intended to illustrate the discovery site and the surrounding geography.
The white x's designate where the victims were found.

Whodunnit, part one. The Discovery Site.


    The victims were discovered between 1:30 and 3:00 pm on May 6th, 1993 in a parcel of woods about the size of a jogging track. The discovery site was isolated but not remote. The woods were bordered on the south by a bayou channel. The only nearby means to cross this barrier was to balance across a thick pipe bracketed on each side by I-beams. On the north end of the woods was the interstate. On the east side was a meadow. On the northwest side was the Blue Beacon Truck Wash, an all night establishment. The southwest border extended below the Blue Beacon lot, past a line of trees to a small pond. Further to the west was the parking lot of a 24 hour trucking stop. Just beyond that was Catfish Island, the workplace of Branch's mother.

Entering the creek  Detective Allen entering the creek
Detective Mike Allen first entering the creek before the discovery of the victims.
(L) He is leaning over from the west bank against the crooked tree and then (R) he enters the water.

    The victims were found in a small creek that ran north to south. The water was described as "two to two and a half feet deep" [Bryn Ridge, Oct. 19, 1993 pre-trial hearing] and the creek was measured as four feet two inches across at both sites where the victims were found [Lt. Hester, crime scene notes, May 6, 1993].

    The creek bisected the length of woods. In order to cross the woods eastwards or westwards, the creek had to be traversed. Crossing could be difficult. Lt. Mike Allen, when trying to initially cross the creek, fell in. In certain sections, the creek was bordered by steep slopes.

Moore, slicked down bank  Panning right
(L) Looking east. The area where Michael Moore was placed. This is the east bank of the creek viewed from a bluff on the west bank.
His body was recovered in the water at the bottom center of the photo. The corpse of Moore is blotted out. 
(R) Looking northeast. The above photo drawing back with the photographer moving and panning to the right.
The crooked tree is at the right edge of the photo. From crime scene video.

    The victims were found in two groupings. Moore was alone 27 feet north of Branch who was five feet from Byers. A steep bluff described as 11 feet tall on the west bank overlooked where Moore was found. Diagrams show two paths from the area where Moore was found heading in the direction of the meadow. Most of the victims clothes were found near Moore, although five socks and two pairs of underwear were not recovered.

Looking to the three trees
three trees and victim placement
(L) Looking southeast. The crooked tree is now near the left hand margin. The three trees are on the west bank,
just north of where Branch and Byers were found. Arrow indicates the east bank is also steep;
you can not walk along the riverbank at this section.
(R) Looking south. Lt. Mike Allen. Now the three trees are in the center of the picture and the bodies of the victims,
Byers and Branch,
are blotted out at the extreme right. From crime scene video.

    Branch was found nearby Byers. Three paths converged on this site from the west. Heading southwest, a path went to the area of the pipe that crossed the bayou. Heading west, a path went to the southeastern corner of a lot of land nearby a retaining pond. The third path headed to southeastern corner of the Blue Beacon lot. A pronounced slope on the east bank bracketed the portion of the river where Byers and Branch were found.

Overlooking the three trees
Looking southeast. In this vantage point, the crooked tree is to the extreme left, the three trees
are center left (although one obscures another). This photo emphasizes the hill on the east bank
of the creek overlooking where Branch and Byers were found. From crime scene video.

    The bicycles were recovered from the bayou diversion channel by johnboat and grappling hook. They were near the pipe that crossed the bayou. To the north of the pipe was a broad flat ground covered by weeds. These weeds were said to "vary in height from waist and chest high to some of it would be over your head." [Ridge testimony, Echols/Baldwin trial] At the southern border of the Blue Beacon lot there is a steep rise of about six feet referred to as Turtle Hill. On top of Turtle Hill was a line of trees obscuring the view between the Blue Beacon lot and the Mayfair Apartment complex south of the bayou.

Bicycles recovered
The recovery of the bicycles, the bayou channel, looking south. The bayou channel was about 30 feet wide.
Det. Shane Griffin and two members of Search and Rescue. From crime scene video.

What the discovery site says about the murders.

    Simply put, the discovery site was where the murders took place or else it wasn't. In either case, the local geography and placement of the victims address several questions.
     Crime Scene Schematic
     Schematic of the crime scene showing neighboring features.

The Woods as the Murder Site

    The prosecution presented the east bank of the creek as being the murder site. This is the area that is brought up in the Misskelley confession, when Ridge described Misskelley observing the assault on the "Memphis" side of the creek.  "...that's the east side, Memphis side is the east side and you were standing at the top of the bank on the west side..." [Ridge, Misskelley confession, June 3, 1993]

This portion of the east bank was described as being uniquely "slicked down," free of leaves and detritus expected to be found on the floor of the woods. As Prosecutor Fogleman declared in his opening statement:

In this area, the proof 's going to show that right in the area where Michael Moore was, there's an area that uh.. it didn't look like any of the other surrounding area, uh, there were uh, no leaves on this particular part of the bank, uh, there were uh, had a shining quality to it, it had been, it appeared to have been, the proofs going to show had been, uh, slicked off, or like scuff marks, unnatural marks to the area, where as the area right beside it had leaves on it, and didn't have that appearance. There's no blood. No blood. [John Fogleman, Echols/Baldwin trial]

    Detective Ridge suggested the crime scene was cleaned by hand. 

Defense attorney Robin Wadley: Scuff marks - you mean "slicked off," is that what you're saying?
Ridge: That's a term that could be used, yes sir.
Wadley: Describe the scuff marks.
Ridge: Looks as though somebody may have taken their hand and rubbed the bank. [Ridge testimony, Echols/Baldwin trial]

    The arguments supporting the woods as the murder site:
Notes on the above.

Misskelley's confession. During his confession Misskelley does not describe the interior of the woods, but he does identify its location as being near the Blue Beacon and is emphatic that he was there. 

    As for the crime, he describes Echols and Baldwin in the water taking turns dipping under. He says they called the children over.

Ridge: Okay, so they [Echols and Baldwin] were just messing around in the water. They called for these boys to come over there?
Misskelley: Yeah, they, they seen them boys and then they hollered, Damien hollered, said, hey, and the little boys come up there. [Misskelley, June 3, 1993]

    and, earlier, he connects this to where the bicycles were placed.

Misskelley: They, they laid their bikes down when they come out to the, I mean, when they hollered for them to come... [ibid]

    The section of the bayou where the bikes were found was not within in view of the part of the creek where the victims were discovered.

    As for how the crime played out, Misskelley said,

Misskelley: When I was there, I saw Damien hit this one, hit this one boy real bad, and then uh, and then he started screwing them and stuff and then uh,
[Misskelley identifies whom Damien hit as Moore or else Byers, then...]
Ridge: What did he hit him with?
Misskelley: He hit him with his fist and bruised him all up real bad, and then um Jason turned around and hit Steve Branch
Ridge: Okay
Misskelley: And started doing the same thing, then the other one took off, Michael uh Moore took off running, so I chased him and grabbed him and held him, til they got there and then I left. [ibid]

    This could be interpreted as guilty knowledge with Misskelley explaining why Moore was separate from the other two. In another iteration Misskelley brought Moore back. The prosecution specified a single site as the murder scene, the bank above where Moore was found. 

Transporting the bodies/vehicle tracks. In his closing argument, the prosecution took pains to eliminate each of the potential means of the bodies being transported to the crime scene.  

Fogleman:  Now also, they've tried to suggest that somehow this happened somewhere else. Well, as the testimony indicated--first you got interstate, this Blue Beacon Truck Wash, wheat field over here, and then this bayou here--the only way across the bayou is that pipe. Now, imagine if you will, this happening somewhere else. And somebody carrying three eight-year-old boys across this pipe, and then taking them in here and leaving them. Or imagine--even still, this well-lit Blue Beacon Truck Wash, them bringing these boys in here--who disappeared, were last seen between six and six-thirty--bringing them in here, through here. Or, coming from the wheat field. But officers walked that, remember they walked that field. They didn't go the whole field, but over on the edge of the woods, they did their arms length thing, where they walked from the ditch to the interstate. No tracks, no vehicle tracks. [Closing arguments, Echols/Baldwin trial]

    If the woods were the murder site, several conclusions can be drawn.

    Contrary to what the prosecution presented, the murders took place at two sites. The victims were placed in two groupings, Michael Moore in the creek alongside a level area on the east bank and Stevie Branch and Chris Byers in the creek alongside a level area on the west bank. At each site, the other side of the creek was bordered by a steep slope. The connection between the two sites was either by trudging through the water down the creek or else by crossing at the site of the crooked tree. This means that if the victims were killed on the east bank the murderer would had to have transported Branch and Byers across the creek to the site where they were discovered. This would have been difficult and pointless. A similarly arduous and unnecessary journey in the opposite direction would have been required to dispose of Moore's body and the clothes if the flat area on the west bank was the murder site. A much simpler explanation would be that Branch and Byers were murdered near where they were found and Moore was murdered near where he was found.

Schematic two
A close-up of the discovery area. The gray dashed lines are trails.
c = Chris Byers. m = Michael Moore. s = Stevie Branch.
ttt = three trees growing together. ct = crooked tree. lt = large tree.
The dark green semicircles represent flat areas along the river bank.
The hatched lines indicate a steep bluff near where Moore was found
and a steep slope near where Branch and Byers were found.
The purple triangle represents the crossing point between the two banks.

    The bicycles were tossed in the bayou because this is near where they were left. They were placed there as being the most convenient place to hide them.

    The bicycles, the victims and their clothes were placed underwater to either eliminate trace evidence such as fingerprints or to delay their discovery or for both reasons. Delaying the discovery can obscure the time of the murders or provide an opportunity for the perpetrator to escape. Such actions indicate an awareness and understanding of forensic procedures.

Last seen compared to discovery site
  Last seen (as presented in court) compared to discovery site.
  The bayou and a quarter mile separates the two places.

The Woods as a Relocation Site.

The arguments supporting the woods as a site where the bodies were relocated:
 Notes on the above.

    Crossing the pipe. "Ryan said Chris was affraid to go accross the pipe.  Ryan stated that about a month ago that him & Chris went fishing near the Pipe & Chris wouldn't Go accross the Pipe at the Bayou Ditch." [Ryan Clark interview, Mike Allen notes, undated]  

    Mosquitos. Officer Meek testified, "I stopped looking in the wooded area [that night] because the mosquitos were so bad in the wooded area that you were breathing them." [Meek testimony, Echols/Baldwin trial]  The primary feeding time for mosquitos is at twilight and night. The victims had no signs of mosquito bites even though the victims' clothes were removed before being assaulted or tied up.

    Vehicles near the crime scene. Only very brief notes of interviews with the Blue Beacon staff are available. "10:00 pm Man two young white males stated looking for son, small car, Toyota older model." [Scott Kelin, manager, Blue Beacon]  This is discussed further below. Bryn Ridge testified that there were no tire tracks in the meadow during their search of the area the next day.

Fogleman: Alright. And uh - what was the condition of the ground at that time when y'all did that grid search?
Ridge: It was smooth, there was grass,  wheat growing in the area.
Fogleman: And uh - what if anything did you find in the part of that field that y'all searched?
Ridge: We didn't find anything, it was normal, smooth.
Fogleman: Any automobile tracks, truck tracks, anything like that?
Ridge: No sir. [Ridge testimony, Echols/Baldwin trial]

    In contrast to this testimony, a vehicle can be seen parked there in the crime scene video.

    Clothes. The victims' clothes had no rips, tears, blood stains or skin scrapings indicating they had been removed before the attacks. The clothes must have been removed also before the victims were bound. If the clothes were shed at the site of the killings, and Byers and Branch were killed near where their bodies were found, why were their clothes transported to another place for dumping? Or conversely, if their clothes were removed near the site they were discovered, why would Byers and Branch be taken to the other bank before being placed underwater? The clothes in a single site is consistent with them being transported in as a bundle from elsewhere.

    Lividity. At death, when the heart stops, gravity causes the blood to pool. This effect, called lividity, can be seen as a wide "bruise" across the lower portions of the body. If lividity is present somewhere other than the bottommost areas, it can be assumed the body has been repositioned after death.

    Michael Moore was found at the bottom of the creek on his left side. Chris Byers and Stevie Branch were found facedown.

Fogleman: Alright now - and you may have testified to this, I may have just missed it - uh - you indicated that Michael Moore was on his left side. How was uh - Stevie Branch?
Ridge: Facedown, tied in the same manner.
Fogleman: And Chris Byers?
Ridge: Facedown. [Ridge testimony, Echols/Baldwin trial]

    According to the crime scene videos and coroner's notes, Moore was placed on the bank on his left side, Branch on his left side, and Byers on his right side. For Moore the coroner noted, "...lividity in buttocks and back will blanch with pressure;" for Branch, "Lividity in left buttocks and back will blanch with pressure;" and for Byers "Lividity in buttocks and back will blanch with pressure." The mention of "left buttocks" for Branch indicates that this specificity was being noted. Since Branch was placed on his left side, the lividity in his left buttocks is unremarkable. However for Byers "lividity on buttocks and back" unambiguously contradicts Byers only being placed in the water facedown immediately after death and then placed on his right side on the creek bank. The lividity on his back points to a previous position. Similarly, the lividity for Moore was noted as buttocks and back.

       If the bodies were brought to the woods, several conclusions can be drawn.

    The bodies and the bicycles could only have been brought by automobile. Foot traffic from the south would have been limited by the bayou and by having to cross the pipe. This is the only access point from the nearby residential area. Any other direction and the bodies would had to have been hauled across the meadow, the Blue Beacon lot or the interstate. A vehicle would be necessary for transporting and concealing the victims.

Trails to the discovery scene
Trails to the discovery scene.  The creek is highlighted in blue. The dashed lines are trails.
X's represent where the bodies were found. B's are the bicycles which bracket the pipe.
O's are proposed sites for vehicles to have parked.

    The bodies were transported in two trips. Crossing the creek to dispose of the bodies would be difficult and unnecessary. Without crossing the creek, the area where Moore and the clothes were placed was accessible only from the meadow and the area where Byers and Branch were placed was accessible only from the west. The person transporting the corpses must have carried Byers and Branch from the west and Moore from the back part of the meadow. In a similar argument, the bicycles could not have been brought from the meadow without pointlessly lugging them across the creek.

    Three paths converge from the west side of the woods to the site where Branch and Byers were found. One comes from near the pipe that crosses the bayou, but this area is not accessible by car. One comes from the Blue Beacon lot. This area is visible from the Blue Beacon truck wash. The third comes from the southeastern corner behind the Blue Beacon lot. This area is a slant of woods, recessed from view from the Blue Beacon. A line of trees block this location from view from the residential area and three trees divide this area from the Blue Beacon lot. A vehicle pulling up to the woods' edge could unload the contents of its trunk unseen. The trip transporting Byers and Branch would also serve for disposing of the bicycles. A second excursion on the meadow side would serve to bring Moore and the clothes. 

    If the victims were relocated to this area, the crime scene was staged. The most powerful argument against the woods being a relocation site is that the woods were not remote enough to be a safe disposal site. Why risk relocating the bodies of the victims to these woods? Why not take them to the Mississippi? Why place the bicycles in one location and the bodies in another? An explanation for all of these is that the perpetrator was trying to stage a story.

    The rationale behind moving the corpses is to remove evidence from the murder scene, a site that would incriminate the killer. By placing the bodies near the interstate and a large truck stop, the murderer tried to pin the crimes on a passing trucker - an unsolvable crime given the large numbers of truckers passing by due to the nearby convergence of the interstate highways. The bicycles were placed in the bayou as part of that staging, to suggest the victims had come here on their own.

    The perpetrator had limited options for a site in which to dispose of the bodies. It had to be isolated enough to allow for disposal but still close enough for the victims to have arrived there on their own.

    The staging of the crime scene has other implications. It says that the perpetrator believed if the police weren't misdirected then he would be suspect. This points back to either someone close to the family or someone along the path the victims had taken. It also says that the perpetrator knew the victims had been heading in the general direction of these woods. Finally, it required familiarity with the woods including  foreknowledge of the existence of the creek and the relative isolation of the area and how to access it.

Vehicles visiting the crime scene.

    Although they worked in close proximity to the discovery site, the notes of interviews from the Blue Beacon employees are meager, totaling several handwritten lines. The manager, Scott Kelin, testified at trial, although only briefly and only to describe the operating procedures of his establishment. Until midnight, there were eight to ten employees. After midnight there would be two. He testified he had come by the evening of the fifth for maintenance at about seven and left "between nine and ten."

    Among the police notes from the employees, the line below "Scott Kelin - manager" says, "10:00 pm Man two young white males stated looking for son, small car, toyota older model."

    In some ways this observation corresponds to Mark Byers account of driving behind the Blue Beacon lot.

[After 11 p.m. call to Denver Reed.] . . .my son, Ryan and I got in the car and we drove around there to Blue Beacon, and went into Blue Beacon Truck Wash, and I said, look, we got 3 boys missing. I didn't want y'all, you know, I want to go back here behind y'all's property and holler and yell in these woods. But I wanted you to know why my car's back there. So, we pulled our little silver car back there, and Ryan, my 14-year-old, he's honking the horn and I'm out hollering and yelling around the edge of the woods. And he kind of drove the car around. [snip] Well, we hollered and yelled there for a while where that little entrance is from that side where you can walk in that entrance. You know, there's that pond, and if you walk on around the edge of the pond, you can kind of see a trail that goes into the bayou, or wherever that is. I kind of walked into that bayou, well I walked into that area, and hollered and yelled down toward the bayou, and I can remember turning and hollering and yelling towards that hill. [Mark Byers, May 19, 1993 statement]

    The note from Kelin and Byers account have several discrepancies. Byers had a 1987 Isuzu, not an older model Toyota. Byers says he was with Ryan, Kelin notes two young white males. Byers account refers to sometime after 11 pm. From 9:45 to about 10:15 Byers was searching the area south of the bayou on foot with Patrolman John Moore.

    Ryan's account of that evening mentions nothing of searching the Blue Beacon area with his father. In both police notes and his testimony Ryan stated he did not go to the other side of the pipe, instead searching the woods to the south. Sometime after 9 pm, while searching the with his friend Brit Smith he heard nearby loud splashes. These splashes could have corresponded to the disposal of the bicycles and perhaps Chris Byers and Stevie Branch.

    Was Mark Byers the driver of the vehicle in Kelin's note? The discrepancies of time, vehicle and number of passengers make it uncertain. If it was another individual claiming to be there "looking for his son," he would be a likely suspect.

Blue Beacon Employee Notes
The sum of the notes from the Blue Beacon employees.
Although Kelin testified there were eight to ten workers
on the evening shift, only five names are listed.

To Be Continued in, A Twilight Kill, Whodunnit, Part Two

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