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
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.
Detective Mike Allen first entering
the creek before the discovery of the victims.
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.
(L) Looking east. The area where
Michael Moore was
placed. This is the east bank of the creek viewed from a bluff on the
body was recovered in the water
at the bottom center of the photo. The corpse of Moore is blotted
(R) Looking northeast. The above photo
drawing back with the photographer
moving and panning to the
crooked tree is at the
right edge of the photo. From crime scene video.
victims were found in two groupings. Moore was
alone 27 feet north of Branch who was five feet from Byers. A steep
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
(L) Looking southeast. The crooked
is now near the left hand margin. The three trees are on the west bank,
north of where Branch and Byers
were found. Arrow indicates the east bank is also steep;
can not walk along the riverbank at this section.
Looking south. Lt. Mike Allen. Now the
three trees are in the center of the picture and the bodies of the
Byers and Branch, are
blotted out at the extreme right.
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.
Looking southeast. In this vantage
point, the crooked tree is to the extreme left, the three trees
center left (although one
obscures another). This photo emphasizes the hill on the east bank
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.
The recovery of the
bicycles, the bayou channel, looking south. The bayou channel was about
30 feet wide.
Det. Shane Griffin
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
the local geography and placement of the victims address several
- If the murders took place in the
woods, in what part?
- If the murders took place
elsewhere, why relocate the bodies of the victims to the woods?
- Why were the bodies in two
- Why were the bicycles placed in
the bayou near the pipe?
Schematic of the
crime scene showing
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
Misskelley confession, when Ridge described Misskelley observing the
assault on the "Memphis" side of the creek. "...that's the east
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]
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
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.
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,
supporting the woods as the murder
Notes on the above.
- Misskelley said so.
- The victims were last seen
headed in this general direction.
- The bicycles were found nearby
in a place consistent with the victims having entered the area from the
- The woods were not remote enough
to be a safe disposal site.
- Transporting the bodies there
would risk being seen.
- The Blue Beacon was an all
- Transporting the bodies would
have required a vehicle which would have left marks near the entry
to the woods.
- Although not remote, the woods
were isolated, screening actions from witnesses.
- Sounds of struggle or screaming
could have been muffled by the terrain.
- Or drowned out by the
interstate traffic or by the normal operation of the truck wash for
at that establishment.
- Two of the victims were
determined to have drowned and they were found underwater.
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.
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
They, they laid their bikes down when they come out to the, I mean,
when they hollered for them to come... [ibid]
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,
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
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
above where Moore was found.
Transporting the bodies/vehicle tracks.
closing argument, the prosecution took pains to eliminate each of the
potential means of the bodies being transported to the crime scene.
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.
A close-up of the discovery area. The
gray dashed lines are trails.
Chris Byers. m = Michael Moore. s
= Stevie Branch.
= three trees growing together.
ct = crooked tree. lt = large tree.
dark green semicircles represent flat areas along the river bank.
The hatched lines indicate a
steep bluff near where Moore was found
a steep slope near where Branch
and Byers were found.
purple triangle represents the
crossing point between the two banks.
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
awareness and understanding of forensic procedures.
Last seen (as presented in
compared to discovery site.
The bayou and a quarter mile separates the
The Woods as a Relocation Site.
arguments supporting the woods as a site where the bodies were
Notes on the above.
- There were no visible signs of
struggle at the discovery scene.
- No blood, even though one
victim was determined to have bled to death.
- A single hair was recovered
from a nearby tree trunk but no other trace biological evidence.
- Five socks and two pairs of
underwear were not recovered.
- This suggests the clothes were
hastily gathered to be brought to the disposal scene.
- Although last seen heading in
this general direction this sighting was a quarter mile away and on
the other side of the bayou.
- The victims would have likely
have had to cross the pipe with their bicycles.
- Chris Byers was described by
brother as being afraid to cross the pipe.
- No witnesses from the nearby
reported seeing the victims or hearing the
- Although mosquitos don't bite
after death, the victims had no bite marks from before death.
- The perpetrator(s) would also
have to fend off mosquitos.
- Disposing of the victims and
clothing after dark would be an easier task than committing the murders
and cleaning the crime scene after dark.
- Trails lead from outside the
woods directly to where the victims were found.
- A vehicle was noted by the
Blue Beacon employees in the back of their lot.
- A vehicle can be seen in the
crime scene video even though the police testified there were no tracks
in the meadow.
- Although two of the victims had
drowned, lung water samples were not used to determine what type of
- The clothes were removed while
the victims were alive but were found near victim Michael Moore.
- Secondary lividity.
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]
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.
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
Fogleman: Any automobile tracks, truck
tracks, anything like that?
Ridge: No sir. [Ridge testimony,
In contrast to this testimony, a vehicle can be seen
parked there in the crime scene video.
The victims' clothes had no rips, tears, blood stains or skin scrapings
indicating they had been removed before the attacks. The clothes must
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
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.
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
Fogleman: And Chris Byers?
Ridge: Facedown. [Ridge testimony,
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
to cross the pipe. This is the only access point from the nearby
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
Trails to the
discovery scene. The creek is highlighted in blue. The dashed
lines are trails.
where the bodies were found. B's are the bicycles which bracket the
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
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.
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
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
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.
The sum of the notes from the Blue Beacon
Kelin testified there were eight to ten workers
the evening shift, only five names are listed.
Be Continued in, A
Twilight Kill, Whodunnit, Part Two