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

Looking south to discovery woods
Looking south. Discovery woods (center) bordered by the interstate (bottom),
The Blue Beacon Truck Wash (right), a bayou diversion channel (upper line
of trees) and a meadow (left). Approximate site of discovery is marked by Xs.

A Twilight Kill, Part Two: True Believers

    It was not until the next day, May 6th, that the authorities joined the hunt in earnest, with Search and Rescue teams scouring the nearby woods and a helicopter patrolling the area. Shortly after 1 p.m., Steve Jones discovered a cub scout cap floating in a ditch. And from the instant it began, the investigation went horribly wrong. His discovery took place in a small rectangle of woods, only sixty yards wide, bordered on one side by the interstate and on another by The Blue Beacon, an all-night truck wash for semis. Because these woods were just a quarter mile from where the children were last seen this area had been saturated by searchers. "Most of the people searching that day missed the clothing because one had to stand right at the edge of the bank and look straight down, Jones said." [Blood of Innocents, p. 416]

    The police were called in and each step of the discovery of the victims was documented in photos. First, Michael Moore was retrieved from the ditch, his head bashed in. Then Stevie Branch was discovered nine yards away, his face gouged. Finally, Christopher Byers was recovered next to Stevie, his genitals mutilated. Each were naked and bound wrist to ankle by shoelaces. Their shoes were found nearby, all but one laceless. Other items of clothing were never recovered, including two pairs of underwear and five of six socks. There was no visible blood at the scene, suggesting the children were murdered elsewhere. The initial Arkansas Crime Information Center report declared, "their bodys (sic) had been dropped in a remote place."

    Jones stayed on until the bodies were recovered from the ditch, then got sick to his stomach and fled. He was no mere random searcher, he was the county juvenile probation officer in charge of a teenager who would be convicted of the murders. Jones was also a true believer. He spoke to an officer there at the discovery, James Sudbury. "In our conversation I found that Steve [Jones] and I shared the same opinion that the murders appeared to have overtones of a cult sacrifice. During our conversation Steve mentioned that of all the people known by him to be involved in cult type activities one person stood out in his mind, that in his opinion, was capable of being involved in this type of crime. That person was Damien Echols." [Sudbury notes, Echols interview, May 7, 1993] Sudbury and Jones would visit Echols at his trailer the day after the bodies were discovered. Sudbury went on to compose a 32-item questionnaire for this case. The queries reflected his belief in the cult nature of the crime including: "Do you have or own a Bible?" "Do you believe in God - devil?" "Do you believe in white or black magic?" And from this beginning the case became a literal witch hunt eventually ensnaring three teenagers, charges of Steve Jones and his supervisor, Jerry Driver. The teens would be accused of witchcraft, Satanism and ritual human sacrifice.

    Jessie Misskelley was seventeen. Short and muscular, often sporting a goofy grin, he dreamed of becoming a pro-wrestler. With a history of IQ examinations ranging in the mid-70s, he had dropped out of school.

    Jason Baldwin was sixteen, studious, shy. Long blond hair, frail and skinny as a rail, he often took care of his younger brothers after school while his mother worked the evening shift.

    Neither Jason nor Jessie had an air of the occult to them. Damien Echols did. Damien was eighteen, had jet black hair and would sometimes sharpen his fingernails. Brash and brooding, he cut and burned tattoos on his body. He often walked around in a long trench coat. When asked to write a self-affirmation during a stay in a psychiatric hospital he wrote, "I feel good about myself and the things I like about myself are that my will can not be bent and the ability to scare people." [Exhibit 500, Echols sentencing hearing p. 487]

West Memphis Three

    Although Jones and Driver's suspicions coalesced around Damien Echols, their crusade against cults was ongoing. For the past year they patrolled the rural areas together on nights of the full moon, intent on preventing human sacrifice. Speaking about the local cult activities, Driver would relate, "They were further uh, along in their activities. . . they had reached the end of their animal sacrifice uh portion uh to received power and that the next logical step would be the sacrifice of a human." [Jerry Driver police interview, December 3, 1993]

    Although Echols had been convicted of only minor non-violent offenses, Driver was convinced Echols was steeped in devil-worship and intent on human sacrifice. "[Damien] and [ex-girlfriend] Dianna was trying to conceive a child and that child was to be sacrificed." [Driver, ibid] To support this charge, he cited his interpretation of a cryptic doodle and intelligence from "confidential informant people."

    Driver repeatedly exaggerated Echols' record. In 1992, after the police caught Echols running away with his girlfriend, Echols got into a screaming match with her father. While Echols admitted to murderous thoughts, Driver described it as threatening to kill the father and the policeman. [Exhibit 500, Echols sentencing hearing, p.366] Even though no such charges were brought, it was entered into Echols' records as "Damien was on probation due to threatening his girlfriend's parents." [ibid, p. 368] This later became "When the police picked up both Damien and the girlfriend, Damien made threats to kill the police officers, the girlfriend of the father (sic), and had confessed to devil-worshipping behaviors and activities." [ibid, p. 368] In contrast, Damien repeatedly stated he followed the Wiccan faith, a pacifist nature-based religion and Driver stated Echols had always denied devil-worship.

    Echols was consigned to a mental institution twice for brief stays each time for confessing to be suicidal. During a stay in juvenile detention an incident report was made, "One of the boys scraped his arm a little, it was bleeding some. Without warning, Damien grabbed the arm that was bleeding, and began to suck the blood from it. [ibid, page 464]" This contrasted greatly with Driver's version. "Call from Jerry Driver... Presenting problems [for Echols]:  psychosis homicidal...Notes:  Knocked him [inmate in detention] down to the ground, sucked the blood from the arm, rubbed it over his face and body, and say [sic] he is a blood sucking vampire... also grabbed another person and tried to suck their blood. (p. 341)." In other iterations it became sucking blood from the neck and claiming he worshipped the devil.

    Driver hounded Echols during his institutionalization. "6/10[92]  Referral communication - spoke with Jerry Driver concerning Damien. Mr. Driver was very focused on the the pt. alleaged (sic) satanic involvement." [ibid, p. 298] The staff, in turn, viewed their charge through diabolic lenses. ". . .draws Satanic drawing and writes bizarre poetry" [ibid, pp. 428-9] The drawings and poetry, entered into evidence, were mostly reproductions of rock album covers and lyrics.

    While some would suggest Damien, born Michael Wayne Hutcheson, adopted his new name from the antichrist character in the Omen movies, Driver acknowledged he had met with the Echols' priest. Echols had chosen his name after the Catholic saint, Father Damien, who treated lepers.

    Another target of Driver's claims was Dian Teer, the mother of Echols' girlfriend. "[Teer] denied rumors she and her daughter were involved in satanic worship and said rumors surrounding the case are making her and her daughter miserable.  ... 'Devil worshippers are not supposed to say the name 'Jesus,'' Teer noted. Teer, after a short pause, she said 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,' to prove that she is not a devil worshipper. ...  [Teer] wants to show people that when she walks into church, she 'won't burst into flames.' [June 8, West Memphis, Evening Times] She went on to say, "the only kind of group that I was ever in like that was the Rocky Horror Picture Show." [Dian Teer, investigation interview, September 10, 1993]

    In the coming years Driver would be found guilty of embezzlement and Sudbury would be dismissed for multiple infractions.  

Continued in, A Twilight Kill, Part Three: Detective Bryn Ridge

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