One lead reportedly being pursued by police involves an incident in the neighborhood where the dead boys lived. Two friends of the dead boys were interviewed by the police Friday morning. "It was a problem that we had that I didn't think anything of," Rosita Garner, the mother of one of the boys interviewed, said outside the police station. "Maybe if I'd called (the police), this wouldn't have happened." [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 8, 1993]White Van / Black Van
Early in the investigation the police began to pursue leads that there was a white van stalking neighborhood children in the days before the murders. These leads developed even before the bodies were found. Clint Garner was a friend of Chris Byers and Garner's home was one of the first stops during the Byers previous evening's search for Chris. According to the dispatch logs, at 12:36 pm on May 6th, Captain Tony Miller got a call to go to the Garner home at 710 McAuley Circle in reference to the missing children. Although there are no notes extant from this encounter, the police returned the next morning for a follow-up interview.
About three weeks ago – unknown which day of the week – at approximately 7:30 pm Jeff Holliday was riding his bicycle south on Holiday and had a rope, pulling Clint Garner, who was on roller skates. They saw a white van moving slowly, and it passed them, going in the opposite direction. The van went about four houses past them and turned around in a driveway. The van then started following them until they got to Clint Garners house at 710 McAuley Circle. The boys stopped in the driveway at 710 McAuley Circle and the van stopped, a few houses away. The van stopped in the middle of the street. The van was stopped for approximately 20 seconds and the driver was looking directly at the boys. The van then sped off. [Durham's notes, Garner and Holliday interview, May 7, 1993]Based on a second sighting of what they believed to be the same van, Garner and Holliday were able to provide a specific description, including its license plate. This plate was traced to a William La Pradd, owner of a white van, but nothing incriminating was noted. An Anthony and Bobby La Pradd lived seven doors down the street from the victims at 1608 Barton, perhaps family was one reason William was seen in the neighborhood.
Excerpts from the police logs, May 6th, 1993; calls from 710 McAuley Circle.Ryan Clark, brother of victim, Chris Byers, identified other friends of Chris who were pursued by a white van, including Chris Husband.
Chris [Husband] states that approx. 2 weeks ago, he, Chad Bell + Chad Rogers were riding their bikes on McAuley Cir. A white Van was behind them - the van turned onto another street. As the boys approached Barton they saw the van parked. It was occupied by 2 W/M's - the driver was heavy set appeared to be in his late 30's - brown hair - thinks he was clean shaven - wearing a red man cap and a blue + white plaid shirt. The passenger appeared to be about 30 - long sandy brown hair thinks he had it in a pony tail - wearing sun glasses on top of his head - thinks he was clean shaven also but is not sure. When they saw the van the second time they went to Chris' house and told his mom. He is not sure if the van seemed to be following them or not. [Chris Husband interview, D. Hester, May 27, 1993]Other area children described being pursued by a white van. The Hinkles lived at 1113 E. Barton and were also friends of Chris Byers.
1113 E. Barton 732-xxxx Jason Hinkle A m/w about 12 yrs old - said a couple of months ago, before the time changed, a white van "Astro" with a red stripe on the side followed him 4 or 5 times, once on the black top that goes from the school past the ball field! Windows are all tinted and the back windows all have curtains therefore he has no description of any occupants. There are a couple of m/b's that live on the corner that has been with him when this van came by. They are Bobby & Herman Posey and a boy named Danuell (?) that lives on Johnson in a blue house. [Door to door interview notes, Hinkles]Although it is possible that sightings of the white van were conflated by local rumors, speaking against this is that these claims came very early in the investigation. These sightings were connected to childhood friends of Chris Byers, rather than random neighborhood hysteria. Or, perhaps the story of the van was passed from child to child. The note below connects the Husband's story to that of Holliday.
Doyle Husband note regarding
Jeff Holliday's experience with the white van.
Alternatively, in any given area, there are a number of child predators at work, and it is possible an adult was pursuing children unrelated to the killings. The children gave descriptions that were sometimes conflicting and sometimes in agreement:
Jeff Holiday and Clint Garner
Some sightings came from adults. In a brief passage from the door to door survey, Barbara McCafferty, mistress of James K. Martin, refers to a white van worth noting. "914 E. Barton 735-xxxx Barbara McCafferty nothing White Van 1 street north yesterday poss W/M"
Ricky Lee Murray, biological father of Chris Byers, described a suspicious Cablevision vehicle appearing when he and his fiance visited the crime scene. (Cablevision of West Memphis used white vans.)
. . .and then few minutes later this um, white, I mean this um, truck with Cablevision he came through and he went down the street and came through again and my fiance was looking at him, well he seen my fiance look at him and he turned his head real fast. . . [Ricky Lee Murray interview, May 24, 1993]Murray went on to connect this to an incident in Memphis and reported it to the police.
. . . he [Murray's fiance's ex-husband] said you know there's a little girl in Memphis that the cable man came in, or something or another about a cable man had tried to molest this little girl and the mother walked in and got him and he said that cable guy was also working what the area of West Memphis at the time of the murder. And so the first I thought I would call the cops, you know the detective that there and let him know you know about this and you because I really hadn't even talked to him, because my mom had been talking to him, but I hadn't been talked to him. So I called him and uh, I ask him some questions and told him what I had heard about what I had about the Cablevision guy and he said that was new to him. . . [ibid]Or, perhaps, it was just a curious neighbor passing by. Tommy James of 1116 WE Catt worked for Cablevision.
The West Memphis Police put together a list of owners of white vans in the Crittenden County area. Among those on the list are the following individuals related to the case or else who lived in the neighborhood:
On May 6th, just before the children were discovered and at the same time Captain Miller was visiting the Garners regarding the white van, another call came in from a neighbor about a black van.
12:59 pm, May 6th, in reference to black van. Officer 252 is Reese.
If a one was meant to be written over the two, then this refers to #251, Inspector Gitchell.
There is no record of follow-up until after several tips came in regarding this matter.
11:20 am called Nancy LeDuke 517 Wilson. 735-xxxx about Quirt Gregory 30's child like does frequent Rodin Hood Hills + like to play with small kids. Believe Gregory lives 513 Wilson. . . 6:00 - 7:15 at Wilson + Barton saw black van ^poss dark not black mini^ with red stripe pick up 3 kids - two bikes. Richard Moise (18) [also at 517 Wilson] saw incident at Wilson + Barton + later saw same van at 513 Wilson. [Tip, May 15, 1993]The tip goes on to say, "Unknown if kids got in van." Another tip regarding Gregory was dated 5/19/93, 10:30 a.m.
States that a W/M believes his name is Quirt Gregory - lives at 513 Wilson - appears to be in his mid twentys. Does not work - lives with his mother - rides a bike. He is seen playing with young children - is known to have a temper. . . . These people have a dark gray van - Dodge? Was seen picking children up but believes that the children was there own. [Tip, Diane Hester, Quirt Gregory, 5/19/93]Yet another tip was noted as coming May 10th, contents unknown. After three tips and the original call on May sixth, Gregory was brought in for questioning on May 19th. In a summary note Diane Hester described him as 38 years old, "mildly retarded with the mental capacity of about 10 -13 year old." [Diane Hester note] He is said to have known victims Chris Byers and Michael Moore and "had seen" Stevie Branch.
In interview notes, written in the first person voice but in the hand of Detective Mike Allen, Gregory is quoted as saying, "the last time I saw Steve, Michael + another boy on two bicycles, 1 of the boys were riding on the handlebars." [Quirt Gregory statement, 5/19/93, Mike Allen] This is consistent with what Dana Moore saw. Gregory said this was 4 to 4:30 pm and said the three were with six other boys (or else three other boys in a separate iteration). Nothing particularly remarkable was noted. Quirt was "not able to be polygraphed in [West Memphis police polygraph specialist] Bill Durham's opinion due to his mental retardation." [Diane Hester note]
Further up Wilson, another van sighting was conveyed to the police.
721 Wilson Ms Edwards - 735-xxxx wk Flash Mark Inc, office. She said a Jack Patterson who is building the New Flash Market on S. Service Road at the old Mid-Continent Truck Stop area. Jack told Ms Edwards that Wed afternoon, a m/b in a blue van - Illinois tag, kept bugging him for a job. Jack said he was acting crazy. Jack told him he couldn't hire him. The m/b told Jack he was spending the night in his van to the rear of Mid Continent area. Thurs morning the m/b began bothering Jack again. The m/b told Jack he had spent the night in his van, and Jack was going to give him a job. Jack said the m/b began acting wild and started waving a gun around. Don't know if WMPD was called or not.The Mid-Continent Truck Stop was destroyed in a tornado that devastated parts of West Memphis in 1989. At the time of the murders, a Flash Market was under construction at the site. Although the above refers to a blue van, Mark Byers spoke extensively about an encounter with a black van at the Mid-Continent building site. Referring to his search after midnight on May the sixth, he said:
So, uh, when he said that, I thought of an abandoned house down the street from me, so I went and looked in that. Then another friend of mine, Tony Hudson came over. And Tony Hudson and my wife and I up here on the Service Road where there used to be the Mid-Continent Building and it blew down and they're re-building it now. We thought, well maybe that's not locked and they can get in there. So we went down there and looked, and there was a ladder in the back. And Tony climbed up the ladder and got up on the roof and looked and he even got down inside the thing and looked around. And then there was a black van parked there on that lot. Just a solid black van. And I, it was locked. I went up and tried the back door, and the side door and other doors that was locked and all I could see through the window was like, garbage bags and paper and I just was kind of assuming that the people that were working on the building, it was like a work van of there's that maybe it just had their tools or equipment in it. Then that trailer that sits back there, we went back there and tried to see if that trailer was unlocked, and looked around that trailer and all. Then Tony brought Melissa and I home, and he said, I'm going to make, you know, a few more rounds around the neighborhood. And it's probably 2 or 3 o'clock [in the morning]. [John Mark Byers statement, May 19, 1993]The construction site being referred to was situated between Goodwin Avenue and the South Service Road, just east of 18th Street, a short distance from the backyard of suspect Jimmy Sellers.
Another reference to what may have been the van was taken by Regenia Meek on the night of the fifth.
Police log, Regenia Meek (#256), May 5th 3-11 pm.
From Meek's description of her search efforts during the trial, this would have placed her near 20th and Goodwin. The license plate recorded is one character (letter or digit) short of being the correct format for Illinois license plates. Passenger cars had seven digits. Vans had six digits and a letter. The numbering would be consistent with a van first plated in the mid-eighties.
Although the menace of the white van pursuing them may have been exaggerated by the imagination of children, the van at the Mid-Continent building site and its driver brandishing a gun deserved to be checked out further.
Quirt Gregory, 1993.
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