West Memphis, AR, including the victim's neighborhood and the softball park.
Rumors and Confessions.
West Memphis has a population of 30,000. In spite of this, names and places recur often in this case. The same families often played multiple roles, unlikely connections being made between witnesses, investigators and suspects. This section, in which rumors are traced, includes a large number of names, each person a link in the story. Unlike the group of children in Marked Tree who said they overheard Echols confess, the source of other rumors was often elusive.
Debra O'Tinger testified as to seeing the missing children outside her house at 1309 Goodwin Avenue just before 6:00 pm. She said she and her husband had to wait as the children passed behind her truck before they could back out of their driveway on their way to her mother's for dinner.
O'Tinger's mother, Mae Beshires, lived across town at 506 Balfour along with Debra's fourteen-year-old brother, Craig Beshires. Craig gave a statement about how he and a friend John Graham had, two years ago, seen two men in their late twenties or early thirties with red, white and black paint on their faces dancing in Robin Hood Hills. In his statement, John Graham did not mention dancing and said it was three men in make-up carrying guns. The police used such statements as evidence of a cult gathering near the site of the murders.
Next door to the Beshires, at 504 Balfour, was the residence of Ricky and Debbie McKay. Together with Officer Diane Hester, Ricky McKay would haul off the discovered bicycles. The McKays' daughter, Meredith, would give Damien Echols an alibi for the evening of the fifth. She stated she saw Damien Echols and his family drive up to her cousin's house across the street at 505 Balfour at 7 pm on May the fifth. Her cousin, Stacy Sanders, was with her at the time and testified in court to seeing Echols. Jennifer Sanders was at the house at 505 Balfour and testified that Damien and his family had visited. The Sanders had known the Hutchisons and Echols for a long time - years ago they had lived together. If Echols was indeed there, O'Tinger was having her supper across the street from him.
Four houses down the street at 408 Balfour was the home of Richard Simpson. LG Hollingsworth said he spent the evening of the fifth with Simpson, although Simpson denied it.
Satellite view of Balfour Road. 506 - Mae Beshires, 504 - Ricky McKay,
505 the Sanders, 408 Richard Simpson, 406 Shelly Wolfe.
Photography and the William Jones confession.
Karen McAteer [née Beshires] lived at 515 Belvedere, just off of Balfour. She reported her eleven year old daughter, Jessica Bryant, and friend, eight-year-old Heather Smith, had seen Echols photographing them. In her interview, Jessica Bryant said she saw Damien squatting behind a bush looking at them out of the corner of his eyes. He had black under his eyes and "something like" a rabbit's foot in his hair. he did not see a camera. He ran off in the direction of Balfour. There is no statement from Heather Smith.
On May 26, 1993, eighteen-year-old William Jones spoke to the police stating Damien Echols had confessed to him. A transcription of his statement became one of the few documents included as support for the search warrants.
Jones stated Damien was a satan worshipper - but did not explain how he knew this. Jones went on to say that late in the evening on the previous Friday (May 21st) he questioned Damien about his rumored involvement in the murders. ". . .everybody want me to ask him, so I asked him, and he said, that he cut them and that, you know, had sex with them, molested them." [William Jones statement, May 26, 1993] Damien allegedly went on to say he sodomized the victims and cut them with what was described as a ten to twelve inch knife. Jones said he talked to Damien about the confession the next day and at that time Damien denied it.
Jones's aunt, Shari Gilbert, placed this confession earlier. "Approximately 2 days after the boys were discovered my nephew William Jones and I were watching TV and William told me that a boy named Damien told him that him and Jason Baldwin and a third unknown person were the ones that killed the boys." [Shari Gilbert, handwritten note, June 7, 1993]
In undated notes, Detective Shane Griffin wrote: "He stated Damien is a devil worshipper and he is dangerous and he William Jones is afraid of Damien." This contrasted with his taped interview.
Ridge: But, you don't want to go to the police department?
Jones: No sir
Ridge: Because you're scared of Damian?
Jones: Naw, I am not scared of Damian.
Ridge: What are you scared of?
Jones: I've been in trouble before and I just try to stay away I guess, not really you all, you know, but Crittenden County, I try to stay away. They don't like me. [William Jones statement, May 26, 1993]
This echoed Misskelley's confession.
Ridge: Why did you not come forward with this information?
Misskelley: Cause I was scared
Ridge: Scared of Damien? or scared of the police?
Misskelley: Scared of the police. [Misskelley confession, June 3, 1993]
When interviewed by Ron Lax, the investigator for Echols defense team, Jones retracted his statement, saying he just made up something he thought the police wanted to hear.
Ridge was unsatisfied with this retraction and suspected Jones might be afraid of satanists. In a taped conversation with Joneses mother one week before the jury was to be selected for the Echols/Baldwin trial, Ridge asked whether Lax had threatened or intimidated Jones.
Ridge: Even if it's not a direct threat. Kind of like, well, well you, do you really know what you're doing? Testifying against somebody supposedly involved in this Satan worshipping and what they might do to you. Remember what they did to those little kids? [Ridge phone conversation with Dequita Dunham, February 15, 1994]
In contrast, Jones's mother gave a different characterization of the conversation with Lax.
Dequita Dunham: When he was talking to William he was just talking to him more or less as a teacher would or someone. He was understanding, you know. And, he did tell him several times, all I want is the truth. You know, it doesn't matter what the truth is, 'cause I need the truth. [ibid]
Jones did not testify at the trials. According to The Blood of Innocents,
Fogleman and Davis asked for a hearing in chambers, where they alleged an investigator for the defense had been improperly interfering with witnesses. Ronald L. Lax, a Memphis private investigator, videotaped Jones the day before saying, "I just up and said something that I didn't know nothing about." [BOI, page 289]The specific accusation was: "Your Honor, there's some information to indicate that this Lax may be intimidating witnesses. . ." [BOI, page 290]. An investigation was launched. In a court hearing on February 25, 1994 investigating officer Bobby Stabbs said that the sole complaint of intimidation referred was in regards to the West Memphis Police and not Lax.
The bush where Jessica Bryant said Echols was spying on her.
Police photo and markup. Taken from place where Jessica was.
The Skating Rink Girls
Jennifer Ball lived at 907 Preston, near where it intersected with Balfour. On March 1, 1993 she made a complaint to the police. While talking to a friend Amanda Lancaster, a stranger stood outside Ball's window and threatened her. She described the stranger as 5' 10", 120 lbs and wearing all black. At the time of her police report, she said she was unable to identify the stranger. She described other incidents in which a neighbor Michael Beshears* (sic) had also been threatening her. In June, after the arrest of Echols, she identified the stranger at the window as Damien Echols. She went on to elaborate that Amanda Lancaster had warned her Michael "was going to blow my house up." She also stated that a Mark Beshires (sic) and Damien Echols were spying on them.
*The city directory lists the next door neighbors of Jennifer Ball as Michael W. and Heather Beshires. There were both Beshears and Beshires living in West Memphis.
In her interview, Jennifer Ball said she had heard that Damien Echols was going to kill two more virgins. She also described an encounter at the skating rink in which Damien followed her with his eyes. Then,
While we were walking out of the blue Amanda started saying shut up shut up. I looked at her & asked her wat was wrong. She said that she could hear Damien in her mind saying "Bitch you're gonna die, you know to much." (Last year Amanda had P.E. w/Damien. She said he would sit there & enter her mind. It really freaked her out.) [Jennifer Ball, June 10, 1993]
Amanda Lancaster confirmed being on the other end of the phone call when the stranger appeared at Jennifer's window. Amanda went on to say "Jennifer Harrison had said that she thought Damean had done it cause he new way to much, and he went around Horseshoe the same day the murders had happened, and had dog intestents around his neck." [Amanda Lancaster statement, June 10, 1993] Amanda Lancaster's cousin, Heather Cliett, was dating Jason Baldwin.
The skating rink was the site of several other stories surrounding Damien Echols. Joni Brown, aged 14, said she was at the skating rink on Friday, May 14th, 1993. She said her friend Whitney Nix told her she overheard Robert Burch say he and Damien Echols murdered the three victims and were going to kill two more. Brown also said Toni Cissell had overheard Damien confess. In turn, fifteen-year-old Toni Cissell stated she had heard this story from Jennifer Ashley and Crystal Hensley.
Whitney Nix, 12 years old, stated she had heard this from a friend Nicol Bumbaugh. And here the story ends, for now, inasmuch as Ashley, Bumbaugh and Hensley documents are unavailable to follow this to its ultimate source. Nix went on to relate this story about Echols.
My friend Natalie told me that he went to her Church one night and it was a lord super and he droped the brade and he would not drinke the o jushe. [Nix statement, June 15, 1993]
Twelve year old Brandy Wilson said she overheard Echols talking about the victims at the skating rink on the Friday night after the murders. Damien was sitting with Jason and Domini when he allegedly made this ambiguous statement.
He said that he had something to do with these three boys and him and Jason just started giggling and laughing. [Brandy Wilson, June 16, 1993 interview]
Brandy's mother confirmed the night although her account was even less incriminating than "something to do with these three boys."
Cummings: Will the girls did say something about it the night that we came home but they didn't nothing the kids or nothing like that just like there was some weird boys there and a couple of other things went on but no I we all really didn't talk about it [until after the arrests] [Penny Cummings, June 16, 1993 interview]
The Softball Girls
Shortly after the arrests, the police received information that a Jenni Deacon, aged 13, had overheard Echols confess. Jenni Deacon stated she had been at J.W. Rich Girls Club softball field on the first of June but that it was her friend Rachael Myers who had told her that she (Myers) had overheard the confession.
According to notes from Detective Ridge, Rachel Myers had said a "Shelly Wolf" (correctly, Wolfe) had overheard Damien confess while at a softball park. Ridge interviewed Wolfe who said she had heard this from Shannon Boals.
Shannon Boals, aged fourteen, described it a bit differently.
Around May 21, 93 [6:30 or 7:00 written above line] I was at the Girls Club in West Memphis at my softball game and this girl name Michelle Carter told me that Damien Echols came up to her and said that he killed those boys and I just said really and she said yes. [Shannon Boals, September 7, 1993]
Returning the favor, Michelle Carter (age unknown) said she was told by Shannon Boals. "About 2 weeks ago at my ballgame at the Girls Club I was told by Shannon Boals from Marion that there was a boy named Damien that said he killed the boys and he didn't cut their thing off he bite it off." [Michelle Carter, June 9, 1993]
Trey Boals [15 y.o.], Shannon's brother, said he and David Smith heard a David Way state he had overheard Echols confess. David Way [18 y.o.] said he heard this from David Smith. There are no notes regarding David Smith's version.
The Wolfes lived at 406 Balfour (next door to Richard Simpson), however, Ridge described going to take Wolfe's statement at 504 Balfour. This was the residence, yet again, of the same Ricky McKay who helped Detective Hester collect the bicycles, whose family was part of Damien's alibi, and whose next door neighbor was O'Tinger's mother. While conducting the interview with Wolfe, Detective Ridge encountered Katie LaFoy.
Thirteen-year-old Katie LaFoy said she was present at the softball field at the Girl's Club (on Shoppingway, near Balfour) on the first of June, when Damien spoke to a group of girls including a "Jody Medford." Although Katie said she missed the beginning of the conversation, she did hear Damien say, "yea that I’m going to do it to some more people too." She said she had heard enough to know he was referring to the homicide. Damien then went on to threaten them so they would not talk. Katie said Jason Baldwin was there.
In a June 7th statement, 14 year-old Jodee Medford said during the week of May 24th, she had overheard Damien Echols talking to a group of five or six people at the Girl's Club. She did not recognize the people, but Jason was not among them that night - although she said he was there the next night. She said she heard Damien say "that he had killed the 3 little boys and that before he turned himself in - he was going to kill 2 more and that he already had one picked out." She said Jackie Medford and Christy Van Vickle were with her. In a June 11th statement she changed this, saying Damien had said this to a group including Jason Baldwin and Heather Cliett.
Her sister, ten-year-old Jackie Medford, confirmed part of the story, saying she was there with her best friend Christy and her sister Jodee when she heard Echols say he killed the three little boys. She did not recognize any of the people to whom Echols was talking.
Although not mentioned as being there in her sisters' or mother's statements, twelve-year-old Jessica Medford said she was sitting with her mother when her cousin, Katie Hindrix (Hendrix) asked Echols a question and Jessica overheard Echols answer he killed the three boys.
Donna Medford, the mother of the Medford girls, said she drove a carload of the children home after the ball game including her daughters Jodee and Jackie, Christy Van Vickle and Katie Hendrix. Noticeably absent from her account was Jessica Medford. "They all started talking at once telling me about what the wierd black haired boy had said that night. The all said they heard him say that he had killed those 3 little boys." [Donna Medford, June 7, 1993] According to Donna, Katie Hendrix went on to say ". . . he had said he was going to bite her titties off. When he left she yelled 'Did you really kill those 3 boys & he yelled 'yes'." [ibid] Donna Medford said she did not overhear Echols say anything, but she did see him there that night. Katie Hendrix does not have an interview folder.
Eleven-year-old Christy Van Vickle in a June 11th statement said two weeks ago she was with Jackee Medford at Girls Club. She said she saw Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin talking to a lot of people. "I heard him say that he killed the three boys. It scared me so I walked away. I didn't hear him say any thing else." [Christy VanVickle, June 11, 1993]
The statements of Christy VanVickle and Jodee Medford were each one short paragraph. They were called as witnesses.
Jodee Medford: Um - I heard Damien Echols say that he killed the three little boys and before he turned himself in, that he was gonna kill 2 more and he already had one of 'em picked out. [Jodee Medford testimony, Echols/Baldwin trial]
Jodee Medford elaborated her account during testimony. They arrived about 5:00 p.m. Her sisters, Jackee and Jessica had early games, she was waiting for her game to start. At about 6:30 pm she walked around the corner of a concession stand and saw Damien Echols about 25 feet away. Echols was talking to a group of six or seven people. Jason Baldwin was nearby and his girlfriend, Heather, was standing next to him. In contrast to her June 7th statement, she said Jackee and Christy were not with her.
Fogleman: Ok. And uh - where - were you with your sister Jackie at that time?
Medford: No sir. [snip]
...cross examination, Scott Davidson.
Davidson: Ok. Did - when you say you heard this conversation, did you see, uh - Christy?
Medford: Uh uh.
Davidson: She wasn't around?
Medford: No sir.
Jodee said after she heard this she told her mother. Her mother said it was in the car heading home, so this would have been after Jodee's game. They didn't inform the police or authorities for two weeks. Jodee testified she had never seen Echols before and did not know who he was until after the arrests when she saw him on television.
Christy VanVickle did not add much to her statement during testimony. She said she was with Jackie Medford when she overheard Echols confess.
Davidson: Ok. And were - who were you with at the ballpark?
VanVickle: Um - Jackie Medford.
Davidson: Jackie Medford?
VanVickle: Um hmm.
Davidson: And anybody else?
VanVickle: No sir. [VanVickle testimony, Echols/Baldwin trial]
In contrast Jackie Medford had stated Jodee Medford was with them and in her testimony Jodee Medford had stated she was alone. VanVickle did not quote Echols words, just that "I heard, um - Damien Echols say that he killed the three boys." [ibid] Christy could not provide any details about the context or tone of the confession. Among the twelve instances when she answered she didn't know or couldn't remember:
Davidson: Don't remember when it was, what day of the week was it on?
VanVickle: I don't know. [snip]
. . . . .
Davidson: Did - what did he say before you say that he said he killed those three boys, what did he say before that?
VanVickle: I don't know.
Davidson: What did he say after that?
VanVickle: I don't know.
Davidson: And how close were you to him?
VanVickle: I wasn't close.
Davidson: You weren't close. Did he scream it?
VanVickle: I don't know. [ibid]
Like all of the softball girls, Christy VanVickle only came forward after the arrests.
The one adult who claimed to overhear a confession was the cult doctor, Dale Griffis. In a statement that would one-up that of the softball girls, he said:
When he [Echols] got done testifying, what you didn’t see on television, what you didn’t see in the movie 'Paradise Lost,' was the fact that Damien Echols said, 'I got three, I had 10 more to go for my coven, but that damn cop from Ohio stopped me.' [Dale Griffis interview with Zachary Petit, Tiffin Advertiser Tribune, March 11, 2007]
There were many rumors of confessions, almost exclusively from children and teenagers. Often the ultimate source of the rumors could not be pinpointed. In the case of the softball girls, there were several witnesses who gave contradictory stories that Echols had confessed at the Girl's Club on multiple nights under multiple circumstances, in front of a crowd or not, with Jason present or not, with Damien either making a short declaration or else answering questions. The names of the girl's friends who were with them at the time also conflicted between accounts. From the many claims of casually overheard confessions, two made it to trial, two young children were left to accuse Damien Echols.
The Softball Girl Lineup
Jenni Deacon said Rachel Myers had overheard Echols confess at ballpark.Third base:
Rachel Myers said she overheard this Shelly Wolfe.
Tinkers to Evers to Chance to Evers:
Shelly Wolfe said she heard this from Shannon Boals.
Shannon Boals said she heard this from Michelle Carter.
Michelle Carter said she heard this from Shannon Boals.
Out in left field:
Katie LaFoy said she heard Echols confess at ballpark on the first of June. She said also present was Jodee Medford. No other statements, including Jodee Medford's mentions her presence.
Jodee Medford said she heard Echols confess during the week of May 24. In her June 7, 1993 statement she said her sister Jackie Medford and Christy Van Vickle were there. In her testimony she said Jackie and Christy were not with her.
Jackie Medford said she was with Jodee Medford and Christy Van Vickle when she heard Echols confess.
Backup out in left fielder:
Jessica Medford said she overheard Katie Hendrix ask Echols if he killed the children. Jodee, Jackie and Christy not mentioned as present.
Katie Hendrix - No interview is available.
Christy VanVickle said she was with Jackie Medford when she heard Echols confess.
Donna Medford said the kids discussed the incident in the car afterwards and later during their Memorial Day trip.
Copyright © 2008 Martin David Hill