The following is a series of correspondences with Ken Govar, the man who gave the hitchhiker the ride.
They have been edited to remove personal information and pleasantries of exchanges.
From jivepuppi to Govar, 4/27/05
For a time I have been interested in these murders. Reading a copy of your statement, I thought that you might be able to add something. In particular, the police did look for someone matching the description you gave. I have photos of several "suspects" that may have been the hitchhiker. First question: did you already look at such photos? Second question: would you like to look at these photos? which may be predicated on the third question: would you remember the face after all these years?
If you would like to look at these photos, let me know, and I can send them as jpeg files in an email attachment.
From Govar (10:58 am, 4/27/05)
I remember the hitchhiker well. He was thin and had scraggly blond hair. The tattoos were the most memorable. One was crossed bones with blood drops. The other was kind of a gargoyle. He was riding with some other people he described and he got out of the car and hitchhiked to West Memphis.
Send the photos to my house and I will look. He told me he had worked for a tree service in Little Rock off University Road.
From Govar (1:02 pm, 4/27/05)
I didn’t know if you were aware, but the LR police had a police artist on duty at the time and he drew some pictures. I do not recall if he drew just the man or the tattoo. I recall he did draw the tattoo. The guy I picked up was on his way to West Memphis and wanted out at a C-store that turned out to be very close to the park. He mentioned to me he was supposed to meet the others at the park across the drainage ditch. I asked him how he came to be walking if he had driven from SW little Rock with these other people. He replied they were too “crazy” for him to ride with and the cops might stop them. He said they were all drinking and taking drugs and they had filled up on gas down the freeway and drove off without paying. He was afraid for the cops to see him so he got out and hitched the rest of the way to West Memphis.
I was on my way from Little Rock to a client I insured in Columbus, MS – Eka Nobel. They have a chemical plant I was traveling to when I picked this guy up. Have you followed the history of the step father of one of the kids? He moved to Cherokee Village, AR. and his wife, and mother of one of the victims, later committed suicide. He wrote an article for one of the “alternative” lifestyle magazines about the murders and it seemed to me to implicate himself.
This not the first time this sort of thing has happened in Arkansas. I read an article in the Walnut Ridge paper about “Covens” in Northwest Ar. They named 11 covens and the areas they operated around Jonesboro and Blytheville. I hadn’t heard about this in West Memphis until these deaths. SW Little Rock is full of them.
I think you are on the right track, there has to be more people involved in this than the three teens who were convicted.
[Note: I have not edited out anything essential. I had not indicated believing there is more than the three teens who were convicted]
In response to one of your questions, I have followed this case quite a bit. I even wrote a scholarly paper analyzing the confession of one of the convicted. I am aware of the some of the later actions of the stepfather (Byers). I didn't know how he wrote an article for an alternative lifestyle magazine -- if you have more details, I'd love to hunt that down. Alternative lifestyle intrigues me: was there a lifestyle he was identifying himself as belonging to?
I have seen the sketch drawn by the police and the sketch of the tattoos, and your statement. I can imagine someone from the photo lineup as being similar to the sketch, but my imagination isn't important on this matter.
This is the letter I was preparing for you as I came to check my email.
Okay. Here is some orientation. I'm sending you six photos. These photos were all taken within a month after the murders, usually a couple of weeks. Of course people can cut their hair so little bits like that can change. Also, you described the person had a light complexion. They would have had two or more weeks to possibly change that. Two of these were people that the police, from their files, were actively considering as being the hitchhiker. Of course, it could be none of these people and it could be this person had absolutely nothing to do with the murders, that he was just someone passing through who was in some ways suspicious. I am also sending you photos of the three that were convicted of the crime. The prosecution never suggested that they were the hitchhikers, in some ways they don't match your statement, but, it seems reasonable to look at them. And with six, it makes a sort of lineup, right? Although, it is not a lineup in the traditional sense. They are not chosen only because they look like each other. The three who were convicted, for example, look different from one another and not necessarily similar to the person you saw. I titled the files by their initials: de, jb, jl, jm, tl, and ww. I apologize that they are inconsistent in quality or size.
The questions are:
#1. Have you looked at photos before to try to identify this individual?
#2. Are any of these individuals the hitchhiker?
#3. If yes, how certain are you?
#4. Do you mind me sharing your response with others interested in this case?
I'm not going to say that even if one of these is a match, that it will be a break in the case. The hitchhiker could have had nothing to do with the murder, and by itself, isn't enough. However, it could be the answer to one of the mysteries of the case.
In answer to your questions:
#1. I have not looked at photos before other than what I saw in the paper.
No one has had any conversation with me following my statement to the LR police.
#2 I remember the hitchhiker being late 20's early thirties, white man, thin very weathered as from the tree trimming he said he did. He had the hands to match. Acted like he was on crystal meth or something, very hyper. He had long hair light brown or blond, no beard, tattoos on both arms, one in color. I remember the bottom kid with black hair from the papers - Damien.(de) It was not him hitching. I also recognize the Miskammy tall kid (jm)with dark complextion, it was not him hitching, nor was it the top kid. I believe he was the third.(jb) It is possible it was jl, if he has the tattoos. I do not think it was ww, he looks a little too young. Tl, I remember being one of the boys father from the news coverage. The hiker did not have that full a beard, but he did have the same general body build.
I can't be 100% sure it was jl. Do you know if he has a blood and bones tattoo on his right arm and a gargoyle tattoo with claws on his left arm?
#3 only 50% on jl.
#4 You can share my response with anyone in the interest of justice.
You might recall Damion made the statement to Byers, "You ought to know, you were there!" I recall this article by Byers being discussed in the news. He had published it in this "alternative lifestyle" magazine. The news piece also mentioned a picture of a knife, supposedly that was used. I don't recall it ever turning up as evidence. This magazine was in California and dealt in the occult. This was when I started thinking Byers may be involved. A devil worshiping coven normally has 11-15 people. Byers statements were almost surreal on TV. The three kids were convicted quickly because they met the FBI profile of late male teens killing young males.
Interesting. I did not want to bias any of your responses in advance by giving additional information on who they were, what else in the profile may have matched what you said, including tattoos.
First of all, you correctly picked out the three who were convicted. All of them were in their teens and could not have been your hitchhiker because their whereabouts that day were gone over thoroughly and did not include Little Rock.
Second of all, the two among the photos that the police suspected of being the hitchhiker were WW and JL (the latter one whom you gave a 50% chance to). The other one, TL, was someone whose profile I had seen and who I thought might be worth running by you.
Nobody who the police made files on matched 100% of your details. Or at least if they did have things like connections to Knoxville or repaired cars, it was not found and put in their police files.
As for the tattoos. Both JL and WW had numerous tattoos. You mentioned a bone in a background of red/blood on the right forearm. Both had a tattoo in that position that matched that in color scheme, but not that. This is according to the police description of it: JL had a dagger through heart. WW had a "rose heart."
As for the more interesting tattoo, the story is a little more odd. For WW, the police describe a Grim Reaper but only say on left arm, not where. He is currently incarcerated in Arkansas and the DOC website catalogs his tattoos but does not include a Grim Reaper.
As for JL, the police did not catalog all of his tattoos. This is apparent from a photo that includes his forearms and contrasting that to the list on the police intake. The inside of his left forearm does not include a tattoo. If there was a tattoo of note on his left forearm, it would have to be outside of the picture. Since he is not in prison, there is not the corresponding information from the DOC.
I'll attach a photo of his arms. (JL) Maybe you could say whether the tattoo, the large one was around the other side of his forearm.
I hope this helps some. If you have a comment on his tattoos, let me know.
Okay. I thought I should fill out a few more things here that I left unmentioned in my letter last night. First of all, you said you recognized TL as being a member of one of the victims families. He isn't. He was a suspect for several reasons who fit some of the descriptions you made (skinny, he was semi-transient, out-of-town relying on other people's rides). But he didn't match in several important ways. No tattoos and the heavy beard would have been difficult in a couple of weeks. I thought I 'd throw him in.
I had mentioned WW as being currently in prison. Here is a link to a web page with a fairly current photo on him, William Welch. Don't know if that helps because he certainly has changed over the years, but it is a better quality photo. [link provided to prison photo]
JL remains suspicious in my mind. Some of the people in the area perform self-tattooing, Damien Echols is one of them. These are ink but fade fairly quickly. Photos of Damien Echols taken at the time show his tattoos barely visible. I imagine that could have been the case with the blood-red tattoo. Nothing in this case is easy.
In your statement to police you said the devil tattoo was top left forearm. Could it have been upper left arm? JL (real last name Looney) had a sizeable tattoo there as you can see in his picture, although only part is visible. Unfortunately, there is no description of that tattoo in police notes and this photo is the only evidence of it.
I intend my next statement politely. People's memories shift over time. Your recent description is a bit different from the statement you gave to the police. In the police statement you say the person was light complected and therefore this seemed at odds with being a tree trimmer. You said the person did not have a tree trimmer's hands. Recently, you said differently. I'm not criticizing, this sort of thing happens to everyone. We remember memories, not events, sort of second-handed, if I'm describing that in a way that makes sense. I can send you a copy of your original description if you'd like. I didn't want to send it to you at first, because it can bias you to only think of it one way. I wanted to judge the photo based on what is in your mind, not from trying to reconcile that with an old description.
Ken Govar response, 4/30/05:
M, The only tree trimming outfit I remember out on University Avenue in Little Rock, where the hitchhiker said he worked, is West Tree Service. Someone should search social security deposits from West during this weekly period for all the suspects and one of the victim's fathers. (not Byers) The list might also turn up some other persons of interest. I do not think the guy in the picture is your man. The tattoo on the right arm was in very good color, was of crossed bones with drops of red blood. It sticks in your memory.
The other tattoo was not exactly a grim reaper, it recall it was a gargoyle with rounded tops of wings on the sides and in front holding up talons with three claws. I don't remember if the police artist drew this one. I do not recall the heart and dagger, but I was driving and he was riding.
It would be interesting to see the criminal record of Byers and his late wife and the fathers of the other boys. You should not discount the two suspects WW and JL because you don't yet have information on the other people in the car. Maybe there was a police report from along I-40 that day about a stolen tank of gas. A description of the car or other occupants may have been made in that report. It is a long shot to find a report that old. If you can get the car make, model, color you could search the titles for the LR area for that time period and come up with another list of possibles, check their criminal records and maybe someone is going to appear on two of your lists. I cannot tell you how strongly I feel Byers was involved in this.
Also from Govar on 4/30/05:
Like I said, if the guys in the car were involved in this, and I think they were (because the timing, exact location and condition with drugs and alcohol) I would not discount either TL or WW because they may have been in the car the hitchhiker got out of.
About the hitchhiker description, since it was 13 years ago, I would lean toward my original description. The hitchhiker was white and he was not deeply tanned, but a lot of the tree trimmers wear long sleeves and long pants and a hard hat, so that is not unusual. I may have been trying to say at that time and now, if he was a tree trimmer he may not have been working at it long.
What I find significant about WW is that he has hung out in the Jonesboro area where the devil worshiping covens are known to operate. All the forgery charges from Craighead County indicate this. The devil tattoo is a possible on Looney, I remember it was dark ink and the blood and bones tattoo was in color.
To Govar on 5/3/05
I wanted to respond to several of the points you brought up in your recent correspondences. One is the matter of the stepfather, John Mark Byers, who you suggest should be looked into as a suspect. You are right in your instincts to say that he is suspicious. There are many unanswered questions regarding his actions that evening. He has quite a criminal record including violence, drug-dealing, embezzlement, and I'm sure I'm leaving something out. His wife, the mother of one of the victims, died under mysterious circumstances about two years after the West Memphis murders. None of that is enough to convict and there are key times on the evening of the fifth of May when he did have alibis. My understanding is that he is still being investigated.
You have mentioned a number of time the term "covens." Interestingly, current thinking on this case has it that the murders were not cult-related. This includes the prosecutor, who believes the convicted are guilty, but evidence of their involvement in a cult was minimal. The one person who testified as having been to a cult meeting with the convicted has recanted her testimony. Furthermore, she claims her son witnessed John Mark Byers commit the murders. Her son has given about twenty versions of the story as to who killed the kids or what he witnessed. The bottom line she and her son are not considered reliable.
The rest of the evidence of the cult has been assessed as media hysteria and local rumor. The prosecution says the three convicted were violent thugs performing the equivalent of "wilding." I'm not discounting the presence or possible involvement of your hitchhiker. Certainly thugs have devil tattoos.
When I initially wrote to you, I put forward my professional and forensic credentials, which are true. I have to admit though that my interest in this case is somewhat akin to that of a hobby, the way that some are fascinated by trying to identify Jack the Ripper and there are websites dedicated to that. I find this case endlessly fascinating. I have been studying it for three years, have written one scholarly paper on it, and I still continue to find amazing and surprising new information. Only recently did I get my hands on a copy of your original statements which made me write to you.
I still think the person named Looney may be your hitchhiker. He is described by one person as having a devil tattoo with a hood and "scratches" on his left forearm. (Not far from your description) The police inventory of his tattoos is incomplete, it doesn't count all of the ones that are visible in his photo. Of course there is the question of why the devil tattoo didn't show up in the photo. Could it be because of the way he turned his arms?
As you may be aware this case is one that won't die. There is an entire movement devoted to freeing the three convicted (for being wrongly convicted). It has movie stars, rock stars, etc. who are involved. I don't consider myself part of that movement, although a number of things I have written have called into question whether others were responsible. There are very passionate people on both sides of the issue.
There are two books written about this case, Blood of Innocents which takes a fairly neutral (but sensationalistic) stance as to innocence or guilt and Devil's Knot which strongly suggests that the case was a matter of injustice. There have been two documentaries, Paradise Lost one and two. These enumerate a number of discrepancies in the case. The first one certainly provides disturbing footage of Damien Echols, but also disturbing footage of John Mark Byers. The documentarians are part of the movement to free the convicted.
Thank you again
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