West Memphis Three - The Crime

The Crime

Three eight-year-old boys—Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers—were reported missing on May 5, 1993. The first report to the police was made by Byers' adoptive father, John Mark Byers, around 7:00 pm. The boys were allegedly last seen together by three neighbors, who in sworn affidavits told of seeing them playing together around 6:30 pm the evening they disappeared, and saw Terry Hobbs, stepfather of Stevie Branch, calling them to come home. Initial police searches made that night were limited. Friends and neighbors also conducted a search that night, which included a cursory visit to the location where the bodies were later found.

A more thorough police search for the children began around 8:00 am on the morning of May 6, led by the Crittenden County Search and Rescue personnel. Searchers canvassed all of West Memphis, but focused primarily on Robin Hood Hills, where the boys were reported last seen. Despite a human chain making a shoulder-to-shoulder search of Robin Hood Hills, searchers found no sign of the missing boys.

Around 1:45 pm, juvenile Parole Officer Steve Jones spotted a boy's black shoe floating in a muddy creek that led to a major drainage canal in Robin Hood Hills. A subsequent search of the ditch revealed the bodies of three boys. They were stripped naked and had been hogtied with their own shoelaces: their right ankles tied to their right wrists behind their backs, the same with their left arms and legs. Their clothing was found in the creek, some of it twisted around sticks that had been thrust into the muddy ditch bed. The clothing was mostly turned inside-out; two pairs of the boys' underwear were never recovered. Christopher Byers had lacerations to various parts of his body, and mutilation of his scrotum and penis.

The autopsies, by the forensic pathologist Frank J. Peretti, indicated that Byers died of "multiple injuries", while Moore and Branch died of "multiple injuries with drowning".

Police initially suspected the boys had been raped; however, later expert testimony disputed this finding despite trace amounts of sperm DNA found on a pair of pants recovered from the scene. Prosecution experts claim Byers' wounds were the results of a knife attack and that he had been purposely castrated by the murderer; defense experts claim the injuries were more probably the result of post-mortem animal predation. Police believed the boys were assaulted and killed at the location where they were found; critics argued that the assault, at least, was unlikely to have occurred at the creek.

Byers was the only victim with drugs in his system; he was prescribed Ritalin (methylphenidate) in January 1993, as part of an attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder treatment. The initial autopsy report describes the drug as Carbamazepine, and that dosage was found to be at sub-therapeutic level. John Mark Byers said that Christopher Byers may not have taken his prescription on May 5, 1993.

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