More progress on Jessie Misskelley's epic confession of June 3, 1993; and some observations about the decriminalization of crime and the anarchic implications of the "parole is slavery" movement exemplified in Amazon's pretty darn bad "Free Meek" pseudo-documentary
“Who Killed Garrett Phillips?” PART 2 A brief glimpse behind the curtain of the “wrongful conviction” movement
Who are these people?
Half-rant, half-review of the HBO documentary
To learn more, purchase "Blood on Black" and "Where the Monsters Go" on Amazon.
There is the myth of the West Memphis 3 -- innocent teenagers railroaded by malicious police and prosecutors into murder convictions because of the way they dressed and the music they listened to, there being no evidence against them except the prejudices of Southern white Christians.
And then there is the reality --- three criminally inclined young thugs involved in occultism who gleefully tortured three 8-year-old boys and then brought the justice system down upon them based on multiple factors, including a series of confessions, failed lie detector tests, failed alibis, eyewitness sightings and a history of violence.
The second volume in this series, following "Blood on Black," continues to examine the evidence against Jessie Misskelley Jr., Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols in the murders of Christopher Byers, Michael Moore and Stevie Branch on May 5, 1993.
Misskelley, Baldwin and Echols met up that afternoon just outside Lakeshore Estates Trailer Park, according to the multiple confessions of Misskelley.
Echols and Baldwin were drinking beer. Misskelley had a bottle of whiskey jammed down into his pants.
Misskelley had been told the plan was to go to West Memphis and beat up some boys.
They walked about two miles into woods known as Robin Hood or Robin Hood Hills, just behind the Blue Beacon truck wash located on one of the network of service roads in West Memphis, Ark., where east-west Interstate 40 and north-south Interstate 55 briefly merged.
Echols knew the woods well, having lived in the nearby Mayfair Apartments, frequently walking through the area as a shortcut between his home in West Memphis and his friends in the trailer parks and having been spotted in the woods recently by an acquaintance.
Michael, Stevie and Christopher Byers, all second graders at Weaver Elementary School, lived south of the woods and, like other children in the area, visited the woods frequently to play. That afternoon they were spotted heading toward Robin Hood around 6, close to the time their killers entered from the north.
When Echols heard the children approaching, he began making sounds to lure them in, while Misskelley and Baldwin hid. Then, according to the confessions of Misskelley, and indicated by the blood patterns at the scene and other evidence, the teens jumped the 8-year-olds, beat them viciously, stripped them of their clothes, mutilated Stevie's face, castrated Christopher, sexually molested them, hogtied them and dumped them in a muddy ditch, where Michael and Stevie drowned. Christopher already had bled out from his wounds.
Misskelley quickly left the scene, which was scrupulously cleaned up. Echols was spotted walking along the service road near the crime scene later that evening in muddy clothes.
After frantic parents sparked an extensive search for the missing children, their bodies were discovered the next afternoon by law enforcement officers.
Tales of strange rituals held in the woods by mysterious strangers spread quickly among the crowd gathered near the crime scene.
As detectives and other officers gathered information and talked to witnesses or potential suspects, Echols quickly drew the scrutiny of officers.
Besides the talk among the boys' neighbors, the ritualistic aspects of the murder -- including the way the boys were bound, and timing possibly influenced by setting, proximity to a pagan holiday and celestial events -- furthered suggested occultism as an impetus for the killings.
Local officers were familiar with Echols as a dangerous, mentally ill teenager immersed in witchcraft. Among the many tips coming into police were reports that Echols had been seen near the crime scene that night and that he was heavily involved in a cult.
A series of police interviews with an all-too-knowing Echols did nothing but deepen suspicions. Echols failed a lie detector test, thereafter refusing to talk.
Police heard that Echols had been telling friends about his involvement in the murders.
Vicki Hutcheson, an acquaintance of Misskelley who also was friends with the Byers family, decided to "play detective. As a result of her investigation, and statements from her son, Aaron, who had been a playmate of the dead boys, the West Memphis police brought in Misskelley for routine question about his acquaintance with Echols.
After he, too, failed a lie detector test, he gave the first of a number of confessions about his involvement, along with Echols and Baldwin, in the murders.
Arrests quickly followed.
Baldwin never offered an alibi at trial; after a series of conflicting statements about his activities that day, Echols admitted in testimony that his description of his alibi changed to meet circumstances; Misskelley tried out several alibis, in between his confessions, none of which were sufficient to convince jurors that he had nothing to do with the murders.
The real-life horror story continues to play out in the second volume of this series, with Echols' background and mental illness extensively documented in the first book, "Blood on Black," along with incriminating details on the other two killers.
Baldwin and Echols have been given an opportunity to respond to questions regarding the case but gave no comment, blocking contact via social media. Contact via social media with the reclusive Jessie Misskelley was blocked. Questions posed via social media to Matt Baldwin, Stacy Sanders-Specht, Pamela Metcalf (Pam Echols/Hutchison), Angela Gail Grinnell, Constance Echols Mount (Michelle Echols), Garrett Schwarting, Kenneth “Lilbit” Watkins, Stephanie Dollar, Holly George Thorpe, Jennifer Bearden and John E. Douglas were not answered. The former Deanna Holcomb, who still lives in Arkansas under another name, gave no answer to a Facebook query on an account that otherwise appears active. Heather Dawn (Cliett) Hollis threatened legal action to prevent her name from being used (an empty threat on a number of legal grounds) and otherwise refused to explain the many discrepancies in her stories. Domini Ferris (Domini Teer) graciously and freely gave a phone interview. Susie Brewer responded with a forthright, honest update on her troubled relationship with Misskelley.
Much of the following was drawn from the official record in the words of actual witnesses, friends and neighbors of the killers and their victims.
Some misspellings, etc., in the transcripts have been corrected to facilitate comprehension; obvious transcription errors or lack of punctuation have been addressed, if not completely resolved. Excerpts from transcripts have been minimally edited for readability, sense and flow of narrative. Some information, such as the multiple confessions, has been repeated to set forth as complete a record as feasible. Quotes represent evidence as recorded, as well as common usage in the Arkansas Delta.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Fogleman once said that it would take a book of 1,000 pages to tell the story of the case. These two volumes by no means exhaust the topic. If the case was not so controversial, the story could be told in a standard true-crime format of some 300 pages or so.
Given the one-sided narrative that has dominated this case, these two volumes have the stated purpose of showing the case against the West Memphis 3 killers. No attempt was made to offer the many counter-arguments made by defense attorneys and others benefiting materially from the case or explore the views of the many virtue-signaling "supporters" of the West Memphis 3 killers, since the overwhelming bias of Hollywood, the media and academe has been generously aired for many years. Other than those already noted, any errors are the author's.
"THEY WERE GOING TO GO OUT AND GET SOME BOYS AND HURT THEM."
The initial confessions on June 3, 1993, were the basis of the charges against Jessie Misskelley Jr., Jason Baldwin and Damien Echols.
The “Paradise Lost” films and many subsequent references to that confession frame it as the result of a 12-hour interrogation, with the implication that police browbeat the none-too-bright Misskelley into a false confession.
The times are on record. The facts vary greatly from the “Paradise Lost” timeframe.
At an 8 a.m. squad meeting that morning, West Memphis Police Department officers “discussed at- tempting to pick up Jessie Misskelley Jr. in reference to his being a member of cult that Damien Echols and Ja- son Baldwin are said to be members of. Check possibili- ty of his being a witness to homicide or any statement he may have overheard from Damien or anyone con- cerning the homicide.”
Mike Allen went to the Misskelley home and was told Jessie Jr. was not there but his father was at his job at Jim’s Diesel Service. Allen talked to Jessie Sr. at 9:45.
Jessie Jr. was picked up at the home of Vicki Hutcheson. Allen and Jessie Jr. drove to the police sta- tion.
A subject description was filled out at 10 a.m., listing the 17-year-old’s height as only 5-1, with his
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weight at 125. He had an “FTW” (Fuck The World) tat- too on his right arm, tattoos of a skull with a dagger, the initials of a former girlfriend (A.H.) and “N.W.A.” on his left arm and a “Bitch” tattoo on his chest.
Allen interviewed Misskelley. Ridge observed.
Allen and Ridge took separate notes.
According to those notes, Misskelley said Echols was “sick” and drinks blood, that Echols was always in the company of Baldwin and that Echols had a girl- friend, Domini, skinny, pregnant and red-haired.
Misskelley said he had known Echols for about a year.
According to Allen’s notes, Misskelley said he last saw Echols about three weeks before at Highland Trailer Park at the home of Vicki (Vicki Hutcheson). “I told her he’s sick.” Misskelley said he had never been in Robin Hood Hills.
Ridge’s notes indicated Misskelley said he had not seen Damien in over two months and did not know anything about the murders. Misskelley denied any in- volvement in Satanism. He acknowledged introducing Hutcheson to Echols three weeks before (after saying he had not seen him in two months).
According to both sets of notes, Misskelley had heard rumors that Damien and Robert Burch had com- mitted the crimes.
Misskelley said he was working with Ricky Deese along with Josh Darby on roofing the week of the mur- ders; on May 5, he got off at 5 p.m. and went home and
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stayed home. There was no mention of wrestling, so- cializing or a police call.
Misskelley said he went to the skating rink a lot and saw Echols there nearly every time he went. He had seen Echols with Carl Smith and Baldwin.
Misskelley saw Baldwin get into a fight and get his nose busted at Lakeshore, and saw Echols stick his finger into the blood and lick it.
He agreed to take a polygraph.
Allen read Jessie Jr. his rights around 11 a.m.
Misskelley signed the form. The police determined that Misskelley Sr. needed to sign a consent form.
Little Jessie had been read his Miranda rights and signed similar papers on at least four previous occa- sions: in 1988, twice in late October 1992, and again that March. He had been put on probation for stealing flags from school in 1988, part of a harebrained plan to build his own raceway. Thirteen-year-old Tiffany Allen filed a police report on March 12, 1993, accusing Misskelley of punching her in the mouth.
At 11:15 on June 3, Allen was driving with Jessie Jr. riding in the front seat when they spotted Jessie Sr. driving a tow truck on Missouri Street. The three met at the corner of Shoppingway at Chief’s Auto Parts. Big Jessie, who had been to prison and was familiar with the legal system, signed a waiver allowing Jessie Jr. to undergo a polygraph exam.
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Jessie Jr. was advised again of his rights by Bill Durham at around 11:30 a.m. in preparation for the exam. Jessie Jr. initialed and signed the form.
Three charts were completed, at 11:55 a.m., 12:03 and 12:11 p.m., with about 15 minutes spent on an in- terview after the tests.
After analysis, Durham announced around 12:30 p.m.: “He’s lying his ass off.”
Durham indicated Misskelley gave deceptive an- swers of “No” to these questions:
3. Have you ever been in Robin Hood Hills?
5. Have you ever took part in devil worship?
7. Have you ever attended a devil worship cere- mony in the Turrell/Twist area?
- Are you involved in the murder of those three boys?
- Do you know who killed those three boys?
Misskelley broke down after being told he failed the test, and immediately began to confess, as officers took notes. From 12:40 to 2:20, Ridge and Gitchell con- tinued interrogating Misskelley, who admitted he saw Echols and Baldwin kill the three boys.
Misskelley said he had received a call from Bald- win, with Damien on the line in the background, the night before the murders.
“They were going to go out and get some boys and hurt them.” Baldwin and Echols wanted him to go with them; Misskelley heard Damien tell Jason that he
'The Case Against the West Memphis 3 Killers, Vol. I'
ought to tell Misskelley that they were going to get girls or something but Jessie knew what was planned.
Misskelley had gotten three calls about the killings, one the day before, one the morning of the murders, one “after dark.” In the last conversation, Baldwin was on the line but Misskelley could hear Echols in the background saying, “We did it. We did it. What are we going to do now? What if somebody saw us?”
He said it sounded as if Baldwin was at home on that call, since he heard Baldwin’s brother in the back- ground. Misskelley couldn’t give more exact times on the calls.
Misskelley said he saw photos of the victims dur- ing a cult meeting. Misskelley was shown a photo of Christopher Byers. After he “looked hard” at the photo, Misskelley said it was the “Moore boy” and said the boy was in the Polaroid shown at cult meetings.
He said that a 15-year-old friend of Jason’s named Ken, who wears a long coat, would bring a briefcase to the meetings, always held on Wednesdays. The brief- case contained guns, marijuana, cocaine and a picture of the three victims in front of a house. He did not know who had the briefcase, which was never found.
Misskelley said Echols had been in the woods watching the boys prior to the attacks. He said Echols had been watching the boys for a long time, that he was hanging out at the skating rink to find boys. He told of- ficers that Echols and Baldwin had sex with each other.
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Baldwin had a folding knife and always carried a knife, while Echols did not.
Misskelley said he “didn’t want to be a part of this,” that Echols and Baldwin were killers while he was not.
Misskelley described meetings of a "Satanic cult" held in different places, including Robin Hood, at which they would build fires of paper, wood “and stuff.” Misskelley said, “Someone brings a dog and they usually kill the dogs. They will skin the dog and eat part of it.” The animal killing was part of the ritual; if a person ate the meat, he became part of the group.
Misskelley named some attendees: Christina Jones, Dennis Carter, Jason, Damien, Adam, Ken, Tiffany Allen and Domini (he didn’t know most of the last names). Jones and Carter were friends with Misskelley. Those subsequently interviewed by police denied any involvement in the occult.
Generally eight or nine people would attended, and had an orgy afterward (three on one, he said).
Ridge: “Jessie told of one occasion he had gone to the scene of the murders and sat down on the ground and cried about what had happened to the boys. He had tears in his eyes at this time telling about the incident. I felt this was a remorseful response about the occurrence and that he had more information than what he had re- vealed at this point.”
Those close to Jessie had seen signs of guilt and remorse.
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Misskelley’s friend, Buddy Lucas, later told offi- cers that on May 6, at about 9 a.m., a tearful Misskelley had confessed his involvement in the crimes from the night before.
Lee Rush, Jessie Sr.’s girlfriend, lived in the family trailer. After Jessie Jr.’s arrest, three police officers visit- ed the Misskelley home and secured the scene until a search team could arrive.
Det. Charlie Dabbs wrote: “While sitting in their living room for approximately two hours, and during conversation Mr. and Mrs. Misskelley talked about dif- ferent incidents. During the conversation, Mrs. Misskel- ley got to talking about how Jessie Jr. was waking her up at night crying and having nightmares. Every time she went into his room he would be crying hysterically and he would tell her it was because his girlfriend was moving away. She told us it happened a number of times, and that she could not believe his girlfriends' moving would cause that kind of hysterical behavior, but that little Jessie had been acting strange.”
Det. Tony Anderson wrote: “During the course of this conversation Mrs. Misskelley made the statement, ‘I knew that something was wrong, a few nights ago little Jessie was in his room and crying so loud and sobbing so hard that it woke me up, I went in and asked him what was wrong?, his reply was that his girl friend was moving to Florida.’
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“Another short period of time passed and Mrs.
Misskelley made the same identical remarks again about little Jessie crying and waking her up!”
Deputy Howard Tankersly wrote: “We sat there for 2 or 3 hours making casual conversation with each other and the Misskelleys. At one point Misskelley’s wife stated that one night Little Jessie awoke her he was crying and screaming. He asked him the next date what was wrong and he stated that his girlfriend had him up- set, as she was suppose to be moving to Florida.”
Between 12:40 and 2:20 p.m., police broke down what little resistance Jessie Jr. had with a series of adept moves, such as showing him a picture of a victim.
Misskelley was already talking freely when Gitchell played a tape-recording of an eerie voice say- ing: “Nobody knows what happened but me.”
The voice was Aaron Hutcheson. Misskelley told Gitchell and Ridge: “I want out of this! I want to tell you everything!”
He did just that.
Misskelley explained through tears what hap- pened. Ridge, also brought to tears, said in his notes: “Jessie seemed to be very sorry for what had happened and told that he had been there when the boys were first coming into the woods and were called by Damien to come over to where they were.” Preparations began for taping the confession.
At 2:44 p.m., Misskelley was officially arrested for murder after being informed of his Miranda rights.
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From 2:44 p.m. to 3:18 p.m., he confessed again in a tape-recorded session.
Because of discrepancies (Misskelley later said he deliberately misrepresented key facts), Gitchell con- ducted a followup tape-recorded interrogation some- time between 3:45 and 5:05 p.m. Work started on obtain- ing search and arrest warrants for Echols and Baldwin.
The total time between Misskelley first being brought to the police station and the conclusion of tap- ing that day was 7 hours and five minutes, with 2 hours and 19 minutes between the time the tape recorder was turned on and the last of the recording. Interrogations with Misskelley as a suspect began at 12:40 and ended at 5:05, a span of four hours and 25 minutes with inter- vals of down time. Misskelley had brought in around 10, much of the time between 11 and 12 was spent securing permission from his father for a poly- graph. He was telling all after a mere two hours and 40 minutes. Claims in the second “Paradise Lost” movie that the interrogation lasted 12 hours were highly mis- leading.
Misskelley was offered food at 3:22 p.m. but “he refused saying that he couldn’t eat anything.”
He was given two cigarettes.
He drank a Coke about the time of the followup interview.
He was asked again if he wanted to eat at 5:05
p.m. He refused, but “did go ahead + get something to eat.”
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He was given a hamburger and a coke at 6:15
p.m. and was asked if he needed to go to the restroom at 6:33 p.m.
At 9:06 p.m., Ridge, Gitchell and Fogleman ap- peared for a probable cause hearing before Judge “Pal” Rainey. Warrants were issued allowing immediate searches.
At 10:28 p.m., police cars descended upon High- land Trailer Park, Lakeshore Estates and Broadway Trailer Park.
Baldwin and Echols were arrested at the Echols trailer while watching a horror film, “Leprechaun.” Echols’ parents were at Splash Casino in Tunica County, Mississippi, about 50 miles away. Damien, Michelle, Domini and Jason were celebrating the last day of school, although Jason was the only teen attending school.
Well into the prosecution of the case and after his conviction, Misskelley talked freely; at times he made claims of mistreatment and untoward coercion by po- lice. He continued to swear he was innocent when talk- ing to his father and family but talked of his guilt with police.
Various officers and attorneys, both for the prose- cution and defense, heard his confessions in a variety of settings and circumstances. Misskelley consistently told them that Baldwin and Echols killed the three boys on May 5 in Robin Hood Hills in his presence and with his cooperation.
Episode 30: “It was like it never even happened” Vicki Hutcheson’s story with some side comments on Ryan Ferguson and Henry Lee Lucas
n a 2004 story in the Arkansas Times, Vicki Hutcheson said about the trip to the esbat: “Every word of it was a lie.” Lie or not, her testimony played no role in the Echols/Baldwin case and was not crucial to the conviction of Misskelley. Jurors there were largely convinced by the confession, particularly where Misskelley described chasing down Michael. Some jurors told reporters that the occult trappings were not particularly convincing and were ultimately irrelevant to reaching a guilty verdict.
Though she later claimed coercion, police interviews indicated Vicki was eager to play a starring role in the investigation, perhaps with hopes of collecting a reward.
As Bray described her role in his notes on a June 2, 1993, interview: “She said she was trying to play detective because she had heard Damien was involved in devil worship and she thought it might be connected to the murders.”
In 2004, Hutcheson told the Arkansas Times that she only testified as instructed by the West Memphis PD, under a threat that she would have her child taken from her and that she could be implicated in the murders. There was no evidence of a police threat.
She testified in 1994 that “West Memphis knew nothing” about her plan to “play detective” when she set up meetings with Echols. “I decided that on my own. Those boys I loved, and I wanted their killers caught.” As for the $30,000 reward, “it had nothing to do with it.”
She did receive help from law enforcement in checking out occult books from the library, in an effort to impress Echols, and in setting up a recording device under her bed. Police said the resulting tapes were of such poor quality as to be of no use; she claimed to hear high-quality recordings.
She testified she never met John Fogleman until a month or two before the trial.
Her statements were filled with largely unsolicited and unschooled details about interactions with Misskelley and Echols.
Aaron considered Michael and Christopher his best friends, dating from when he lived on East Barton. According to his mother, “those were his only friends.”
In a May 28, 1993, interview with Ridge and Sudbury, she described picking up Aaron after school on May 5: “I was waiting in where the teachers park on the side of Weaver Elementary, and watching for Aaron. It was approximately 15 after 3, and Michael Moore came to one side of my truck and Christopher Byers to the other and Aaron you know close to them … and they were telling me Ms. Vicki there’s a Cub Scout thing tonight, and Aaron needs to go, and Michael’s father is their troop leader and … Michael was really incessant upon Aaron going, and uh, they just keep saying there’s a Cub Scout thing. Ms. Vicki … he has to go, he has to go. And I said no this is Wednesday night. Cub Scouts are tomorrow Thursday night and they just kept on. Finally you know, they got it through he wasn’t going to go, because I just thought they wanted to go and play, and um, he said well then can Aaron just come to my house, and you can pick him up in two hours. Which I had done frequently so he had assumed I would do it then, and I just said no because I had some errand to ran. Aaron did not go. … I went home.”
She went to the grocery about 5:30 and stopped somewhere to eat, with Aaron in tow. “He was never alone.” They got home “probably about eight or so.”
Among her errands, she would tell prosecutors, was going to the liquor store to purchase two bottles of Evan Williams whiskey for Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Dennis Carter, who were both underage.
His mother’s story on May 28 contradicted any stories Aaron told about his trip to Robin Hood that afternoon. She gave a different version of Aaron’s activities for May 5 on June 2, abruptly becoming unable to account for him that afternoon while he was nominally under the care of a babysitter. The June 2 version gave Aaron time to go to the woods.
On May 6, after discovering his friends were missing, she pulled Aaron out of school and took him over to the Moore house. She said, “Todd asked Aaron if he might know did Chris or Michael say anything to him, to the effect where they might be. He said no, there, you know you can tell when your child is lying and it was like he knew something was up. And uh, he said after we had left the Moores coming out of their door he told me Mama let’s to go the club house. We need to go to the club house.”
She had been to the site before, the “clubhouse” being boards nailed up in a tree. She was not able to get there because the entry at the dead end of McCauley was cordoned off by police.
The question persists as to whether there was a “clubhouse.” Jessie Misskelley in one confession mentioned the “clubhouse” and then corrected himself, saying he had been thinking of a clubhouse near Highland. Aaron gave little description of the clubhouse, which he repeatedly mentioned. It may have been formed largely by imagination —- whether by the boys or just Aaron. Boys commonly stake out territory as “clubhouses,” treehouses and “forts” in play. Old boards at the scene could have been part of the “clubhouse.”
“Aaron told me that um he and Michael and Chris visit their club house every day and they rode their bikes and they were spying on 5 men and ah I asked him who they were and he said I don’t know Mom who they were I just you know we just spying on em. I said why would you be spying on 5 men, you know? And he said well they were there every day so we would watch them. I said what made you interested in them. He said because they paint themselves and they have dragon shirts and they talk in Spanish. And I say, Aaron, they talk in Spanish how do you know that’s Spanish? I mean, you don’t know Spanish. He said well I don’t understand what they’re saying, and they sing bad things, and I said like what kind of bad things. My father being a preacher, Aaron has been in my church quite often, you know, and …
“He said they sing about the Devil, and, you know, that we love the Devil and um he said, I think that they love the Devil more than God, Mom. And I told him … why didn’t y’all leave why didn’t you come home, were you scared? They said no we hid. They couldn’t see us. … I said so y’all went there every day. He said we went there every day but wouldn’t go on Friday. And I told him why how do you know Friday? And he said, well because that’s the day before the weekend, you know, the last day of school and I know that it was Friday and they didn’t come. And ah, I said okay what happened? What did they do? And he said well when they first saw them you know they sat around a fire in a circle by this tree … they did this like several times and then they’d sing a song and they’d … dance around the tree. Then he told me that these 5 men took their clothes off. And I said Aaron you know that they took their clothes off, why didn’t you leave? And he said because we were scared. And they were scared, I guess, of getting caught then and ah he said Michael kept telling him that it was an Indian thing they were supposed to do and Chris said no they’re getting ready to have sex. And I told Aaron, Aaron doesn’t know about sex and we talked about it and all the books that you’ve seen um he said that they had their peters in each other’s butts and said they watched. … And I just got into detail with him. With the sex thing. …
“I know he’s telling the truth.”
Vicki added: “Jessie Misskelley had told Aaron that um the boys killer had been found. And ah Aaron was ecstatic over it. He was very happy….
“He later found that that wasn’t true …
“… What’s really weird is that he said you know exactly that it was a Satanistic group, namely the Dragons.”
She also related that she had heard third-hand that Robert Burks — actually Robert Burch — had told a teen girl that he had killed the boys and would kill the girl if she talked. Burch, whose name came up repeatedly in the investigation, talked to police and offered no alibi, but there was nothing but rumor and an acquaintance with Baldwin and Misskelley linking him to the case.
Vicki also named some of Damien’s friends in the Satan worshippers: Shawn “Spider” Webb, “Burks,” “Snake,” “Jason, some little boy named Jason, I don’t know his name he lives in Lakeshore,” and Misskelley.
“There’s a guy he calls Lucy but everyone else calls Lucifer. … He’s an older guy he’s, he’s probably closer to my age, thirty. … I haven’t really been real up close with him you know I’ve seen him in a car, um, he’s got brownish hair and he does have a big nose. … I believe he had glasses on.” She said Lucifer drove an old beaten-up car “like an Impala or Caprice. … It looked like ah primer color. You know like they were gonna paint it.”
The mysterious “Lucifer” popped up again and again in descriptions of the cult in Lakeshore, with varying characteristics, though consistently described as older than the teens.
In her May 28 interview, Vicki described how, shortly after the killings, she sent Aaron out of town for eight days to stay with her sister, meanwhile talking to people about the case, including “a Little Jessie, Jessie Misskelley, lives down the street from me and you know that I was really close to him … because he was always around. He doesn’t go to school or anything. He like help you mow the lawn and stuff and I’d gotten really close with him. He made mention after this came out that um he had saw Chris Byers over by the Beacon that morning on the morning that you know they were found and that Chris was in a pink shirt and even picked him out in the paper to me … that was odd for him to say something like that so … I just keep talking with Jessie cause ah Jessie’s I means not a bad kid but you know you don’t know who people know. So I just kept talking to Jessie about stuff and Jessie told me about a friend of his named Damien and this friend drank blood and stuff. He just keep going on and on on about how weird he was and stuff. So by the way you know the stuff that we knew the public knew that was coming out in the paper and stuff I just thought how they were killed was odd but you know maybe it was like a devil worshipping thing or you know something just hit me that might be it and I thought that this kid doing this you know maybe he knew something or …. or maybe Jessie knew something so um Jessie had told me that Damien hang out at Lakeshore and so I went out of my way, you know, to try to go around Lakeshore and, you know, people around there and I told Jessie I had seen Damien and he asked me how did I know it was Damien? And I said that there was a little boy Adam who’s a friend of mine’s little boy … and he had … pointed him out to me and … he said well you know he’s kinda weird. I said no, I think he’s hot. I really want to go out with him. Can you fix me up with him? And you know he was real surprised but he said yeah, if you want to go out with him I’ll fix you up with him and he did.”
So Hutcheson thought that “maybe Jessie knew something” based on strange things he had said and the fact that Misskelley was fascinated with Echols’ weird practices and beliefs, such as drinking blood.
Jessie fixed up Vicki and Damien. It didn’t take much persuasion; Misskelley drove Hutcheson’s pickup over to Baldwin’s home, told Echols that he knew a women who wanted to meet him and Echols went along for the ride. Eventually Echols would show up at her trailer about six times, apparently never spending much time, according to Hutcheson. She told police that she was not attracted to Echols and found him frightening. She said they never had sex. Based on her retraction statements years later, Echols actually showed up just once for a very brief, awkward visit.
Hutcheson told Ridge: “He came to my house, the very first time I met him. … We talked about um lots of different stuff. He’s not real real talkative. You you kinda have to pull things out of him but he uh keep telling me about the boys murders and how he had been he said… questioned. He always said that I was accused for 8 hours I was accused of killing those 3 little boys and … I just acted like it was no big deal. … And I said well you know why would they pick you in West Memphis you know? There are bookoo’s of people. Why would they just pick you out? And he just looked at me I mean just really weird. And said because I’m evil. …
“He called me um he told me that he would like to see me again and stuff like this and ah I said okay. So you know he just kept coming over and he never really um gave me times or when I’m coming but he would just drop in. …
“And uh in the meantime communicating with Officer Bray I had gotten some Satanic books and witch books and all this and we were sitting on my couch and I had laid them out where he could see them right close to my table. He said, you know he picked one up, and asked me what I was doing. I got out a Cosmopolitan, and in the back there was a wicka thing that you write to, and you can become a witch or go to witch school or something like that. Anyway I told him not to worry you know this is what I’m wanting to be and he just looked at me really weird and he said you don’t have to go like that. You don’t have to go there to do that. …
“No. It would all come in time is what he said. It’ll happen in time. …
“The next day after he finds out that I’m wanting to go do this he told me and asked me did I want to go to esbat. I didn’t know what esbat was. I looked it up in the book and found out that it was a meeting and I thought immediately yeah this is where I want to go. I want to see what’s going on. …
“Then he took me, he picked me up and he took me in a red Escort. He drove us to Turrell, and ah ….”
She said Misskelley went along for the ride to Turrell, a small poor community of about 800 residents about 12 miles north of Marion. The Wapanocca National Wildlife Refuge, centered around Lake Wapanocca, is adjacent to the township. The esbat location sometimes is referred to as Turrell-Twist or Twist, the name of a small farm-based community at the Crittenden-Cross county line.
Misskelley told officers on June 3 that Damien drove a red car owned by Jack Echols. Among the many criticisms t about the esbat story are a) Damien didn’t drive and b) Damien didn’t have access to a red car. It seems unlikely that Misskelley mentioned the red car just to corroborate Hutcheson's story.
Hutcheson described the trip “… He um took us to —- I’m not really familiar, I’m from Springdale, so I’m not familiar with this area even — but Turrell. I was really lost. …
“… I do know where kinda where he went you know we turned off and hit a dirt road and about by some kind of water and in woods in a field and by the time we had gotten there … it was dark. Um, it was quite a drive. …
“And we went out, got out of the car and … it was just really dark especially out you know in the woods. It was just dark and I was scared a little bit in fact but we held hands just like you would hold my hand and keep trying to comfort me. He knew I was scared. …
“… He told me it would be okay you know not to be scared, don’t worried and ah Jessie went to the crowd. Then you could see there was a crowd of kids.”
There were about 10, none over age 18, with faces painted black.
“… What you could see of their bodies without … their clothes you know was painted their … arms were painted, you know, they had on jeans ….
“They stood around and it seemed like they were just talking and stuff and Damien and I stood back away from them. We never went to the crowd.”
A teen she knew, Shawn Webb, stepped away to talk with them.
“… When he got close enough to me I could tell who he was. He talked with Damien um you know just what’s up you know just bull crap and then walked back over and then these kids took their clothes off and began touching each other and I knew what was going to happen ….
“I looked at Damien and said I want to leave … He said okay. … Jessie stayed. …
“After he brought me home we went into my house and you know just sat there and talked and stuff and he never made comment about it or anything. It was like it never even happened. … He went, he left, and went home.”
She said this occurred on Wednesday, May 19.
“… He called me on Thursday and he told me about this girl being pregnant … and you know he’s going to have to take care of her or make her think he’s that you know he’s faithful to her. … And so ah the word has gotten out that I was seeing him because I’m a you know an older woman and … everything so he said we’re going to have to kinda cool it and keep it down … and so I kinda thought well God I’ve ruined it, you know, she’s ruined it for me and I’m not going to be able to see him anymore. I thought he’d just quit calling. …
“But he called all the time wanting me know you know what men are at my house. … And I do have a boyfriend that I see all the time and ah so he you know is there quite often.
“… My house was really quiet … this last Wednesday. Nobody came over or anything. Jim came over after he got off work and it was about 1:30 when he got off and we just sat and talked on the couch and watched a movie. It was about 3:30 and we heard this big when I mean it sounded really horrible, it scared me to death. And ah so Jim got up, he and I both got up and went to my door and we looked out front underneath um my window where I keep plants. I have like a really thick board that’s been nailed up and has some bolts underneath it and this thing was broke completely in half. … No one was around. … I asked Damien. He called me last night. I asked him um what did you do Wednesday night, hung out. I said you didn’t come to my house did you? He said I know you were there with Jim, that’s all that matters and that’s it. That was the end of it.”
Ridge asked, “Did he say he was jealous of that?”
Vicki replied, “Are you kidding, I mean you could tell that he’s mad. … He was very calm but aggravated is what I would call it.”
In a June 2 interview, Hutcheson repeated much of her story to Bray and said someone the night before had been looking into her windows.
She left 15-year-old roommate Christy Anderson babysitting Aaron while she went to Kroger. When she returned around 11 p.m., a 15-year-old friend visiting the trailer said she had seen someone looking into the living room window. Aaron reported someone had been looking into his bedroom window and had pulled on a wire leading into the bedroom hard enough to pull a console from under the bed.
Apparently no one called the police, and no suspect was found. The incident was similar to incidents in which Echols was seen stalking children and young girls.
The night before he was arrested, Misskelley spent the night at the Hutcheson trailer, reportedly sleeping on the couch, because she was concerned about a prowler.
Echols stopped talking to Vicki after May 28, when the FBI supposedly came out and took photos of his trailer. She had planned a party for Saturday, May 29, inviting Echols, Misskelley and Robert Burch. When nobody showed up, she phoned Echols around 8 or 9 p.m. He told her he had something important to do. When she asked if she could come along, he said no.
She tried to talk him again on June 1 around 7:30 p..m. Echols’ sister Michelle told her Damien had gone to bed. Bray noted: “Vicki says she is scared now.”
Hutcheson took a polygraph test June 2. No deception was indicated when she said that she had not met Echols prior to three weeks before, that she had not told Aaron what to tell police, that she had no foreknowledge of the murders and that no one told her they were involved in the killings.
A decade after the trial, on June 24, 2004, Hutcheson gave a sworn statement to the Misskelley defense team in which she claimed that Don Bray and Jerry Driver persuaded her that Echols was guilty.
She described her initial meeting with Echols as a fiasco, describing him as a normal teen.
Vicki claimed that the tapes of their conversation were of good quality but worked against the case the police were hoping to build.
She claimed Ridge suggested that, if she could not deliver evidence against Echols, she could be seen as the vital link between the killers and their victims, that she could be implicated in the homicide. “And they also told me it would be a shame if I lost Aaron over this whole thing.”
She claimed Ridge schooled her over 12-and-a-half hours on a made-up story about the esbat trip. “And then I just started making up stuff as I went because I didn’t know what else to do and I did.”
After their first meeting, she claimed she talked to Echols just once, when she called him and he said he was under FBI surveillance.
On the day of her court appearance, “I was kind of high. I couldn’t even stand up. I even had somebody go get me some more pills.”
She had taken four Prozac, at least 13 Valium and four pain pills prior to testifying.
She had been taking Prozac, Valium and a sleeping medication, Trazodene, during May, all from the East Arkansas Mental Health Center, as well as pain pills from Melissa Byers, Christopher’s mother, and downers from another friend. She was seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist. She said she was bipolar, had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had post-traumatic stress syndrome.
At the time of the trial, her part-time job as a bartender at the Ramada Inn allowed her to drink “as much as I wanted. I should say that when I left I felt pretty good every night.”
In 1994, after the trials were over, she told defense investigators that she drank a bottle of Wild Turkey whiskey prior to the trip to the esbat and could not recall the circumstances or who accompanied her, only that she awoke the next morning lying on her front lawn. The drinking bout was spurred by a disagreement with her boyfriend.
She claimed Misskelley stayed overnight at her home, armed with a gun, because Mark Byers “was always bothering us.”
Hutcheson said she became a methamphetamine addict while working at a strip club prior to going to prison around 1995. In 2004, she said she had recently gotten off meth.
The timeline on harassment by Byers in May 1993 seemed to make little sense as her role in the case wasn’t public knowledge then. In 2004, she said “We kept it quiet until Ron Lax’s big mouth and he opened up that whole can of worms you know. And everybody found out they had talked to Aaron and then they found out about me and all that deal.”
She said Byers wanted to talk with Aaron “by himself with him to McDonald’s.” She refused. She complained Byers started buying Aaron gifts and brought a Christmas tree to their house. She would see “someone,” “a really tall, big person” hanging around her back porch. “And I just knew it was Mark. I just had a feeling it was Mark.” At the time she was telling the story, she and her son were on board with Byers being an “alternative suspect.”
She said Misskelley was familiar with Michael through Michael’s friendship with Aaron.
Vicki appeared for a Baldwin Rule 37 hearing on Aug. 14, 2009, and answered a few questions. Then the court, the prosecutors and her attorneys conferred on whether contradicting her testimony from 1994 would be perjury, finally determining that she could be open to prosecution. There was no offer of immunity. She did not testify.
While the Hutchesons provided a crucial link to the solution of the case through their friendship with Misskelley, Vicki’s “investigation” yielded little of worth —- Echols was an acknowledged witch so she would have provided “proof” only of what was already known if she had testified. He made no self-incriminating statements to her.
As for Aaron, childish fantasies aside, he provided a seemingly plausible link between the killers and their victims. Whether there was a pre-arranged meeting between the killers and their victims remains an open question.
"It was like it never even happened"
The Hutchesons, Vicki and son Aaron, were key to solution of the case, offering tantalizing evidence that resulted in the confession of Jessie Misskelley and subsequent arrests of Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin.
Their stories, though, never quite panned out, as mother and son both put their imaginations to work on colorful yarns that increasingly posed problems for the prosecution.
Tall, red-haired Vicki had a sketchy past, including charges for writing hot checks. In May 1993, she recently had separated from her husband, having moved April 19 from the West Memphis neighborhood adjacent to Weaver Elementary to Highland Trailer Park. There the 30-year-old had befriended Jessie Misskelley Jr.
Aaron, a sturdily built, dark-haired 8-year-old, was in the same grade as the dead boys and in the Cub Scout troop run by Michael’s father, Todd. Aaron had played regularly with Michael and Christopher.
Aaron’s description of their friendship grew over the course of police interviews into an ever-changing narrative in which he became a witness to the killings —- and ultimately an unwilling participant. But at first he was regarded as truthful in his tales of seeing five men participate in group sex in the woods and cooking a cat near the boys’ “club house,” near where the killings occurred.
In a report on May 28, Ridge found Aaron’s claim to have seen cult activities from the “club house” to be credible. Ridge, though, was unable to find any sign of the “club house” —- apparently a tree stand that no longer existed by the time Aaron led officers into the woods.
Meanwhile, his mother, drinking heavily and consuming a variety of prescribed and illegal drugs, resolved to “play detective” by getting to know Jessie’s friend Damien. She had heard rumors that Echols was responsible for the murders. She claimed she learned that he was involved with a group known as the Dragons, who supposedly worshipped dragons and whose meetings included a ritual in which they sacrificed genitals.
Victoria Hutcheson first heard about the murders while at the Marion Police Department on May 6, as news of the discovery of the bodies spread. She had taken a lie detector test about a $200 credit overcharge at the truck stop where she worked. She was checking on the results; she passed the polygraph and was cleared of potential charges but was fired nonetheless.
She brought Aaron with her to the station, after checking him out of school when she learned the boys were missing.
The boys were not known to be dead when the Hutchesons arrived at Marion PD.
When Assistant Chief of Police Donald Bray learned Aaron had been friends with Michael and Christopher, he called the WMPD to inform them that Aaron might be a source of information. Then he was told the bodies had been discovered.
Bray immediately began questioning Aaron and his mother.
Vicki said Chris and Michael had asked Aaron to come play with them Wednesday right after school but she had refused permission.
Aaron said he had been with his friends several times at Robin Hood Hills and that Michael had gone swimming in the ditch. His initial account contained none of the over-the-top details that marked later statements.
Bray was well-acquainted with Jerry Driver and Steve Jones, two juvenile officers who had extensive dealings with Echols and friends. Bray readily concurred with them about possible occult aspects to the killings and with their suspicions about Echols and Baldwin. Bray was quickly convinced that Aaron could be the source of vital clues. He pursued information from Aaron long past the point of credibility.
Aaron’s first statement to West Memphis police on May 10 was full of vivid description that had little relation to reality — he said a black man with yellow teeth driving a maroon car had stopped to tell Michael that Michael’s mother had sent him to pick up Michael and that Michael rode off with him. The Moore back yard literally backed up to the main entrance at Weaver Elementary; no one picked Michael up or would have had reason to pick him up; he walked home that day, as always.
On May 27, Aaron told another fantastic tale, though just credible enough to excite investigators. A snippet of that interview, with his childish voice eerily saying “Nobody knows what happened but me,” was played back to Misskelley on June 3, one of several effective interrogation techniques used to elicit Misskelley’s confession.
Aaron said he, Michael and Chris had a club house in Robin Hood and that “sometimes we watched these men. … They were uh, doing nasty stuff. … They, they do what men and woman do,” going on to say that the five men gave each other oral sex while the boys watched from a hiding place.
He said all but one of the men wore black T-shirts, with one wearing a white T-shirt and having long hair. They all carried “big knives.” He described them smoking rolled-up cigarettes that “stunk” and said they painted their faces black. “There was a skull commander he had on a necklace and there is a snake in its eye. …’” The necklace was a pendant similar to a pendant or earring that Echols lost at the Hutcheson home. Aaron had become fascinated by the jewelry after discovering the earring.
Aaron said the men used a briefcase, a detail that agreed with later stories from Jessie Misskelley Jr. about the cult meetings. Aaron said the men had been “mean” to a dog but “they caught cat they cut his head off and ate it. … They ate the whole cat but his head” after cooking him. Misskelley and others told about killing and eating pets.
Aaron thought the boys went to watch the men on Wednesday … “They got caught, and then they never told the men, and the men sorta killed them.”
On June 2, shortly before the arrest of his friend Jessie, Aaron elaborated with details about the men, saying they would dance around a fire and say “bad stuff” about “Jesus and God. I mean the Devil and God. … That they said they like the Devil and they hate God.” Aaron told Ridge and Allen: “They wore all white and they painted themselves black. … They all talk in Spanish.”
Aaron also had a strange story about Misskelley: “Little Jessie said that um, he seen Michael. …. He seen a police car. He was coming out from the um and he seen the police car and like he ran under … back underneath the bridge. … He didn’t see Chris or Steve. … Little Jessie said he seen a um he seen a cop … cop car coming out from underneath the bridge close to my house … It was close to my, I think there were coming to my house, and they … they got lost to where I lived.”
Ridge asked: “… You think Stevie and Michael were coming to your house?”
Aaron: “Because I think they all was, I told Michael before.”
Ridge: “Where you lived, so you thought maybe they were going to ride over to your house? And Little Jessie said he thought he saw them that day. Is that right?”
Aaron: “He did see Michael.”
Ridge repeated: “He did see Michael.”
Aaron: “Michael has brown hair and he had on our Cub Scout T-shirt and his blue pants.”
Ridge: “Oh, where did he see him at?”
Aaron: “He seen him — you know that bridge where that train going today um, he seen him underneath that one. … That’s close to my house.” If Misskelley actually told Aaron the details about the clothes, that would be highly incriminating, but Aaron's statements had little credibility; as for second-hand statements from Misskelley, even less so.
In his initial statements, Misskelley said he had seen a boy on a bicycle near Seventh Street — one of the routes between Highland and Robin Hood — who hid when he saw a police car. Apparently Misskelley also told Aaron this story —- to no clear purpose.
Ridge asked Aaron about Misskelley’s friends, and Aaron mentioned Bubba (Ashley) and Dennis (Carter). Asked about someone named Damien, he said “Bubba’s friend, Bubba’s friend. … I never knew him, but Jessie … Jessie um, shown me him and I didn’t get real close to him.”
Ridge asked questions trying to connect possible suspects with the men in the woods, but Aaron had never seen any of them elsewhere, except once at a Flash Market convenience store. The one who wore a white tank top was paying for gas for “a nice car … it was a convertible.”
Asked if the men had seen the boys, Aaron replied, “Uh, I think so because that one man with the white tank top said ‘Hi fellows, it was … he said wasn’t you guys watching us?’ … We got … We got … We got kind scared, we ran right out. … he just said come back, and we didn’t say a word because we knew we wasn’t suppose to talk to strangers?”
Ridge pushed Aaron to be specific about the “nasty things” the men did. Aaron explained they would put a penis “in somebody’s bottom.”
After the June 3 arrests, Aaron gave statements on June 4, 7, 8 and 9 describing how he rode over to Robin Hood after going home with his mother to Highland on May 5. He began claiming he witnessed Damien, Jason and Jessie kill his three friends.
The June 4 statement to Don Bray had such unlikely details as Michael and Chris finding guns during the assault: “… They said on a count of three, we are gonna jump out and Michael said, one, two, and he jumped out, he pointed the gun at them … he pulled the trigger and nothing came out cause it wasn’t loaded.”
He described Misskelley pursuing Stevie: “He chased him down, he caught him and … he put his face in the water for about five seconds and pulled it out, and he said I don’t want to kill you, yet, until what my boss says. … He went to his boss and he said that, you need to kill him, cause we already killed the other two.” The “boss” was Damien.
He alleged Damien raped Michael and that Michael had died and turned blue after being cut in the neck. He claimed Chris also was cut in the neck and “they cut their private parts off” all the boys.
He claimed Baldwin had walked around the Hutcheson home, tapping on the window, while carrying a “policeman’s gun.”
The parts of the June 4 statement that could be checked out — such as injuries to the boys — bore little relation to reality, but police continued to set up interviews with the boy.
Aaron repeated much of the statement on June 7, including the description of the boys using guns and of Damien being “the boss.” After being asked about contradictory statements concerning the roles of Jason and Jessie, he claimed that Jason asked to be called Jessie.
Aaron said on June 8: “Jessie told me that something was gonna happen. … Something was going to happen to Michael, Chris and Steve … He uh, he just said uh, you go and get your friends and I’ll go and get my friends, we will do down to Robin Hood and do something. …
“I seen them Wednesday … I told them to let’s go to Robin Hood, and then ask my mommy if I could go. … Steve and Chris came up to my mommy’s window and asked if I could go to Robin Hood. … They asked if I could go over to his house for two hours and stay. … She said, no. … Then I went there after I got finished doing … on my bike. … I went the Service Road, then I got to Luv’s and turned ... I went to Blue Beacon.” Then, Aaron told Bray, he went into the woods where he saw Michael and Chris hiding from “them men” behind a tree. The five included “Jessie Jason and Damien. I didn’t know the other two.”
Aaron said Michael told him that Stevie, who wasn’t there, had gone with “the fifth man,” Misskelley. “Steve got away, he got caught back and got killed. … Steve seen Jessie and started running. … Then he got away, and ... he got away again and got caught. … He uh ran and Jessie uh, was chasing him and he hit his face on the pipe. … the pipe that you walk across. It wasn’t bleeding, he just uh, started crying and stuff. … It was just a little bruise.”
He said Michael and Chris jumped out of the tree to help Stevie. “Then they got caught, and got killed.”
Aaron said Jessie killed Stevie but then described Stevie running into Damien and being stabbed in the stomach —- not an area where Stevie was actually stabbed. Then, he said, Stevie was cut in the neck. Stevie was stripped and thrown into the water, and “they turned blue and died … all three of them.” Later, he claimed Jessie raped Stevie.
At this point Aaron’s story, with some credible —- or at least possible — aspects but wrong on the wounds and other details, veered again into sheer fantasy. “And then they caught me and got tied up and about 40 seconds I got untied and left and then I didn’t remember nothing else about it.”
Aaron then said Michael died first with a stab wound to the neck and another wound from Jessie.
Aaron said he saw all this from up in a tree: “I was trying to climb down, but I fell down and hit my, I hit my back … I could hardly walk or get up … I got up and I kicked. I kicked the knife and he, he tied me up and just left me there. … They said that they might kill me.”
He said Chris was killed after Steve, after being raped by Damien. The story grew increasingly confused with various claims about who died first, with a story of Michael falling down after trying to get up after being stabbed and then hitting his face on a rock and wrapping up with the claim that Michael was cut on his private parts.
The supposed plan for a meet-up in the woods to “do something” resonated with Misskelley’s description of the teens’ plans to go into West Memphis that day. But, coupled with a incoherent, error-filled fantasy, and coming after the arrest of Misskelley, Aaron’s story only served to frustrate investigators.
Vicki originally said Aaron was with her as she ran errands on the afternoon of May 5.
By June 2, she was telling a different story to Bray. After initially refusing to let Aaron go over to Michael’s house, “she thinks (4:00 p.m.) he rode his bike to his uncle Johnny Dedman’s house, three streets over. He is supposed to check in with her every two hours. She has not asked Johnny if Aaron was there, on that day. She has not asked Aaron either. She doesn’t remember if Aaron was back home by 6:00 p.m.” With that lack of detail about her small son’s whereabouts, it suddenly was possible, if unlikely, that Aaron had been at Robin Hood Hills on May 5.
Johnny Dedman also figured into Jessie Misskelley’s alibi for May 5, with Misskelley and Aaron Hutcheson supposedly both being over at the Dedman home at roughly the same time. Despite being a potentially important witness both on the Aaron Hutcheson narrative and the Misskelley alibi, there is no available police interview with Dedman, though he did show up on the list of potential witnesses for the defense.
In his June 9 interview with Bray and Gitchell, in the presence of his mother, Aaron repeated the story about Misskelley arranging the meeting. Aaron told them: “Jessie told me that um, something was going to happen to my friends.” Aaron said he was told this on Tuesday, with a meet-up between the groups set for Wednesday.
The story was similar to the previous day’s tale, with added details such as Jessie was the one who caught him and tied him up again.
Gitchell pressed Aaron to tell the truth, with Aaron claiming that Jessie “abused” him.
Police interviewed Aaron again on Dec. 31, 1993, with John Fogleman, Bray and James Thompson, Vicki’s boyfriend, at the East Arkansas Mental Health offices. Taping behind a two-way mirror were Ridge and Gitchell. Vicki Hutcheson was elsewhere in the building, with Judy Hicks, the Hutchesons’ therapist.
Aaron told them that, before the killings, Jessie told him that he wanted to meet some of his friends. He said he had seen Jessie, Damien and Jason at Robin Hood when he had lived in the neighborhood. He saw them do “what men and women do.” Looking down, avoiding eye contact, Aaron told his story in a quiet, hesitant voice, often difficult to hear.
Eventually he began crying. He said he did not want to talk about his story and had nightmares. “It makes me scared.”
Pressed for details, he stopped talking and sat picking at his hands and then playing with a watch to keep his hands busy.
He admitted his fear of Misskelley: “They’ll kill my mom if I talk.”
He claimed he had been abused by Misskelley: “he put his private in my bottom.” Aaron said he was afraid he would be taken from his mom because he had been abused by Jessie.
Aaron said Misskelley wanted him to “do something bad” to get into Misskelley’s “club,” and Michael and Chris were invited to join. Aaron did not know Stevie would show up.
Aaron again told of riding his bicycle from Highland Park to Robin Hood, traversing the routes of the interstate and service roads. Such a trip, particularly a route of about 3 miles over the 7th Street overpass, would be feasible though not bicycle-friendly.
He claimed he saw the attack from a hiding place, though Misskelley was aware of his presence. “He asked me if I wanted to kill them and I said no.” When the attack was over, “he said don’t tell anybody. Don’t tell anybody or I’ll kill your mom.”
“It was almost dark” he returned home.
The next day, Aaron went over to Misskelley’s home and “he only looked at me like I did something bad.”
His description of Misskelley holding down Michael, Damien holding down Stevie and Jason holding down Chris was in accord with Misskelley’s confessions generally. Aaron offered a number of contradictory statements about his own role.
Aaron heard Damien say “We tricked you” as the attacks started. Aaron claimed there were two others present, a male in a hat with a dragon T-shirt and another male. He could offer little description beyond that, though he consistently described five attackers.
He said the killers carried a duffel bag with equipment for the kill. They used canes in the beatings. Asked in which hand the teens held their canes, Aaron told Bray, “I get mixed up with right and left.”
The Dec. 31 interview was in two parts, both roughly an hour. Aaron benefited from a break, returning in a confident and relaxed mood. Thompson was out of the room for the wrap-up session.
At times, Aaron seemed strangely lighthearted, smiling as he talked about being abused by Jessie or about his friends being killed, in contrast to the earlier session.
At one point, he stood up and playfully pulled a knife from his pocket that Thompson had given him. That prompted Aaron describing Jessie having a knife. Aaron played with the knife as the interview progressed, opening and closing the blade. Bray eventually took the knife from the boy.
As the conversation turned toward knives, Aaron identified Damien as having the knife found in the lake behind Baldwin’s trailer.
Toward the end, Aaron got bored and restless. “I told everything two or three times. Can we leave?”
Aaron said he was not scared of anyone “unless they’re witches. I hate witches” and oddly expressed concern about Damien’s son Seth, an infant, being a witch.
Like many others, he said Damien possessed a cat’s skull. He said “they ate the cat” after cooking it on a grill top. Then he drew a picture of the cat saying “help me.”
While Aaron’s story on Dec. 31 was less fantastic and more consistent than his earlier fantasies, the small, emotionally fragile boy clearly was not a reliable witness.
Bray conducted yet another interview with Aaron at the Marion Police Department on Jan. 30, 1994, prompted by Aaron volunteering details on “some other stuff that happened.”
Aaron told an implausible story about how Misskelley forced him to participate in the castration of Christopher and then drink a glassful of blood. Among unlikely details, he told how a “a white guy and a black guy” arrived on the scene, with the “black guy” threatening Aaron with a gun “and he made me say I hate Jesus and I love the devil.” Bray pressed for details until the boy lapsed into long silences.
Aaron did not testify at trial. In 2004, he told the Arkansas Times he was no longer sure if he saw the murders or if, shocked by the deaths, he imagined he had seen the murders. At that time, he was convinced the boys had been killed by Mark Byers.
In the same story, Aaron said his statements had been complete fabrications. He said the police tricked him into saying things that were not true. The statements clearly did contain elements of truth —- he did know the dead boys, for example. As with his mother, who eventually claimed her Echols stories were wildly exaggerated, a blanket disclaimer raised questions that likely will never be answered.
His mother did testify in the Misskelley trial, though not the Echols/Baldwin trial, giving a fairly straightforward description of how Echols, with Misskelley, took her to a witches’ meeting. She testified she and Echols left but Misskelley stayed. Jurors did not hear salacious details about incipient orgies and other bizarre goings-on.
"One of the guys had a devil worshiping book and we would go by it."
Self-confessed Satanists in trouble with the law became a prime source of information.
Alvis Clem Bly, 36, had been charged with sexual abuse, first degree in March 1993, and was still in the Crittenden County Jail when Detective Allen talked to him on June 29 about his involvement in the cult. Bly at times seemed almost incoherent while nonetheless giving details that concurred with others' statements.
Bly had lived on East Barton in West Memphis, in the neighborhood of the victims, and in Lakeshore prior to being arrested. He had been involved in the cult for about a year. About 20 people, never less than eight, were involved.
“We always had a certain time to meet out there during the week. ... We always go on Sunday” at 6 o’clock in the evening. “It was in the book that’s what time you’re suppose to start it.” “Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft,” the go-to text locally for witches, said, “Most covens meet once a week, but there really is no hard and fast rule.” There was little agreement among professed occultists talking to police about meeting times.
Bly explained: “Well we just go out there and one of the guys had a devil worshiping book and we would go by it, which was sacrificing dogs or chicken. We would drain their blood. Then we would take and cut the heart out and put it in the center of the pentagram and set fire to it and worship the devil.”
He described the pentagram as “a devil symbol” placed “on the floor.”
“They had some chalk, some white powder chalk and some blue chalk like carpenters chalk and would draw it with it.”
Bly, who had been following the case in the news, named Misskelley and Baldwin as participants.
He said cult members called Baldwin “Davien.” Allen got out a newspaper with a story about the killings and photos of the three suspects.
Allen: “Okay is this the one they call Damien?”
Bly: “No sir.”
Allen: “That’s, I’m point to Jason Baldwin?”
Bly: “I see, that’s ... that’s not Davien, the other boy was Damien, I don’t see him on th ... there he is, that’s Davien there.”
Allen: “Okay that’s the one they call Damien there.”
Bly: “Yes sir.”
Allen: “Davien, what ever you know him as.”
Bly: “Davien that’s devil name.”
Allen: “Okay, and this is the person you know as Baldwin?”
Bly: “Yes sir.”
Allen: “Point to a picture of Jason Baldwin and this person here, do you recognize him?”
Bly: “He’s the leader, Misskelley is.” Clearly, Misskelley was not the leader.
Allen: “Okay, um.”
Bly: “All I know is Jason or Jes or Jessie, something like that.”
Bly named locations for cult activities, such as an old red barn behind Lakeshore, a huge, empty house out on Highway 50 North and a shed behind a house on Rich Road in West Memphis.
Bly claimed he had had a ski boat and had taken Misskelley down to Hernando Point in Mississippi the previous summer (though he was uncertain about Misskelley’s first name).
Bly: “I don’t know how we brought it up but I used to not believe in the Bible or the Lord, and he ask me if I was atheist and I told him yes and that’s how I come about getting in it, he told me that devil would give me more than God ever would.”
Allen asked about illegal activities within the group.
Bly: “Killing the dogs was illegal to start with because we would steal the dogs from people and um, that rape where they rape that girl out there I know that was illegal.”
He said the rape of a girl who was a member of the cult occurred at Stonehenge. Ricky Climer had mentioned a rape as part of a hanging ritual.
Bly: “Well, Misskelley came up with the idea of it and then Baldwin went along with it. Baldwin was the first one that rape her, which she kinda went along with, but when the other guy started doing it, she had a fit about it, said she would tell.”
He named a 16-year-old who lived in Lakeshore as the victim. She apparently was never interviewed.
Stonehenge, he said, was “the only place we sacrifice dogs at.”
“How we do the dogs, we beat them to death first ... with sticks ... and they were alive when they we hung them up. We would beat them to death over the top of the pentagram. ...
“The pentagram would be drawn on the floor right under where we hung the dog up ... We would hang the dog up above that and then we would cut his throat his thing, and we would catch the blood in a pail. ... And then we drink a cup full apiece of the blood and then we would cut its head off, then we would cut him open and cut his heart out. ... We would put the heart in the middle of this and pour alcohol on it and mixed with baby oil ...
“We had a pie pan that we would set in the center of this, which is the same thing I’m talking you know we got the blood in it and then we would put the baby oil on the heart and you know burn it, it wouldn’t burn it up but it would burn it, and then we would praise to the dev ... devil and stuff.”
The dogs were tied up by the hind legs. “Everybody had to hit the dogs, everybody ... if you didn’t hit him you had to leave.”
Bly said he would have expected the boys to have been beaten to death with sticks. “They would have raped them, usually. Like I say, I won’t know why they didn’t cut their heads off cause you suppose to, if you’ve done that you’re suppose to cut their heads off, we cut all the dogs’ heads off. ... We would hand the head up and do away, throw the body down it, it big ditch there by Stonehenge.” This was a rare mention of disposing bodies in a ditch.
Allen asked, “Any other body parts that they might cut off?”
Bly: “Their penis ... bite it off ... that’s what it reads in the book to do ... devil circumcision.”
Allen: “What did they, did they do this dog?”
Bly: “No sir ... wasn’t nobody, wasn’t nobody had the courage to do it to the dogs. ... We would cut, we would cut their penis off ... But they wouldn’t bite off like you were suppose to.”
Bly: “Misskelley always had the knife he carried on his side all the time, it’s a hunter’s knife. ... It uh, had a leather handle wrapped leather handle ... It had a can opener ... It come out and it was swivel down the top ... like a little saw deal.” The blade had “ripples in it ... it called a gut knife.” Bly said the knife was about 11 inches, total length. “It’s called a bleeder, what it is, gut knife.”
Bly couldn’t remember what was said in the ceremony. “We read it out of book that we got from ... from the library here.” He described the book as “the devil something,” “black, shiny black,” “about a 100 page book,” “it’s got like a dragon, like a dragon with like a goat’s body” on the cover.
“It was St. Lucifer second son ... it was Satan on the front that’s who it was.”
Allen asked about Echols’ role.
Bly: “Well we took turns, sometimes he would cut the heart out, sometimes I would, or Misskelley, or any of the other people, we all, we spread it out different times every who didn’t do it the last time would have to do it that time.”
Bly said that when he left the cult, they were discussing the sacrifice of children. “They were trying to pick out, you know wanting to know who we could pick out to do it to ... I was already leaving the cult anyway because they raped that girl. ... This was about a month before the boys got killed. ... They were planning on sacrificing them up here on 50 at that house and leave them there.”
Another Bly, Charlotte Ann Bly Bolois of Parkin, met with Detective Ridge at the First Baptist Church in Parkin on Oct. 13 partially to describe to him the site of a Satanic ritual in Crittenden County.
She said that someone named Chris, from either Lehi in Crittenden County or Paris, Tenn., and Greg Wilson, from “somewhere in Alabama,” had set up the ritual site close to Shell Lake, about a mile and and a half out in the woods, south of Earle. Ridge, who had been to the site, said it was east of 149 Highway. “There’s a bunch of tarpaulin up there now and then was just a old green rag tent,” said Bolois.
She said they were staying with Amy and Eddie Wilson, relatives of Misskelley confidant Buddy Lucas.
She said she went to the site with Chris and Greg in September of 1992.
Ridge asked, “OK, what was taking place when you go there?”
“They were doing a bunch of devil worshiping talking silly,” said Bolois.
Bolois: “They was huffing gas and glue and everything else they could find. … They got the glue out Eddie’s shop back there.”
Ridge: “OK, you got upset I understand?”
Ridge: “OK, did anything else occur or was there anything told to you that’s what they were doing devil worshiping?”
Bolois: “I seen Greg turn into something silly, I don’t know what it was but it was some kind of animal.” Her reference was unclear and Ridge did nothing to clarify; a reasonable assumption would be that Greg imitated an animal.
Ridge: “OK, now Greg has told you he has did something with an animal out there is that correct?”
Bolois: “He killed one of Amy’s dogs. … It’s suppose to have been a sacrifice.”
Bolois, who was cousin to Buddy Lucas and knew Damien from school, said about Echols: “He’s a weird person, I know he uses drugs and he’s a devil worshiper I know that much. … He ask me if I was a devil worshiper and I said no, he said well you’re hanging around one, that’s exactly what he said.”
Bolois, who had lived at Lakeshore, never heard of any devil worshipping there.
Bolois said devil worshiping had continued at Shell Lake since her visit, and that Buddy Lucas had gone to the site with Chris and Greg Wilson on Halloween of 1992.
As Ridge observed, “Halloween should be a big night for devil worshiping.” In the Mid-South that time of year is a welcome respite from oppressive summer heat, when lots of community festivals take place, school football games are well-attended and nighttime becomes pleasantly cool. Echols has named Halloween as his favorite holiday.
Like October, May in the Mid-South is a distinctive time of year, being a relatively warm but pleasant climate before the summer heat arrives in June; along with the end of the school year, there are many outdoor activities and festivals. May is not a month easily mistaken for another in West Memphis and Marion.
Both months were prime time for witch cults.
The disjointed and otherwise suspect accounts of Alvis Bly and Ricky Climer, despite obvious problems, offered further evidence that witch cults were alive and thriving in Crittenden County in 1992-1993.
"THEY WERE IN THE OCCULT" On June 16, 1993, Ricky Don Climer, 16, described life in a gang of Satanists in lurid and unlikely detail. Climer’s statement was full of wild accusations about Baldwin, Misskelley, Echols and others involved in the Crittenden County witch cult. As with stories from Aaron and Vicki Hutcheson, Garrett Schwarting or the Echols family, the truth was difficult to determine. Climer had spent time in the Arkansas State Hospital. He was in state custody at the DeDe Wallace Wilderness Program in Shelbyville, Tenn., after he was taken from his parents due to behavioral problems. He had confessed his involvement in the occult to program counselors. Climer also had been friends with a group of West Memphis youths who had come under scrutiny.
He described one exceedingly unlikely incident in which he and a group of boys had jumped a police officer or security guard and beaten him up, with Climer claiming he used a baseball bat while Misskelley used his fists. They supposedly left the officer unconscious.
Concerning Misskelley, Echols and Baldwin, Climer told Ridge that “they were in the occult ... I knew that they rape some people ... they always made barn fires uh in the woods. Uh, I know that they jumped a cop, they cut, you know, a pig’s head off, you know put it on a porch ... Occult, a satanic type, it’s pretty much the same thing.”
He explained occult symbols, such as a pentagram: “With the symbol being all black, you know it suppose to be an updown cross look like somebody’s hanging from it.”
The pig’s head was placed on the porch “to scare and show people that death is on its way ... to show people that we have power.”
He said parts of cats and dogs were cooked and eaten at ceremonies and a variety of intoxicants used: marijuana, cocaine, alcohol, gasoline sniffing and acid. Climer said drug use sometimes would lead to fights or “you’re be sitting there, you know, the next thing you’ll start thinking of some cartoon character. Let’s say, the little guys in blue ... Smurfs, things like that.”
In contrast to others, Climer didn’t seem to have any idea of special days or times for the Satanic meetings held around Lakeshore and the Marion area.
Climer, with some prodding and leading questions from Ridge, said they discussed plans on how to get away with murder.
He said if they killed someone, they would use “torture, you get a thrill out of torture.”
He claimed that they had killed someone “in the projects” over “Bloods, you know that’s a gang.” He claimed “cult are Crips, you know, some cult people are Crips.”
On June 18, Climer told police in a phone conversation that he had witnessed Baldwin and Echols torture a girl with a rope, hanging her from a tree with a slip knot around her neck. Climer said he didn’t know the girl, who was from Marion and wasn’t a girlfriend. He said he left the scene, which happened in woods toward Marion, after she dropped.
Climer said of the rapes: “I don’t know if you want to call it talking her into it, by getting her doped up and everything, that she would say, yes. ... I don’t know if you would call that talking.” Climer repeated his claim that Baldwin and Misskelley had “jumped” a police officer and “did it because you just hated cops, you know.”
Climer said he had been involved in the occult group since he was 8 or 9, which would have been around 1985, and had left it two years before.
According to Misskelley’s confessions, Misskelley was a relatively recent recruit to the occult scene and only participated in a few ceremonies. There was little evidence to suggest that Baldwin was involved in the occult earlier than 1991. Even Echols may have gotten involved in witchcraft mostly as the result of his relationship with Deanna. Echols claims he first became interested in “magick” around age 12, which would have been around 1987.
Despite the many problems with Climer’s story, his description of certain cult practices —- cooking and eating animal parts, drug abuse, the pentagram, sexual assaults — agreed with other descriptions of the local occult scene.
Meece, Gary. Blood on Black: The Case Against the West Memphis 3, Volume I (The Case Against the West Memphis 3 Killers Book 1) .