In 1993, 8-year-old Steve "Stevie" Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore were discovered dead in a bayou in West Memphis, Arkansas, their bodies disturbingly mutilated.
Teen outcasts Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. were soon fingered for the killings. Investigators theorized that the boys had been slain in a Satanic ritual led by supposed cult leader Echols, and the three teens were later tried and convicted of the killings.
While incarcerated, the “West Memphis Three" maintained their innocence, and after multiple appeals, they were released from prison in 2011 by agreeing to an Alford plea.
To this day, it is still unclear who is responsible for the brutal murders. In the hope of uncovering new information, investigator Bob Ruff reexamined the case in “The Forgotten West Memphis Three,” streaming now on Oxygen.
While sifting through canvassing notes made by police at the time of the murders, Ruff discovered there may have been a fourth boy traveling with Branch, Byers, and Moore on the day they died.
In one interview, a West Memphis resident named Narlene Hollingsworth reported seeing three boys riding bikes, telling investigators that one of them rode out in front of her car and she almost hit him.
She described one boy as heavyset and wearing shorts. None of the victims, however, were wearing shorts when they died, and none of them matched that physical description, leading Ruff to believe this heavyset boy was someone else.
The fourth boy would have been hanging out with the victims shortly before their murders and could be a vital witness in the case.
In a private group chat for “Truth & Justice,” a podcast created by Ruff, he asked his listeners about the potential of there being a fourth boy, and one sent him screenshots of a post made by a man named George Taylor.
Taylor had written a post on Facebook claiming to have been with the boys on the day of their deaths. He said he had been with them all afternoon and had even gone with them into the wooded area known as Robin Hood Hills, where their bodies were eventually found.
Ruff tracked down Taylor, and in an interview with “The Forgotten West Memphis Three,” he claimed the boys were his childhood best friends.
While Taylor initially said he only briefly saw Branch on the day of the murders, he later claimed he was with “Stevie, Christopher, and Michael.”
“[W]e got out of school. I went over to Stevie’s house for a little while, and then we decided to go and get our bikes. And then we met up with the other two boys later. Stevie went home for a little while. I can’t remember how long it was,” Taylor said.
While Branch was back at his house, Taylor said he almost got hit by a car.
He even remembered that he was wearing green shorts, which appeared to corroborate Hollingsworth's account.
After the incident, Taylor said he went into the woods with the boys, but he left after a few minutes, noting that he didn’t see anyone else in the area.
"I think it's possible that he did interact with Stevie, Michael, and Christopher that day, but he seems to be adding to the story,” Ruff said. “Details like the green shorts, that are so specific. Who can remember a detail like that 26 years later?"
Ruff then took Taylor for a ride through West Memphis, and Taylor seemed to have trouble remembering key facts, such as the location of Branch’s house and the pipe bridge used to enter Robin Hood Hills.
“It just doesn’t add up. ... I don't think that the overwhelming majority of the story that he's telling is accurate,” Ruff said. “I think he got caught up in the drama and excitement of some of these online forums and took something that maybe was rooted in truth and the story grew into something that wasn't true.”
Memories can be manipulated, and media can play a role in that, as “The Forgotten West Memphis Three” points out. Because so much time has passed, it is also difficult to remember the events that occurred in 1993, and we might never know what truly happened.
Since the murders occurred nearly three decades ago, the case has received an exorbitant amount of attention, and several documentaries have chronicled the West Memphis Three’s pleas of innocence, gaining the support of celebrities like Johnny Depp, Peter Jackson, and Eddie Vedder along the way.
Due to all the attention and storytelling surrounding the case, it's possible that the buzz could have altered witnesses’ memories, according to “The Forgotten West Memphis Three.”
To learn more about the investigation, watch “The Forgotten West Memphis Three” on Oxygen.
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