It has been nearly 30 years since three 8-year-old boys were found murdered in a West Memphis, Arkansas bayou, and what happened to Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers is still unclear.
What is known is that the three boys entered a stretch of woods known as Robin Hood Hills on May 5, 1993, and they were never seen alive again. The following morning, Branch and Moore’s bikes were found next to a pipe bridge that ran across the bayou, and their bodies were discovered in a nearby drainage ditch.
They were nude and hogtied with shoelaces, and their clothes had been jammed into the muddy floor with sticks. The boys’ bodies were horrifically mutilated, leading investigators to believe they had been killed in some type of Satanic ritual.
They soon zeroed in on local teen Damien Echols, 18, who studied Wicca and listened to heavy metal music, later arresting him and his friend, Jason Baldwin, 16, and a third teen, Jessie Misskelley Jr., 17.
The men were ultimately tried and convicted of the murders, but from behind bars, the “West Memphis Three” maintained their innocence. With the help of new DNA testing that revealed no genetic material connected them to the crime scene evidence, they were released from prison in 2011 after agreeing to an Alford plea.
The victims’ families remain divided over the West Memphis Three’s involvement in the murders, and it is unknown who is responsible for the deaths of Branch, Moore, and Byers.
In hopes of narrowing down the number of potential suspects, investigator and “Truth & Justice” podcast host Bob Ruff theorized what happened the day the boys went missing on “The Forgotten West Memphis Three,” streaming now on Oxygen.
Based on interviews and police records, this is what Ruff came up with:
On May 5, 1993 at 2:55 p.m., Branch was at home with his mother, Pamela Hicks. Shortly after school got out, Moore rode his bike over to Branch’s house.
“He said, ‘Can Stevie go ride with me?’ As they were riding off, I said, ‘Boy, you better be home by 4:45. I’m getting ready, and I gotta go to work,’” Hicks told Ruff. “Little Michael Moore said, ‘We’ll be back, I promise!’ That's the last I saw of my son.”
At about 3:40 p.m., they took off on their bikes.
“We don’t know where Christopher was during that 3 to 3:30 time until I spoke with someone named Bobby Posey,” Ruff said.
In a phone interview with Ruff, Posey said that Byers had stopped by Posey’s house around 3:30 p.m. and told him that his “daddy had whipped him” and he was running away.
Earlier that day, Byers had been sent home from Weaver Elementary School for misbehaving, and his stepfather, John Mark Byers, had spanked him.
“I spanked him three times with my belt with his pants up," he said in a 2006 interview, according to weekly newspaper the Memphis Flyer.
At about 4:30 p.m., a woman 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. Hollingsworth described the boy as being heavyset with dark hair and wearing green shorts, which was inconsistent with the descriptions of Branch, Moore, and Byers.
A tip from a listener of the “Truth & Justice” podcast, however, revealed there was a man named George Taylor who told people he was with the boys the day they vanished. Taylor said he was the boy that Hollingsworth spotted and that he had gone into the woods with Branch, Moore, and Byers.
Ruff tracked down Taylor and interviewed him, and while parts of his story seemed to ring true, 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.
The first sighting of all three boys together again was between 5:30 and 6 p.m., when a man named Carlos Seals saw the boys heading into Robin Hood Hills.
Based on Seals’ statement, Ruff narrowed down the window of opportunity for the suspect to commit the murders between 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., which was when searching began in the area where the boys were later found.
“Knowing that window of time when the boys were abducted and murdered is critical to the investigation as we move forward because that is the window of time we need to be looking to see who does and does not have an alibi,” Ruff said.
To learn more about the investigation, watch “The Forgotten West Memphis Three” on Oxygen.
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