Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The West Memphis Three

A Grisly Discovery

The next day began early for John Mark Byers. At 6:30 a.m. he called Denver Reed and arranged to meet him at 8:00 a.m. In the meantime, the search resumed in the Robin Hood Hills area, with Terry Hobbs, Diana Moore, Byers and a number of others. After meeting with Reed, another search was conducted until 1:45 p.m. when Sergeant Mike Allen found the first body of the missing boys. Although his unsigned report doesn't state the exact location of the discovery, it implies that the body was found submerged in a creek about 60 yards south of Interstate 55. An hour later, the body was removed from the creek by police officers. Shortly after, the second body was found, five feet away, by Detective Bryn Ridge, then the third a further five feet away.

The drainage ditch, police photo
The drainage ditch, police photo

Twenty minutes after the third body was located. WMPD contacted Crittenden County Coroner, Ken Hale. He was informed that the bodies were found near the Blue Beacon Truck Wash. By the time he arrived, all three bodies had been removed from the creek (or drainage ditch) by police officers at the scene. By 4:00 p.m. Hale had pronounced all three of the boys to be dead.

The official autopsy reports submitted by Dr. Frank J Peretti, of the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory, and Kent Hale described the condition of the boys as they were found on the afternoon of 6 May 1993. The initial conclusion, drawn by police at the scene, was that the boys had been raped but this was not verified by the autopsy. The dilation of the anus was wrongly believed to have been evidence of anal rape, but it is, in fact, a natural occurrence at death. Although there was no evidence to suggest that all three of the boys had been sexually assaulted, Hale stated in his report that this may have been a possibility.

James M. Moore, born on 27 July 1984, had died of multiple traumatic injuries to the head, torso, and extremities with drowning. He had been found in a drainage ditch and had drowned in two feet of water near the bodies of the two other eight-year-old male victims. He had been found completely nude, with his wrists bound to his ankles by shoelaces. There was little evidence that James had defended himself against his attacker(s) and the lack of injuries caused by the ligatures suggests that he had not struggled after he was tied up. This would suggest that he was unconscious at an early stage in the attack. There was no evidence of sexual assault.

Steven Branch, born 26 November 1984, died of multiple traumatic injuries to the head, torso, and extremities with drowning. He had been found in the drainage ditch near the bodies of James Moore and Christopher Byers, in two feet of water. As with the other two victims, he was found naked, with his wrists bound to his ankles by shoelaces. There were many violent, traumatic injuries to Steven's face and head, along with a number of superficial scratches, abrasions, and contusions over the rest of his body. While the wounds were similar to those found on James, they were much more intense. There was also a three-inch fracture at the base of the skull. Peretti did not note the presence of extensive defensive wounds. Although there was no evidence to support this, Hale, in his report, stated that Steven may have been sexually assaulted.

Christopher Byers, born 23 June 1984, received the most extensive, violent and most overtly sexual injuries of the three victims. He died of multiple traumatic injuries to the head, as well as the violent removal of his penis, the scrotal sac, and the testes, along with associated cuts and stab wounds to the genital area. He was found in the same drainage ditch as James and Steven, in two inches of water. He was completely naked, with his wrists bound to his ankles by shoelaces. The toxicology report also revealed non-therapeutic levels of the drug Carbamazepine in the blood. There were also a variety of healed injuries. Peretti noted that there were defensive wounds. There were also three sets of wounds on the buttocks. While this attack was sexual in nature, there is no evidence of rape, although, Hale did state that this was a possibility. Christopher Byers did not drown as he was already dead before being placed in the water.

Arial view of site where bodies were found. A. Truck stop car park B. Truck wash C. Trail D. Pipe where bikes were found E. Site where boys' bodies were found (POLICE)
Arial view of site where bodies were
found.
A. Truck stop car park
B. Truck wash
C. Trail
D. Pipe where bikes were found
E. Site where boys' bodies were found
(POLICE)

Hale's report stated that lividity (the red discoloration in the skin caused by the pooling and settling of blood within the blood vessels after death) was present in all three victims and blanched with pressure. Lividity begins about 30 minutes after death and then fixes, after four or five hours blanching no longer occurs, depending on environmental conditions. According to this, the time of death could be placed at sometime after daybreak on 6 May 1993, although this is difficult to ascertain as the victim's body temperatures were not taken.

It was found that rigor mortis, the stiffening of the muscle tissue, which begins after death, was present in all three victims. Rigor mortis begins about two to four hours after death, and full rigor mortis is complete eight to 12 hours after death, depending on environmental conditions. According to Hale, it was difficult to determine whether rigor mortis was complete due to the manner in which the boys were tied, but Peretti stated in his report that rigor was evenly present throughout the extremities.

There was no murder weapon found at the scene with the bodies. The boy's bicycles and clothing were dumped in the drainage ditch with the bodies, effectively removing any trace evidence which may have been present. The clothing had been held down with sticks but these were not collected by police at the time. Six months later they would find two sticks in the woods, and claim that they were the sticks found at the scene. Two pairs of the boys' underwear were missing. The only signs of blood at the crime scene were where the bodies had rested on the bank after their removal from the water, and some blood in the water. There was no blood evidence collected. Luminol testing was done two weeks later. At the time Luminol testing was not admissable in court. An area on the bank had been deliberately cleared and one imprint of a tennis shoe was found.

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