On May 5th 1993, three eight year old boys, Chris Byers, Steve Branch, and Michael Moore returned home from school, several hours later family members began to realize that the boys were not home and could not be accounted for at which point the police were called. According to statements made by family members, the boys were last seen between 5:30-6:00pm on May 5th riding bikes around the area called Robin Hood Hills, a small wooded area popular with local children. On one side, it is bordered by a residential community, on the other by a busy truck wash, and interstate highway. No official search of this area was undertaken until the morning after the boys were reported missing. According to statements made by victim Chris Byers' step-father John Mark Byers he, along with his other step-son Ryan, Melissa Byers, friend Tony Hudson, and family members of the other missing boys began an unofficial search of the area the evening they reported they boys missing. During the time when West Memphis Police were taking the missing persons reports, they received a call from the manager of a Bojangles, near both the truck wash and the Robin Hood Hills, regarding a black man who appeared disoriented and was bleeding from a cut on his arm, this individual walked into the womans restroom in an apparent attempt to clean himself up. A police report on the incident was taken through the drive thru window and no official investigation of this incident was undertaken until approximately one week afterwards. Blood evidence was recovered from the scene but was lost and therefore never tested. The official search of the Robin Hood Hills area began on the early morning hours of May 6th 1993. After a lengthy search, no indication that the boys were or had been in the area was found. At approximately noon, the search of the area was winding down, only a handful of investigators stayed behind, they included Sgt. Mike Allen and Steve Jones. At approximately this same time,. The first body, that of Michael Moore, was pulled from the water followed almost immediately by the bodies of the other missing boys. They were all nude and tied in what would be referred to by police investigators as a hog tied fashion. Each boy had his right wrist tied to his right ankle, left wrist to left ankle. The bodies were placed on the ditch bank for almost two hours before the coroner was called. Because of this it was impossible to determine time of death. After reviewing the crime scene and the nature of the wounds, West Memphis Police investigators felt certain that they were dealing with some sort of occult or ritual crime even though by their own admission there wasnt any evidence to indicate this.
The bodies of Chris Byers, Michael Moore, and Steve Branch were found in about two feet of water in a drainage ditch in the Robin Hood Hills. While this area is small, it is heavily wooded, the area while popular with local children and a source of concern for local parents would have been virtually unknown to someone not living or working in the area. Crime scenes are considered primary and secondary(also known as body dump sites). A primary crime scene is the location where the actual crime(s) occurred, this crime scene will yield the most evidence. A secondary crime scene or body dumpsite is a location were a body is dumped after the crime has been committed. While this area will have significance for the serial offender, it will yield little in the way of useful evidence. Investigators in the West Memphis case felt that the location where the bodies were found was the primary crime scene. Meaning that the boys met their attacker(s), were beaten, killed, and their bodies were placed in the water. I feel that the drainage ditch was a secondary crime scene. I base this assessment on several factors:
Lack of Blood--Two of the victims were severely beaten and Chris Byers was emasculated, the injuries would have bled profusely, it would have been impossible to clean up that amount of blood, especially after dusk, unless of course the offender knew he was going to murder the boys and brought along some sort of tarp to cover the ground. I feel this in unlikely because the crimes appear to have been committed in the heat of passion while the offender was extremely angry over some real of perceived wrong.
Insect Bites-- Both the police officers taking the missing persons reports and John Mark Byers reported that mosquitoes were a problem the night the boys were reported missing, and on of the most basic facts of forensic entomology is blood attracts bugs. However, there is no evidence that would indicate that the boys had been bitten which points to the conclusion that they were dead when they were placed in the water.
Time-- The murders and emasculation would have taken a good deal of time. The offender would have chosen an area where he knew he could commit the murders without being seen. As previously stated the woods were a popular hangout for kids and teenagers in the area, thusly the offender could not be certain that he wouldnt be interrupted in the woods.
James Michael Moore died of multiple traumatic injuries to the head ,torso, and extremities with drowning. Lividity was present, which blanched with pressure. Rigor mortis was also present. This victim received more traumatic head injuries than the other victims. Defensive wounds were present on the victims hands, along with unexplained directional pattern abrasions just below the victims shoulder area. Steve Branch died of multiple traumatic injuries to the head, torso, and extremities with drowning. Lividity was present which blanched with pressure. Rigor Mortis was also present. There were numerous violent, traumatic injuries to this victims face and head. No defensive wounds were present. Victim had possible bite marks all over his body. Another unidentified pattern compression abrasion can be found on the back of Steve Branchs head. The source of this injury caused a 3 inch fracture at the base of the skull with multiple extension fractures that terminated in the foramen magnum( the opening at the base of the skull where the spinal cord exits causing the victim to loose consciousness. This part of the brainstem that controls breathing, also shuts down respiration, and death follows. This process can occur within minutes, hours or days(188 Forensics For Dummies)). This pattern is consistent with compression made from footwear. (www.arwar.org/wm6caseinfo...file.html)
Chris Byers died of multiple traumatic injuries to the head, violent removal of his penis scrotal sac, testes. Lividity and rigor mortis were present. Lividity blanched with pressure. There were injuries all over the victims inner thigh that could indicate bite marks. Patterned abrasions are defined as a special type of stamp abrasion where the blunt object that strikes you leaves behind its pattern. Or the pattern of clothing or any other material between the object and your skin. If the victim is wearing clothing with a coarse weave, the impact may likewise imprint the pattern of the weave on the victims skin.(181 Forensics For Dummies) Rigor Mortis begins through the body at the same time but the muscles become rigid at different rates in predictable pattern. When conditions are normal rigor mortis sets in as follows:
Beginning about two hours after death rigor mortis is first detectable in the small muscles of the face and neck and progresses downward in head to toe fashion to the larger muscles.
The entire contracting process takes about 8-12 hours after which the body is completely stiff and is fixed in the position of death.
The body remains fixed for another 18 hours. This state is called the rigid state of rigor mortis The process reverses itself and rigidity is lost in the order in which it appeared beginning with the small muscles and progressing to the larger ones.
After another 12 hours or so the muscles become relaxed in the flaccid stage of rigor mortis.
Lividity Also called Livor mortis or postmortem hypostasis. It is the dark purplish discoloration of portions of the body. Lividity can help determine the time of death and indicate whether a body was moved after death.
Lividity is caused by stagnation of blood in the vessels. At death the heart stops beating and blood ceases to move. Stagnant blood goes where gravity leads it. A corpse lying on its back develops Lividity along the back and buttocks.
Lividity typically appears within 30 minutes to a couple of hours and reaches its maximum by 8-12 hours after death.
During the first 6 hours after death, the discoloration can be shifted by rolling the body to a different position.
After 6-8 hours the Lividity becomes fixed because the blood vessels begin breaking down and the blood settles in the surrounding tissues(164-165 Forensics For Dummies)
The Blanching of Lividity in this case indicates that Lividity was not fully fixed.
Based on forensic evidence, it would appear that the victims were beaten with some sort of blunt object, some of the circular injuries appear to have been made with an object that would be consistent with a hammer. Also at least one obvious shoe impression was found.. I feel it is likely that the victims were repeatedly kicked and stomped on. This would also indicate an offender that was known to the victims and a crime of extreme anger and punishment gone wrong. It would also indicate more than one attacker, one of the attackers was hitting the boys, the other was biting, kicking, and stomping them.
The Devil Made Me Do It:
From the start of this investigation police felt the crimes were ritualistic in nature, lead investigator Gary Gitchell made a statement that the crimes appeared ritualistic in nature even though there was no evidence to support that conclusion. That opinion would cloud the entire investigation. A ritual sacrifice would be very clean and precise. The injuries and manner of death would be described in accordance with the ritual being conducted. The injuries to the victim were extremely brutal, the injuries appear to have been perpetrated by someone that was extremely angry at the victims. If this case was ritualistic in nature one would expect the offender to feel indifferent toward the victims not angry.
Ritual space-- As with all religions , occult practitioners will conduct their rituals in a sacred location. Because many occult traditions are nature based, the ritual space would be some outdoor location. If this crime was part of an occult ritual investigators would or should expect to find some evidence of occult activity such as:
Mockery of Christian Symbols(inverted cross, vandalized Christian artifacts)
Use of stolen or vandalized Christian artifices
Candles or candle drippings
Drawings of occult symbols
Altar containing artifacts
Some of the indicators that would point toward occult involvement:
Missing body parts
Human or Animal Feces consumed or found on the victim
Indications of bloodletting
Stomach contents analyzed for urine, drugs, wine, etc.
Evidence that the hands and feet were tied or shackled.
Based on the above information, it would appear that this was in fact a ritual homicide, however a ritual homicide and a sacrifice are not necessarily the same thing. Ritual murder is defined as In religious terms there is no distinction between sacrifice and ritual murder, however, there is a distinction between sacrifice and murder. Murder occurs outside of what is considered sacred. Ritual murder is a secular(non-religious) expression of ritual conduct. The psychological concept of ritual murder is more appropriate for this category and is defined as when a person is compelled to repeat particular behavior beyond the actions necessary to perpetrate the crime and invests intimate(sacred) meaning into the crime scene by body positioning, mutilation, or symbolic gestures.(372 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes)
Many of the injuries, the over kill, the bite marks and the castration of Chris Byers indicated a signature, also called a killers personation, also known as ritual. Ritual is something that is killer is compelled to do during a crime that doesnt have anything to do with the successful completion of the crime, he or she will repeat these behaviors because they are what makes the crime satisfying to him or her. I feel that the victims were caught in the woods engaging in some sort of sexual experimentation by the offender, who becomes enraged at the behavior. He or she then takes the boys to some unknown location and begins to punish them for the behavior that they were engaging in. The castration of Chris was in punishment to show him that his penis or the behavior that he was engaging in was wrong or dirty.
Victimology is the investigation of the victim. This investigation is a necessary step in any criminal investigative analysis because it will answer several critical questions about the victim as well as several critical questions about the offender, such as how much risk the victim placed him or her self in during the course of his or her daily life and how much risk the offender was willing to place him or herself in to abduct and assault the victim. Victimology can be broken down into several areas:
Method of Approach- Is a term that refers to the offenders way of getting close to his victim A) The con describes an offender who deceives a victim into believing an imaginary situation exists with the intention of luring the victim into a more favorable position for the offender or lowering the victims guard to make the attack easier.
B) The Surprise approach is usually characterized by an offender laying in wait for his victim then quickly subduing that person.
C) The Blitz describes an approach where an offender rapidly and excessively uses force to quickly overcome the victims defenses to get control of the situation.
The Method of Attack refers to he offenders mechanisms for initially overpowering a victim once he has made his approach.
A) The method of attack is probably the best described in relation to the degree of force used and the presence of any weapons and their role in the attack. May range from mild(verbal threats) to sever(overwhelming physical assault with the use of a weapon).
B) The method of attack is vital to understanding what an offender is capable of and what he is comfortable with in a given environment with a given victim.
Risk Assessment involves determing the risk of a particular person becoming a victim of a crime.
A) Victim risk is broken down into three basic levels. Low, Medium and High Risk. They all refer to the degree of chance of someone coming to harm by virtue of their personal, professional and social life. The victim lifestyle risk refers to the overall risk presented by virtue of an individuals personality and their personal, professional, and social environment. The victim incident risk refers to the risk present when an offender initially attacks a victim by virtue of a victims state of mind or hazards in the environment(Petherick www.crimelibrary.com/crim...gy/1.html)
Christopher Byers: 8 years old at the time of his death. He was a second grader at Weaver Elementary School.
Method of Approach-- Based on a review of the information available. I feel that the offender was known to this victim. The victim was told that he was in trouble for something and went willingly with his attacker(s)
Method of Attack-- Once this victim was in a safe location, the attack began very quickly. Most likely with some sort of blunt object.
Risk Assessment--Christopher would fall into the medium risk category because of his history of psychological problems. Melissa and Mark Byers had taken Christopher to see pediatric neurologist Donald J. Eastman because of his extreme impulsivity, destructiveness, defiance, hyperactivity, extremely low frustration tolerance, and refusal to follow instructions. There had been episodes of fire setting and anger outbursts with fighting towards other children. He was diagnosed with Encephalopathy demonstrated by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, intermittent explosive behavior, and conduct disorder(it should be noted that the onset of conduct disorders before the age of 15 is one of the primary requirements of antisocial personality disorders). Dr. Eastman prescribed Dexidrine 5, Tegretol, and Ritalin. Melissa Byers claimed that she was concerned that Chris was being sexually abused, and the kind of acting out that Christopher was exhibiting can be sign of sexual abuse.(www.arwar.org/wm6caseinfo...file.html)
James Michael Moore was 8 years old at the time of his death. He was a second grader at Weaver Elementary School and an avid boy scout.
Method of Approach--It is likely that this victim knew his attacker and that he went along willingly.
Method of Attack-- The attack began very quickly with some sort of blunt object.
Risk Assessment-- This victim would fall into the low risk category.
Steve E Branch this victim was also 8 years old at the time of his murder, a second grader at Weaver Elementary School and avid boy scout.
Method of Approach-- The it is likely that the victim knew his attacker and went with him or her willingly.
Method of Attack-- The attack would have begun very quickly
Risk Assessment-- This victim would fall into the low risk victim category.
Because the boys were abducted as a group and not individually and taken during the daylight hours, the offender placed himself at extremely high risk in order to abduct the victims. This would also indicated that the boys knew their attacker. One of the boys may have been willing to go along with a stranger, however, I feel it unlikely that all three of the boys would have gone willingly with someone they didnt know. A daylight abduction would have caused or brought unwanted attention to the attacker. Even if the boys were picked up in the woods, evidence suggests they were not killed there. Meaning the attacker would have to have removed them from the woods, again this would have brought unwanted attention upon the attacker.
Symbolic Analysis West Memphis Three:
Symbolic analysis differs from typical criminal profiling in that it is not based on psychological methodologies but instead is based on religious concepts(349 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes) In general a symbolic analysis does not differ from the more traditional criminal investigative analysis. The same type of information of victim, crime scene, etc will be used in this analysis. This information is being presented for several reasons, first being that the West Memphis Police felt they were dealing with some sort of occult or gang related murder. Using this method of profile, it becomes clear that while the crimes do appear ritualistic in nature, that does not mean that the ritual was part of any religious ceremony, and was not perpetrated by an organized group of Satan worshippers . It was a triple homicide that contained ritual elements. These elements were present at the crime scene because they were behaviors that the offender(s) engaged in because of some psychological compulsion or in an attempt to justify the crimes to themselves.
In addition to typical motives for violent crimes, ritual homicide victims may be current or former members of a religious group inclusive of their own children, enemies of the group(actual, ideological or perceived) or the victim may have been selected because of the ritual need of the offender or for the purpose of the ritual.(363 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes)
The victims in this case are three 8 year old boys Chris Byers, Steve Branch, and Michael Moore. All evidence in this case points to the possibility that the victims knew their attacker(s). Basing this assessment on the fact that several indicators of ritual homicide were found at the crime scene, this analyst feels that the boys were most likely caught in the Robin Hood Woods engaging in some sort of sexual behavior. The attacker(s), told the boys they were in trouble and brought them to an unknown location for punishment.
Amount of Crime Scenes
The investigator has to determine how many crime scenes are involved with the offense. The amount of crime scenes can vary dependent on the type of ritual homicide(364 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes) This case involved at least two crime scenes. The location of the actual murders and the location were the bodies were found.
The environment of a crime scene refers to the conditions or circumstances in which the offense occurs. In ritualistic crime, the locations are always designated as either sacred(holy) space or profane(ordinary) space. Violence in the form of occult religious ritual must always occur in sacred space. Outdoor secluded spaces are typical of ritualistic crime scenes due to the nature based ideologies of most occult religions. They also provide enough privacy to prolong torture and conduct rituals(364 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes) The area where the boys bodies were found did not appear to hold any sort of religious significance to the offender(s), as there was no evidence that the location was used for any sort of ritual activity. Also forensic evidence indicates a lack of insect bites on the victims bodies. This also indicates that the victims were not killed where there bodies were found. This location(the unknown murder location) would have held some special significance for the offender.
How Many Offenders:
In ritual violence crimes can be committed by one or more offenders who may be members of a religious group a terrorist cell or by a lone offender who is following the ideology of a group. However, some lone offenders enact rituals that do not conform to those of any organized group.(365 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes).
Based on the number of different knots used to restrain the victims and the difference in wounds, this would indicate more than one offender. The lack of ritual elements at the crime scene itself indicates that this is more of a crime of passion or anger rather than a ritual event. Also it would have been difficult for one offender to contain and keep control of three victims.
Organized or Disorganized/Physical Evidence/Weapon:
Disorganized crime scenes will generally be indicative of dabblers and teenage offenders. Members of an established group will be highly organized and the crime scene will be particularly clean. Because it is a sacred space it would be treated with the same respect as the space around the altar of a church. The weapon of choice for ritualistic crime is a knife, it would be magically infective to shoot someone(365 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes)
In this case a knife was used to inflict the injuries to Chris Byers. It would appear that some sort of blunt object was used to inflict the injuries found on Steve Branch and Michael Moore. Again this would indicate that this crime did not begin as a ritual murder. This crime scene was organized, as there was little or no evidence left behind. This indicated that the offenders were older and had a small amount of criminal sophistication.
In ritualistic crime, the body may be positioned in a manner that holds specific magical meaning for the group, was a necessary function of the ritual and has nothing to do with avoiding discovery or leaving a message. Also in ritualistic crimes bodies or body parts may be buried for magical purposes that have nothing to do with eluding the police(366 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes)
The bodies in this case were found in approximately 2 feet of water in a drainage ditch this would indicate that the offenders were attempting to wash away physical evidence. It would also indicate, as has already been stated, that this crime did not start as a ritual type crime but more of a punishment gone wrong .
Items left or missing from the crime scene is another crime scene indicator that is particularly relevant to ritualistic crime and religious terrorism. Symbols and artifacts found at the crime scene can help the investigator determine if the crime was conducted by an individual or member of a group. Identify the type of religious ritual and whether that belief requires additional similar rituals which can signify future crimes.(366 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes) There was no evidence to indicate that the location where the bodies were found had been used for any sort of ritual. There were no artifacts, drawings, graffiti etc.
Staging is the purposeful alteration of a crime scene prior to the arrival of the police. The two primary reasons for staging are to redirect the investigation away from the logical suspect or to protect the victim or the victims family.(367 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes)
There does not appear to be any indication of staging in this case.
Forensic findings are especially relevant to ritualistic crimes due to the amount of trauma, the symbolic nature of physical mutilations and the prominence of trauma. The symbolic nature of physical mutilations and the prominence of pre and post mortem mutilations and sexual assault.(367 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes)
Cause of Death
In ritualistic crimes entailing sacrifice the cause of death will frequently result from torture, blood loss or dismemberment caused by knife wounds inflicted during ritual sacrifice. Murders committed for the purpose of millennial group beliefs can entail everything from poison to immolation to gunshots, for the purpose of religious terrorism commonly include explosive trauma or death from chemical, biological, or incendiary devices. Two of the victims in this case, Steve Branch and Michel Moore died from multiple injuries with drowning. Chris Byers cause of death was multiple injuries, he was also the only victim to have been castrated. It would appear that Chris was the actual or intended target of the attacker(s). It does not appear that any of the injuries sustained by the boys held and sort of religious signifigiance.
The type extent and focus of injury sustained by the victim are additional critical factors the investigator uses when classifying a crime. Overkill, facial battery, torture, bite marks and mutilation are examples of forensic findings that often will lead the investigator to a specific homicide category and a possible motive for the offense. Mutilation is extremely common in ritualistic crimes and includes symbols cut into the body, bite marks, particular forms of dismemberment and bloodletting(368 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes) All of the victims in this case had received some sort of facial battery. One of the victims was bitten:
Bite marks are usually found in cases involving extremely emotional and violent episodes such as child abuse, felonious assault, sexual assault and sex related homicide(633-634 Practical Homicide)
Most bite marks are found in the following types of homicides:
The homicide victim involved in sexual activity around the time of death The battered child homicide victim. Sexually oriented homicides can be either homosexual or heterosexual and may involve voluntary sexual activity or forcible attack. Child victims may either be battered children or children murdered by other children in a single homicide assault. According to Dr. Levine there are two types of bite mark patterns:
1) those which are inflicted slowly, almost sadistically, exhibiting a central suck mark and radiating linear abrasion pattern surrounding the central area resembling a sunburst. This type is most often found in sexually oriented homicide.
2) the second type more closely resembles a tooth mark pattern. This is an attack of defensive bite mark and is seen most often in the battered-child type of homicide(639 Practical Homicide) Sexual Assault
In ritualistic crimes and religious terrorism motivations for sexual assault differ substantially from motivations for other crime classifications. In ritualistic crimes, sexual assault is perceived as a form of sexual magic and has less to do with the gratification of the offender than with achieving magical power and/or as an indoctrination technique. This is based on the magical concept that any form of severe extreme emotion caused either by torture or sexual pleasure will increase the magical power of the offender.(368 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes) There does not appear to be any indication of sexual assault in this case. The castration of Chris Byers does not appear to have been sexual in nature. It would more appear to be some sort of punishment gone wrong.
Method of Operation:
Ritualism defined as people who commit criminal activities characterized by a series of repeated physical, sexual and/or psychological assaults combined with a systematic use of symbols, ceremonies and/or machinations the need to repeat such acts can be cultural, sexual, economic, psychological and/or spiritual.
In the case of the West Memphis three it would not appear that the offender(s) were part of any organized religious group or that the murders were perpetrated for any sort of religious ritual. The ritual nature of the crimes, were something the offender felt compelled to do to satisfy him or her self . Based on that the offenders in this case would be considered true criminals--the offender uses his religious beliefs to justify the actions taken, not because he had any real belief. This would appear to be a case of ritual murder in religious terms there is no distinction between sacrifice and ritual murder, However, there is a distinction between sacrifice and murder. Murder occurs outside of what is considered sacred. Ritual murder is a secular(non-religious) _expression of ritual conduct. The psychological concept of ritual murder is more appropriate for this category and is defined as when a person is compelled to repeat particular behavior beyond the actions necessary to perpetrate the crime and invests intimate(sacred) meaning into the crime scene by body positioning, mutilation, or symbolic gestures.(372 Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes)
Taken as a whole, the case of the west Memphis three does not appear to contain any evidence that would point toward any sort of occult involvement. It does however appear to be ritual in nature. Ritual and occult are not always the same thing. This analyist believes that the ritual indicators found point more toward an angry offender who was known to the boys. The ritual elements were a way for the offender to justify the murders instead of an actual motivation with any religious purpose.
The offenders in this case would be in their late 30s-early 40s at the time of the crime. This assessment is based on the fact that the attackers left behind very little forensic evidence, the bodies were hidden. The offender had some history of involvement with law enforcement. I feel it likely(based on the signature elements present in the crime) that the offender had been in prison for some unrelated crime such as sexual assault. The offender(s) would be known to the victims, only one victim has any defensive wounds, that means that the other victims never attempted to fight off the attack. They never saw it coming because they trusted the person they were with. The difference in the knots used to tie the victims would indicate more than one attacker, also 3 victims would have been to difficult for one offender to handle on his or her own. The offender would be someone that knows the area well and has considerable strength, someone that would have been able to carry the victims from where they were killed to where they were found. In his daily life the offender would be very controlling, he became enraged at the victims because they didnt follow his instructions to the letter. He would be educated to the high school level at least, the offender was attempting to hide the bodies and wash away evidence, this would indicate that he was educated, but not a rocket scientist.