1. The man at the Bojangles restaurant? ["The red herring"]
At 8:40 P.M. on May 5, 1993 the West Memphis Police Department received a call that a bleeding black man had entered the Bojangles restaurant (located near where the three bodies were eventually discovered) about thirty minutes earlier and gone into the women's rest room. Officer Regina Meek arrives on the scene at 8:50 and questioned Marty King, the restaurant's manager, through the drive-through window. King reported that the man (with muddy feet, wearing a white cap, black pants, and a blue shirt) had blood on his face and arm and appeared "mentally disoriented," but had left the restaurant a few minutes before the officer arrived. When employees entered the women's rest room they discovered blood smeared on the wall. The officer leaves the premises about 9:00 without ever setting foot inside the restaurant. The next day, Detective Byrn Ridge and Sergeant Mike Allen return to Bojangles to collect blood scrapings from the rest room wall. Unfortunately, the scrapings were never sent to a crime lab to be analyzed and were later reported lost. No additional interviews were ever conducted with Bojangles employees about the incident. In the Echols/Baldwin murder trial, prosecutor John Fogleman argued that it was "a complete absurdity" to think the criminals who took pains to hide bodies, clothing, and bicycles would, immediately thereafter, go "into a public place all covered in blood." Critics of the "Bojangles theory" also point out that the bleeding man reportedly wore a cast on one arm, a fact they say would have made it very difficult to tie up and murder the three boys.
West Memphis Police Department Station Log for the evening of May 5, 1993
Notes regarding May 6 visit to Bojangles by West Memphis Police:
5/6/93 9:00 P.M. Det. Sgt. Allen + Det. Ridge went to Bo-Jangles + talked with the manager, a Marty King [address and phone redacted]. Marty King related that they had a Black / male on 5/5/93 Between 9:00 - 9:30 PM that a Black / male was found the ladies bathroom bleeding from the arm. the Manager stated that the black man was 5-11, thin dirty, late 20's, pair of sunglasses were left in toilet suspected by Black / male. Subject had a blue cast type brace on his arm that had white Velcro on it. the Black male appeared to be mental / + disorientated (Not intoxicated or under influence of drugs) Police were called Subject left out on foot + Walked East toward the back dumpster then [inserted here: Black males clothing was denim sleeveless shirt, Black shoes, look like tennis shoes. Black thin warm up pants.] came back out to Missouri + walked toward Delta Service Station.
Det. Ridge took blood scrapings from North Wall inside women's bathroom above toilet, took blood scrapings from inside of door to women's bathroom + Entrance hall to bathroom From Sitting Area at Bojangles. [signed] Mike Allen
2. Terry Hobbs, stepfather of victim Steven Branch, and his friend, David Jacoby, with the assistance of two teenagers?
A documentary film about the 1993 killings, West of Memphis (a film paid for and produced by well-known director Peter Jackson), suggests (without making a direct accusation) that Terry Hobbs, stepfather of victim Stevie Branch, participated in the murders of the three boys. The filmmakers note that the most significant piece of DNA evidence found at the crime scene, DNA in a hair found in one of the shoelaces used to tie up the boys, matched the DNA of Terry Hobbs (as well as 1.5% of the population). A second hair found on a tree stump near where the bodies were found matched that of David Jacoby, a friend of Terry Hobbs, whom Hobbs visited roughly an hour before the boys disappeared. They also question the alibi given by Hobbs, that he spent the evening of the murders with his friend, David Jacoby. In the film, Jacoby doubts whether he spent as much time with Hobbs that night as Hobbs suggests. The filmmakers also stress that Terry Hobbs had a long history of abuse, including an admitted assault on his wife and accusations of child beating and assaults on neighbors. An aunt of Stevie Branch, Judy Sadler, accuses Hobbs in the film of forcing his young son to watch him masturbate and of sexually molesting Stevie's sister, Amanda. (Amanda, incidentally, says she cannot recall any sexual abuse by her stepfather.) They also managed to find a neighbor who claimed to have seen Hobbs with the three boys on the night of the murder, something Hobbs strongly denied. To this mix of circumstantial evidence, the filmmakers add the fact that another of Stevie's aunts, Jo Lynn McAughey, alleges she saw Terry Hobbs doing laundry the night of the murders, presumably to clean the mud off of his clothes after killing the boys in the woods, and the fact that a prized pocket knife owned by Stevie, one he almost always carried with him, was later found among Terry Hobbs's possessions. Finally, and perhaps most damningly, the filmmakers produced three young men who now claim to have been told by a nephew of Terry Hobbs that the fact that Terry killed the three boys was a closely guarded "family secret." In statements under oath, the three witnesses say that Michael Hobbs told them, "My uncle killed three boys in West Memphis." John Mark Byers, stepfather of Chris Byers and initially the subject of considerable suspicion himself, is shown calling Terry Hobbs a "baby killer" outside an Arkansas courtroom.
Terry Hobbs, however, was not without his defenders. Todd Moore, father of victim Michael Moore, found the evidence against Hobbs unpersuasive. He noted that his son spent a lot of time in the home of Terry Hobbs and could easily have picked up the hair (with DNA matching that of Terry Hobbs) found in his shoelaces on one of those occasions. Todd Moore asserted, "Terry Hobbs did not murder my son. No credible law enforcement official believes so." [Jonesboro Sun editorial, 6/13/2012] Other critics of the Hobbs-as-the-murderer theory noted that the statements by three young men, two decades after the crime, about the Hobbs "family secret" are three or four times removed from any original source, and are far less probative than the second-hand testimony of two witnesses ("I heard Damien say...") in the Echols/Baldwin trial. Hamish McKenzie, writing in The Atlantic, was critical of the decision of filmmakers in West of Memphis to place the blame for the murders on Terry Hobbs, calling Jackson a"self-appointed producer-prosecutor" and the charges made in the movie "reckless." Of course, reckless doesn't mean wrong.
In 2013, what seems likely to be close to the true story of the West Memphis murders finally emerged in separate affidavits signed by Billy Wayne Stewart and Bennie Guy. The level of detail and overall plausibility of the stories told in the affidavits make it seem highly credible, even if they do come from an admitted drug dealer and a convicted felon. On May 5, 1993, according to both Stewart and Guy, Terry Hobbs, David Jacoby, and two teenagers from a local trailer park, L. G. Hollingsworth and Buddy Lucas, showed up at his West Memphis home looking to buy some pot, which Stewart provided. While Stewart sold the two boys the pot, he noticed Hobbs and Jacoby kissing in a pick-up truck across the street. (According to Stewart, Hobbs was a bisexual with a preference for sex with young boys. Hobbs, he stated, had invited his own ten-year-old son, "Bill Bil," to pool parties--invitations which Stewart insisted his son decline.)
What happened after Stewart sold the pot on May 5 was told to Stewart by Buddy Lucas in April 1995. Getting back in the pick-up, Hobbs, Jacoby, and the two boys drove around town, smoking pot and drinking whiskey, before heading down a dirt road by the Blue Beacon Wood. At that point, according to Lucas's account, Terry Hobbs asked the two teenagers to get out and "wrestle" while he and Jacoby watched. While Lucas does not specifically say the wrestling soon turned into sexual activity involving him, L. G. Hollingworth and the two men, Stewart has no doubt that is what happened, asserting that the lowered head and shame evident on the boy's face as he told the story made it clear there was "more going on between the boys and the men than what Buddy had just told me." It was during this likely sexual activity that Chis Byers, Michael Moore, and Stevie Branch appeared on their bikes, at the wrong place at the wrong time. Stewart says Lucas told him that Terry Hobbs screamed, "Get them little fuckers!" While Jacoby beat one of the kids, Hobbs ordered Buddy and L. G. to pull off his pants. According to the Stewart affidavit, "Mr. Hobbs walked over to the boy that Mr. Jacoby had been beating and repeatedly bit the boy's penis and scrotum," then "cut the boy's genitals." Terry Hobbs then announced the other two boys had to be killed because of what they had seen, and Hobbs and Jacoby proceeded to do just that. The boys' clothes and bodies were gathered and dragged to the water, and their bikes thrown into the bayou.
Shockingly, according to Stewart, when he tried to call West Memphis Police investigator Bill Sanders to tell him the story he had heard from Buddy Lucas, Sanders never even bothered to return his phone calls. If this allegation is true--and it certainly rings so--readers can debate whether that decision, which meant the continued incarceration of three almost certainly innocent young men for another sixteen years, or the murders in the Blue Beacon Wood, was the greater tragedy.
Bennie Guy's affidavit tells a similar story. Guy stated that while Buddy (who Guy describes as "pretty bad slow') was staying in his home in 1994 he confessed his involvement in the killings. Guy stated in his affidavit that L. G. Hollingsworth also confessed to participating in the murders while both were incarcerated in the Crittenden County Jail in 1995. Hollingsworth's confession adds a few new details to that of Buddy's. According to Guy's account of Hollingsworth's confession, Terry Hobbs became enraged after one of the boys began kicking him. Hobbs hit the boy in the head and shouted, "I am going to teach your fucking ass." Hollingsworth said that he, Buddy, and the two older men all participated in beating the three eight-year-old boys, and confirmed Buddy's account that Hobbs ordered the two teens to take off the pants of the boys, before cutting the genitals of one of them with his knife. Guy stated that he sent a detailed letter to Prosecutor Scott Ellington in February 2012 describing the details of the two confessions, but that Ellington never responded.
3. The West Memphis Three?
Todd Moore, father of victim Michael Moore, prosecutor John Fogleman, most detectives involved in the case, and many others continue to contend that the murders were committed by Jesse Misskelley, Jason Baldwin, and Damien Echols. They begin by pointing out that two juries in 1994, after listening to all the evidence, found the three guilty. (They neglect to point out, however, that much of the most potentially persuasive evidence that defense attorneys hoped to introduce in those trials was excluded by Judge Burnett.) They argue that Jesse Misskelley confessed no less than five times to the killings after his arrest and in the year following the trials. They note that Damien Echols had a long history of mental health problems before the murders and described himself at one point as homicidal, suicidal, and schizophrenic. They also contend that the fact that three different knots were used to hogtie the young victims points to the involvement of three killers, not one or two. And, of course, they believe that much of the evidence produced in the Echols/Baldwin trial was quite probative, including the knife found in a lake behind Echols's home, the testimony of two twelve-year old girls who say they heard Damien confess to the murders at a softball park, and blue candle wax found on Chris Byers' shirt that was "consistent" with candle wax found in the bedroom of Echols. Others who continue to believe in the guilt of the West Memphis Three point to an interview given to police on May 18, 1993 by Laura Maxwell (another third-hand story, admittedly), in which she was told by a friend that Damien killed the boys after they "saw something they weren't supposed to have seen"--presumably Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley engaged in "devil-worshipping meetings in that park."
After the filing of the Stewart affidavit in 2013, it remains to be seen whether those who have long maintained that the West Memphis Three were guilty as charged will continue to do so.