The Man in the White Tank Top: Murder in West Memphis - Part 1
On the night of May 5, 1993, Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Chris Byers disappeared into thin air and were later found brutally murdered.
From all accounts, May 5, 1993 seemed to be a typical day in West Memphis, Arkansas. Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Chris Myers went to school and came home that evening to do what they did almost every single day: ride their bikes around their modest neighborhood.
However, May 5th proved to be nothing short of a nightmare: the boys, last seen riding their bikes at 6:30 pm as they headed to the Robin Hood Hills woods, never returned home.
That night and the next morning the families of the missing boys, neighbors and police frantically searched the Robin Hood Hill woods, the Blue Beacon woods and the surrounding areas.
Sadly, sometime around 2 pm on May 6, 1993, the 8-year-old boys were found naked, hogtied and beaten to death in a drainage ditch in the Blue Beacon Woods.
One month later, in a case that would grow to celebrity status in the eyes of the nation, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were arrested for the murders of the three young boys.
After 18 years in prison, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were released on an Alford Plea.
So what really happened on May 5, 1993? Is the killer (or killers) still walking free? Or did the Judicial System get it right the first time when Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were convicted?
Here’s what I (and a few others on the great World Wide Web) theorize happened to the three young boys:
The truth most likely lies with Aaron Hutchinson and the activity the boys witnessed at the “clubhouse”.
Aaron Hutchinson completed the tight-knit group that included Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Chris Byers. In fact, according to the police report, Aaron was so close to Steve, Michael and Chris, that on May 6th, Aaron’s mother, Vickie Hutchinson, was asked if Aaron could be removed from school to help search for his missing friends.
It was believed that Aaron would be the most likely person to have known where Stevie, Michael and Chris were going on the evening of May 5
In fact, according to an interview with Aaron’s mother, Vickie, in 1993, she was quoted as saying: “He (Aaron) said, ‘Mama, let’s go to the clubhouse. We need to go (look) at the clubhouse.’”
It was determined that the “clubhouse” was located in the Blue Beacon Woods near the area that connected to the Robin Hood Hills Woods. In fact, the bodies of Stevie, Michael and Chris were later found near this “clubhouse”.
(The area dubbed the “clubhouse” was described by Aaron’s mother in her interview as a sturdy old deer stand with some boards nailed to a large tree with lots of covering (foliage) -- a perfect location for 8-year-old boys with big imaginations to hide out in the woods.)
Sadly, I believe this “clubhouse” was the center stage for the reasons surrounding the murders of Stevie, Michael and Chris.
According to a recorded police interview with Aaron Hutchinson, the boys were planning to head to the clubhouse on May 5th.
In fact, according to Aaron’s interview, before Stevie, Michael and Chris went to the clubhouse, they approached his mother, Vickie, as she sat in her truck and asked if Aaron could join them that day.
When Aaron was asked by law enforcement in his interview what the boys did in the woods when they were at the clubhouse,
Aaron stated, “We would play and then sometimes we would watch these men.”
Law Enforcement (LE): "Ok. What were these men doing?"
Aaron: "They were…. Uh… they were doing nasty stuff."
LE: "Doing nasty stuff? Where did you see them doing this nasty stuff?"
Aaron: "In Robin Hood Hills… uh, the place where the boards are at… the clubhouse."
LE: "Ok, what were they doing?"
Aaron: "They (sounds embarrassed and scared), they do what men and women do."
LE: "Ok, uh, you’re saying they were doing things like men and women would be doing?"
LE: "Were they having sex? Is that what you are describing?"
Aaron: "Yes, sir."
(Graphic sexual depiction described by Aaron has been omitted).
LE: "Did this happen real often?"
Aaron: "Yes, sir."
LE: "How often?"
Aaron: "It happened five times."
Aaron’s mother, Vickie, supported Aaron’s claims in her own police interview when she said: “Aaron told me that he, Michael and Chris visited their clubhouse every day when they rode their bikes. He said they were spying on five men. I asked him who they were and he said, “I don’t know mom, they were just men we were spying on and we would watch them almost every day.”
Aaron went on to describe that this activity between the five men happened after school, usually after 4pm - after the boys would arrive at the clubhouse. After the boys witnessed the first incident, they would hide from the men and await their arrival.
Additionally, Aaron described that Chris and Michael were with him every time that the boys spied on the men but that Stevie Branch was with them only once.
Aaron stated that “Chris and Michael made me promise we wouldn’t tell anybody about what we had seen, especially Stevie.”
It makes me wonder… why didn’t Chris and Michael want Stevie to know about the other times they had seen the men in the woods? Could it be that they recognized one of the men and they believed Stevie would be very upset by the identity of this man?
Was one of the men Terry Hobbs - the step-father of Stevie Branch?
The answer is YES.
In 2013, twenty years after the brutal murders of Stevie, Chris and Michael, an attorney, hired by two parents of the murdered boys (Mark Byers and Pam Hicks) took a look at the evidence that was in the possession of the prosecution.
In that evidence, they found a letter written the Prosecutor - Scott Ellington - in February of 2012. In this letter, a man named Bennie Guy detailed a 1994 confession from Buddy Lucas and LG Hollingsworth.
In this confession, Lucas and Hollingsworth admitted to being involved in the murders with two other men: Terry Hobbs, the step-father of Stevie Branch and David Jacoby, a close friend of Terry Hobbs.
As this information was investigated, another man, Billy Stewart, a friend of Bennie Guy, corroborated the confession of Lucas and Hollingsworth.
Stewart told the exact same story as Bennie Guy even though the men hadn’t seen each other in years.
What did they have to benefit from inventing this story? They didn’t ask for money, special release from prison, or any kind of reward. They simply wanted to tell the truth as they knew it.
Let this sink in: Aaron Hutchinson, a close friend of the murdered boys, not only describes the clubhouse area where the boys were later found murdered, but he also describes a scenario where they (Aaron, Chris, Michael and on one occasion, Stevie) would wait for a group of men to arrive and they would spy on these men as they smoked marijuana and engaged in sexual activity.
When law enforcement asked Aaron why he thought his friends were murdered he made this chilling statement:
“I believe my friends got caught spying on the men and the ‘man with the white tank top’ told the others to hold them down while he killed them.”
Check back Wednesday for the next installment of “The Man and the White Tank Top: Murder in West Memphis.”