Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Man Called Byers

Mark Byers

Meet John Mark Byers.  You may remember him from petty crimes in Cherokee Village, Arkansas. But you may remember him easier from 1993. John Mark Byers adopted Christopher Mark Byers, who was born on June 23, 1984.

Christopher Mark Byers was 8 years old and attended school just down the street from his residence in West Memphis, Arkansas. Christopher and his friends, Michael and Stevie were murdered on May 5th, 1993.

According to the families of the three boys, they were last seen together between 5:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. on the evening of 5 May 1993. The three boys had finished school for the day at Weaver Elementary School at 3:00 p.m. Steven Branch went home but left shortly afterwards, according to his mother Pam Hobbs. Christopher Byers’s step-father, John Mark Byers, arrived home at 3:10 p.m. but Christopher was not there, his brother Ryan arrived home at 3:30 p.m. Chris did not have a key to the house and was expected to wait outside until Ryan arrived to let him in.

John Mark Byers drove Ryan to the courthouse for a 4:00 p.m. appointment. After dropping Ryan he drove to pick up his wife, Melissa Byers from work. They both arrived back at their home at 5:20 p.m. to find that Chris was not at home, although there was evidence that he had been there. Soon after, John Mark Byers left home to pick up Ryan, but on the way he found Christopher riding a skateboard. He took Christopher home where Byers gave him "2 or 3 licks" with a belt, in the presence of Melissa, as punishment for not staying at home as instructed. Before returning to the courthouse to pick up Ryan, Byers instructed Christopher to clean up the carport area. He was last seen doing this at 5:30 p.m. by Byers.

At 6:30 p.m. John Mark Byers claims that he arrived home from the courthouse with Ryan to find that Chris was again not at home. Melissa was inside on the phone with her boss and had not been aware that Chris was gone again. John, Melissa and Ryan Byers left their home at 6.30 p.m. to drive around the neighborhood in order to find Chris. During the course of this search Byers informed a police officer of his son’s disappearance. According to Byers, he was told to wait until 8:00 p.m. before making an official report with the police. Byers explained to the officer that the reason he was so concerned was that Chris had never disappeared like this before. This statement was later contradicted by Melissa Byers, during an interview on 25 May 1993, when she told police that Christopher had disappeared on several other occasions for hours at a time.

John Mark Byers called the West Memphis Police Department at 8:00 p.m. to report that his step-son Christopher was missing. In response to this report Officer Regina Meek (the officer who failed to follow up on the Mr. Bojangles Call) went to the Byers' home. Fifteen minutes later, Diana Moore spoke with John Mark Byers, informing him that she had seen the three boys at 6:00 p.m. Byers stated that this was the first time he had been aware that Chris was not alone. Together with Diana Moore, Melissa Byers and Ryan Byers, John Mark Byers began to search the Robin Hood Hills area, the last known location of the boys. It was already dark by then, according to Byers. At some time between, 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., Byers went home alone to change out of the shorts and thongs that he had been wearing, into a pair of overalls and boots. At the time that he left, the search party consisted of Ryan Byers, Ritchie Masters, Brett Smith and his sister, along with many others. They were soon joined by Officer Moore from the West Memphis Police Department, who continued to search with them from 10:20 until 11:00 p.m.

Blue Beacon Truck Wash #38
3904 Petro Road
West Memphis, AR 72301
I-40/55, Exit 280/4
John Mark Byers along with law enforcement officials scoured the area for hours. When John Mark Byers arrived home at 11:00 p.m. on May 5th, he called the Sheriff to request a search and rescue team. He was told to call Denver Reed, the leader of the Crittenden County team the following morning. He and Ryan left the house again and drove to the Blue Beacon Truck Wash. Here he told the people inside that he was looking for Chris and two other boys. He then drove his vehicle around the back. For some time Byers and Ryan shouted for the boys and honked their horn. After not hearing anything, John Mark Byers and his son Ryan left for the night.

Looking west from the discovery site.  The trail on the right goes to the southeastern corner of the Blue Beacon lot. The trail on the left joins the trail to the pip (see below). Note, in the interior of the woods, the trails are well-defined.  

Aerial View of Robin Hood Hills, Pipe where bikes were found.

Notes: a,b, and c represent the homes of Moore, Byers, and Branch, respectively.
Lakeshore is the neighborhood where Jason Baldwin lived, Broadway Trailer Park is where Damien Echols lived, and Highland Trailer Park is where Jessie Misskelley lived.

Police sketch of crime scene area including the paths to the west of the discovery site.
Note the location of the bodies in the ditch and the location of the Blue Beacon Truck Stop.
This would not generally be a big deal. However, John Mark Byers seems too -iffy. After the bodies were found, John Mark Byers showed genuine anguish for the loss of his stepson. But, in November 1993, John Mark Byers was interrogated by WMPD officers after he had given a knife to a member of a film crew who were making a documentary about the case. During questioning by the police, John Mark Byers admitted that he had given the knife away. He also stated that his wife Melissa had given it to him for Christmas, two or three years previously and he had never used it. He kept it in the top drawer of a dresser in his bedroom where he was sure that neither of the boys could have gained access to it. When asked whether anyone might have cut themselves with the knife, Byers stated that he was certain that no one had. This story changed when the interviewing officer told him that blood had been found on the knife. Byers then recalled that he had used the knife to cut up some deer meat at home. When he was told that the blood found on the knife had matched Christopher’s blood type, Byers continued to assert that he had no idea how Christopher’s blood had come to be there.

Later after test results on Melissa, Ryan and John Mark Byers were concluded, it was found that the blood stains matched in blood type with both John and Christopher Byers. No further testing was carried out which could have determined more conclusively whether it was Christopher or John Mark Byers’s blood.
Another item of evidence which could have linked John Mark Byers to the murders, at least as much as any evidence brought against Damien, Jason and Jessie, was the presence of another human hair on the victim’s clothing. It was a black Caucasian hair which was shown to appear microscopically similar to both John Mark Byers and Damien Echols. Unfortunately, nothing more specific was determined. 

In addition to the blood on the knife, later forensic review of the bodies established that specific injuries to the face of one of the victims was initially charged as a belt buckle mark, later proved to be that of human bite marks. One way, and the best way that John Mark Byers could clear his name would be to provide a bite sample. Plainly stated, have an impression of his dental bites taken to compare to the injuries sustained by the boy(s). But that will never happen. Not because he doesn't want to, but rather, John Mark Byers doesn't have any teeth. Claiming medication side-effects by Tegretol caused him to incur Periodontal disease, he stated he had his teeth removed months before the murders occurred. However, upon later submission of dental records, his teeth were surgically removed in April 1997, nearly four years after the murders.

During this interrogation the interviewing officer asked Byers what medication he was on to which he answered Xanax and Zorinal which he stated were anti-depressants. When he was asked whether he had any other medication he told police no, yet he had stated at other times that he was taking Tegretol which is the brand name of the drug Carbamazepine. This is the same substance which was found in non-therapeutic amounts in Christopher’s blood after his death. Christopher had also been taking Tegretol according to his medical records, but Byers had stated that Chris had not taken his medication on the day that he went missing.

Although there were many items of evidence that could have pointed to John Mark Byers as the murderer of the three boys, he was never considered by police as a suspect nor was he ever thoroughly investigated. It is interesting to note that John Mark Byers was on very friendly terms with the investigating officers and was a drug informant for the WMPD at the time of the murders. Could bias in favor of Byers and against Echols on the part of the investigating police have blinded them to any evidence which might have led the investigation away from Damien and toward Byers?

Finally, the tennis shoe imprint which was found on the creek bank near the bodies, did not match with any footwear owned by Damien, Jessie or Jason. This fact would again suggest that police should have been concentrating their investigations in another direction.

But the evidence against John Mark Byers doesn't end there. His demeanor in the documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Paradise Lost: Revelation showed extreme mental ranges in the man. He self-admission of a brain tumor and the fact that he is heavily medicated with Xanax, Zoloft, Sinequan, Haldol, and Depakote leads one to believe he has the capabilities of causing the deaths of these boys. Not only that but in the latter documentary, John Mark Byers looked guilty, if such a look could exist.
Five years after the crimes, Byers returns to the scene. Through the overgrown brush, he remembers the way to where his sons body was found. He then begins digging three graves and puts what appears to be leaves or grass/brush in them. He covers them with dirt and places sticks of wood with crime scene tape on them as headstones for the three suspects. He then spits on their graves and covers them with lighter fluid, sets it on fire and burns it. While doing this, he is speaking in a calm, rational tone, almost as if he were giving an interview. He begins to show extreme anger toward the three suspects, almost a psychotic rage.

Furthermore, the neurologist for Christopher Byers who treated Chris' ADHD with Ritalin said he had no answers for why the medication was not abating his behavior. It is my belief that his step-father, John Mark Byers was using Ritalin as an amphetamine and refusing to give the medication to Christopher, which would explain his continuous display of negative behavior. It is also my belief that Chris was being abused by Mark Byers and his mother was unaware of the majority of the abuse.

During the latter documentary, John Mark proceeds to tell the official submitting the Lie Detector Test that he has been diagnosed with Manic Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Later he stated, "I've had hallucinations. I've had nightmares of hearing my son screaming."  John Mark Byers admitted that when the DA was describing the injuries to his son during the trial, it brought back memories of when he was attacked.  "When I was tortured and when I was attacked and when I had five people beat me up and torture me, but I lived through it. But it brought back all those feelings and all those emotions and it's like they were reading off what happened to me and I lived through it and it was like a mental thing and I had a mental breakdown from hearing it, reliving it all over again, except it wasn't me, it was my son." He stated that if he doesn't take his prescribed medication, he gets paranoid. 

One can't help but also notice his statements he makes. The are drenched with guilt, only in submissive rather than exploitative form. He stated in an interview prior to the bodies being found, "they haven't found the bicycle's or clothing..."  How strange that when the bodies are finally found, the bikes are submersed in water away from the bodies, which are also submersed in water, and that two pairs of the boys' underwear are missing.

And to defend the man, he has stated he is out for nothing but the truth. It was stated in another report that Byers has since written a letter to the Arkansas Governor and Byers is reportedly working in relation to free the West Memphis Three. By no means do I believe this man is guilty.

The remaining questions come to mind when I read this info:
1.) The distance from the court house to the Byers home was not that far. Could Byers have had time to kill the boys and remove the evidence?
2.) Could the anger he experienced while giving Chris '2 or 3 licks' have led to more than just discipline?
3.) If John Mark and Melissa Byers were abusing Christopher's Ritalin, is it possible she did not see the spanking and cannot truthfully confirm that Byers left Christopher at home to clean the carport?
4.) Why would he knowingly go behind the Blue Beacon Car Wash and honk/shout for the boys?
5.) Why would he give a knife to the HBO producers that had visible blood on it?
6.) Why lie about the dates you had your teeth surgically removed?
7.) Could his brain tumor have caused him to commit these heinous murders, hide the bodies, remove all evidence and still maintain a calm state of mind after the news comes out that the bodies have been found?
8.) If he truly does believe the West Memphis Three are innocent, will he still actively search for his sons killer?

These questions are yet to be answered. The facts are still the same. Three boys are dead, and three are in prison... and someone got away with murder.

Until tomorrow,

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