Has there ever been a Satanic murder?

WM3 supporters like to cite this factoid: the FBI has never found a single authentic case of Satanic ritual murder. The key source for this claim is FBI agent Ken Lanning (now retired), author of Satanic, Occult, Ritualistic Crime: A Law Enforcement Perspective (1989) and Investigator’s Guide to Allegations of Ritual Child Abuse (1992). Supporters argue that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were victims of 1980s-90s Satanic Panic, just like the McMartin preschool teachers and others, since the very notion of a “Satanic murder” was a fantasy concocted by superstitious yokels.

I partly agree with WM3 supporters here: the massacre in Robin Hood Hills was not a case of Satanic ritual murder. But this doesn’t change the overwhelming evidence that Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were guilty as charged.

To untangle this question, it’s worth looking closely at (a) what the prosecution actually argued in this case, and (b) what Ken Lanning actually said about occult murders.

In the 1992 Investigator’s Guide, Lanning defined his terms:

Rather a satanic murder should be defined as one committed by two or more individuals who rationally plan the crime and whose primary motivation is to fulfill a prescribed satanic ritual calling for the murder. By this definition I have been unable to identify even one documented satanic murder in the United States.

No one has ever claimed that the WM3’s primary motivation in killing the three eight-year-old boys was to fulfill a prescribed satanic ritual.

The best study of the Satanism/motive question in the WM3 case is the article “Motive?” written by Farm (alternate link), founder of the West Memphis 3 Hoax message board. Farm has done more than anyone to counter the pro-WM3 disinformation campaign, and this article is a great example. Go read the whole thing. I’ll wait.

In short, the prosecution did not argue that this was a Satanic ritual murder, and they did not argue that the WM3 were Satanists.

And as Farm points out, Ken Lanning drew a clear distinction between “traditional, Orthodox” Satanists and non-traditional, unaffiliated “youth subcultures” or “self-styled dabblers” in the occult. Lanning’s not one documented satanic murder in the US claim clearly refers to the traditional, Orthodox category. Here’s how Ken Lanning described the latter categories in his 1989 article:

1. Youth Subculture — … The teenagers who have more serious problems are usually those from dysfunctional families or those who have poor communication within their families. These troubled teenagers turn to satanism and the occult to overcome a sense of alienation, to obtain power, or to justify their antisocial behavior. For these teenagers, it is the symbolism, not the spirituality, that is important. It is either the psychopathic or the oddball, loner teenager who is most likely to get into serious trouble. …

2. Dabblers (Self-styled) — for these practitioners, there is little or no spiritual motivation. They mix satanism, witchcraft and paganism. Symbols mean whatever they want them to mean. Molesters, rapists, drug dealers and murderers may dabble in the occult and may commit their crimes in a ceremonial or ritualistic way. This category has the potential to be the most dangerous, and most of the “satanic” killers fall into this category. Their involvement in satanism and the occult is a symptom of a problem and a rationalization and justification of antisocial behavior. Satanic/occult practices (as well as those of other spiritual belief systems) can be used as a mechanism to facilitate criminal objectives.

Lanning wrote that four years before the WM3 killed three children in the woods, but he nailed the killers precisely. All three were troubled, alienated teens from dysfunctional families. Echols was a raging psychotic and psychopath with homicidal fantasies. Echols and (to a lesser extent) Baldwin dabbled in the occult, mixing Satanism, witchcraft, demonology, spirit possession, Wicca, horror movies, vampire lore, metal lyrics, serial killer chic, goth fashions, whatever. (There’s no evidence Misskelley had any interest in Echols’ occult mumbo-jumbo.) The occultism was a rationalization and justification of their antisocial behavior, not a cause.

Here’s Farm again:

And the fact is, the only “satanist” catagory Echols DIDN’T fall into was the traditional or “true believer” Satanist.

The real ones.

The ones for which no evidence of serious criminal activity exists.

He was the very definition of the type “satanist” who has traditionally committed violent crime – the psychotic, drug addled self-styled teen dabbler from a dysfunctional family who had issues of obtaining power over others.

Lanning isn’t simply speculating on a “psychological mindset” like some sort of profiler, he developed these distinct catagories through researching documented historical examples.

This wasn’t real “satanic panic” – the people of West Memphis weren’t afraid of cloak wearing, latin speaking figures lurking in the shadows snatching babies, they were afraid of a group of stoner anti-social teens who sat around campfires tripping, killing animals, and playing “devil worshiper”.

Ken Lanning himself has spoken dismissively about the prosecution case against the WM3. That’s disappointing, but it doesn’t change my thinking. I suspect that Lanning has a superficial knowledge of the case shaped by the standard Paradise Lost story, and that he’s never read Misskelley’s post-conviction confessions or Echols’ psychiatric records or the key witness statements.

37 thoughts on “Has there ever been a Satanic murder?”

  1. Can I ask where you get that info about Jason Baldwin — it was never shown he had an interest in anything occult. Certainly he was into metal. I also would say that the trial called this a satanic teen killing. It was presented as a satanic type ritual killing in court, as we know because of the expert in the occult that was called in. I would like you to please reference something that proves what you wrote about Baldwin. Thanks. Interesting articles here.

    1. I think Jason just followed Damiem…….He looked up to him. I think he got mixed up by association. He followed someone that had a psychological mindset.

        1. you have got to be kidding me. In looks or what….what in the hell is the connection. This is the most moronic site I have ever seen. I should be commended for one thing……the most arm chair lawyers accumulated on one website. I can’t even remember the name of the person who “claims” to have some type of connection to Johnny Depp and his vast knowledge of his drug problems and those of others in the industry. I can only say from looking at this site there is alot of talk and I see know posting backing anything you say.

          1. I meant NO posting backing what you say. I went through some of the things on this site and I stopped after finding alot of it was hearsay from somone who knew someone that heard Mr Echols say something….Give me a break.

  2. In the eyes of the law if I get pulled over and the guy next to me has illegal drugs on him, because we are together we are both being charged. If someone is murdered while I stand by and watch, I am considered just as guilty. Jason Baldwin wasn’t guilty for being friends with Echols, he was guilty for being present at the time the crime occurred. Whether or not they were ‘devil worshippers’ doesn’t matter at the end of the day. Didn’t DE claim to be Catholic also? Maybe he was reading up on exorcisms that day and thought he was casting out demons. Who gives a shit what they believed. T

  3. Very interesting article. It’s unfortunate the prosecution ever brought up anything to do with satanism, occults, or rituals during the trials. They were unknowingly setting up the release of the WM3 and giving Damien Echols his clarion call in the years to follow. When you couple that with the information age we live in it’s obvious he has become a true cult of personality.

  4. As always Truth, very well done.

    There’s a lot of good info on that board you could use for inspiration. The one where someone disected “Devil’s Knot” and pointed out everyone Mara didn’t interview and everything she left out would be awesome.

    I’ll see if I can find you a link.

  5. Thanks for this valuable post. Lot of good info here, and I do appreciate that you include things from both sides, like a link to Lanning’s current feelings (circa ’09) on the matter.

    The emphasis on Satanism at the trial, with the qualification that it was not presented as a motive, seems like a bait-and-switch to me. I’m reminded of George W. Bush bringing Iraq into the post 9-11 discussions, and how the country very soon began to believe that Saddam was connected to the 9-11 attacks. Bush et al weren’t saying Saddam was necessarily involved, but they talked about it so much, and sort of drew these imaginary lines, and the American people did the rest — we believed them that Saddam was somehow culpable for the 9-11 attacks, which is just what they wanted us to believe, even if they never explicitly stated it. It was a bait-and-switch. And I think the same thing happened with the jury here. I think this because back when I first saw PL, I didn’t know anything about Satanism and the Satanic Panic, and I was pretty convinced Damien was a Satanist, and the whole Alister Crowley secret code thing (that Damien was clearly lying about) seemed awfully suspicious.

    Just a couple of red herrings.

    1. Good points. My own personal beef with Damien is he doesn’t seem to cop to anything. If he has, I haven’t seen proof of it.

      I have worked with plenty of inmates. The ones who I got closest to always stressed they had to cop to something to be credible. I heard one on trial say, “Now that part about Crystal Meth, that wasn’t me. I did PCP. Sure. And a lot of it, too. Crystal Meth, now that needs to be scratched from the record. I don’t want this jury getting no tainted love from that like the song goes.”

    2. Joey, your analogy brought to mind another one…

      There was a lot of talk and a lot of this being said in the media: “No WMD’s were found in Iraq. There’s no evidence Iraq had access to WMD’s.” That too was a bait and switch.

      What wasn’t found was NUCLEAR weapons. There were plenty of other weapons that qualify as a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ (chemical, biological, ect). But just like the WM3 case “no blood was found at the crime scene” or “no DNA point to the 3 convicted”, the lack of nuclear weapons equaled a lack of WMD’s as a whole. Hell, there was video footage from before Desert Shield that showed Sadaam using them on Kurds.

      I agree with you analogy. It just brought to mind another one.

  6. This statement “the FBI has never found a single authentic case of Satanic ritual murder ” isn’t true. Lanning’s opinion is his own and was not an FBI study. The FBI denies a study like this ever occurred. In Vanity Fair in 1993, Lanning admitted that he never talked to a ritual abuse survivor. Later he changed this to state he talked to a few dozen survivors on an unofficial basis. It appears that Lanning did not investigate most of these types of cases, especially ones where guilt was found.

    There were definitely Satanic ritual elements to the murders, but it was more of a thrill kill by violent teenagers. This is the best website on the WM3 case. Keep up the good work.

      1. so no solid evidence they commit the crime + no exonerating evidence = guilty?

        in that case, by your own standards, your a paedophile. no proof you are, but no proof you’re not. you should be the one behind bars.

      2. I’ve never been to the area, so hearing your opnoiin of it is definitely interesting. As for wanting evidence, I completely agree with you. The advances in technology have allowed the DNA evidence collected at the crime scene to be tested, and new conclusions have been reached. Witnesses who testified at the trials have recanted their statements. Evidence of jury tampering has come to light. I believe if the West Memphis 3 were retried, they would be exonerated. Now. An innocent verdict can absolutely be the end result of fancy legal footwork. I strongly suspect the West Memphis 3 are innocent, but I cannot truly know. So I do know what you’re saying about evidence.

    1. Sand,
      Do you how many cases there are with no DNA ? They had lots of evidence 🙂 Not all cases are solved with DNA. Even if there was DNA . You would want a video camera recording. You have been charmed by a psychopath and no matter what anyone tells you they are still innocent. Echols doesnt even know how to tell the truth.

      1. Very cleverly cut together piece of footage trying to prove Damien Echols to be a liar! Lying don’t mean you are a killer though does it. And this vid badly shows itself up in part 3 during the Piers Morgan interview. Damien was describing how he felt being able to watch a show without having to watch his back. The vid goes on to (By using an early interview vid of Damien 18 years is a long time) explain he must be lying about this because he claims to be in solitary, so he never needed to watch his back! Piers say’s the magic words “And that was the fear you lived with for TEN years” Yes TEN years. Damien only ever claimed to be in solitary for the first half of his sentence. The last TEN years was served among other inmates as normal. So going through old footage to try and make Echols look bad is truly pathetic. And to do what make him look a liar? As I said earlier proving somebody is a liar does not make them a KILLER! If you can’t find real evidence don’t bother! WITCH HUNT VIDS!

  7. @Andy,,,,before making that statement, please define to me what you consider solid evidence. I feel there was plenty of evidence against them that as a whole, made a solid case.

    1. Hey Kristi, Solid evidence as in DNA of Echols, baldwin and miskelly at the scene, matching bite marks, fingerprints, (Non dodgy) undisputed fibre evidence, Murder weapon with any DNA or fingerprint evidence or even a credible eyewitness or CCTV that places these three boys with Echols and co. Provide this evidence and you can quite rightly accuse them of being guilty! Keep throwing the circumstantial bullshit around hoping some of it will stick. Because thats all you have got is shit, and shit is not solid therefore you have a shit case! Even the prosecution hoped to high heaven miskelly testified because they did not have much else to go on!

  8. One thing I believe all who have been touched by this tragedy can agree on is that the truest victims in all of this continue to be Michael Moore, Christopher Byers and my step-son Stevie Branch. From this point on I will have nothing at all to say about the case. According to the state of Arkansas and in my own heart and mind it is closed, and I am leaving it that way. From this point on I will talk about my love for Ste-vie, what he has always and will continue to mean to me, and look for-ward to seeing him again in heaven, where there will only be peace and joy and love forever.

    This is the stamement released by Terry Hobbs, Stevie Branch’s step-father. We could all take a lesson from this….move on. Enough lives have been destroyed.

  9. Sure it’s possible that the three killed the boys but not beyond what to me is a reasonable doubt.
    The facts of the case are – there was no physical evidence that the three were ever at the site where the bodies were found or that they killed the boys. Only DNA evidence that one of the stepfathers might have been. In fact it is pretty damning that a stepfather’s hair was positively identified and found on the shoelaces that tied up one of the victims.
    Miskelly’s confession is classic false confession – remember the socalled wilding attack in Central Park NYC where mentally competent black teenagers confessed but were later completely exonerated of attacking the white woman jogger.
    It is obvious that the children were killed elsewhere and dumped.
    It is obvious that the police investigation was more than inept.
    Damien Echols did have issues but then so did the stepfathers. Just depends on your world view whether Echols or Byers is weirder. Being weird doesn’t make one a killer.
    The fact that Miskelly didn’t testify against the other two even when one can just imagine the pressure he was under along with the promises of early release is very significant to me. He was not a bright bulb unlike the lights they probably kept on in his jail cell when they were trying to coerce him into testifying.
    If they had been tried under Scottish law and I was on the jury I would have voted for “NOT PROVEN”.
    If you don’t think there was a biased investigation from the gitgo I’ve got some Greek bonds you might be interested in.

  10. No it is not obvious that the cjildren were killed elsewhere and dumped. There has never been any evidence to suggest the crime scene was a dump site.

    Misskelley didn’t testify against them becuase the best deal he could have gotten was no less than 50 years. If he got a deal, say, around 5-10, out in 3 with good behavior, I’m sorry but he rolls on them and they go down faster than my girlfriend on my birthday.

    I hope by the bright bulb comment you’re not trying to imply Misskelley was retarded. That bullshit gets really fucking old especially when his own expert witness testified that he is not retarded and was caught “mispronouncing” his IQ test results and admitted to coaching him to malinger those results.

  11. Well let me ask you this,why didn’t baldwin testify against echols when the prosecution made him that offer on two occasions during the Trial,if He had he would’ve been out in roughly ten years.He wouldve known he was guilty,he wouldve known he would get either Life or the death penalty,so why didnt he turn on Damian?you see this in cases involving more than one defendant whether its organized crime or the manson family,someone always rats the others out to save their skin,but these 3 young kids kept the faith for 18 years?I don’t buy it

    1. There’s no evidence that these plea bargain offers to Baldwin ever happened. Many years later, Baldwin told Mara Leveritt about these supposed offers (40 years, then 20 years), and Leveritt reported his claims at face value. In a post-release interview, Baldwin changed his story — the prosecutors supposedly offered him 5 years. Baldwin is a liar.

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