In September 2003, a Los Angeles art gallery hosted a two-week show entitled “Cruel and Unusual: An Exhibition To Benefit the West Memphis Three”. Marilyn Manson, Exene Cervenka and Shepard Fairey were among the artists. Winona Ryder hosted the opening party, where Jello Biafra gave a spoken-word performance and Mara Leveritt signed copies of her book.
LA Weekly ran a long feature article by Stephen Lemons about the exhibition and the movement. The web version no longer displays photos of the artworks, but you can still read the gushing descriptions. For example:
Two thousand miles west, in an especially funky little cranny of Los Angeles’ Lincoln Heights, artist Emmeric James Konrad is hard at work on a giant crucifix in the studio of his townhouse apartment. Actually, the crucifix is still mostly in his mind and in his sketchbook: stark black-and-white images of three murdered 8-year-olds that will form the head and arms of a colossal 8-by-10-foot cross.
“I’ve already told them I want an entire wall,” says Konrad, excitedly. “I’m going to spray-paint a black outline around it. In the center will be the dead kid with the bite marks, on the bottom will be the stepfather, and below him will be the initials of the three kids, a line of red going through them, with the stepdad’s initials below. You know, like a gangbanger’s tags.”
Konrad’s creepy conception incorporates three famous photos of Christopher Byers, Stevie Branch and Michael Moore, as they were in life before their bodies were pulled from the muddy water of a drainage ditch running through a spooky patch of woods known as the Robin Hood Hills in West Memphis, Arkansas. They were found there May 6, 1993, a day after they had been reported missing, naked and tied ankle to wrist with their own shoelaces, like deer after the kill. The “stepfather” Konrad refers to is John Mark Byers, known to the viewers of the award-winning HBO documentaries Paradise Lost: The Child Murders of Robin Hood Hills and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations as the belligerent, mullet-headed oaf whose comic self-incriminations are lost on the Keystone Kops at the West Memphis Police Department.
Creepy is right. Creepier than the Lord of the Rings/West Memphis Three crossover fan fiction? Tough call. Both are breathtaking in their way.
Nearly every major alt-weekly has run a pro-WM3 feature at some point. This one is par for the course — dripping with righteous indignation, but totally devoid of skepticism or fact-checking toward the official “Free the West Memphis 3” story.
The art show and LA Weekly puff piece date from the 1996-2007 period, when WM3 supporters and gullible journalists were absolutely 100% positive that John Mark Byers was the real killer. This was based in part on the bogus “human bitemark” evidence hyped in Paradise Lost 2. Four years later, the whole movement switched to accusing Terry Hobbs as the real killer. He’s a belligerent, mullet-headed oaf too, so it’s cool! Did any of the supporters/journalists who accused Byers ever look back and think, “hmmm, Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2 and WM3.org and The Devil’s Knot were dead wrong about Byers being the real killer … is it possible they were dead wrong about anything else?”
And what about the sucker who bought Emmeric James Konrad’s masterpiece? Did she ask for her money back? Or did Konrad come by and update the work with Terry Hobbs’s photo and initials?