Jason Baldwin profile

Who was Jason Baldwin in 1993?

There is less information available about Jason Baldwin’s background than about Echols or Misskelley. When he was arrested, friends, teachers and family mostly described him as shy, mild-mannered, artistic. WM3 partisans portray Baldwin as a normal, well-adjusted, good kid who was targetted by stupid redneck cops because he wore black and liked heavy metal.

That’s not the whole story. Baldwin also had a history of petty crime, a stressful and dysfunctional family life, and a best friend who was a bad influence.

Petty Crime

Sean Flynn recently wrote in GQ: “Jason, a slight boy of 112 pounds with small, crooked teeth and matchstick arms, went to school every day, got good grades, was a talented artist, and never did anything more sinister than shoplift a bag of chips.” This is not true. Baldwin had a more extensive history of petty crime.

At his 2008 Rule 37 hearing, Baldwin testified: “My experience with the court system and lawyers before 1993 was in the juvenile system when I was around eleven. I had been placed on probation when I was 11 years old.” (That quote is from the official Abstract of the proceedings; the exact transcript does not circulate.) The offense which got him placed on probation is unknown.

Blood of Innocents relates another incident when Baldwin was 12 years old:

On January 13, 1990, Jason and some other kids broke into a shop full of vintage cars and equipment. They broke the front, rear, and right-door glass on a front-end loader, two left-side door windows, and the side vent of a 1969 Cadillac, and all the glass on a 1959 Ford. Three other kids were supposedly with him. Jason, almost thirteen years old, later admitted breaking some headlights, but also pointed the finger at another kid. He was charged with breaking and entering and criminal mischief. (191)

Mara Leveritt in Devil’s Knot offers Baldwin’s less sinister account of this incident (55): the “vintage car shop” was actually an abandoned building full of junkers, missing a wall and overgrown with tall grass, which neighborhood kids used as a clubhouse.

In November 1992, at age 15, Baldwin was caught shoplifting snacks from a local Walgreens. According to Blood of Innocents, he “was placed on twelve months’ diversion of judgment” requiring him to “stay in school and out of trouble” (191-192).

After Baldwin’s arrest for murder, a friend named Jason Crosby told police that Baldwin had robbed him in 1992.

About 1 year ago I had a knife stolen from a knife collection that my Dad had brought for me about 1½ before it had been stolen. I had heard thought rumor that Jason Baldwin had stolen this knife from me. When I asked Jason B. about the knife he said he had trade the knife & trench coat to his cousin or uncle in Mississippi for a bike. At the time the knife went missing Jason B. & Damien E. had spent the night a couple of times.

Blood of Innocents mentions another crime that may or may not have involved Jason Baldwin

Five years before the murders, Baldwin had lived in a seedy section of unincorporated Shelby County, north of Memphis. The Shelby County Fire Department was called to the house June 5, 1987, when someone inside set fire to a bedroom with a cigarette lighter. A room burned but no one was injured. (190)

Grandmother Remembers

The most damaging thing said about Jason Baldwin came from his paternal grandmother. On June 5, 1993, the Memphis Commercial Appeal ran profiles of all three accused. The Baldwin profile was entitled “Shy & Artistic, But Into That Devil Stuff” and included this passage:

But in Sheridan, Ark., south of Little Rock, Baldwin’s grandmother wasn’t so sure of Jason Baldwin’s innocence.

“I thought in my own mind when those boys were killed that my grandson is sorta superstitious about that devil stuff,” said Jessie Mae Baldwin. “He was always catching lizards and snakes, I thought something was going on in that child’s mind.”

Baldwin, 76, said she and her husband, Purd Baldwin, 82, learned of their grandson’s arrest from a television report Friday morning.

“We just looked at each other and I said, ‘I don’t know what that boy has on his mind, killing people like that,’ ” Mrs. Baldwin said.

Family Life

Jason Baldwin had a difficult, dysfunctional family life in the two years leading up to the murders. His mother, Gail Grinnell, suffered from mental illness. From Blood of Innocents:

According to probate records, in 1992 Gail was admitted to the East Arkansas Regional Mental Health Center for a period not to exceed forty-five days. The February 5 order cited “paranoid delusions,” noting Grinnell had been seen four times that January in the emergency room at Crittenden Memorial Hospital, where she was treated for self-inflicted injuries that included razor slashes to her neck and arms. She would tell authorities tha she had “hallucinations of a male voice,” and was afraid she was dying of AIDS. (192-193)

In an April 1993 school writing assignment, Jason recalled one such incident:

Once my mother tried to commit suicide and I know how I felt when that happend it was pretty devastating since I was the one who found her and called 911 and kept her alive, but I am ???? my mother is well and happy now and so am I.

Jason wrote about the stresses of home life in another writing assignment:

I am usually a calm person, and can take mostly of anything. But sometimes I get angry, when I do get angry it is usually not a pretty site. One time I had to babysit my two little brothers, one is 8, and the other is 13, I let Matt, the 13 year old go outside and play, or wherever he want, and I let Terry the 8 year old have some friends over. That was a mistake. I let them go in my room and play Super Nintendo, while I watched T.V. in the living room, I thought I had everything under control, but I was wrong. Those kids got to fighting over the game, and tore everything up in my room, it was a mess. I couldn’t believe it. I made them all clean it up and leave. Then Matt got home griping as usual, and started agrivating me, he would run up and hit me and say “You can’t hit me back, I’ll tell mom” so I said tell mom boy, cause your’e fixing to get it. I ran over there and grabbed him into a choke hold and held him there till his face turned a bright red and let him go. I said mess with me again and it’ll be worse, so he pick up a broom and tried to hit me with it I grabbed the handled pulled it a little ways then pushed and it knocked him down, he didn’t do nothing else but say “I’m still telling” I said “so” and he did and I got grounded for nothing.

Baldwin’s home life had an added disruption in spring 1993. His mother and stepfather separated about two months before the murders, and his mom’s new boyfriend, Dennis “Dink” Dent, moved into the trailer. Dent had a lengthy rap sheet including multiple counts of larceny, burglary and auto theft. Dent later told investigators that he and Gail Grinnell argued the night of May 5 when she got home from work. They split up, and he moved out two days later. Jason’s stepdad, Terry Grinnell, moved back in sometime in May.

School Performance

Jason Baldwin was the only one of the three accused killers still attending high school. WM3 supporters frequently claim that Baldwin was a good student who “got good grades”, but this was not true in the period leading up to the murders and arrests. The Blood of Innocents authors acquired Baldwin’s spring 1993 report card, which “showed him to be a rather indifferent student in most subjects. He had a D-plus in Algebra I and C’s in most other classes. However, in English, he was a borderline B student. And in art, he earned an A.”

Best Friends

Everyone agreed that Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin were best friends, virtually inseparable. Psychiatric records and witness statements make clear that Damien Echols circa 1992-93 was a deranged, violent psychopath with homicidal fantasies. There’s no way of knowing what Baldwin and Echols talked about in the months leading up to the murder, but it’s safe to say that Echols was a bad influence.

Forensic psychologist Katharine Ramsland describes a common dynamic among “team killers”:

Many couples (no matter what gender) tend to follow a similar pattern. Two people meet and feel a strong attraction, or they are related and have established an intimate familiarity with each other that allows them to share fantasies — even violent ones. Typically one is dominant, and that one seduces the other into sharing his or her fantasy, and then into acting it out.

Based on the incomplete information available, Echols and Baldwin’s relationship fits this pattern. Echols was the dominant personality, Baldwin the admiring follower. Echols’ violent fantasies were the driving force behind the crime. If he had and Echols had never met, Baldwin probably never would have committed such a horrific crime.

Conclusion

To answer an inevitable response from WM3 partisans: No, nothing on this page proves that Jason Baldwin was guilty of triple murder. There’s plenty of direct evidence of that elsewhere.

Baldwin may well have been the shy, artistic, kind-hearted adolescent that his supporters describe. He was also a disturbed, angry adolescent with a history of petty crime, a severely messed-up home life and a homicidal lunatic for a best friend.