Jessie Misskelley’s confession – June 3, 1993
On June 3, 1993, nearly one month after the crime, Jessie Misskelley confessed to participating in the murders along with friends Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin. This confession broke the case. All three were arrested that day.
Misskelley’s lawyers argued that this confession was coerced and false. That strategy failed at trial, but WM3 supporters have been repeating the false-confession claim ever since.
Police and prosecutors didn’t believe every word Misskelley said on 6/3/93, but they believed his confession was honest on the fundamental issue: that he, Baldwin and Echols committed the murders.
Before tackling the false confession debate, let’s look at what actually happened that day and what Jessie Misskelley said to police.
What actually happened on June 3, 1993
When police brought Misskelley in for questioning that day, they did not consider him a suspect. They had identified Damien Echols as a prime suspect (not because he wore black and listened to Metallica; investigators had more mundane but significant grounds for their suspicions) and were interviewing his friends and acquaintances.
West Memphis PD compiled an overall timeline for the day. Many of these times are documented by release forms or time announcements on recordings.
9:45 am: Detective Sgt. Mike Allen picked up Jessie Misskelley at his father’s workplace.
10:00 am: Allen filled out a subject description form for Jessie Misskelley.
10:00 – 11:00 am: Allen interviewed Misskelley while Detective Bryn Ridge watched. (Read Mike Allen’s interview notes: original or transcription. Read Bryn Ridge’s interview notes: original or transcription.)
11:00 – 11:30 am: Detective Sgt. Allen and Jessie Misskelley drove to find Jessie Lloyd Misskelley, Sr., who signed a polygraph release form for his 17-year-old son.
11:30 am – 12:30 pm: Detective Bill Durham conducted a polygraph exam on Jessie Misskelley. After studying the charts, Durham told investigators that Misskelley had failed and was “lying his ass off”. Polygraph report.
12:40 – 2:30 pm: Detective Ridge and Inspector Gary Gitchell continued interrogating Misskelley, who gradually revealed that he was present at the murders and watched Damien and Jason kill the three boys. (Read Ridge’s interview notes: original or transcription.)
2:44 pm: Jessie Misskelley officially arrested for murder.
Sometime between 3:45 and 5:05 pm: Inspector Gitchell conducts a series of short follow-up tape-recorded interrogations of Misskelley. (Gitchell failed to follow proper procedure in announcing the time when turning on and turning off the tape recorder.) (Full text transcription or mp3 audio.)
What Jessie Misskelley told police
(Note: callahan.8k.com has two different transcriptions of Misskelley’s 6/3/93 confession tapes. As the site FAQ explains, “The first transcription is the offical transcript, i.e. the one that was used in court. The second, labeled (2), is a more accurate transcription performed by Jivepuppi by going over the audio tape line by line.” I have linked to the Jivepuppi version.)
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, Jessie, let’s, let’s go straight to that date, 5-5 of 93, a Wednesday, early in the morning. You received a phone call, is that correct?
*A17 MISSKELLEY: Yes, I did
DETECTIVE RIDGE: And who made that phone call?
*A18 MISSKELLEY: Jason Baldwin
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, what occurred, what did he talk about?
*A19 MISSKELLEY: He called me and asked me could I go, uh, go to West Memphis with him and I told him, no, I had to work and stuff. And then he told me that he had to go to West Memphis so, him and Damien went and then I went with them.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, when?
*A20 MISSKELLEY: Wednesday
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, when did you go with them?
*A21 MISSKELLEY: That morning
DETECTIVE RIDGE: At 9 o’clock in the morning?
*A22 MISSKELLEY: Yes, I did.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay.
*A23 MISSKELLEY: I went with them and then I
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: Now, were you in a car? Whose car were you all in?
*A24 MISSKELLEY: We walked
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: You all walked?
*A25 MISSKELLEY: Right, we walked and then uh,
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Where did you go?
*A26 MISSKELLEY: We went up to the Robin Hood
DETECTIVE RIDGE: You went to the Robin Hood, explain to me where those woods are.
*A27 MISSKELLEY: By uh, Blue Beacon Truck Wash.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Just a little patch of woods
*A28 MISSKELLEY: A little patch of woods
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Behind Blue Beacon?
*A29 MISSKELLEY: Behind it, right back there behind it.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, what occurred while you were there?
*A30 MISSKELLEY: When I was there, I saw Damien hit this one, hit this one boy real bad, and then uh, and then he started screwing them and stuff and then uh,
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, you got in front of you a picture, that was taken out of the newspaper I believe, it’s got three boys and these are the three boys that were killed on that date in Robin Hood Woods, okay. Which one of those three boys is it you say Damien hit? The third picture (Jessie seems to be affirming this in the background), which will be
*A31 MISSKELLEY: Michael Moore
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: This boy right here,
*A32 MISSKELLEY: Yeah,
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: Alright, that’s uh the Byers boy,
*A33 MISSKELLEY: Christopher
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: That’s who you are pointing at?
*A34 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: If you read the captions, the grisly slain from left, 8 year old Michael Moore, Steven Branch and Christopher Byers. (Jessie seems to be echoing these names as Ridge speaks). Okay, so you saw Damien strike Chris Byers in the head?
*A35 MISSKELLEY: Right
DETECTIVE RIDGE: What did he hit him with?
*A36 MISSKELLEY: He hit him with his fist and bruised him all up real bad, and then um Jason turned around and hit Steve Branch
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay
*A37 MISSKELLEY: And started doing the same thing, then the other one took off, Michael uh Moore took off running, so I chased him and grabbed him and held him, til they got there and then I left.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay. Alright, when you get the boys back together, where you at from the creek?
*A38 MISSKELLEY: I was up there by the uh Service Road
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Up by the Service Road?
*A39 MISSKELLEY: (The transcript here says yes. I could not find a response.)
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, now when this, when he hits the first boy, where are they at when he, when he hits him, are you in the woods, you’re on the side of big bayou, you’re out in the field, where you at?
*A40 MISSKELLEY: I was in the woods.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: In the woods. Okay, you’ve been down there in those woods before.
*A41 MISSKELLEY: Yes, I have.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Can you describe to me what in those woods, what’s the location where you were?
*A42 MISSKELLEY: Uh,
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Is there a path that you go down?
*A43 MISSKELLEY: Uh, down a little path
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, where does that path go to?
*A44 MISSKELLEY: It leads out there close to the uh field, close to the interstate.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay
*A45 MISSKELLEY: That’s where I was at.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright.
*A46 MISSKELLEY: I was close by the interstate.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: When he hits the first boy and then Jason hits another boy, and one takes off running,
*A47 MISSKELLEY: And the other takes. . .
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Where does he run to?
*A48 MISSKELLEY: That one, he runs out, going out the, out the park and I chased him and grabbed him and brought him back.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Which way does he go, I mean, does he go on back towards where the houses are
*A49 MISSKELLEY: He goes on back. . .
DETECTIVE RIDGE: He’s going to Blue Beacon, is he going out towards the fields,
*A50 MISSKELLEY: He’s going. . .
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Where’s he running to?
*A51 MISSKELLEY: Towards the houses.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Towards the houses?
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: Where the pipe is that goes across the water?
*A52 MISSKELLEY: Yeah, he’s running out there and I caught him and brought him back, and then I took off.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, when you came back a little bit later, and all three boys are tied?
*A53 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Is that right?
*A54 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm, and then I took off and run home.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, have they got their clothes on when you saw them tied?
*A54 MISSKELLEY: Un-uh, they had them off.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: They had already gotten them off. When he first hit the boy, when Damien first hit the first boy, did they have their clothes on then?
*A55 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, when did they take their clothes off?
*A56 MISSKELLEY: Right after I, they beat up all three of them, beat them up real bad
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Beat them up real bad, and then they took their clothes off?
*A57 MISSKELLEY: Mm-mm.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: And then they tied them
*A58 MISSKELLEY: Then they tied them up, tied their hands up, they started screwing them and stuff, cutting them and stuff, and I saw it and I turned around and looked, and then I took off running, I went home, then they called me and asked me, how come I didn’t stay, I told them, I just couldn’t.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Just couldn’t stay (stand?) for that.
*A59 MISSKELLEY: I couldn’t stand to see what they were doing to them.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, now when it’s going on, when it’s taking place, you under. . . you saw somebody with a knife. Who had a knife?
*A60 MISSKELLEY: Jason
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Jason had a knife. What did he cut with the knife? What did you see him cut or who did you see him cut?
*A61 MISSKELLEY: I saw him cut one of the little boys
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, where did he cut him at?
*A62 MISSKELLEY: He was cutting him in the face.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Cutting in the face. Alright, another boy was cut I understand, where was he cut at?
*A63 MISSKELLEY: At the bottom
DETECTIVE RIDGE: On his bottom? Was he face down when he was cutting on him, or
*A64 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: Now you’re talking about bottom, do you mean right here?
*A65 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: In his groin area?
*A66 MISSKELLEY: (No audio register)
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: Okay
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Do you know what his penis is?
*A67 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm, that’s where he was cut at.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: That’s where he was cut.
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: Which boy was that?
*A68 MISSKELLEY: That right there.
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: You’re talking about the Byers boy again?
*A69 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: Okay
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Are you sure that he was the one that was cut?
*A70 MISSKELLEY: That’s the one that I seen them cutting on.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, you know what penis is?
*A71 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, is that where he was cutting?
*A72 MISSKELLEY: That’s where I seen them going down at, and he was on his back. I seen them going down right there real close to his penis and stuff and I saw some blood and that’s when I took off.
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: Was uh, were you all close to the creek at that point?
*A73 MISSKELLEY: Yes sir
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: Where, where was the little boy actually at?
*A74 MISSKELLEY: He was close by
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, now you know where the bayou is?
*A75 MISSKELLEY: Right
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, and you know where the little creek is that goes out to the expressway, and it doesn’t have a lot of water in it, but it’s got some water in it, and it’s flowing through there, which side of that creek were you on, were you on the Memphis side of the creek or were you on the Blue Beacon side of that creek?
*A76 MISSKELLEY: The Blue Beacon.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: On the Blue Beacon
*A77 MISSKELLEY: Yes
DETECTIVE RIDGE: So, there is like a tall bank, were you, where were you at on that bank?
*A78 MISSKELLEY: I was up there, I was standing up there on the top.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, where were they at?
*A79 MISSKELLEY: They was at the bottom.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: On which side?
*A80 MISSKELLEY: The Memphis side
DETECTIVE RIDGE: They were on the Memphis side.
*A81 MISSKELLEY: I was on the (overlapping) Blue Beacon
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, we’re going to correct that even further, that’s the east side, Memphis side is the east side and you were standing at the top of the bank on the west side, were you looking down at what was going on?
*A82 MISSKELLEY: I was looking down. After I seen all of that, I took off
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, and when you left, did you hear any more hollering or anything?
*A83 MISSKELLEY: No.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, you went home and about what time was it that all of this was taking place?
*A84 MISSKELLEY: They call me up about
DETECTIVE RIDGE: I’m not saying when they called you. I’m saying what time was it that you were actually there in the park?
*A85 MISSKELLEY: I was there about twelve
DETECTIVE RIDGE: About noon?
*A86 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm. (There is an audible “ffff” at this point.)
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, was it after school. . . had let out?
*A87 MISSKELLEY: I didn’t go to school
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Well, these little boys
*A88 MISSKELLEY: They skipped school
DETECTIVE RIDGE: They skipped school?
*A89 MISSKELLEY: They’s going to catch their bus and stuff, and they’s on their bikes and so,
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, they were on their bikes, where were the bikes at?
*A90 MISSKELLEY: They, they laid their bikes down when they come out to the, I mean, when they hollered for them to come, come out there, they
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Where did they lay their bikes down at, that’s what I’m asking?
*A91 MISSKELLEY: I don’t know where they laid their bikes down at, cause I was, I was behind Damien and nem, way, way behind them.
- – - – - – -
*A127 MISSKELLEY: I was there until they tied them up and then that’s when I left, after they tied them up, I left.
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: But, you saw them cutting on the boys,
*A128 MISSKELLEY: I saw them cutting on them, and then they, they
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: So, what else, what else left is there, after that?
*A129 MISSKELLEY: Then they laid the knife down beside them and I saw them tying them up and then that’s when I left.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Were the boys conscience (sic) or were they
*A130 MISSKELLEY: They were unconscious then
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Unconscious
*A131 MISSKELLEY: And after I left they done more.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: They done more.
*A132 MISSKELLEY: They started screwing them again.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, how were they screwing them when you saw them?
*A133 MISSKELLEY: They, Jason stuck his in one of them’s mouth and Damien was screwing one of them up the ass and stuff.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, and the one that they were cutting the penis off of, did any of them, or cutting the penis or whatever was being done, did they have sex with him at all?
*A134 MISSKELLEY: No
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Did any one of them?
*A135 MISSKELLEY: Jason did
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Jason did?
*A136 MISSKELLEY: Jason was screwing him while Damien stuck his in his mouth and got a blow job.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, how did he have sex with that one?
*A137 MISSKELLEY: Damien, he was holding him down like, and Jason had his legs up in the air and that little boy was kicking, saying, ‘don’t, no’ like that.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, he had his legs up in the air. Alright, what was to keep these little boys from running off? If just their hands are tied, what’s to keep them from running off?
*A138 MISSKELLEY: They beat them up so bad so they can’t hardly move. They hadn’t tied, had their hands tied down and he just sit on them.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: You said that they had their hands tied up, tied down, were their hands tied in a fashion to where they couldn’t have run? You tell me.
*A139 MISSKELLEY: They could, they could run, they just had them tied, when they knocked them down and stuff, they could hold their arms and stuff, and just hold them down like, where he couldn’t raise up and the other one picked his legs up.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, so they had them under control. You were there the whole time that was taking place?
*A140 MISSKELLEY: I was there.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, none of them was cut on the face real bad, is that what you said?
*A141 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: And one of them was being cut on his penis?
*A142 MISSKELLEY: Yes sir.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright,
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: Did you ever use, did anyone use a stick and hit the boys with?
*A143 MISSKELLEY: Damien had kind of a big old stick when he hit that first one, after he hit him with his fist and knocked him down and then he got him a big old stick and hit him.
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: What did the stick look like, I mean was it like a, a, a big log like that or is it, is it a stick?
*A144 MISSKELLEY: It, I would say it was about that, about that big around, I would say about that long.
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: Okay
DETECTIVE RIDGE: About the size of a baseball bat, maybe just a little bit bigger around?
*A145 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm. That’s about right.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: That’s what you’re describing with your hands, right?
*A146 MISSKELLEY: Right
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay. How long was the knife that Jason was using?
*A147 MISSKELLEY: About that long (faint).
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Alright, you’re describing a knife that would be about 6 inches long, is that right?
*A148 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: And, what kind of blade did it have on it?
*A149 MISSKELLEY: Mm, like a regular, just a regular knife blade
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Was it a knife that you fold up, or was it a, like a hunting knife?
*A150 MISSKELLEY: It was
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Just one piece
*A151 MISSKELLEY: Just a fold up knife
DETECTIVE RIDGE: It was a folding knife?
*A152 MISSKELLEY: Mm-hmm.
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Okay, uh. Does Damien have a knife?
*A153 MISSKELLEY: No
DETECTIVE RIDGE: He doesn’t have one, he didn’t have one that night?
*A154 MISSKELLEY: He didn’t have one that night
DETECTIVE RIDGE: Did he borrow yours?
*A155 MISSKELLEY: No, he didn’t borrow mine.
- – - – - – -
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: Where did the boys put their bikes?
*A183 MISSKELLEY: Close to right where there before you come in and they laid them down right there, and I don’t know, after I left I don’t know what they done with the bikes.
DETECTIVE GITCHELL: You didn’t do anything to the bikes at all?
*A184 MISSKELLEY: No.