Echos of the West Memphis 3

Echos of the West Memphis 3 January 23, 2019
image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

True Detective Season 3

The third season of True Detective continues the series “true crime” feel found in its first two seasons. Season three takes us to West Fingers, Arkansas. Three teen boys are the focus of a case echoing the Satanic Panic of the late 1980s. The three teens portrayed in the first episode resemble Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley, who are known as The West Memphis Three. The West Memphis Three were arrested in 1993 when three 8-year-old boys were found murdered.

The third season of True Detective seems to draw parallels between the infamous true crime story about the West Memphis Three. The opening scene in the first episode of the HBO show features aerial shots of Devil’s Den State Park. It bears a substantial similarity to HBO’s 1996 documentary of Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, that also opens showing aerial footage of an area of West Memphis, Arkansas known as Robin Hood Hills.  This location where three 8-year-old boys, Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers, were found on May 6, 1993, murdered under horrifying circumstances of sexual mutilation. Those circumstances were quickly labeled ritualistic with Satanic overtones.

In the first episode of this season of True Detective, the Purcell kids, two pre-teens, are missing after leaving on their bikes one evening. Later in the story when a body is found, the investigators bring in a couple of teenagers to interrogate. One of the suspects is wearing a Black Sabbath t-shirt. That black t-shirt seems to be another nod toward The West Memphis Three case.

Parallels and Similarities

There is a reason that the Black Sabbath t-shirt we see in the first episode of True Detective this season is essential to drawing a parallel to the West Memphis Three case. In the case of the West Memphis Three, part of the Satanic Panic focuses on the fact that eighteen-year-old Damien Echols likes Metallica, Black Sabbath, and other heavy metal bands. Echols wore black rock band t-shirts regularly. Adding to the Satanic Panic surrounding the crime, he had also admitted to his probation officer that he was actively studying Wicca and reading about a wide variety of occult topics.

Another profound way this season of True Detective reminds us of The West Memphis Three and the Paradise Lost Documentaries, is the way True Detective’s main character, Detective Wayne Hays, played by actor Mahershala Ali, and his partner Roland West, played by Stephen Dorff, revisits three different timelines to tell the tale. The first is in the 1980s when the murders occur, the second is the 1990s when the case is re-opened, and the third is in 2015 when a documentary crew arrives to document the case. Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the directors behind the three Paradise Lost documentaries, must find themselves in interesting territory about now.

image courtesy of wm3.org

In episode 3, “The Big Never,” that aired on January 20th on HBO; there are new clues in the case. These are believed by fans of the series to be significant clues. However, it appears only the writers are meant to know what they mean for now. Three episodes into the new season, and the writing team Nic Pizzolato and David Milch have left us with far more questions than answers for now. It’s moving a bit slow, but real fans of True Detective know it will be worth it down the road.

The newest episode of True Detective touches on another topic covered by the documentary team of Sinofsky and Berlinger in their Paradise Lost trilogy, by introducing a new plot twist involving a mysterious brown sedan in the most recent episode. In Paradise Lost: Revisited, the documentary covers the reported appearance of a dirty and bloody stranger who shows up at a local fried chicken restaurant in West Memphis, near closing time the night of the murder. The employee on duty at the time reported that the unidentified male asked to use the bathroom where he then changed his clothes. The further investigation concerning the stranger was limited and left more questions than answers.

While the series creator Nic Pizzalatto denies the claim that the third season of True Detective is based on the famous West Memphis Three case, either way, there are certainly similarities that leave many still wondering, only time will tell.

About Maeven Eller-Five
Maeven Eller-Five was founder and board chair of Betwixt & Between Community Center in Dallas for nearly a decade starting in 1997. While there, they hosted a fundraiser for the West Memphis 3 which was filmed by the crew of the HBO documentary "Paradise Lost." She has also spoken at several Unitarian Universalist congregations on Earth-Centered and Pagan topics. She currently resides in North Carolina. You can read more about the author here.
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