On May 5, 1993 three boys (all of the age of eight) were reported missing in West Memphis, Arkansas. The boys were later found murdered and left in a muddy area in Robin Hood Hills. The police investigated the case and eventually arrested Jessie Misskelley (17), Jason Baldwin (16) and Damien Echols (18). This documentary trilogy looks into the case and makes for a very interesting watch.
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
The first part in this series introduces its audience to the case and its horrible details, including footage of the crime scene and crime scene pictures. This for me was the hardest part to watch of the series as it’s very shocking to see how these young boys were dumped in the woods. It’s something that I’m sure will put some people off, so it’s very important to mention. This unfortunately was the reality of the case, but part of me feels like it was not necessary to show these gruesome images in the documentary (although I understand the inclusion).
The documentary talks with everyone affected by the case, including the parents of the victims, the lawyers and the suspects. The message this film tries to make is that the only reason these suspects were charged was because they listened to heavy metal and wearing black shirts. It shows the trial and as I was watching I got the feeling it was a bit one-sided as it didn’t show all evidence brought against the suspects. This made me feel like it was setting me up to root for them, but I wasn’t able to do that. The conversations with them do show them as normal kids who might do some strange stuff, but not as killers who sacrificed these boys.
Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000)
As the suspects were convicted in the first installment, the second one goes further into the case as the filmmakers didn’t believe the three were guilty. They talk to a support group who put a lot of effort into uncovering every bit of information to prove the three were innocent. At the same time it paints a picture of Mark Byers, step father of one of the murdered children. They depict him as a liar who might indeed by responsible for the murders. Surely he’s a very strange man, but the documentary never comes with proof for its claims even though it does raise doubts. The three incarcerated men also speak about their experience 4 years after they were sentenced.
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011)
It’s amazing to see that directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky kept looking into the case 15 years after they initially worked on it. This one sees Mark Byers as a changed man, who was once convinced the right men were convicted, but doesn’t feel like that anymore. It shows new evidence that might prove that the three were indeed innocent, but since the original judge kept refusing to look at the appeals they had a hard time making progress. When he finally is replaced they get a chance to state their case. These men have been in jail for a long time and have lost their youth and everything that was important to them, so have everything to gain. In the end they are set free, even though to the legal system they remain guilty, which is very strange.
I have to say that this is an amazing piece of documentary filmmaking, which actually helped the case of these three men. It’s shows that a camera can be a powerful tool to get awareness for something. Devil’s Knot is the movie which will be based on the story of the Memphis Three and currently Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon and Kevin Durand are attached to the project which should come out in 2013.