Melissa Byers was the mother of Christopher Byers, one of the three boys who were brutally murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. The case, known as the West Memphis Three, attracted national attention and controversy, as three teenagers were convicted of the killings based on dubious evidence and allegations of Satanism. Melissa Byers and her husband, John Mark Byers, were vocal advocates for the prosecution and the death penalty for the defendants. However, in 1996, Melissa Byers died under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind many unanswered questions. This article examines her life, her death, and the possible explanations for her demise.
A Troubled Life
Melissa Byers was born on January 15, 1956, in Seattle, Washington. She had two sons from a previous marriage, Ryan Clark and Christopher Byers. She married John Mark Byers, a former drug dealer and convicted felon, in 1989. The couple moved to West Memphis, where they lived in a trailer park. Melissa Byers had a history of drug abuse and mental health issues, and she was often involved in domestic disputes with her husband.
On May 5, 1993, Melissa Byers’ life was shattered when her son Christopher, along with his friends Michael Moore and Stevie Branch, were found dead in a wooded area near their homes. The boys had been beaten, stabbed, and mutilated, and their bodies were dumped in a ditch. The police arrested three teenagers, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr., for the murders, claiming that they were part of a Satanic cult and that they had killed the boys as part of a ritual sacrifice. Melissa Byers and her husband were convinced of their guilt, and they attended the trials and the media interviews, demanding justice and vengeance for their son.
In 1994, Melissa Byers and her husband moved to Cherokee Village, a small town in northern Arkansas. They hoped to start a new life, but they continued to have problems with the law and their neighbors. They also appeared in a documentary film, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, which raised doubts about the convictions of the West Memphis Three and suggested that John Mark Byers might have been involved in the killings. Melissa Byers defended her husband and maintained her belief in the guilt of the defendants.
A Mysterious Death
On March 29, 1996, Melissa Byers died unexpectedly at the age of 40. According to her husband, they had spent the afternoon in bed, talking, having sex, and sleeping. He claimed that he woke up around 5 p.m. and found her unresponsive. He called their neighbor, Norm Metz, and asked him to call an ambulance. He then performed CPR on her, but she vomited and did not revive. She was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
The cause of Melissa Byers’ death was not clear. The autopsy report by the state medical examiner stated that she had died of “undetermined causes” and that the manner of death was “undetermined”. The toxicology report found traces of drugs in her system, including cocaine, morphine, codeine, and benzodiazepines, but not enough to be lethal. There was no evidence of severe trauma or foul play. However, there were some suspicious circumstances surrounding her death, such as:
- The puncture marks on her body, which could have been from intravenous drug use or injections.
- The bruises on her chest and abdomen, which could have been from CPR or from a beating.
- The discrepancy between her husband’s account and her son’s account of the events of that day. Ryan Clark, who was living with them at the time, said that he saw his mother alive and well around 3:30 p.m., when he came home from school with his girlfriend. He said that his parents were in their bedroom, and that his father called him twice, once to ask for a towel and once to tell him that his mother was not breathing. He said that he saw his mother cough and vomit, and that his father was doing CPR on her. He said that he left the house with his girlfriend, and did not return until the evening, when he went to his grandfather’s house. He said that he did not see his father call the neighbor or the ambulance.
- The delay in calling for help. According to the neighbor, Norm Metz, John Mark Byers called him around 5 p.m. and asked him to come over to the house. He said that he saw Melissa Byers lying on the bed, with her husband doing CPR on her. He said that he asked him why he had not called an ambulance, and that he told him to do so. He said that he stayed with them until the paramedics arrived, and that he did not see any signs of life in Melissa Byers.
- The possible motive for murder. John Mark Byers had a history of violence and abuse, and he had threatened to kill his wife several times. He also had a life insurance policy on her, worth $100,000. He was having an affair with another woman, whom he married shortly after Melissa Byers’ death. He also had a history of lying and fabricating evidence, as he had admitted to giving a knife with blood on it to the filmmakers of Paradise Lost, claiming that it was his son’s. The blood turned out to be his own, and he said that he had cut himself while shaving.
A Mystery Unsolved
Melissa Byers’ death remains a mystery, as no definitive conclusion has been reached about what killed her. Some people believe that she died of natural causes, such as a heart attack or a stroke, or that she overdosed on drugs. Some people believe that she was murdered by her husband, who staged the scene to look like an accident or a suicide. Some people believe that she was killed by someone else, possibly related to the West Memphis Three case, as a way of silencing her or framing her husband.
The investigation into Melissa Byers’ death was closed in 1997, due to lack of evidence and leads. No charges were filed against anyone, and no suspects were identified. Her death certificate still lists the cause and manner of death as “undetermined”. Her body was cremated, and her ashes were scattered in the Mississippi River, near the spot where her son’s body was found.
Melissa Byers cause of death may never be known, but her life and her loss have left a lasting impact on her family, her friends, and the public. She was a troubled and tragic figure, who suffered from addiction, mental illness, and grief. She was also a loving and devoted mother, who fought for justice and closure for her son. She was a victim of a horrific crime, and a possible victim of another. She was a mystery, and a mystery unsolved.