Faith helps slain boy's family face abiding grief
Tips promising in 3 deaths, police say
May 10, 1993
Members of Holy Cross Episcopal Church in West Memphis helped Todd and Diana Moore struggle through a hard Mother's Day Sunday, three days after their son's body and two others were found in a ditch.
Authorities continued to express optimism about the case as they searched for clues in the slayings of Michael Moore and friends Steve Branch and Christopher Byers. The bodies of the three boys, all 8, were found Thursday in a swampy area called Robin Hood Park near their homes.
West Memphis police Insp. Gary Gitchell said police are following some ''rather promising" leads in the case.
He called some of the several hundred calls from citizens and other law enforcement officials "good calls."
"Naturally, some (leads) haven't panned out . . . others are rather promising," he said. "We have ruled out many things, or more appropriately, many different people."
Potential witnesses, some of them children, filed into the West Memphis police station Sunday afternoon. Gitchell said more than 50 people have been questioned. Street officers have received information from friends and other possible informants, he said.
Gitchell said he had slept only a few hours the night before.
"I definitely feel we are closer," he said. He said police want information particularly about vehicles or individuals seen in the area.
"It's like a great puzzle . . . it would take the whole front courtyard to
put all the pieces," he said.
At Holy Cross, where the Moores are members, the congregation was looking for answers as well, answers as to why such a thing would happen.
"While I do believe to the very core of my being in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit," Rector Fred H. Tinsley Jr. said in his homily, "I freely admit to you this morning that my heart is sorely troubled."
Tinsley called the slayings the "incarnation and manifestation of evil."
"We're not dealing with the garden variety of sin here," Tinsley said. ''Anyone who would do something like this is not like you or me. . . . They've reached the point that they refuse to recognize that anything wrong was done."
The Moores and 9-year-old daughter Dawn sat near the back of the filled church, occasionally leaning on one another. Fellow church members, many dabbing their eyes with handkerchiefs, greeted the family after the service, some simply hugging the family without speaking.
"I think our faith pulled us through all of it," said church member Shirl Skobel. "It was a hard day for everyone, though."
The Moores left quickly after the service and did not talk to reporters.
Gitchell said West Memphis has 12 officers working the case, and is getting help from the Memphis police, Arkansas State Police and FBI. Gitchell said he may have a profile of the killer from the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime in Quantico, Va., by today or Tuesday. Gitchell said that until police get full autopsies, they will not know if the boys all died at the same time. The deaths were caused by head trauma, he said, but was not more specific.
A Memphis psychologist who has served as an expert witness in criminal cases said Sunday he does not believe the boys were the victim of a drifter or experienced killer, but rather of someone one of them knew.
Dr. L. D. Hutt said the background of the situation "implies a familiarity with the area . . . not just the physical knowledge, but also that this was a popular place for kids to go.
"He knew where he was going, and he knew the purpose," Hutt said.
Hutt said he has no official connection with the case and has not spoken to police about it.
Odds are, he said, the killer was someone who knew at least one of the boys, though was not necessarily a long-term friend.
The killer, if there was one killer, he said, may have been "posing as a police official" or some other authority figure. "That would imply planning," he said.
But, Hutt said, "this does not have the signs of a crime by a mad genius. . . .; he's not a real brilliant individual," he said. The crime showed premeditation, he said, but the crime scene seems to indicate a disorganized person, someone possibly with neurological damage.
There is a good chance that the person has a criminal record, though possibly for minor violations.
If not detected, the person will "almost certainly kill again," Hutt said. However, he said, the killer's efforts to flee will likely "be pretty obvious . . . not highly planned out."
Hutt said the killer probably left a lot of evidence at the scene, but that evidence may have been degraded by the water and by anyone coming upon the scene accidentally.
The killer, he said, would probably not meet the legal definition of insanity, since he showed planning and attempts, however clumsy, to cover up his crime.
Lastly, he said, the killer probably had a low-level job, and likely had some contact with children on his job.
Members of Michael's and Dawn's Sunday school classes plan to plant a fruit tree at Holy Cross in Michael's memory next Sunday, buying the tree with their own money. All three boys also were members of the same Cub Scout troop at the church.
Tinsley said he was heartened by the outpouring of support communitywide. Beverly Higginbotham, who is helping spearhead efforts to raise money for funeral expenses from motorists at intersections, is not a member of Holy Cross but attended Sunday's service.
She said about $15,000 had been raised as of Sunday morning and collection is continuing.
"This has been a very difficult Mother's Day," Higginbotham said, arm around her daughter. "I'm so fortunate I've got her with me. The Moores and the other families don't have theirs."