By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Two thousand miles west, in an especially funky little cranny of Los Angeles’ Lincoln Heights, artist Emmeric James Konrad is hard at work on a giant crucifix in the studio of his townhouse apartment. Actually, the crucifix is still mostly in his mind and in his sketchbook: stark black-and-white images of three murdered 8-year-olds that will form the head and arms of a colossal 8-by-10-foot cross.Help Me I Want Out by the Clayton Brothers
“I’ve already told them I want an entire wall,” says Konrad, excitedly. “I’m going to spray-paint a black outline around it. In the center will be the dead kid with the bite marks, on the bottom will be the stepfather, and below him will be the initials of the three kids, a line of red going through them, with the stepdad’s initials below. You know, like a gangbanger’s tags.”
Konrad’s creepy conception incorporates three famous photos of Christopher Byers, Stevie Branch and Michael Moore, as they were in life before their bodies were pulled from the muddy water of a drainage ditch running through a spooky patch of woods known as the Robin Hood Hills in West Memphis, Arkansas. They were found there May 6, 1993, a day after they had been reported missing, naked and tied ankle to wrist with their own shoelaces, like deer after the kill. The “stepfather” Konrad refers to is John Mark Byers, known to the viewers of the award-winning HBO documentaries Paradise Lost: The Child Murders of Robin Hood Hillsand Paradise Lost 2: Revelations as the belligerent, mullet-headed oaf whose comic self-incriminations are lost on the Keystone Kops at the West Memphis Police Department.
Instead, the police alleged that the three children were murdered as part of some sort of sloppy satanic ritual carried out by Damien Echols, then 18, and his two cultic cohorts, Jessie Misskelley, 17, and Jason Baldwin, 16. Problem is, the cops never had any real evidence to link Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley to the slayings, which were especially brutal — Christopher Byers was emasculated. Though the boys had been mercilessly battered and mutilated, there was no blood found at the site, nor were any murder weapons recovered. This startling lack of clues encouraged the 80-member police force to look to the supernatural for an answer, and they found it in Echols, a self-described Wiccan at the time who liked to wear black, listen to heavy metal music and read Stephen King.
With the confession of the mentally handicapped Misskelley acquired through ye olde third degree and dutifully leaked to the press, and a public mood more akin to Marion Starkey’s The Devil in Massachusettsthan Harper Valley P.T.A., the authorities railroaded Echols, et al., with the aid of two pliant juries. The alt-weekly Arkansas Timesreferred to them as “Witch Trials,” and the phrase “satanic panic” was bandied about. Misskelley and Baldwin caught life without parole. Echols got death and has been waiting to die ever since. They’re now known worldwide as the West Memphis Three.
“I wanted to bring it back to the three boys who were murdered,” says Konrad, a silver-haired, motorcycle-riding ex-Marine who, in paint-splattered jeans and T-shirt, looks every inch the artist. “I don’t want it to just be these guys get out of prison and it to end. I want it to be these guys get out of prison, and they get the guy who did this.”
Out of the paint-and-paper chaos of Konrad’s workspace emerge the faces of the dead children, rendered in charcoal, their spectral visages hovering like nightmares. In the background, Konrad’s CD player is cranking out a cover of the Stones’ “Paint It Black” by the L.A. band the Hyperions.
I feel a weird tingle, like a cold salamander slithering up my spine, as I look at the images.
“I want it to have that feel of an icon, like the Hispanic graves where they have the picture of the deceased. It’s been so hard for me to do this. Once I get going, usually I can bang stuff out, but this kills me. I have to keep walking away,” says Konrad.
Konrad is but one of about 20 artists set to participate in a show at downtown’s sixspace gallery September 6 through 20. “Cruel and Unusual: An Exhibition To Benefit the West Memphis Three” is meant both as a fund-raiser for the WM3’s legal-defense fund, the entity that pays the legal bills associated with the appeals for the three convicts, and as a commemorative event to mark the 10th anniversary of their arrests, in June of 1993. Featured will be the artwork of Marilyn Manson, Raymond Pettibon, Exene Cervenka, Robbie Conal, Shepard Fairey, Glen E. Friedman and others. Winona Ryder will host the opening-night reception Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m., and Jello Biafra will be in house to render one of his spoken-word rants. Also present will be Arkansas journalist Mara Leveritt, signing copies of her eyeball-popping exposÃ© Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three(Atria/Simon & Schuster), the bible for anyone interested in the crime.Raymond Pettibon’s Remember the West Memphis Three