20. The Mystery Unit
Many of us might often wonder what it would be like to uncover a lost treasure or find the secrets to a long forgotten mystery, but for Rob Horn a retired cop from Little Rock, Arkansas, he knows just the feeling. When Rob bought an abandoned storage unit in Little Rock, he thought it contained a heap of old paperbacks and just regular old junk from the storage unit’s previous owner. “I just saw a bunch of books,” he told WMC Action News 5 in June 2017, “I can sell books.” On closer inspection, however, the dozen or so boxes contained some interesting personal journals.
To Rob’s shock and bewilderment, the author of the journals was an infamous convicted murderer, and that’s just where the story began.
19. The Retired Cop
Rob had recently moved to Bull Shoals in northern Arkansas from Little Rock. At first, he didn’t know what to do with the journals, and when he discovered their author, he was really stumped. “What is it, one in a million to be the person who actually bought this stuff? Not very many people could be that lucky,” he said to the local news.
Lucky he was because he was about to embark on a journey that would go viral.
18. The Controversial Author
Not only was the author of these journals a convicted murderer but they were possibly one of the most infamous and controversial death row inmates of the 20th century. Scores of films, books, and documentaries have been produced about this convict. In both a historical and literary sense, Dan had struck gold with his storage unit of unseen treasures.
In due time, the whole world would want to know the contents of those journals–and they were willing to pay.
17. Who Was The Owner?
Dan originally bought the container at auction hoping to make a few bucks from whatever antiques may be inside. The idea of buying storage units to flip whatever the contents of them for profit has actually become a rising trend due to the occasional interesting antiques finds. But when Dan began rummaging through the contents of the books and journals, he saw that many had been inscribed with a single name.
He didn’t think much of it, but then his wife found an intriguing personal letter and they both began to wonder who exactly had all this stuff belonged to?
16. What Were The Chances
“We started googling real quick,” Horn told WMC Action News 5. “Of course, we came up with it… Then I thought ‘wow, we might be able to make some money off this’… I consider myself really, really lucky is what I got to say.” Dan told the news.
The couple had finally pieced together the puzzles of who was the author of the journals and the owner of the storage unit and it was an interesting piece of American true crime history.
15. Who is Damien Echols?
The treasure trove of books, journals, and letters had belonged to Damien Echols, one of the infamous “West Memphis Three.” Echols spent 18 years on death row for the murder of three young boys in 1993. But the conviction was controversial, partly because prosecutors had exploited local hysteria about alleged ‘Satanists’ operating in West Memphis, Arkansas.
People were consumed with the idea of Satanists and the town was talking. Their crimes were unthinkable, and the details may be written in those journals. The true question is, would he tell all?
14. The West Memphis Three
The story of the controversial case started on May 5, 1993, when three local eight-year-old boys disappeared while out playing near their homes in West Memphis. A disappearance like this was extremely uncommon as it was a very small town where everyone knew each other and felt comfortable letting their children play outside.
Their parents reported them missing almost immediately and police dispatched search teams the next morning. The search had not on long when later that afternoon, the dead bodies of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers – the missing local eight-year-old boys- were discovered in a muddy drainage ditch, in a gruesome state of being naked and hog-tied.
Echols was about to share what he had experienced with the world, unintentionally.
13. Guilty of Murder
Due to the size of the town, it was rather easy to interview potential witnesses and gather up clues to who may have been behind the murder of these boys. West Memphis police soon decided that the crime had to be tied to a group of local teenagers – Jason Baldwin, 16, Jessie Misskelley Jr., 17, and Damien Echols, 18. Echols, who was assumed by authorities to be the ringleader, was a high school dropout with a taste for trashy horror books and heavy metal.
None of these interests were well received by the community members who were extremely conservative, much like the rest of the Bible belt in the 90s. Echols also had a history of psychiatric problems; he was a misfit and a rebel which perfectly matched the profile that police were looking for.
However, with so much controversy surrounding the case, it begs the question, “Is this a case of misinterpretation and a rush to judgement, or did this killer get what he deserved?
12. In Court
Echols was tried in a conservative court in the bible belt. Many believe his interests surrounding Metallica and Stephen King were unfairly used against him, as the prosecution used them to suggest only devil worshipers are captivated by such things. The conservative jury, captivated by all of the media and hysteria surrounding the case, apparently found such claims of devil worship and satanism convincing. Consequently, the three teens were found guilty of murder. Baldwin was sentenced to life, Misskelley was sentenced to life plus 40 years, and Echols received the death sentence.
As he sat on death row, the community would begin to debate the conviction.
11. Misconduct and The Police
The case was seriously flawed and as time continued to pass, listening to heavy metal and watching horror movies had become popular culture. As the case continued to be examined by the general public, it became clear to many that the jury was extremely shrouded in personal bias and held a strong fear of counterculture.
A confession by Misskelley was allegedly obtained under duress and intimidation by the police officers working the case at the time, rendering it false by most standards. In addition to that, another key witness who had implicated the Memphis Three also retracted her statements, admitting that she lied and was coerced into doing so by the police at the time.
If this was any other case, the media would be up in arms with the injustices of the investigation. Were the three boys, who were now men, ever going to get a fair trial?
10. Johnny Depp
For years, Echols lobbied for the right to a fair trial and to be tried again with a fair and unbiased jury. During that time, he received help and support from several high profile celebrities, including Johnny Depp. Echols also met his wife, Lorri Davis, while on death row. Eventually, his efforts paid off. On August 19, 2011, the Memphis Three walked free on “Alford” plea deals, meaning the court still considers them guilty of the murders but their time would now be considered as “time served”.
So what was written in those infamous journals? A confession like everyone assumed? Or a plea for justice from an innocent man?
9. Echols’ Journals
Upon further investigation into the artifacts in the unit, Rob discovered that it actually belonged to a Lorri Davis – Echols’ wife. The unit also included photos of Davis and Echols, artwork, letters, books, and two personal journals written by Echols during his stretch at Varner Unit Supermax. “These journals are going to be an insight to what it was like for him when he was in prison,” Rob told WMC Action News 5, “That ought to make for good reading”, he continued.
It turns out, there was no shocking confession, but rather, an insight to what life in prison is like.
8. Echols’ Story Behind Bars
Echols had turned a lot of his experiences from death row into written works. He has penned three published books about his ordeal: Almost Home: My Life Story, Life After Death: Eighteen Years on Death Row and Yours for Eternity: A Love Story on Death Row. His depictions of daily life in a Supermax prison are as truly haunting.
7. Haunting Conditions
Echols described the conditions of the prison complex and the exercise yard of the prison in an article for The Guardian newspaper in 2013, and he described it as a “filthy concrete stall, much like a miniature grain silo.” There, prisoners walked in shackled silence, breathing in the fumes from rotting animal cadavers and feces. “When you first enter you have to fight against your gag reflex,” he wrote. “It’s a filthy business, trying to get some exercise.”
The dirty conditions of the prison yards were just the beginning of the nightmare Echol called reality.
6. The Guards of Death Row
Not only did Echols describe the conditions of the prison complex, but he also went into detail about his interactions with the guards and other prisoners. While he spent his time there the guards seemed to enjoy making the prisoners lives harder than they needed to be, “In the movies, it’s always the other prisoners you have to watch out for,” he continued, “In real life, it’s the guards and the administration. They go out of their way to make your life harder and more stressful than it already is, as if being on Death Row were not enough.”
As if prison conditions weren’t hard enough, what Echol would uncover next would show how the death row inmates were pushed to the extreme.
5. Life on Death Row
Echols described the fact that the guards he encountered kept the prisoners in a constant state of exhaustion. The lights were turned off for four hours a day, but the “doors slamming, keys hitting the floor, guards yelling at one another as if they’re at a family reunion – it all wakes you up. You can never sleep very deeply here anyway, because you have to stay aware of your surroundings. Bad things can come to those caught off guard…”
He did find a way to cope, however.
4. Poetry from Prison
Echols being kept as a prisoner for so long his captivity began to seriously weigh on him. He begins to use poetry as an outlet for healing and expression “For a split second today I could smell home. It smelled like sunset on a dirt road. I thought my heart was going to break. The world I left behind was so close I could almost touch it. Everything in me cried out for it. It’s amazing how certain shades of agony have their own beauty…”
One mans pain is another man’s pleasure…
3. Hitting the Jackpot
Meanwhile, in August 2017, Rob Horn got hold of a second storage container full of even more of Echols’ and his wife’s personal items. “It’s a double jackpot actually,” Horn told WMC Action News 5. “It’s the grand jackpot as far as dealing with the stuff we got from him… There’s more personal stuff. There are some things in here that he’s written, handwritten in prison, that makes it worth a lot more.” Rob is eager to dive deeper into discovering what life was really like for this convicted man behind bars.
He’s even ready to share it with the world.
2. Sharing Echols’ Story
The second storage unit’s contents also include a plethora of legal documents and various other paperwork pertaining to the trial, as well as even more poems written behind bars. Rob wishes to share these poems with the rest of the world if he can do so legally because he feels that the contents really do shed a light not just on one man’s story behind bars, but maybe the story of many who are still behind bars in this country today.
1. Hidden Treasure
According to WMC Action News 5, Damien and Lorri Echols, who are still alive, have requested for their items be returned to them. Rob has respected their wishes and has returned a handful of precious keepsakes, such Lorri’s baby book, but he still intends to sell the rest online. “You know how I said I was so lucky to get the last one, just right place, right time,” he said. “Well, luck must run in my family…”