If you're a Gen X'er and true crime fanatic like me, then you're no stranger to the saga of the West Memphis Three—the three Arkansas men that were arrested and prosecuted for the grisly murder of three local children in what prosecutors asserted was a Satanic ritual. The three men—Damien Echols, Jesse Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Baldwin—always maintained their innocence, yet their trail became prime theater which delivered the paranoia of the 80s "Satanic Panic" era directly into the homes of frightened parents nationwide.
While Misskelley and Baldwin were sentenced to life in prison, Echols was sentenced to death, as prosecutors successfully argued to the jury that Echols had orchestrated the murders. But in a 2010 decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court, defense attorneys for the three men successfully argued that new DNA evidence, as well as apparent juror tampering during the original trial, were grounds for dismissal. Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin were released in 2011 with 10-years suspended sentencing after serving 18 years, and only after entering Alford Pleas as grounds for their release.
In the years after their initial sentencing, Echols became the public face of the group, always maintaining innocence and actively lobbying for release. Echols and the other men were the subject of a three-part film documentary, Paradise Lost, that debuted on HBO in 1996 and was directed by filmmakers Joel Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (Metallica's Some Kind of Monster).
Then, in 2002, an album of Black Flag covers entitled Rise Above was organized by Henry Rollins, with all proceeds supporting the West Memphis Three's legal fees. Given the spotlight on the trail (and what we've touched on here is just a fraction of the entire story), should it be any surprise that Stranger Things creators The Duffer Brothers had Echols specifically in mind when developing their beloved Eddie Munson character from this past season of the Netflix hit?
At least that's according to the Twitter account Netflix Geeked, which offered this tweet when the season began last year:
Also, in a recent BuzzFeed post discussing characters developed from real-life events, the outlet notes that Ross Duffer has commented that, "We really wanted that character who's a metalhead, he's into Dungeons & Dragons, he's ultimately a true nerd at heart. But from an outsider's point of view, they may go, 'This is someone that is scary.' So that's really where the idea for Eddie came in.
"What's sad about [Eddie's] narrative is that the people who get to know him love him, and the people who don’t have judged him horribly, just because of the way he dresses and just because of his interests."
If you want to learn more about the West Memphis Three, Paradise Lost is available for free for HBO Max subscribers and is also available on most streaming platforms, including Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV.