Bob Ruff is hopeful that one of the biggest mysteries to rock Arkansas will finally be solved.
The former fire chief, arson investigator and host of the “Truth and Justice” podcast is launching a docu-series titled “The Forgotten West Memphis Three” on Oxygen, which reexamines the 1993 murders of three 8-year-old boys: Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers.
The infamous cold case is still unsolved.
“I believe … we are one step away from finally solving this case and knowing with 100 percent certainty who actually killed those boys,” Ruff told Fox News. “And yes, I do believe it can be solved, but it’s going to take one more step. And you’ll realize what that is when you watch the show. But we’re right there, and yes, I absolutely believe that it can be solved.”
Damian Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin spent nearly two decades behind bars for the murders in West Memphis. The children were found in a ditch, hogtied with shoelaces.
Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin, all teenagers at the time of the grisly killings, were convicted of the murders despite lack of concrete evidence that linked them to the slayings. Echols’ interest in the occult, heavy metal and black clothing, in particular, prompted many in the Bible Belt state to label him the ringleader of a Satanic cult.
Baldwin and Misskelley, the alleged accomplices, were sentenced to life in prison. Echols was sentenced to death.
The trio, famously known as the “West Memphis Three,” were the subjects of the “Paradise Lost” documentaries, which captivated many supporters, including several celebrities. Johnny Depp, along with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, Henry Rollins and filmmaker Peter Jackson, all of whom helped pay the legal fees to free the three men.
The men were offered the Alford plea deal in 2011 after new DNA evidence supported their innocence, the New York Times reported. The terms of the deal meant they were allowed to maintain their innocence while pleading guilty. The trio was released from prison that year.
Ruff said he’s determined to use new technology and investigative insight in hopes of bringing justice to the boys’ families.
“The original investigators walked into a theory very early,” Ruff explained. “They assumed this was a satanic ritual. … They had tunnel vision from there. And from that point forward, it was all the media focused on. It’s always been about getting the three that were convicted free. That may have been successful, but it’s not going to solve this case. In order to solve the case, you have to go back to the beginning and do a new investigation, a proper investigation that follows the right path and the right trails and focuses heavily on forensics.”
Several loved ones of the victims participated in Oxygen’s two-night special in hopes they will ultimately learn who was behind the killings.
“One thing that viewers are going to see is a very big, burly, bearded, tattooed man from Michigan getting very emotional throughout the course of the series,” said Ruff. “When I sat down and spoke with Pam Hicks, who is the mother of Stevie Branch, and with Ryan Clark, the brother of Christopher Byers, it was very heartbreaking for me to see the pain that they’re still dealing with and how much they’re still suffering from this.”
Ruff also shared there’s a misconception that has followed the case for decades.
“The biggest misunderstanding people have is that these three young boys were just out playing and they stumbled into something in some deep, remote forest that was secluded,” he said. “The reality is that when we studied the victims and trace their movements step-by-step based on over 140 pages of door-to-door canvassing that the police did and all the different statements, the boys actually weren’t together for most of the afternoon leading up to their deaths. Stevie and Michael were playing together for a bit and then Chris was not with them.”
“At some point, they connect,” Ruff continued. “And then Stevie seems to break off. And then all three split up, and then there are sightings of all three of them in three different places. And then shortly, right before they finally went into the woods, is when they finally all came together. … They didn’t stumble into something. It would appear that what actually happened is they were running from something.
"They ended up in those woods because they were running away from something. … This all happened in broad daylight, a stone’s throw away from people who were going about their business and had no idea this crime was happening right under their noses.”
Ruff shared there’s one thing that will help solve the case in 2020.
“It’s going to take forensics, plain and simple,” he said. “Science can solve this case. But what we found over the years of investigating and in the process of creating the series … people, their memories fade. Stories change, whether intentionally or not. What it really comes down to is that it’s going to take new technology to solve this case.”
Ruff hopes that the series will raise awareness on a seemingly forgotten story, as well as encourage someone who might have new leads to finally come forward for the sake of the grieving families.
“The most important goal for me is to know the victims, to give them a voice that was taken away from them," Ruff said. “People need to understand these victims were real people. They were human beings. They were three 8-year-old boys, and they had their lives stolen away from them. They somehow got lost in the story. We want to give their voices back.”
“The Forgotten West Memphis Three” premieres March 28 at 8 p.m. on Oxygen. The Associated Press contributed to this report.