SPOILERS AHEAD FOR STRANGER THINGS 4
Season four of Stranger Things introduced us to social outcast Eddie Munson: a metal-loving, drug dealing, self-proclaimed “freak,” and true nerd. We first meet Eddie as he’s reading aloud a magazine article to his Dungeons & Dragons group, The Hellfire Club. The article claims “the Devil has come to America” in the form of the fantasy role-playing game, D&D. It goes on to say the game is linked to Satanic worship, ritual sacrifices and even murder. Eddie and his friends find this hilarious, of course.
But then, Eddie finds himself accused of murder after Vecna claims his first victim. Those laughable accusations of “Satanic worship” quickly morph into something much more dangerous.
Damien Echols and the Satanic Panic
Matt and Ross Duffer, the show’s creators, shared in an interview with Netflix Tudum that the character of Eddie Munson is inspired by Damien Echols, who, in 1993 was controversially convicted of the murders of three young boys.
“Something we really wanted to get into this [season] was the Satanic Panic,” the Duffer brothers said.
“That brought us back to the Paradise Lost documentary series with the West Memphis Three, and it brought us back to Damien Echols. We really wanted a 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, ‘That is someone that is scary.’ So that’s really where the idea for Eddie came in.”
The West Memphis Three
On the evening of May 5, 1993, three eight-year-old boys– Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers– went missing after going bike riding in West Memphis. The next afternoon, their bodies were found in the woods. The murders were incredibly gruesome, causing local police to believe the deaths were linked to Satan worship. Police immediately zeroed in on Damien Echols, an 18-year-old high school dropout and self-proclaimed Wiccan who was considered a troublemaker.
Echols denied ever knowing the three victims, but soon police arrested Echols and his friends, 18-year-old Jason Baldwin and 16-year-old Jessie Misskelley, for the murders.
With the Satanic Panic in full swing during the time of these events, the central argument against the three teens’ supposed guilt centered around them being outcasts. The prosecution relied on circumstantial evidence, notably Echols’ interests in the occult. They introduced “evidence” they believed incriminated Echols, like the fact that he read Stephen King books and listened to Metallica. All three teens were convicted. Baldwin and Misskelley received life sentences, while Echols received the death penalty.
New DNA Evidence
Over the years more information began coming out, poking holes in the prosecution’s theory that the three teens murdered the young boys as part of a ritual sacrifice. Witnesses stepped forward to detail accounts of being coerced by investigators to enter false testimonies and confessions.
Then, in 2007 DNA recovered from the murder scene was tested (DNA technology wasn’t available during the original trial) and it was found to not match either of the defendants, casting further doubt on the three men’s guilt. In 2011 a judge vacated all three convictions and Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley entered Alford Pleas, pleading guilty while maintaining their innocence. They were sentenced to time served and freed.
Echols later released a book titled Life After Death, detailing his wrongful conviction and 18 years spent on Death Row. To learn more about the West Memphis Three case, check out the documentary West of Memphis.
Both Damien Echols and Eddie Munson’s stories are incredibly heartbreaking and show in stark detail the dangers of passing judgment on people you don’t know.
“What’s sad about [Eddie’s] narrative is that the people who get to know him love him,” the Duffer brothers said about Eddie’s character.
“And the people who don’t have judged him horribly. Just because of the way he dresses and just because of his interests.”
During the Stranger Things’ season four finale, Dustin Henderson sums it all up perfectly when he reveals to Eddie’s uncle that Eddie sacrificed himself.
“I wish everyone had gotten to know him–really know him– because they would have loved him. Even in the end, he never stopped being Eddie, despite everything,” Dustin says about Eddie.
“He fought and died to protect this town, this town that hated him. He isn’t just innocent; he’s a hero.”