Joe Quinn as Eddie Munson in Stranger Things

Here Is the Tragic True Story That Inspired ‘Stranger Things’ Eddie Munson

Stranger Things season 4 volume 1 is finally out, and we’re pretty impressed. The series seemed to use its pandemic delays very wisely and noticeably expanded the runtime, cast, and number of storylines. Perhaps one of the best things it did was give us the gift that is Eddie Munson (Joe Quinn). In the very first episode, Munson quickly captures everyone’s attention when he stands up to give an epic speech on the demonization of Dungeons & Dragons. Sadly, we don’t realize, until later, how much foreshadowing was contained in that speech.

Recommended Videos

As the episode proceeds, we learn more about Munson. We find out he is potentially an even bigger Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast than Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) and Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo). Meanwhile, he’s also the school drug dealer. Despite this, he’s really not a bad guy at all. Munson is funny, eccentric, and outgoing. He makes friends with the school outcasts and is very sensitive to a cheerleader Chrissy’s (Grace Van Dien) struggles when she approaches him for drugs. Tragically, Chrissy is attacked by Vecna (Jamie Campbell Bower) while she’s with Munson.

This, of course, doesn’t look good. What’s surprising, though, is that the town of Hawkins is less concerned about the evidence than they are about Munson’s Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Even when more murders occur and Munson clearly isn’t tied to them, he remains a suspect. Rumors start swirling that his Dungeons & Dragons club, The Hellfire Club, is a satanic cult and that Munson murdered Chrissy. This morphs into outrageous stories of Munson being a Satanist and sacrificing kids as part of a Satanic ritual. Soon, Satanic Panic and mob mentality sets the whole town against Munson for little more reason than that he likes Dungeons & Dragons.

Is Munson based on a real person?

Joe Quinn as Eddie Munson in Stranger Things

What makes Munson’s story all the more tragic is that he is based on a real-life individual. The Stranger Things creators have confirmed that Munson was inspired by Damien Echols. When Echols was a teenager, he exhibited some similarities to Munson. While he wasn’t a D&D player, he was a bit of a misfit in his local Bible Belt community of West Memphis, Arkansas. He had a habit of dressing in black, was a huge fan of Metallica and heavy metal, was interested in the occult, and dabbled in Wicca. All of these things were as harmless as Munson’s doings in Hawkins. Yet, these teenage interests would nearly cost Echols his life when Satanic Panic broke out.

The case of the Memphis Three

Echols is one of the Memphis Three, a group of three teenagers who were controversially convicted of a triple homicide. On May 5, 1993, three eight-year-old boys—Steve Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers—went missing in West Memphis, AR. Tragically, the boys’ bodies were found the next day. The three had been tied up with their shoelaces, killed, and dumped near a creak in Robin Hood Hills. All three of them had died from multiple injuries. The triple homicide rattled the small town, as locals feared a murderer was now on the loose.

The investigation almost immediately honed in on Echols, largely simply due to bias among the local authorities. Echols was known to them, as he had been convicted of minor crimes such as shoplifting and burglary. He was a high school dropout, and social services visited his poor family frequently. However, it was largely Echols’ interest in the occult that detectives honed in on. Without much evidence, they decided that the triple homicide appeared to be a Satanic ritual and, in turn, Echols must be involved due to his interest in the occult.

So, going on only Echols’ interests and no other evidence, the police began interviewing him within two days of the murder. While not even officially named as a suspect, Echols was interviewed on numerous occasions, as the police continuously circled back to him. Echols, at the time, was also close friends with Jessie Misskelley Jr. Misskelley and Echols shared the same interests and were both high school dropouts. The true tragedy of this case came when Misskelley was interrogated for 12 hours by police, despite his father not giving permission for the interrogation.

The Memphis Three are sentenced

Damien Wayne Echols in Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)

Misskelley, during the grueling 12 hour interview, admitted to the crime and tied Echols and another teenager, Jason Baldwin, to the murders, but quickly recanted his confession. He would continue to recant it and state that he didn’t understand his Miranda rights and that he was afraid of the police. Unbelievably, his confession was still used as evidence and was largely the reason behind the conviction of the Memphis Three. They were convicted of the murders, and Misskelley and Baldwin were sentenced to life in prison. Echols, though, was sentenced to death.

For 18 years, Baldwin and Misskelley remained in jail, while Echols was placed in solitary confinement on death row. As the years went by, the conviction grew more and more unstable. For one, a major witness, Vicki Hutcheson, who claimed Echols had admitted to the murder, recanted her statement and admitted it was a complete lie she told in hopes of getting reward money. Second, DNA evidence was tested in 2007 and none of it tied any of the Memphis Three to the scene. Third, of course, the entire conviction was based on a potentially coerced and false confession.

Numerous requests for retrials came up and were denied. Finally, in 2011, the Memphis Three accepted Alford plea deals. Essentially, they asserted their innocence, while admitting that the prosecutors had sufficient evidence to convict them, in order to secure a deal to get out of prison. Of course, not all of them wanted to take the deals, but Echols’ life was literally on the line. They accepted the plea deals and were sentenced to the time they had already served—over 18 years—and, thus, set free.

Stranger Things revisits Echols’ story

Caleb McLaughlin, Finn Wolfhard, and Gaten Matarazzo in Chapter One: The Hellfire Club (2022)

To this day, it remains unknown who committed the triple homicide. However, there may soon come a day when new evidence completely pardons the Memphis Three. Today, Echols is 47 and is a writer. He is also married and the father of one child. In particular, he has written many books about the occult and how his spirituality saved him during his time on death row.

What happened to Echols, though, was nothing short of tragic. The sheer level of bias was simply outrageous, with the police immediately pinning the crime on Echols simply because they didn’t like him. This bias was seen yet again when he was the only one of Three sentenced to death. The mob was against Echols from the start, and they were going to put him in jail with or without evidence.

Stranger Things has masterfully re-explored the case of the Memphis Three through Munson. It adds new layers of tragedy to the case, as viewers concede how difficult it would be to see someone like Munson sentenced to death. He’s practically a child, who is lovable and, despite his interests, is completely harmless. Yet, when it came to mob mentality and Satanic Panic, it didn’t matter if you were just a kid or how harmless you actually were underneath some black clothes and heavy metal music. If you were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, it could practically spell the end of your life.

Damien Echols’ response to Eddie Munson

On July 15, 2022, Echols took to Twitter to share his thoughts about Munson. He revealed that he was incredibly honored to be used as the inspiration for the fan-favorite character. Echols also appreciated that Munson has brought further awareness to the story of the West Memphis Three and has garnered more supporters to join their continued fight for exoneration. Finally, he loved the final touch of Munson’s guitar riff and the use of the song “Master of Puppets.” Echols confirming his appreciation of the character further shows that the Stranger Things creators did justice to his story, as well as that of the West Memphis Three.

(featured image: Netflix)

The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.