It was September 19, 1988. The man most consider the greatest diver of all-time, Greg Lougainis, hit his head during a preliminary round in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Blood streamed from his head and into the Olympic sized swimming pool as the crowd watched, horrified by the uncharacteristic gaffe by the world champion high diver.
Lougainis, by this own admission was paralyzed with fear. Not because he worried about the chances of him winning Olympic gold – but because he knew the blood that was streaming from the wound in his head carried the HIV virus. Lougainis had learned of his diagnosis just six months prior to the Olympics and had been ordered by his doctor to take AZT every four hours around the clock.
The shroud of secrecy behind his HIV status lasted nearly a decade until Lougainis released his memoir in 1995.
Less than ten days after Lougainis’ diving accident at the Olympic games, the dismembered body of 57-year-old James ‘Jim’ Byers lay in the El Paso County morgue. The cause of death was clear: homicide. But written in all-caps on the bottom of the laboratory request form were the words
“CAUTION: Victim was homosexual, tread as AIDS victim. If unable to conduct any of the above listed requests, please forward to proper lab.”
Byers, a well-respected and successful CPA was known to take weekly dinners with Walter Henderson, the VP at El Paso Natural Gas. But those who knew Jim in his professional life knew little about his personal life. They didn’t know about the “stonewall” that existed between him and his aging neighbor, the bars he spent much of his time in, the late-night parties, the fact that many described him as an alcoholic and they definitely didn’t know about the young men that frequented his apartment. Jim lived in two worlds, one where he lived freely as himself and the other where he was “Jim Byers, CPA, rancher, and respected businessman.”
Jim’s business partners at Mayhall, Byers and Edge were the first to notice something was wrong. James Edge said he spoke with Jim on Saturday, September 24 at their office. At the time, Jim was hard at work on a project that he said was due by Monday. By 2 p.m. on Monday the 26th, Byers had not arrived to work. Despite his secret life of partying and drinking into the early morning hours, Jim was never late. He never missed a day of work. Calls to Jim’s landline went unanswered.
The man who was probably closest to Jim was his former roommate and neighbor, Hardy Eckert. Hardy, a balding man in his late 40s, had keys to Jim’s apartment. They’d often check on each other’s places while they were out of town. James Edge knew the men were friends and that Hardy would be able to get into Jim’s apartment. Hardy and apartment security checked. Nothing was out of the ordinary inside the apartment, except one closed blind that would have typically been open.
Tuesday was more of the same. No answer from Jim, despite the fact that both of his vehicles, a Ford Ranger and a 1985 Mercury Gran Marquis were parked outside of apartment #195 at the gated Camelot Condominiums on North Stanton.
It wasn’t until Wednesday morning when Hardy entered Jim’s apartment that he finally stepped out on the back porch and noticed the Jacuzzi was still running and the plastic cover was still on it. The Jacuzzi had been on since Sunday morning, according to Jim’s neighbor J.A.
She would know.
Ms. A and Jim Byers were in the middle of a heated feud. A month before his disappearance, J.A. pressed charges against Byers after he drunkenly showed up nude at her front door to confront her after she’d called security on him for his loud parties. J.A. heard everything. She heard Jim’s parties. She heard his loud music, she heard when his air conditioner was on or off, she heard the siren his Jacuzzi made when it the motor was turned on. She definitely heard the conversation between an intoxicated Byers and an unknown man around midnight Sunday morning.
The tension between the two had become so intense that Jim hired a construction company to build a literal Stonewall between them. One he hoped would protect his privacy and end the fighting with “the bitch” who lived next door. At the time of his disappearance, the wall construction was underway at Jim’s apartment. Each morning the men toiled away at building the dividing line between the two apartments while the mystery of where James ‘Jim’ Byers continued.
The most curious aspect about Wednesday morning’s search for Jim through the Camelot Apartments was the fact that his Gran Marquis was missing from the spot it had been parked at since Saturday night.
Around 2 p.m. another resident of Camelot contacted the office manager, complaining that someone was parked in his spot and asked her to have the car towed. The apartment tag number matched Jim’s for the Gran Marquis.
Just minutes later, the apartment manager, security guard and Hardy Eckert – Jim’s longtime friend – opened the trunk, reached in, and felt an ear. It was Jim.
El Paso Police Detectives learned that Jim’s legs, arms, penis and scrotum had been cut off. His torso wrapped in plastic and a blanket, smaller body parts shoved in a green and white Coleman cooler.
An investigation was launched into the underbelly of the El Paso gay bar community. The Briar Patch, The Apartment Bar – which Hardy Eckert owned, Cliff’s Bar, Diamond Lil’s, The San Antonio Mining Company. Police stopped and questioned patrons and bartenders at each one. Did they know what happened to Jim Byers?
Police reports noted collection of several porno tapes. Homosexual porno tapes. Investigators made notations of the men who came and went from his apartment as told to them by the Camelot security guards. Jim’s sexual and relationship history was noted in each report, each interview.
The character assassination of Jim Byers had begun before his killer had even been caught. In the end, was it something Jim did or who Jim was that got him killed?
Find out who killed Jim Byers in our first episode of Testify, a podcast hosted by Charlie Moreno and Andra Litton in partnership with the El Paso Herald Post.
New episodes will be released every other week, with a bonus episode during the ‘in between’ weeks that will feature organizations in our community that assist victims and their families.