Michelle Byrom stands convicted of conspiring with her son, Edward Byrom Jr., to murder her husband of fifteen years.
According to the State of Mississippi, Michelle convinced her son and his friend to shoot his father with his own WWII family heirloom rifle from her hospital bed in true Charlie Manson style. It is their belief that she was aiming for revenge after a life of ferocious attacks at the hands of her husband. That, and a $100,000 life insurance policy.
According to Michelle, she didn’t know of her sons intentions. She contends they neither discussed nor planned anything. He simply grew tired of seeing her take daily ass-whippings. “Today it will stop” he said to himself one morning upon waking and then went about the task of stopping it.
Michelle Byrom had a rough childhood. Her step-father repeatedly used her as a punching bag and surrogate wife, taking turns beating and raping her. She loved her mother but still doesn’t understand why she felt telling her about the abuse would not stop it. She ran away at the age of fifteen to escape the constant abuse. Dr. Keith Caruso, Michelle’s court appointed psychiatrist submitted a report, which contained details of how she was used as a prostitute by her stepfather during her teen years. She then took the only job she ever held outside her home. She was a stripper in a gentleman’s club until she met her husband, Edward Byrom Sr.
Michelle Byrom had a rough adulthood. She married Mr. Tall, Dark and Handsome as he whisked her off the stripper pole only to find out he added menacing, cruel and violent to the list of attributes. He beat her mercilessly through out their fifteen year marriage and eventually began to abuse their only child, Edward Jr. After eight years of abuse Michelle developed a system of coping. She would ingest enough rat poison to become ill and then be rushed to the hospital for an extended stay.
Michelle’s sister in law, Doranna Dimitro , told the defense team; “ Michelle was so humiliated by the abuse she would make up the most ridiculous lies to cover it up. We all knew he was beating her but she kept on lying. The worse things got, the more she would drink and the more pills she would eat. Ed would get drunk and start in on her and Junior would rush in and save her. But he usually carried a few blue marks around for a while too.”
Tales circulated throughout the family that Edward Sr.’s abusive behavior stretched to others in his family. Michelle Byrom’s sister, Helen Marie Garnett stated in court records that Edward Byrom Sr. sexually assaulted her.
Leighanne Bundy, Byrom’s niece said, “ Uncle Ed would get extremely mean when he drank. No matter what Aunt Michelle said he was pissed. There was no pleasing him. Sometimes, when me and Junior wanted to have company over, Aunt Michelle would take him to a motel so he wouldn’t freak out in front of everyone.”
Dr. Ben Kitchens, Michelle’s court appointed physician submitted a report on Michelle that states during the three years he treated her she was diagnosed with lupus, depression, severely high blood pressure, alcohol abuse and Munchausens Syndrome. The report went on to explain that many of Michelle’s ailments were directly caused by her own systematic ingestion of rat poison over a period of three years. “I figured that if I was in the hospital he wouldn’t be able to hit me for a while. I would try to get to the hospital when I knew Ed would be having a bad spell.”
Gradually killing off her immune system and allowing viruses and germs free entry, the rat poison took its toll. Later, after Dr. Caruso’s consultations physical abuse, borderline personality disorder, pneumonia, anemia, chronic pain, hypertension and a whole host of other maladies were added to the total.
Each new flare-up of illness was a chance at peace for Michelle. Each trip to the hospital was a vacation from slaps and punches and hair pulling. It was a safe haven, at least for a few days. So, she continued to eat the rat poison and continued to get sicker. Edward Junior also remained the same. He continued to take his father’s thrashings every day or so and he watched his mother’s health fail and bones break.
Hearing that I was reminded of a night when I was about sixteen. I had been at the county fair, the most fun small towns had to offer in those days. Much of my family worked with the carnival. I had two uncles who were actual card-carrying carnies who traveled town-to-town, state-to-state setting up the amusements. That made me a seriously popular girl during fair week. Because beside the fact that I got a free ride pass for myself and whomever I had with me; small town girls hold a special place in their hearts for carnie men. They are rugged, sinewy, muscled types tanned to a bronze hue the yummy shade of iced tea. They stand in the racing wind of the rides and represent a break from the mundane, a respite from routine, something or moreover someone new.
During the week that Cumberland Valley Shows visited my town I was the rural equivalent of an A list celebrity. My connections to carnival guys called every high school girl within a thirty-five mile radius to my immediate vicinity. Everyone wanted to be my friend. I stayed at the fairgrounds as long as possible each nigh enjoying my stardom and limited engagement friends. I would see everyone in town. Friends, family, teachers and preachers- everyone came to the fair. I had seen my parents earlier in the night. They were walking together with my two little brothers and things looked peaceful on the home front. I always waited till the last possible moment to go home, preferring the safety of my uncles and friends to family and home. Not to mention I had a full-blown crush on Jimmy, the boy that lived across the street and he was offering me a ride home.
On that night we pulled in to the driveway a full 30 minutes before my curfew and I fully expected accolades. What I got was a taste of hell.
The moment we pulled up the gravel drive the trailer door sprung open and the silhouette of my father appeared. He stood there peering and squinting past the yellow porch light.
In an instant he was at the car. He leaned into the car past Jimmy and stuck his finger in my face.
“You. House. Now.”
He looked over at Jimmy. “If you’ve got something to say I’ll take care of you right now.”
As I walked around the car he stepped to meet me. We stood in the glare of the headlights and he grabbed me by the throat. I could feel his fingers squeezing the breath out of me. I was surprised. I had been a victim of his violence for years and yet I was surprised. He slapped me across the face and my glasses flew off. I dropped to my knees crying, screaming, and pawing at the dirt and gravel desperate to find them.
I am extremely nearsighted. A few months earlier my glasses had broken and because we couldn’t afford to visit the optometrist for a new pair my mother gave me hers. They were all I had. If I didn’t find them I had lost my sight save for blurry, unfocused images and anything within 4 feet from my face. I dropped to the ground and frantically began to pat at the gravel. The slender, metal tip of the frames touched my finger and I grabbed them.
Jimmy backed out of my driveway with a quickness and I was in the dark. Dad grabbed my hair and dragged me into the house. He threw me into the trailer and I fell at mom’s feet. She was sitting on the couch. Her face was black and blue. She wasn’t crying but sitting quietly watching a steady rivulet of blood that ran from behind her ear down her neck and arm until it dropped in fat globs onto the knobby carpet.
I think I must have been in shock because I don’t remember the exact sequence of the things that happened next. I know that I stared at the kitchen cabinets for what seemed like hours. Great smears of blood streaked the bleached wood and I kept seeing images in it: a rabbit, a sailboat, a handprint.
I remember Dad standing me against the wall and screaming in my face. He told me he had seen me naked in a car full of black men. I tried to tell him it wasn’t true but he spit in my face. His fat, country boy fist rounded out the insult with a right hook.
I don’t know how long I was out but I heard mom’s voice begging him to stop and then I felt myself being thrown onto my bed and then the door slam shut. I grabbed my blanket and rolled onto the floor and under the bed.
Whenever my parents would fight I would crawl under the bed and lay my head near the floor vent. When the heat or air conditioning would come on it would rattle the ductwork so loud I couldn’t hear anything else. Eventually, I got so that I couldn’t sleep without the din of rattling metal and the breeze on my face. Every house we moved to I always chose the room next to the furnace.
At some point during the fiasco my twelve-year-old brother Richard jumped out of his bedroom window and ran to our uncle’s trailer. Uncle Michael angrily came and beat on the door, screaming about his lose of sleep and a pain in the ass but when Dad opened the door and stared him down he left us quietly to our ass whipping.
I don’t know how or when the ordeal ended. I remember lying under my bed watching the blood run out of my nose into the floor vent and wondering if I had the physical strength to kill him. I took mental inventory of everything in the house I could use as a lethal weapon.
I know it’s a mighty good thing we didn’t have an heirloom rifle.
Michelle was fighting a bout of pneumonia on the day her husband was killed. She was scheduled to check herself in that morning at 9a.m. Edward Byrom helped his wife get settled. He sat with her a while and then left to return home and promised to be back after lunch. He went home where he met with Edward Byrom Junior and told him about his mothers situation. He decided then to go into his bedroom and watch television. He was found shot to death with his heirloom rifle several hours later.