BY CASEY WOODS, firstname.lastname@example.org
Investigators in two Arkansas counties told The Miami Herald on Wednesday that Archer, a former Wal-Mart customer-service manager now being held in a Miami federal prison, was being investigated for abuse when he disappeared Jan. 26.
''We had gathered information from children that confirmed it did happen and . . . we all strongly believe offenses took place,'' said Lawrence County Sheriff Department Capt. Jody Dotson, who helped interview the children. ``He knew we were turning the information over to pursue charges. . . . A couple of days later he took off.''
The abuse accusations -- one involving an incident in Missouri -- were just one more element in the world of trouble Archer left behind. He was wanted in the Wal-Mart case. He lost custody of his two sons, ages 7 and 9, after a bitter divorce with ex-wife Michelle Rowe. He had been ordered by a Lawrence County court to leave the home he shared with his current wife, Michelle Archer.
Kirby Archer denied the abuse allegations. ''When we interviewed him, he was extremely cool and calm,'' Dotson said. ``We hit him with pretty hard questions, and it never seemed to faze him.''
Dotson and state police investigators conducted the investigation but then discovered the alleged abuse took place in neighboring Sharp County.
Sharp County Sheriff's Sgt. David Huffmaster said Wednesday that he likely will prepare an affidavit for prosecutors on the abuse charges ''sometime in the near future,'' though he would not give specifics, citing the open investigation.
In the small Arkansas towns where Archer lived and worked, his murky path to allegations of high-seas crimes and molestation left a wake of mystified neighbors, estranged relatives and gossip in every corner store, auto shop and diner.
''He spent his life trying to make everyone believe he was someone he's not, because obviously he's not what he portrayed himself to be,'' said his estranged cousin, Norma Sutton, 28. ``It gets more bizarre every day as more of his secrets come out.''
A hand-painted sign that says ''Welcome to Strawberry, Home of Friendly People'' greets visitors to the four-way stop that marks the center of Archer's most recent hometown. But he was a mystery to most there.
''He was a quiet, likable fellow, but as long as he kept the lawn mowed I didn't see him much,'' said former landlord Bart Voyles, 77. Archer almost always paid his $350 rent on time on the three-bedroom house he shared with his second wife, also named Michelle, and extended family, Voyles said.
He left hardly any imprint on Strawberry, a town of 283 with a single branch bank, a handful of churches and a small town hall clustered around the intersection of two backcountry highways that sway through fields of cattle, rice and soybeans.
Archer didn't frequent the local diner or hang out with the guys at the auto shop. He stopped in the town post office only once as far as anyone can tell.
''He was just an average guy, kind of easygoing,'' said Jim Meadows of Rick's Detail Shop. ``I tell you what, though, he did have a bit of a Yankee accent.''
Archer had grown more withdrawn in recent years, said William Anderson, 21, who shares a home with Archer's cousin Sutton.
''He started being really shady to everyone, acting like he had a real chip on his shoulder,'' Anderson said. ``It doesn't surprise me to hear what he's done because the last few years he's seemed like someone who would do those kinds of things.''
Others who knew him -- especially those who worked with him at the Batesville Wal-Mart 28 miles from Strawberry -- were more shocked at his arrest.
''It's crazy, because this is a big thing in a small town,'' said Kellee Robinson, 25, who works at the Picture Me! Portrait Studios.
``He was always really nice, helping me when I had people in the studio who wouldn't leave.''
Robinson said he would often flirt with a co-worker. ''He was always hitting on her and stuff, just playing around,'' she said.
Archer often bought alcohol and partied with a younger crowd in town, said Wal-Mart employee Nathan Flanigan, 20.
''We'd go partying and drinking -- you know, average teenage [stuff],'' said Flanigan, of nearby Cave City. ``We used to go and kick it. I wasn't old enough to go to any clubs so he'd buy alcohol and we'd go to his friend's house.''
Flanigan said he knew Archer before Flanigan began working at Wal-Mart seven months ago, but that he hadn't hung out with him often in the past two years. As for the pedophilia allegations, ''I haven't heard any talk of that around here,'' he said.
Family members say Archer befriended Guillermo Zarabozo, 19, of Hialeah, when Archer was a military police investigator in the mid-1990s at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Zarabozo was a young boy with his family seeking to leave the communist island -- among thousands of Cubans who took to the sea during the rafter crisis.
Zarabozo is being held in Miami federal prison, along with Archer, after the Coast Guard found the two men floating in a life raft.
They are being questioned in the disappearance over the weekend of the four-member crew of the 47-foot sportfisher boat that the men hired for $4,000. They were supposed to head to Bimini to ''meet with their girlfriends,'' according to a federal affidavit filed Wednesday, but they apparently changed course and were found about 40 miles north of Cuba.
In Strawberry, rumors of child abuse accusations have circulated since January, along with talk of his Wal-Mart disappearance.
The prospect that the boat owners -- husband and wife Jake and Kelley Branam -- and two others on the yacht might be dead added a new layer of dismay to the musings on Archer's fate.
''If we had been able to get the word out about [the molestation charges] those people might still be alive,'' Sutton said. ``If you talk to that [Branam] family, tell them I'm sorry.''
Photo: WFOR / CBS4