The Atlanta Child Muders
By: Kali Magee
Suspected Murderer: Wayne Williams
The killings reached a fever pitch in the Spring of 1981. With bodies being discovered on a weekly basis in the months of April and May. Then one night when an officer patrolling the Jackson Parkway bridge, heard a splash and along comes a white Chevy station wagon by a young Atlanta photographer named Wayne Williams. The patrolman pulled him over and after first asking, "What's this all about?", Williams replied to his own question, "I know. This must be about the boys." And thus began the end of the Atlanta Child Murders and the beginning of the investigation of Wayne Williams.
Investigators: John Glover FBI
History of the Time Period:
Suspects: Backgrounds & Alibis
Williams first became a suspect in the child murder case in May 1981. His car was spotted directly above the sound of a loud splash heard in the river by a stake out team. He was stopped by police and questioned, and claimed that he was going out of town to audition a young singer. This alibi fell apart after police found that the address and phone number he gave them didn't exist.
Three days later, the nude body of 27 year-old Nathaniel Cater, who had been missing for days, turned up in the river. The medical examiner on the case ruled he had died of "probable" asphyxia, but never authoritatively said he had been strangled.
Police theorized that Williams had killed Cater and had thrown him off the bridge the night they had pulled him over. Their suspicions about Williams increased after he failed a polygraph test, and hairs and fibers on one of the victims' bodies were found consistent with those from Williams' home, car, and dog. People working in Williams' studio also told police they had seen him with scratches on his face and arms around the time of the murders, which the police thought could have been inflicted by victims during a struggle.
Williams held a press conference outside his parents' home, proclaiming his innocence. He was nevertheless arrested on June 21, 1981, for the murders of Cater and 29-year-old Jimmy Payne.
Psychological Profile of a Suspect:
- As the task force’s work progressed, criminalist Larry Peterson of the Georgia State Crime Laboratory began to identify distinctive fibers found on the victims’ bodies. Among these were yellowish-green nylon fibers and violet acetate fibers—in all, twenty-eight different fibers plus dog hairs were recovered.
- In 1998, after Williams’s lawyers argued that prosecutors had withheld evidence in the case, Georgia circuit judge Hal Craig upheld the convictions. He termed the fiber evidence “the strongest scientific link in this case.” As a result of Soledad O’Brien’s new, in-depth look at the Atlanta child murders, Williams’s guilt not only seems well established, but there is even new evidence. The DNA from two human hairs found inside one victim’s shirt excludes some 98 percent of people in the world, yet it is consistent with the DNA of Wayne Williams who, according to experts, “cannot be excluded.”
The murders for which Williams was convicted
- April 21: Jimmy Ray Payne, 21 (killed by unknown causes)
- May 22: Nathaniel Cater, 27 (apparently asphyxiated)
The other victims of the Atlanta Child Murders
- July 21: Edward Hope Smith, 14 (shot with a .22)
- July 25: Alfred Evans, 13 (apparently asphyxiated)
- September 4: Milton Harvey, 14 (killed by unknown causes)
- October 21: Yusef Bell, 9 (manually strangled)
- March 4: Angel Lenair, 12 (strangled and tied to a tree; possibly also sexually assaulted)
- March 11: Jeffery Mathis, 10 (killed by unknown causes)
- May 18: Eric Middlebrooks, 14 (bludgeoned)
- June 9: Chris Richardson, 12 (killed by unknown causes)
- June 22: LaTonya Wilson, 7 (killed by unknown causes like the previous victim)
- June 23: Aaron Wyche, 10 (his neck was snapped)
- July 6: Anthony Carter, 9 (stabbed)
- July 30: Earl Terell, 11 (killed by unknown causes)
- August 20: Clifford Jones, 13 (strangled)
- September 14: Darren Glass, 10 (killed by unknown causes; his body was never found)
- October 9: Charles Stephens, 13 (asphyxiated)
- November 1: Aaron Jackson, 9 (asphyxiated)
- November 10: Patrick Rogers, 16 (bludgeoned)
- Unspecified day in January: Faye Yearby, 22 (stabbed to death and tied to a tree)
- January 3: Lubie Geter, 14 (strangled)
- January 22: Terry Pue, 15 (strangled with an unspecified ligature)
- February 6: Patrick Baltazar, 11 (strangled with an unspecified ligature like the previous victim)
- February 19: Curtis Walker, 15 (strangled)
- March 2: Joseph Bell, 15 (asphyxiated)
- March 13: Timothy Hill, 13 (drowned)
- March 20: Eddie Duncan, 21 (apparently asphyxiated)
- March 25: Michael McIntosh, 23 (apparently asphyxiated like the previous victim)
- April 9: Larry Rogers, 20 (apparently strangled)
- April 12: John Porter, 28 (stabbed six times)