The Atlanta Child Muders

By: Kali Magee

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Suspected Murderer: Wayne Williams

In a two year period (1979-1981) 29 people, almost all children, were strangled and/or sexually assaulted by a serial killer. The oldest victim was twenty eight. The youngest was nine. The bodies were discovered in vacant lots, wooded areas and occasionally floating in the Chattahoochee River. The victims were all black and plucked from some of Atlanta's poorest communities: Techwood Homes, Bowen Homes, East Lake Meadows, and many others.
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

Local politicians, the news media, and even Georgia Senator Sam Nunn asked the Department of Justice to permit FBI involvement, and the attorney general did so on November 6, 1980, authorizing a preliminary investigation. On November 17, the Bureau launched a major case investigation, devoting more than two dozen agents and other personnel to the case full time.

History of the Time Period:

These crimes began at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and the killer may have been a victim of that dread disease. In fact, AIDS killed several of the suspects that were known pedophiles. Another out break of the time period was the KKK, who had been in consistent action at the time.

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.

Wayne Williams interview

Psychological Profile of a Suspect:

Psychologists who analyzed the case, believed that whomever committed the killings was someone who was involved in homosexual activity. And could be someone of the pedophiles characteristics, including a type of STD that drives them to perform sexual assault.

Forensic Evidence:

  • 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.”

All Victims:

Confirmed

The murders for which Williams was convicted

  • 1981:
    • April 21: Jimmy Ray Payne, 21 (killed by unknown causes)
    • May 22: Nathaniel Cater, 27 (apparently asphyxiated)

Suspected

The other victims of the Atlanta Child Murders

  • 1979:
    • 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)
  • 1980:
    • 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)
  • 1981:
    • 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)

Theories:

Interview with Prosecutor in Wayne Williams Case
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So the theories of the prosecutes were that of that he committed most of the crimes, but the evidence was not there to bring forth all in court. Others believe that Williams only committed those two murders of Cater and Payne, but was wrongly accused by association with the other murders that many believe were performed by the KKK. Williams continues to hold his innocence, but spends two life sentences in prison. With this case, I still remain indifferent on the other murders since there was no evidence to tie him them. Except for those two.