Four decades after horrific 'Atlanta Child Murders', doubts remain over guilt of prime suspect Wayne Williams

A majority of the victims of the Atlanta Child Murders, as they are known, were boys and all of them were black


                            Four decades after horrific 'Atlanta Child Murders', doubts remain over guilt of prime suspect Wayne Williams

For almost two years, specifically from July 21, 1979, up until May 1981, 29 murders rocked the area of Atlanta. Majority of the victims of these gruesome murders were boys and all of them were black. Most of the victims were young, in their teens, and even children. That's when the infamous name for the violent killing spree, the Atlanta Child Murders, was used.

Twenty-three-year-old Wayne Williams was arrested by authorities in 1981 in connection to the murders of two young men in Atlanta. Many, however, believed that the killer was responsible for even more sinister crimes that he committed before.

Members of the Atlanta Police SWAT team and other policemen, working with dogs formed a force of two hundred officers 1/10 to search through a trash-littered suburban woods where the skeletons of two children were discovered (Bettmann/Getty Images)

Even though his arrest and subsequent conviction brought an end to a nerve-wracking time for residents of Atlanta, the speculation is still rife as to Williams' innocence in the Atlanta Child Murders case.

Wayne Bertram Williams was an up-and-coming freelance photographer in 1981 when the bodies of the murder victims started washing up in the Chattahoochee River as well as other places in the area. The first of the victims to be discovered were only 14 and 13 years old. Both of them had vanished within four days of each other and their bodies were discovered dead in a lot next to each other on August 7, 1979. One had been shot and the other was strangled.

Initially, authorities did not take the double murder too seriously but then the body count started to rise. By the end of 1979, there were three more victims which took the number to five. By the summer the following year, nine children were dead.

Every lead that local authorities started following then turned up empty. Then came the murder of a seven-year-old girl and that's when the FBI joined the investigation. World-renowned FBI profiler John Douglas, a man who had interviewed infamous serial killers like Charles Manson, stepped in and provided a potential killer's profile.

In the case files that Douglas made, he believed that the murderer was a black man and not white. He then theorized that if the killer had to meet young black children, he would have to have access to the black community. White people in those days would not have been able to accomplish this without raising suspicion. The investigators then started looking for a black suspect.

Convicted killer Wayne B. Williams, in a news conference at the Fulton County jail, tells the media, 'I am not the perpetrator of the murders of young blacks whose disappearances spread fear in poor neighborhoods of Atlanta for two years' (Bettmann/Getty Images)

 

By late May in 1981, a total of 28 children and young people's bodies were found in the same geographical area. Since some of the bodies had been recovered from the Chattahoochee River, investigators started staking out 14 of the bridges that were along it.

A breakthrough in the case happened early in the morning on May 22, 1981, when investigators heard a splash in the river while monitoring a particular bridge. A little time after they heard the splash, they saw a car speeding by. After giving chase and pulling it over, they found Wayne Williams sitting in the driver's seat. 

Authorities did not have any evidence to hold him at the time so they let him go but only after pulling fibers from his car. Merely two days after this, the body of 27-year-old Nathaniel Carter washed up downstream.

It wasn't until one month after this, however, that authorities arrested Williams. He was arrested after it was discovered that his alibis did not add up and he failed a polygraph test. Hair and fiber from Williams, his family dogs, and his car were found on two of the adult suspects. The first was on Carter and the second was on 21-year-old Jimmy Ray Payne.

Williams was subsequently served with two life sentences for the murders of Payne and Carter. He was also, however, blamed for the Atlanta Child Murders as well and dubbed the "Atlanta Monster".

Atlanta's missing and murdered children (Bettmann/Getty Images)

This happened because Douglas connected Williams to at least 20 of the 27 abduction and murder cases which were still unsolved at the time. The murders also came to a halt once Williams was taken into custody but the severe lack of evidence to support this theory prevented the case from being prosecuted any further.

Was he really guilty of all those deaths though? Williams has always maintained that he was innocent. In interviews that he gave in person showed that Williams accepted his fate and claimed that God had a bigger plan for him.

Filmmakers Payne Lindsey and Donald Albright said in their 10-episode podcast titled 'Atlanta Monster', that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) had kept tape-recorded evidence that a member of the Ku Klux Klan was involved in the killings. The GBI didn't make this knowledge public, however, because they wanted to prevent a race war from breaking out. 

A mugshot of Wayne Williams (Wikimedia Commons)

A lot of the families of the victims, however, do not believe that Williams was involved. Albright said in the podcast: "The families of the victims are the ones saying they don’t think he did it. They don’t feel like their child was ever actually given justice." Then, in 2010, DNA tests gave a 98% probability that two hairs which were found on the body of one 11-year-old victim belonged to Williams.

Investigators have been confident that the new information proved that Williams is the Atlanta Monster. Lindsey said: "Even though there's a man sitting in prison for the crimes right now, there’s a lot of gray area in this case, and a lot of new information to be uncovered."