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Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Atlanta Child Murders

The Atlanta Child Murders, known locally as the "missing and murdered children case", were a series of murders committed in Atlanta, Georgia, United States from the summer of 1979 until the spring of 1981. Over the two-year period, a minimum of twenty-eight African-American children, adolescents and adults were killed. The subject was documented in James Baldwin's nonfiction book, The Evidence of Things Not Seen. Atlanta native Wayne Williams, also African American and 23-years-old at the time of the last murder, was arrested for and convicted of two of the murders.

The murders

In the summer of 1979, Edward Hope Smith (14) and Alfred Evans (14) disappeared four days apart; both their bodies were found on July 28. Their confirmed deaths were the beginning of the series of murders believed to be committed by the "Atlanta Child Killer", so-called because it was popularly assumed there was only one perpetrator. The next murder victim, Milton Harvey (who was also 14), disappeared on September 4, 1979, while traveling to the bank to pay a credit card bill for his mother. His body was later recovered.
On October 21, 1979, Yusuf Bell went to the store to buy snuff for a neighbor, Eula Birdsong. A witness said she saw Yusuf getting into a blue car before he disappeared. His body was found on November 8, 1979, in the abandoned E.P. Johnson elementary school. He was still wearing the brown cut-off shorts he was last seen in. He had been strangled. The police did not immediately link his disappearance to the previous killings.
The next victim, 12-year-old Angel Lenair, was the first female victim of the killer. She disappeared March 4, 1980 and was found 6 days later, strangled, tied to a tree and possibly sexually assaulted. On March 11, 1980, Jeffery Mathis disappeared while on an errand for his mother.
On June 9, Chris Richardson went missing on his way to a local pool. On June 22 and June 23, seven-year-old Latonya Wilson and 10-year-old Aaron Wyche went missing. The extended wave of disappearances and murders panicked parents and children in the city, and the government struggled to ensure the safety of children. Nonetheless, apparently linked murders continued.
The murders of two children, Anthony Carter and Earl Terell, occurred in July 1980.
Between August and November 1980, five more killings took place. There were no known victims during the month of December. All the victims had been African-American children between the ages of nine and 14 and most had been asphyxiated.
The murders continued into 1981. The first known victim in the new year was Lubie Geter, who disappeared on January 3. Geter's body was found on February 5. Geter's friend Terry Pue also went missing in January. An anonymous caller told the police where to find Pue's body.[1]
In February two murders occurred, believed linked to the others. In March, four Atlanta linked murders took place, including that of Eddie Duncan, the first adult victim.
In April, Larry Rogers was murdered, as well as adult ex-convict John Porter and Jimmy Ray Payne.
After William Barrett went missing on May 16, 1981, his body was found close to his home. The last victim added to the list was Nathaniel Cater, 27 years old.
Investigator Chet Dettlinger created a map of the victims' locations. Despite the difference in ages, the victims fell with the same geographic parameters. They were connected to Memorial Drive and 11 major streets in the area.

Capturing the suspect

As the news media divulged that physical evidence was being gathered from the corpses, the FBI secretly profiled that the killer would dump the next victim into a body of water to remove any evidence. Some victims had already been put in the river. Police staked out the James Jackson Parkway/south Cobb Drive bridge over the Chattahoochee River between Atlanta/Fulton County and suburban Cobb County to monitor suspicious activity that might be connected to the murders. On the last night of their stake-out, May 22, 1981, detectives got the first major break in the case when an officer heard a splash in the water beneath the bridge. He saw a white 1970 Chevrolet station wagon slowly driving away from the bridge.[2]
An Atlanta police patrol car and a second unmarked car carrying federal agents first followed and then stopped the station wagon about a half mile from the bridge. The driver was 23-year-old Wayne Bertram Williams, a failed music promoter and freelance photographer.[2] The Chevrolet wagon belonged to his parents. Dog hair and fiber evidence recovered from the rear of the vehicle were later major factors in the police building a case against Williams, as they matched his dog and carpet in his parents' house. During questioning, Williams said he was on his way to audition a woman named Cheryl Johnson as a singer. Williams claimed she lived in the nearby Cobb County town of Smyrna. Police did not find any record of Cheryl Johnson nor of Williams's claimed appointment with her.
Two days later, on May 24, the naked body of Nathaniel Cater, 27, was found floating downriver just a few miles from the bridge where Williams had stopped his car.[2] The medical examiner determined the body had been in the river no more than 36 to 48 hours. Based on this evidence, including hearing the splash, police believed that Williams had killed Cater and disposed of his body while the police were nearby.
Several pieces of evidence led the police to consider Williams the prime suspect. On June 21, 1981, they arrested him. A Grand Jury indicted him for first-degree murder in the deaths of Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Ray Payne, age 22.[2] The trial date was set for early 1982.


Jury selection began on December 28, 1981, and lasted six days. The jury was composed of nine women and three men, with a racial composition of eight African-Americans and four Caucasians.
The trial officially began on January 6, 1982, with Judge Clarence Cooper presiding. The most important evidence against Williams was the fiber analysis between victims and the 12 pattern-murder cases, in which circumstantial evidence culminated in numerous links among the crimes. This included witnesses testifying to seeing Williams with the victims, and some witnesses suggesting that he had solicited sexual favors.[2]
On February 27, 1982 - after only eleven hours of deliberation - the jury found Wayne Bertram Williams guilty of the two murders. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in the Georgia state prison at Reidsville.[2]
On May 6, 2005, the DeKalb County, Georgia, Police Chief Louis Graham ordered the reopening of the murder cases of five boys who were killed in DeKalb County between February and May 1981 that had been attributed to Williams. Police Chief Graham believed that Williams may have been innocent of these and other murders. The remaining cases are under the jurisdiction of Fulton County, Georgia, and those authorities consider their related murder cases closed with the arrest and trial of Williams.

[edit] Aftermath

Musicians performed concerts to honor the victims, and to provide benefits to the victim's families. Performers included Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr.. The Jacksons performed on July 22, 1981 at the Atlanta Omni Coliseum during their Triumph Tour raising $100,000 for the Atlanta Children's Foundation in response to the kidnappings and murders.
Wayne Williams's father, who was a media photographer in Atlanta at the time, could be seen on stage with Frank Sinatra.

[edit] Recent developments

Now 52 years old, Wayne Williams continues to maintain his innocence.
About six months after becoming the DeKalb County Police Chief, Graham reopened the investigations into the deaths of the five DeKalb County victims: Aaron Wyche, 10; Curtis Walker, 13; Joseph Bell, 15; William Barrett, 17; and Patrick Baltazar, 11. Graham, one of the original investigators in these cases, said he never believed Wayne Williams, the man convicted of two of the killings and blamed for 22 others, was guilty of any of them.
On August 6, 2005, journalists reported that Charles T. Sanders, a white supremacist affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), once praised the crimes in secretly recorded conversations. Although Sanders did not claim responsibility for any of the deaths, lawyers for Williams believed that the evidence will help their bid for a new trial for Williams. The police had investigated Sanders in relation to the murders, but dropped the probe into his and the KKK's possible involvement after seven weeks, when Sanders and two of his brothers passed lie detector tests.
The criminal profiler John E. Douglas stated that, while he believes that Williams committed many of the murders, he does not think that he committed them all. Douglas added that he believes that law enforcement authorities have some idea of who the other killers are, cryptically adding, "It isn't a single offender and the truth isn't pleasant."[3][broken citation]
On June 21, 2006, the DeKalb County Police dropped its reinvestigation of the Atlanta child murders. After resigning, Graham was replaced by the Acting Chief, Nick Marinelli, who said, "We dredged up what we had, and nothing has panned out, so until something does or additional evidence comes our way, or there's forensic feedback from existing evidence, we will continue to pursue the [other] cold cases that are [with]in our reach."[citation needed]
On January 29, 2007, attorneys for the State of Georgia agreed to allow DNA testing of the dog hair that was used to help convict Williams. This decision was a response to a legal filing as a part of Williams' efforts to appeal his conviction and life sentences. Williams's lawyer, Jack Martin, asked a Fulton County Superior Court judge to allow DNA tests on canine and human hair and blood, stating the results might help Williams win a new trial.
On June 26, 2007, the DNA test results were published, but they failed to exonerate Williams.[4][dead link] While some prosecutors asserted that the results "linked" Williams to the killings, defense lawyers called the test results inconclusive. Dr. Elizabeth Wictum, director of the UC Davis laboratory that carried out the testing, told The Associated Press that while the results were “fairly significant,” they "don't conclusively point to Williams' dog as the source of the hair", because the lab was able to test only for mitochondrial DNA which, unlike nuclear DNA, cannot be shown to be unique to one dog.[5]

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