A unknown killer plagued Black communities in Atlanta in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Black children of all ages were disappearing one by one and then being found dead days or weeks later. The Atlanta Child Murders were the name given to these horrifying crimes.
Wayne Williams, a local man, was eventually detained by police in connection with the horrific acts. Although Williams was implicated in 29 killings, he was only ever found guilty of two of them. Actually, he was judged responsible for the deaths of two adult men, not kids.
Despite the fact that the killings stopped after Williams was detained, some people, including some of the families of the victims, think Williams was not the perpetrator of the Atlanta Child Murders. Later, in 2019, the terrible case was examined in the Netflix series Mindhunter. The genuine Atlanta Child Murders case was also reopened in the same year in an effort to get more information.
Will the children receive true justice as a result of the city’s latest investigation? Or will it only raise more queries that remain unanswered?
The Atlanta killings all claimed the lives of Black children, teenagers, and young adults.
The first body connected to the Atlanta Child Murders investigation was found on a warm summer day in July 1979. Alfred Evans, a thirteen-year-old boy, was discovered barefoot and shirtless in a deserted lot. He had been strangled to death. Tragically, only three days before, he had vanished.
Police couldn’t help but smell a foul odor coming from adjacent vines as they were looking into the apparent crime scene in the empty lot. And shortly after, they found the body of Edward Hope Smith, a 14-year-old Black boy. Smith had been murdered by gunshot, unlike Evans. Strangely, he was discovered within 150 feet from Evans.
Evans and Smith were brutally murdered. The murder cases were simply written off by authorities as being “drug-related,” who weren’t really disturbed. A few months later, additional Black teenagers began to go missing and being discovered dead later.
Searches for evidence in the Atlanta Child Murders were conducted by police officers, firefighters, and volunteers around the city.
The next two bodies found were those of 9-year-old Yusuf Bell and 14-year-old Milton Harvey. Both kids had been murdered by strangulation. Bell, the fourth victim, resided in a housing building four blocks from the scene of his death. The surrounding community was particularly hard-hit by his passing.
Bell’s neighbor, who knew he loved math and history, stated, “The whole neighborhood wept because they loved that youngster.” He had a talent from God.
Families of the victims began to wonder whether there might be a connection between the crimes when four Black children were slain in a short period of time. The Atlanta Police did not, however, make any definite connections between the homicides.
Six people have passed away by March 1980. Residents started to realize that their villages were under significant jeopardy at this point. Curfews were first imposed by parents on their kids.
But victims continued to show up. With the exception of two girls, they were almost all boys. And while a few victims connected to the case were ultimately revealed to be adult men, the majority of them were kids. And they were all Black.
African American neighborhoods in Atlanta and the surrounding area were shaken by fear and worry, but they were also incredibly upset since Atlanta Police had yet to make a connection between the crimes.
Black Mothers Protest Police Silence at a Rally
Children kept going missing despite increased community monitoring. Willie Mae Mathis and her 10-year-old son Jefferey were watching the television in March 1980 when they both seen detectives relocating one of the victims’ bodies. She gave her young son some advice about approaching strangers.
“Mama, I don’t do that, he said. I don’t talk to strangers,” he recalls Mathis saying. Tragically, Jefferey set off for the corner store the very following day to buy a loaf of bread, but he never arrived. A year later, his remains were discovered.
The fact that Black adolescents were being victimized and killed in Atlanta shocked the local communities.
The different circumstances surrounding the fatalities in the Atlanta Child Murders were much more horrifying. Some youngsters were shot, stabbed, or beaten to death, while others were strangled. And to make matters worse, the cause of death for some of the victims, including Jefferey Mathis, was not known.
The bereaved family were yet to hear any meaningful developments on the probe as of May. Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson’s inaction and the Atlanta Police’s resistance to seeing the murders as connected infuriated the community, so they started organizing themselves.
Yusuf Bell’s mother, Camille Bell, founded the Committee to Stop Children’s Murders in August in collaboration with other parents of victims. The committee’s role was to serve as a community-led alliance to demand accountability for the dragged-out investigations into the murdered children.
Amazingly, it worked. Both the investigating task force’s size and the total amount offered as a reward for tips have been greatly boosted by the city. Bell and the committee members were effective in inspiring the neighborhood to take an active role in neighborhood security.
According to Bell, “We were pushing people to get to know their neighbors.” “We were urging the intrusives to resume meddling in everyone’s affairs. We were arguing that tolerating crime in your community was a recipe for problems.
According to Bell, the murder of Cleveland visitor Clifford Jones, 13, also prompted Atlanta’s officials to take action. After all, the killing of a visitor had garnered widespread attention.
Locals volunteered to join the city’s neighborhood patrol while arming themselves with baseball bats. And more volunteers joined the citywide hunt for hints that might shed light on the case.
A few months after the committee was established, Georgian authorities asked the FBI to take part in the probe. Five of the top homicide investigators in the country were hired as advisors. Additionally, two representatives from the US Justice Department were sent to the city to offer assistance.
Finally, the case was receiving significant attention from the authorities.
Wayne Williams’s arrest and conviction for some of the Atlanta murders
29 Black children and young adults were victims of the Atlanta Child Murders between 1979 and 1981. On April 13, 1981, FBI Director William Webster announced that the Atlanta Police had identified the murderers of four of the murdered kids, possibly implying several offenders. Authorities did not have enough proof to press charges, though.
Then, a month later, a policeman conducting a stakeout operation for his agency along the Chattahoochee River heard splashing. The officer then observed a station wagon cross the South Cobb Drive Bridge in the distance. He chose to stop the driver for further investigation out of suspicion. Wayne Williams, a 23-year-old male, was that driver.
After taking a few fibers from Williams’ car, the police let Williams go. The body of 27-year-old Nathaniel Carter was found downstream just two days later. It was unsettlingly close to the spot where the body of Jimmy Ray Payne, age 21, had been discovered a month earlier.
Wayne Williams was detained in June 1981 in relation to the deaths of Payne and Carter. Both men were among the few adult victims in the Atlanta murders case, and he would later be found guilty of their murders. Williams received a life sentence in jail. He was charged with killing the Atlanta child, but he was never found guilty of any additional murders.
Wayne Williams was also found guilty based on a few fibers that the prosecution said were discovered on Carter and Payne’s bodies. These materials reportedly matched a blanket in Williams’ house and a rug in his automobile. However, fiber evidence is frequently seen as being unreliable. Additionally, inconsistencies in witness testimony raise greater questions about Williams’ guilt.
There haven’t been any other linked killings after Wayne Williams’ arrest, at least none that have been publicized as such. However, other people, including many of the victims’ families, continue to deny that Williams was a serial killer. Williams continues to claim his innocence now.
Alternative explanations have surfaced throughout the years, from a pedophile network to the government performing gruesome experiments on Black youngsters. But one of the most frequently accepted ideas is that the Atlanta Child Murders were the work of the Ku Klux Klan.
While the Atlanta Child Murders were still occurring, it was discovered in 1991 that a police informant allegedly overheard a KKK member named Charles Theodore Sanders verbally threatening to choke a Black teenager called Lubie Geter after the youngster unintentionally dented his truck.
Sadly, Geter was one of the unfortunate casualties. In 1981, just a few weeks following Sanders’ warning, his body was found. His genitalia, lower pelvic region, and both of his feet were all missing; he had been strangled.
Years later, disturbing information about a top-secret probe by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and several other law enforcement organizations was revealed in a 2015 exposé by Spin magazine. According to this inquiry, Sanders and his white nationalist family members planned to murder more than two dozen Black youngsters in Atlanta in order to start a race war.
Geter’s death and perhaps 14 other child murders were connected to the Sanders family, according to evidence, witness statements, and informant reports. Investigators allegedly made the decision to withhold information about potential KKK involvement in the Atlanta Child Murders in order to “maintain the peace” in the city.
However, despite efforts by the government to hide proof that the KKK was involved in the atrocities, many of the city’s Black citizens already believed—and still do—that the white nationalist organization was to blame.
Officials in charge of the first investigation, however, insist that there is sufficient proof linking Wayne Williams to the murders. Williams has been repeatedly denied parole and is still incarcerated.
Williams revealed that he had made friends with some of the victims’ brothers in a 1991 interview, as they had both ended up in the same prison. Additionally, he claimed to have spoken with some of the victims’ moms. I sincerely hope they discover who killed their children, he remarked.
Reasons for Reopening The Atlanta Child Murders Case
2019 will see the reopening of the Atlanta Child Murders probe, according to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
There are various hypotheses regarding what actually happened to the children of Atlanta, but it’s obvious that there are still many unanswered questions. The case has been reopened in large part due to this.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who was a child during the peak of the Atlanta Child Murders, reopened the case in March 2019. According to Bottoms, modern forensic equipment, which wasn’t accessible during the investigation four decades ago, should be used to retest the evidence.
Bottoms described what it was like to grow up during this scary time in an emotional interview that followed the announcement: “It was like there was a boogeyman out there, and he was stealing Black children.”
Bottoms continued, “It could have been any of us… I’m hoping that [reviewing the case] will demonstrate to the public how important our kids are. Children of color are still important. They were important in 1979, and they are important now.
The mayor’s conviction that the case required further investigation wasn’t shared by everyone. In fact, some think the problem has essentially been resolved.
Along with witness testimony, other fibers and dog hairs were presented as evidence in court. Wayne Williams was on that bridge, and two bodies washed up days later, which is indisputable, according to Danny Agan, a retired Atlanta homicide detective who looked into three of the killings. Wayne Williams, a predator and serial killer, is responsible for the majority of these killings.
Police Chief Erika Shields thinks that the Atlanta Child Murders case merits further investigation, despite the fact that some, like Agan, contend that Williams was the child killer in Atlanta.
Shields told the New York Times, “This is about being able to look these families in the eye and say we done everything we possibly could to bring closure to your case.
Pop culture has also recently become more aware of the Atlanta Child Murders. The notorious case became the primary focus of Mindhunter, a crime drama on Netflix. The series itself took a lot of its cues from a book by John Douglas, a former FBI agent and regarded a pioneer in the field of criminal profiling, with the same name.
As for Douglas, he thought Wayne Williams was guilty of some of the killings, though possibly not all of them. The reality isn’t pleasant, he once stated, and there isn’t just one perpetrator.
Investigators are currently going over all of the evidence again and again. It’s unclear, though, if the families and the community as a whole will experience any real closure as a result of the fresh attempts.
“The question will be, who, what, when, and why. That’s what it’s always going to be,” stated Lois Evans,Alfred Evans. She said that this is how things would always be. “I’m fortunate to still be alive. Just to observe the outcome until I depart from this world.
“I believe it will be part of history that Atlanta will never forget,” she Declared.
- Burch, Audra D. S. (April 30, 2019). “Who Killed Atlanta’s Children?”. The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2019.
- The Atlanta Youth Murders and the Politics of Race” Bernard D. Headley, Published by Southern Illinois University Press, December 1, 1999
- “CNN Transcripts: Atlanta Child Murders