The Atlanta Child Murders were a series of homicides committed between 1970-1981 in Atlanta. The 28 victims consisted mainly of children, adolescents, and a few adults. The man suspected of the murders, Wayne Williams, was sentenced to life in prison, and although he was only prosecuted for two of the murders, he is believed to be the serial killer.
The first of the Atlanta Child Murders occurred in mid-1979 when 14 year old Eddie Hope Smith and Alfred Evans disappeared about 4 days apart. Both of their bodies were found on July 28 in a wooded area, with one of the victims killed by a gunshot wound. The murders continued through 1979 when 14 year old Milton Havery went missing in September, with his body not being found until November, and 9 year old Yusuf Bell disappearing while running an errand for his mother. He was later found strangled to death in an abandoned school.
Near the beginning of March 1980, the murders went on. The first female victim, 12 year old Angel Lanier, disappeared after leaving her house one afternoon. Her body was found 6 days later in a wooded vacant area. A week after Angel’s disappearance, 11 year old Jeffery Mathis disappeared after running errands for his mother. His body was found 11 months later, but it was too badly decomposed to determine his cause of death.
2 months later, 14 year old Eric Middlebrooks went missing on May 18 after leaving his home in a hurry. His body was found the next day behind a bar. Though he had stab wounds, Eric’s cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head.
On June 9, 12 year old Christopher Richardson disappeared on his way to the community’s local pool. His body was found the following year in January near the body of another victim who would be later identified as Earl Terrel. Earl went missing in July of 1980 ,along with 9 year old Anthony Carter who was later found murdered.
On June 22, 7 year old LaTonya Wilson disappeared from her family’s apartment in the middle of the night. She was said to be seen being carried out of the apartment by two men. Her remains were found on October 18, but because of the state of decomposition, her cause of death was undetermined.
The following day, June 23, 10 year old Aaron Wyche disappeared after going to a grocery store near his home. Witnesses say that they saw the young boy talking to an older man who was leading him away from the store, and the man’s car matched the description of the car that was reported to be seen when Jeffery Mathis went missing. Aaron’s body was found the next day under a bridge, and his cause of death was a broken neck that was sustained from a fall.
The murders continued throughout the 1980s. 13 year old Clifford Jones disappeared on August 20 and his body was found the next day after he was strangled to death. 10 year old Darron Glass went missing on September 14, and has never been found. On October 9, 12 year old Charles Stephens was reported missing, and his body was found the next day. Then on November 1, 9 year old Aaron Jackson went missing, and he was found strangled to death the next day. Last, 16 year old Patrick Rogers, who was familiar with several of the previous victims, went missing on November 30. His body was found on December 7 in the Chattahoochee River, with many suspecting that the victim had been dropped from a bridge.
The murders continued as 1981 began. The first known victim of the year was 14 year old Lubie Geter who went missing on January 3. Lubie’s body was found on February 5. Lubie’s friend 15 year old Terry Pie went missing in January after Lubie did. An anonymous caller later tipped the police off to where Terry’s body was located.
In February and March of 1981, 6 more victims were found around Atlanta, including 21 year old Eddie Duncan, who is believed to be the first adult victim of the serial killer. In April, 20 year old Larry Rogers, 28 year old John Porter, and 21 year old Jimmy Ray Payne were shot to death; their murders are thought to be linked to the Atlanta Child Murders.
On May 12, FBI agents discovered the body of 17 year old William Barrett near a wooded area. A witness stated that they seen a man in a blue Cadillac observing the area were the body was later found earlier that day. Towards the end of May, the last reported victim, 27 year old Nathaniel Cater went missing. He was last seen at a theater with a man named Wayne Williams. Nathaniel was later found dead 2 days later.
After creating a map of the locations of the victims’s bodies, investigators found that the victims all fell in the same geographic parameters. Wayne Williams became a prime suspect as lots of evidence found was linked to him. For example, fibers found on some of the victims’s bodies were matched to a carpet in Wayne’s home.
After many victims were found in rivers, investigators formed a plan to stake out bridges along the Chattahoochee River in order to catch someone throwing something off the bridge. On May 22, 1981, during a stakeout , the first officer heard a loud splash from the bridge and went to investigate. On the bridge, they found a 1971 Chevrolet station wagon with 23 year old Wayne Williams driving. Wayne was questioned by the police, and he gave them false statements about being on his way to an audition with a friend that didn’t exist. Some fibers were collected from his car, but he was then allowed to go home by the investigators. Two days later, Nathaniel Cater’s body was found in the river.
After going through their collected evidence, Wayne Williams was arrested in connection to the murders on June 21, 1981. He was officially charged with the murders of Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Ray Payne. Wayne’s trial began on January 6, 1982. He was found guilty of the murders on February 27, 1981 and sentenced to life in prison. It is noted that after Wayne was arrested, the killings suddenly stopped. Wayne claimed and continues to claim that he is innocent and even requested a retrial, which was denied.
There are many people who still doubt Wayne’s guilt. There are claims that the KKK were involved in a majority, if not all, of the murders. It is believed that officials in Atlanta used Wayne as a scapegoat because if it was revealed that the KKK was involved, a race war would be incited. Despite these beliefs, the evidence against Wayne shows that he must be the suspect in many of these murders.