In the late seventies and early eighties, the city of Atlanta was experiencing a boom and had become a major economic player in the South. Several Fortune 100 companies came to call Atlanta home, such as Coca-Cola, Cox Communications, and Delta Airlines, and the city’s Black population was increasing by leaps and bounds. Yet despite the city’s economic growth, many of its Black residents were poor. It is no secret that poverty breeds crime, and Atlanta eventually became one of the most crime-ridden cities in the country. The city’s crime levels reached its peak, when a series of murders of Black children began to surface on the south side. The Atlanta Child Murders claimed the lives of 28 young victims from 1979 to 1981, mostly male and all African American. The killings that terrorized the Black community were also connected to a number of conspiracy theories.
Was It the FBI?
Of the urban legends that developed was that the FBI had a disguised agenda and were to blame for dragging their feet with regards to the case. Much of the Black community was up in arms because they were convinced that these ‘alleged’ law enforcers failed to produce plausible suspects.
Or the KKK?
Another popularly held conspiracy at the time was that the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) or some similar racist brotherhood wanted to exterminate young Blacks in Atlanta. Folks were convinced that the city’s law enforcement along with White supremacists had concocted a secret pact to terrorize the swelling population of Blacks in Atlanta, which seemed like the perfect place to carry out their alleged seek-and-destroy mission. So compelling was the implication that the KKK could very well be involved in the murders that former President Jimmy Carter ordered the FBI to pursue the white supremacist conspiracy in their investigations of the murders.
Watch the Atlanta Child Murders’ case here:
During this harrowing time, folks from the gliteratti to the literati, such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, the Jacksons, and James Baldwin, came from all over the country to offer support to the grieving city, with personalities like Muhammad Ali and Burt Reynolds donating money to help find the killer.
Then as if he had miraculously fell from the sky, on June 21, 1981, Atlanta police proclaimed that they had indeed found their serial child killer suspect. Wayne Williams (pictured right and below) was indicted for the first-degree murder of two adults, Jimmy Payne and Nathaniel Cater, both 22 years old. Wayne was a failed music producer, freelance photographer, and alleged homosexual. Several pieces of evidence led investigators to the 23-year-old suspect.
When Wayne was taken into custody, police performed three separate polygraph tests, all of which indicated that he was being deceptive in his answers. FBI laboratories claimed that they were coming up with a number of matches between the fibers found on the victims and the fibers found on Williams’ home and cars. A number of witnesses materialized who swore they saw Williams with various victims, and a couple of recording studio people claimed to have seen serious-looking cuts and scratches on Williams’ arms, suggesting that he struggled with the boy victims. Williams was also very arrogant and hostile — traits that only helped to further dig his grave.
There was a very public grand jury trial, which began on January 6, 1982. Williams was convicted on two counts of murder based on circumstantial evidence for the deaths of Payne and Carter, and sentenced to life for each count.
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 the area between February and May 1981 that had been pinned on Williams. Police Chief Graham believed that Williams might not have been responsible for the murders in his county. The remaining cases, however, are under the jurisdiction of Fulton County, Georgia, and the investigators of this county considered the homicides a done deal since Wayne was given a trial and put away for life.
On June 26, 2007, the DNA test results were published, but they failed to exonerate Williams. While some prosecutors asserted that the results “linked” Williams to the killings, defense lawyers called the test results inconclusive.
Now at 52 years old, Wayne still maintains his innocence with regards to the famed child murder case. And to this very day, there are many who STILL believe that Williams was railroaded into confessing to the crimes he was convicted for and that the KKK were the actual child murderers.
What do you think?