One of the darkest periods of Atlanta history, the years of 1979 to 1981 saw the murder of 28 black individuals, mostly young boys and girls, murdered without any arrests. Many were strangled to death, others hit over the head or stabbed, but the crimes themselves had little in common other than the race of the victims and the approximate location of the crimes.
A black man named Wayne Williams was assumed guilty, as announced by the Atlanta Police Department, for at least 23 of the murders, however he was only tried for the killing of two adult men. The Atlanta Child Murders remain, technically, unsolved.
Payne Lindsay, the Atlanta-based podcaster and filmmaker behind the incredibly successful podcast, Up and Vanished, is taking on another infamous Georgia case, this time with help from HowStuffWorks, a first time partnership. Listen to the trailer below.
Emmy Award winning actress Regina King, who found success on ABC’s series American Crime, has also chosen this topic for her upcoming FX series titled No Place Safe, based on the memoir of the same name by Kim Reid.
Background on the case
At the time of the murders, Wayne Williams was working unsuccessfully as a music producer and freelance photographer; prior to that, he worked in radio. He had grown up in Atlanta, where both of his parents were teachers and his upbringing middle-class.
In 1981, after several of the bodies had been dumped in local rivers, police staked out a bridge over the Chattahoochee River. There, they heard a loud splash, and then found Williams leaving the scene in his vehicle. He was 23 years old at the time, and when he was stopped by police, he told them that he was on his way to audition a new singer and gave them her phone number. They let him leave, but from then on he was a person of interest. It was found that both the woman and phone number were made up by Williams.
Two days after Williams was stopped by police, the body of a 27-year-old naked man was found downriver. Police checked into William’s background and found that he had a previous conviction for impersonating a police officer.
Police called in Williams. He would then go on to fail several polygraph examinations. Police obtained a warrant to the residence he shared with his parents, and they were able to find fibers that matched the two victims he would ultimately be convicted of murdering. The judge sentenced Williams to life for the murders of two 22-year-old men, Jimmy Payne, and Nathaniel Cater, primarily with circumstantial evidence. To this day, Williams maintains his innocence as regards the children murdered during this spree.
Writer James Baldwin, a hugely influential black novelist, playwright, and essayist, wrote a book called The Evidence of Things Not Seen in 1985 that questioned the guilt of Wayne Williams. He believes that Williams was railroaded by a judicial system that wished to avoid the possibility that the KKK was involved with at least some of the murders.
Williams also claims, to this day, that authorities wished to cover up the true murderers as they were members of the KKK, which could have ignited a city-wide race war. Many of the victims’ parents were also wary of William’s conviction and welcomed the reopening of the case for four of the murders in 2005 to investigate possible connections to the KKK.
Charles T. Sanders, a white supremacist and member of the KKK in Atlanta, was secretly recorded praising the murders of the black children. Sanders was apparently investigated, and the case was re-closed again the next year.
In 2007, new tests were done on the dog hair found at the scene attributed to William's dog, but the findings failed to exonerate Williams or garner him an appeal. Arguments about the validity of the hair and fiber evidence continue to this day, and appeal processes are still in the works.
The investigation of the Atlanta Child Murders will be HowStuffWorks’ first foray into true crime. HowStuffWorks is the United States's largest for-profit podcast company. “That event in Atlanta history is a reflection on the undercurrent of the nation’s racial tension in the early 1980s” said Jason Hoch, Head of New Initiatives. “We see a lot of those same tensions coming to bear in the present day, so this is a great time to pull back the curtain and take a closer look at this significant story.”
No word yet on when Atlanta Monster or No Safe Place will premiere.
This Story Was First Published on Hunt A Killer.
Featured photo via Hunt a Killer