Wayne Bertram Williams, a.k.a. "The Atlanta Child Murderer" and "The Atlanta Child Killer", is a convicted double murderer and suspected perpetrator of the Atlanta Child Murders.
BackgroundA native of Atlanta, Georgia, Williams was born in 1958. His parents, Homer and Faye Williams, were both schoolteachers. He attended and graduated from Fredrick Douglas High School with an honors degree and attended Georgia State University for a year before dropping out. He was fascinated with electronics and attempted several get-rich schemes which cost his parents a lot of money. Marketing his own radio station, which he started when he was 16, he also dreamed of making it in the entertainment industry and was a self-employed talent scout. Unfortunately, he wasn't very good at spotting musical talent, often spending huge amounts of money on making demos of local singers with little skills. He made money doing various odd jobs and by taking photos of accidents or crime scenes and selling them to newspapers. Owning a police scanner made it possible for him to get to the scene before police or emergency workers did. He also often used the scanner to listen in on police conversations and proved skilled at impersonating a police officer. He was arrested for doing so in 1976, having put red and blue lights on his car, but no charges were filed.
Arrest and Incarceration
From 1979 to 1981, at least 28 African-American youths were found murdered in Atlanta, Georgia. Almost all of them were minors and most were fatally asphyxiated (sometimes the cause of death was listed as "probable asphyxia" or was undetermined). The first victims were Edward Hope Smith, who was shot with a .22 gun, and Alfred Evans, whose cause of death was listed as "probable asphyxia", who were found in the same wooded area. Over the following years, victims kept turning up. During 1981, many victims were over 20 years old (they were still added to the authorities' "list" of suspected victims). Williams first came to the police's attention in the early hours of May 22, 1981. Two police officers, Freddie Jacobs and Bob Campbell, were stationed near the James Jackson Parkway Bridge, which crossed the Chattahoochee River, where some victims had been found, as well as the line between two counties. Just after Jacobs saw a car that he identified as a white 1970 Chevrolet station wagon cross the bridge, Campbell, who was beneath the bridge, heard a loud splash and saw the water ripple. Campbell then radioed an FBI agent, who pulled over the car, which was driven by Williams. He told the police he was on his way to a potential client named Cheryl Johnson, though she was nowhere to be found and the phone number and address at which Williams said she lived turned out to be fake. While he was questioned by the authorities, they searched the area near the bridge for bodies.On May 24, the nude body of Nathaniel Cater, who had gone missing a few days earlier, was fished out of the Chattahoochee River. The cause of death was ruled as "probable asphyxia" caused by strangulation. Though the medical examiner couldn't determine an exact time of death, he stated that he had been dead long enough to have been dropped from the bridge on the night in question; later, some witnesses claimed to have seen Cater alive in the days between May 21 and May 24, though their statements weren't made public. The investigators obtained search warrants for Williams' home, car and dog to get fiber samples to compare to fibers found on the victims and brought him in for questioning. When the police looked into his whereabouts for the afternoon of May 21, they couldn't confirm the story he gave them. They also put him through three polygraph tests, all of which he failed. Williams still maintained that he was innocent and even held a press conference outside his home. Over the following weeks, the FBI forensic labs matched fiber samples found on victims to samples from Williams' environment and witnesses who claimed to have seen Williams with various victims and who claimed to have seen cuts and scratches on his arms turned up. On June 21, Williams was arrested for the murders of Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Payne, who had died in April.
Williams's trial began on December 28 and has been criticized for treating Williams and his defense unfairly by not giving them the time to prepare properly. The prosecution connected Cater's and Payne's deaths to ten of the other Atlanta child murders, none of which Williams was charged with and many of which didn't even fit the proposed pattern. The defense had little chance against the FBI investigators who were called to testify, but brought in some experts of their own. Some of their testimonies ended in abject failure; the one who reexamined the times of death for Payne and Cater stated that Cater had been dead in the water for at least two weeks even though he hadn't even been missing that long. Williams also lost a great deal of credibility when a number of lies he had spun to people around him as well as his false alibi came out; among them were a friend of Williams who had been told that he flew fighter jets in the U.S. Air Force even though he hadn't done so and couldn't because he wore glasses. The prosecution also brought in witnesses who claimed to have seen Williams with some of the victims. They also stated that the fibers found on the victims and compared to the abundance of fiber evidence collected from Williams' environment showed that it was statistically impossible for anyone other than Williams to be the killer, though it was later remarked that most of the fibers in question weren't that rare. Additionally, no hairs or fibers from the victims were found in Williams' home or car, which is unlikely if he had transported them.
The defense brought in more experts of their own. A hydrologist testified that it would have been impossible for Cater's body to turn up where it was found if it had been dropped from the bridge. Another stated that there was no indication that Cater or Payne had actually been murdered; Cater was a known alcohol and drug user and one of them had an enlarged heart who could easily have died of natural causes. They also brought in witnesses whose testimonies rebutted those made by the witnesses who implicated Williams; among them was a police sketch artist who testified that none of the many suspects she had been asked to sketch during the course of the investigations had looked like Williams. Unfortunately, the defense's case was damaged further when Williams himself was put on the stand and became hostile and angry during the questioning by the district attorney. In January of 1982, Williams was found guilty of killing Payne and Cater and received two life sentences. Not long afterwards, the investigators announced that with him in prison, 22 of the 29 listed Atlanta child killings had been solved.Still maintaining his innocence, Williams has spent the past decades fighting his conviction and trying to get a retrial while serving his sentence at Hancock State Prison. He has claimed that the investigators covered up evidence of Ku Klux Klan involvement in order to prevent a race war. The claim may have some credence since Charles T. Sanders, a white supremacist affiliated with the Klan, it was revealed in 2006, praised the killings in secretly recorded conversations. Sanders had also threatened to strangle one of the younger victims, Lubie Geter, because of a personal dispute; though Geter was indeed strangled, Sanders was not investigated as a suspect. Other theories include that there were multiple killers. In his book Mindhunter, which was published in 1995, profiler John Douglas stated that Williams probably committed most of the Atlanta child murders, but not all of them. In 2007, attorneys for the State of Georgia allowed Williams' defense to reexamine dog hairs and human scalp hairs found on victim Patrick Baltazar (whose murder Williams was not actually convicted of) for DNA. The testing of the dog hairs was done by the University of California, Davis and weren't too conclusive; since they only had mitochondrial DNA to work with, they couldn't be used to identify a single, unique dog as the source. The testing of the human hairs, on the other hand, was carried out by the FBI's lab in Quantico, Virginia and bore more fruit. They contained a very rare sequence of DNA that's only present in 29 of the 1148 African-American hair samples in the FBI database and not present in any of the Caucasian and Hispanic samples. Since Williams carries the sequence himself, he remains a suspect.
Since Williams has maintained his innocence in the case, the details of how Cater and Payne were killed are uncertain. It was however stated during the trial that both showed no physical signs of having been abducted, suggesting that some kind of ruse was used to lure them. Both victims were apparently asphyxiated, probably by strangulation.
Note: The dates in both of the following lists denote the date of the victim's disappearance.
The murders for which Williams was convicted
- April 21: Jimmy Ray Payne, 21 (apparently asphyxiated)
- May 22: Nathaniel Cater, 27 (apparently asphyxiated like the previous victim)
The other victims of the Atlanta Child Murders
- July 21: Edward Hope Smith, 14 (shot in the back with a .22)
- July 25: Alfred Evans, 13 (apparently asphyxiated)
- September 4: Milton Harvey, 14 (killed by unknown causes)
- October 21: Yusef Bell, 9 (manually strangled)
- March 4: Angel Lenair, 12 (strangled with an electrical cord, tied to a tree, and stuffed a pair of underwear down her throat; possibly also sexually assaulted)
- March 11: Jeffery Mathis, 10 (killed by unknown causes; his body was found on February 1980)
- May 18: Eric Middlebrooks, 14 (bludgeoned)
- June 9: Chris Richardson, 12 (bludgeoned like the previous victim)
- June 22: LaTonya Wilson, 7 (killed by unknown causes)
- June 23: Aaron Wyche, 10 (his neck was snapped)
- July 6: Anthony Carter, 9 (stabbed repeatedly)
- July 30: Earl Terell, 11 (asphyxiated)
- August 20: Clifford Jones, 13 (strangled)
- September 14: Darren Glass, 10 (killed by unknown causes; his body was never found)
- October 9: Charles Stephens, 13 (asphyxiated)
- November 1: Aaron Jackson, 9 (asphyxiated like the previous victim)
- November 10: Patrick Rogers, 16 (bludgeoned)
- January: Faye Yearby, 22 (stabbed to death and tied to a tree post-mortem)
- January 3: Lubie Geter, 14 (strangled)
- January 22: Terry Pue, 15 (strangled with an unspecified ligature)
- February 6: Patrick Baltazar, 11 (strangled with an unspecified ligature like the previous victim)
- February 19: Curtis Walker, 15 (strangled)
- March 2: Joseph Bell, 15 (asphyxiated)
- March 13: Timothy Hill, 13 (drowned)
- March 20: Eddie Duncan, 21 (apparently asphyxiated)
- March 25: Michael McIntosh, 23 (apparently asphyxiated like the previous victim)
- April 9: Larry Rogers, 20 (apparently strangled)
- April 12: John Porter, 28 (stabbed six times)
- Although Williams is popularly nicknamed "The Atlanta Child Killer", both of the victims whose murders he was convicted of were in their 20s.
On Criminal Minds
Williams was mentioned in Finishing School when Rossi suggests that the unsub, who wrapped his victims in plastic to avoid leaving behind fiber evidence; Reid remarks that fact played a large part in convicting Williams. Additionally, serial killer Terrance Wakeland appears to have some basis in Williams since both were African-American, both were killers, they were around the same age when they committed their crimes, and did some work in the music business. The Atlanta Child Murders and, to some extent, Williams might've also been some inspiration for Carl Buford, who too targeted young African-American boys and killed them by asphyxiation. In addition, while Williams or the Atlanta Child Murders weren't mentioned in Tribute, a marker denoting to an infamous serial killer, seen on Reid's map of infamous serial killers by location, could be seen pointing to Atlanta's approximate location, undoubtedly as a reference to either case.
- TruTV Crime Library articles about Williams and the Atlanta Child Murders
- Radford University's summary of Williams' life
- 101 Crimes of the Century (2008)
- Atlanta's Missing and Murdered
- Carpenoctem's article about Williams
- UT San Diego article about the dog hair testing
- Our Georgia History's timeline of the Atlanta Child Murders
- The Crime Web's March timeline article that mentions the Atlanta Child Murders
- The World of Serial Killers blog article about Williams