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Wayne Williams

This Day in History: Accused Atlanta Child Murderer Wayne Williams Is Found Guilty

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By Sharon Oliver

From 1979 to 1981, one of the most notorious and horrendous acts against children – the infamous Atlanta Child Murders - occurred in the metropolis of Atlanta as African American parents lived in fear. Between that time, approximately 29 children, mostly boys, along with two young adults, were kidnapped and killed, causing the FBI to join in the investigation.

The case closed following the arrest and conviction of Wayne William. However, in March 2019 and under the direction of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, the Atlanta Police Department reopened the case in an effort to bring closure to the victims' families by re-examining the evidence.

Timeline of Murders

Atlanta Child Murder Victims
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In 1979, 14-year-old Edward Hope Smith and 14-year-old Alfred Evans disappeared four days apart from each other. Their bodies were found in a wooded area on July 28. In September that same year, 14-year-old Milton Harvey vanished while on an errand for his mother. His body would be recovered two months later. Yusuf Bell was last seen in October running an errand for a neighbor. A janitor discovered his corpse in an abandoned school one month later. Bell had been hit over the head twice.

Timeline Continued

Mother of a victim
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The year 1980 saw the most disappearances and killings, sparking anxiety even across the nation. The victims included: 12-year-old Angel Lenair, 11-year-old Jeffery Mathis, 14-year-old Eric Middlebrooks, 12-year-old Christopher Richardson, 10-year-old Aaron Wyche, 7-year-old LaTonya Wilson, Anthony Carter and Earl Terrell.

The following year resulted in the discoveries of the bodies of Lubie Geter, Terry Pue (who lived in the same apartment as 1979 victim Edward Hope Smith. The murders of Nathaniel Cater and at least one other young adult was also linked Wayne Williams.

Williams' Capture

Wayne Williams
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As the city of Atlanta stayed crippled with fear, more than 100 agents worked on the investigation and media coverage was nationwide. Finally, during a stakeout on May 22, 1981, detectives caught what they felt was a break in the case when an officer heard a splash beneath the bridge of the Chattahoochee River.

Another officer spotted a white 1970 Chevrolet station wagon. Behind the driver's seat was 23-year-old Wayne Williams. Fibers and dog hair recovered from the vehicle were later used as evidence against Williams.

Atlanta Child Murders Trial

Trial of Wayne Williams
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The trial began on January 6, 1982 with a jury of eight African Americans and four Caucasians. On February 27, 1982 and after 11 hours of deliberation, the jury found Wayne Williams guilty on two of the murders. The judge sentenced him to two consecutive life terms at Hancock State Prison in Sparta, Georgia.

However, not everyone is convinced of Williams' guilt, including members of some of the victims' families. Catherine Leach, the mother of 13-year-old Curtis Walker, whose body was found floating in the DeKalb County's South River in 1981, believes her son was killed by the Ku Klux Klan, a sentiment shared by many at the time. Others believe Williams may have been responsible for some of the murders but not all and whoever was responsible would have had to been able to "blend in" with the black community.

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