Though he was convicted of two murders, experts to believe there could be more to the story.
Wayne Williams has spent most of his life behind bars in Georgia. He was arrested in 1981 for the killings of two men in Atlanta, but his gruesome trail of death may have been much longer and wider than just a couple of victims.
Williams was an aspiring freelance photographer in 1981. Then, a late-night splashing sound in the Chattahoochee River changed his life and the life of Atlanta citizens forever.
Authorities had staked out 14 bridges along the river after several dead bodies had been dumped into the Chattahoochee. At 3 a.m. one late-May morning in 1981, investigators heard a splash in the river as they monitored one particular bridge. Shortly after, they saw a speeding car, which police pulled over.
Driving the car was Williams. The police had no evidence to hold him, so they let him go. Two days later, the dead body of Nathaniel Cater, 27, washed up downstream. It wasn’t until June 21 that police arrested Williams for the murder after his alibis didn’t check out and he failed polygraph tests.
Wayne Williams’ arrest, and later conviction for two murders, ended a tense time for Atlanta residents. From July 21, 1979, until May of 1981, there were 29 murders in the Atlanta area. Most of the victims were boys, all of them were black.
The first victim was a 14-year-old boy who went missing, and then another teenager disappeared four days later. Both ended up dead, their bodies found next to each other under some bushes. One was shot, the other strangled. At the time of the discovery, no one knew who perpetrated these grisly crimes. Locals dubbed these series of killings the Atlanta Child Murders.
The bodies kept piling up. There were three more victims by the end of 1979, and five in all. The FBI assisted local authorities and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in June of 1980 after every lead turned up empty. The FBI helped with the case of a missing seven-year-old girl.
Famed FBI profiler John Douglas, whose personality serves as the main character on the Netflix series Mindhunter, offered some suggestions to investigators. Douglas believed that the murderer was black, and not white. He theorized that to have access to black children as victims, the perpetrator needed to have access to the black community in Atlanta. A white person simply wouldn’t be able to accomplish that without arousing suspicion.
Douglas also commented that Williams had many abject failures in his life. He moved from job to job, and his freelance photography career never took off. Although Williams was intelligent, well-spoken and articulate, his many disappointments led him to think his life was out of control. The murders gave Williams a sense of control over his life.
Once bodies started appearing near water, Douglas said authorities should stake out rivers and lakes. Douglas’ hunch proved correct. Williams was arrested. Case closed, right?
Wayne Williams is serving two life sentences for the conviction of two murders – both of adult men, despite Williams being branded as the man behind the Atlanta Child Murders.
However, there were 27 other abduction and murder cases that were unsolved. Douglas said there is a strong possibility that Williams killed at least 20 other people, but a lack of evidence prevents further prosecution.
This lack of evidence leads many people, including two documentary filmmakers, to believe Williams is innocent. More than 1,000 hours of interviews and research compiled by filmmakers Payne Lindsey and Donald Albright lead them to doubt much of the evidence against Williams. Their 10-episode podcast sheds light on the background of the case even though it’s nearly 40 years old.
The Atlanta Child Murders still resonate even 40 years later. Season two of Mindhunter explores those grisly murders and a city on edge.
In 2010, DNA forensics (which didn’t exist in 1981) gave a 98 percent probability that two hairs found on the body of an 11-year-old victim belonged to Williams. Even so, Williams to this day maintains his innocence in the case of the Atlanta Child Murders. In an interview in prison, Williams said he accepts his fate and that God has a plan for him.
In terms of the other cases that prosecutors don’t want to try in court, they shouldn’t worry. Wayne Williams, dubbed the Atlanta Monster, is already locked up for two life sentences.