Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr. has joined a new phase of the national criminal justice reform movement by creating a separate unit within his office to review convictions. And he has identified the first case for review: Atlanta’s 29 murdered and missing children and young men from the late 1970s and early 1980s and the conviction of Wayne Williams for two of them.
Wayne B. Williams, a 23-year-old black freelance cameraman was arrested Sunday afternoon and charged with murder in connection with the slaying of Nathaniel Cater, the latest victim in a string of 28 slayings of young Atlanta blacks.
Authorities did not initially take the double murder too seriously. But the bodies continued to pile up. There were three more victims by the end of 1979 which totaled five. By the following summer in 1980, nine children had been killed.
A 27-year-old rookie policeman offered unexpectedly strong testimony today indicating that Wayne B. Williams's car was stopped on a bridge above the spot in the Chattahoochee River where a loud splash was heard about 60 hours before a body floated to the surface downstream.
The body was that of Nathaniel Cater, one of the two out of Atlanta's 28 missing and murdered young blacks that the 23-year-old Mr. Williams is accused of killing.
Between 1979 and 1981, approximately 29 African-American children, teens, and young adults—mostly boys—were kidnapped and murdered. A majority of the killings shared common details. The FBI joined the multi-agency investigation in 1980. In our files, the major case is called ATKID, short for the Atlanta Child Murders. The investigation was closed following the conviction of Wayne Bertram Williams for two of the murders in 1982; after the trial, law enforcement linked Williams to 20 more of the 29 murders. This release was made prior to the creation of the FBI Vault; the files have since been renamed to enhance the clarity of the information, but the content remains the same.
Nearly four decades after an Atlanta man was convicted in connection with one of the most horrific serial murder cases in U.S. history, doubt still lingers about his guilt, even among some investigators and victims’ families.