Wayne Williams is an American murder convict who is serving two life sentences in a Georgia state prison for killing two adult men in Atlanta, Georgia. He is also the prime suspect for the Atlanta Child Murders, a series of kidnappings and murders between July 1979 and May 1981 that claimed at least 23 victims, mostly children. However, he never accepted the charges and claimed the involvement of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the crimes, which was covered up by the officials to avoid a race war. Despite the lack of evidence against him, the prosecutors maintained that since Williams became a suspect in the case, no new cases of similar killings have happened. His request for retrial has been declined a couple times and he has been denied parole most recently in November 2019. He was the antagonist in the CBS miniseries 'The Atlanta Child Murders', the 'Showtime' telefilm 'Who Killed Atlanta's Children?' and the Netflix series 'Mindhunter'.
Childhood & Early Life
Wayne Bertram Williams was born on May 27, 1958, in the Dixie Hills neighborhood of southwest Atlanta, Georgia, United States, to African-American parents Homer and Faye Williams. He reportedly frequently quarreled with his college-educated school teacher parents.
An intelligent student at Douglass High School, he was particularly interested in radio and journalism as a child. He even broadcast a program from his basement through his own carrier current radio station, and at the age of 12, had interviewed Andrew Young.
As an adult, he faced a series of failures, starting with his inability to complete graduation from Georgia State University, where he pursued a major in psychology. He subsequently failed in a new business venture set up with a loan secured by his parents, causing them to lose their savings and file for bankruptcy.
He had made acquaintances among the announcing crew of local radio stations and attempted a career as a pop music producer and manager, apart from being a DJ and a freelance photographer. As the only child of his parents, he was "terribly spoiled" and roamed the city in the night, often riding with local ambulance drivers, and offered young blacks auditions as singers for bands in his small rented studio.
He was arrested for the first time in May 1976 for unauthorized use of police equipment, a blue flashing light, in his car. In late December 1979, the police again intercepted his car and found several police equipments including a siren, three emergency lights, a police scanner, a CB radio and headlights with flashers.
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While the Atlanta Child Murders had started in July 1979, Wayne Williams was first suspected on May 22, 1981, after his car was stopped by an FBI surveillance team at the James Jackson Parkway bridge. The police were watching several bridges over the Chattahoochee River, into which some of the bodies were dumped, and he was the first to exit the bridge around 3 a.m. following a loud splash sound.
He told the police that he was a talent scout and was checking on an address ahead of an audition with a singer named Cheryl Johnson. He also stated that he did not even stop on the bridge and allowed the police to search his car.
The name and the phone number he gave to the police turned out to be fake, and two days later, local fishermen found the naked body of 27-year-old Nathaniel Cater, missing for four days. The police began 24-hour surveillance of Williams, and on searching his home, they found fiber samples from his bedspread and carpet, and dog hairs, which were consistent with those recovered from several of the victims.
Wayne Williams also failed three polygraph tests and his coworkers revealed that he had scratches on his face and arms when the murder happened, pointing to possible struggle with the victim. He was again questioned extensively in early June, but was not arrested until June 21st, for the murder of Cater, and was put in the Fulton County Jail without bond.
Wayne Williams was indicted on two counts of murder, that of Cater and Jimmy Ray Payne, on which the police had solid evidence against him, and his trial began on January 6, 1982. While several eye-witnesses attested to seeing him with some of the victims in the past, fibers retrieved from 19 sources in his home and car matched with a number of victims.
Williams strongly matched FBI profiler John Douglas' description of the child murderer as an African-American of above average intelligence who likely posed as a figure of authority. Douglas advised the prosecution to keep him on the stand for a prolonged time and ask about the failures in his life, which made him extremely hostile and combative, and also alienated the jury.
On February 27, 1982, following 12 hours of deliberation, the jury found him guilty of the murders of Cater and Payne, and sentenced him to two consecutive life terms. He was incarcerated in Georgia's Hancock State Prison in Sparta, and his two requests for retrial in the 1990s and in 2004 were rejected.
Wayne Williams has always maintained his innocence, claiming that the KKK was involved. Several people in the local community, including family members of some of the victims, questioned the thoroughness of the investigation believing that the wrong person was blamed for many murders.
In his 1986 book 'Mindhunter', John Douglas stated his belief that Williams was clearly responsible for at least 11 murders in Atlanta based on forensic and behavioral evidence. However, he also opined that Williams did not commit all the crimes, adding the cryptic note, "It isn't a single offender, and the truth isn't pleasant."
Six months after becoming the DeKalb County Police Chief, Louis Graham, who was an assistant police chief in Fulton County during the murders, reopened the investigations into five deaths from the county in May 2004. Graham, one of the original investigators, resigned after the reinvestigation of the Atlanta child murders were dropped in June 2006.
A report published on August 6, 2005, revealed that an early suspect in the murders, white supremacist and KKK member Charles T. Sanders, had praised the killings in a secret 1981 recording. However, the police had cleared him after he successfully passed the lie-detector test and four more killings happened while he was under close surveillance.
In 2007, mitochondrial DNA sequence tests of two strands of human hairs found on one of the victims, supposed to eliminate 98% of African American persons, matched with Williams' DNA. The same year, DNA testing of dog's hair matched with that of the Williams family's German Shepherd which, while not conclusive, occurs in about 1 in 100 dogs.
While another DNA test performed in 2010 also did not rule out Williams, a study by the Department of Justice in April 2015 revealed that earlier FBI tests "may have failed to meet professional standards". In March 2019, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields announced a re-test of the evidence from the murders, adding that it was to ensure that they tried their best.
According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wayne Williams sends Christmas cards and letters to families of the victims declaring his innocence.