Monday 19 August 2013

Is Wayne Williams, the man convicted of the Atlanta murders really guilty of them all?                   

Wayne Bertram Williams (born May 27, 1958) was the only child of Homer and Fay Williams who were two retired schoolteachers from Atlanta.

He is a convicted murderer who has been suspected of having committed most of the Atlanta Child Murders of 1979 through 1981. In 1982 he was tried and convicted of killing two adult men, and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of each of them—the sentences to be served consecutively.

At the time of this writing, he is 55 years of age and has been in custody 32 years since his arrest in June 1981 when he was 23 years of age.

After his conviction of the murders of the two adults, the Atlanta police announced that Williams was responsible for at least 16 of the 29 children who were murdered in Atlanta, between 1979 and 1981 but he has never been formally charged the murders of those 16 children.

Many people and Williams himself continues to maintain that he didn’t murder any of the children or the two adults he was convicted of murdering. Defensive African American community factions of Atlanta refused to believe a serial killer might be black and murdering “their own”, and thus Williams continued to remain free to kill more victims. Criminologists on the other hand argued that only a black man could move within the black neighborhoods so much and so often unnoticed. Had they (the Atlanta African-American community) accepted this theory earlier they might have identified the black man who was killing their children while moving undetected in their midst. And yet, despite strong evidence proving his guilt, resistance to the acceptance of Williams’ guilt continues.

The Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments from attorney William Kunstler stating that the deaths Wayne Williams was accused of; were actually committed by the Klu Klux Klan for the purpose of starting a race war by committing such controversial homicides. I wouldn’t be surprised if that lawyer blamed aliens from space being the perpetrators of those horrible crimes. It is amazing what certain lawyers will do to gain national attention.

Challenging statements for some of the killings does not clear Wayne Williams of all the murders. Despite the overwhelming evidence against Williams, many parents and relatives of the Atlanta Child Murders victims really believe that Williams may be innocent. He may be innocent of some of the murders but not necessarily innocent of all of them as far as I am concerned.

I will say this right from the beginning; not all the victims he is suspected of having killed were children. Five of them were adults. What follows is the list of the victims in the order of their deaths.

In the summer of 1979, Edward Hope Smith and Alfred Evans, both 14, disappeared four days apart. Their bodies were both found on July 28. Their confirmed deaths were the beginning of the series of murders believed to be committed by the Atlanta Child Killer, so-called because it was popularly assumed there was only one perpetrator. Milton Harvey, the next murder victim and who was also 14 disappeared on September 4, 1979 while traveling to the bank to pay a credit card bill for his mother. His body was later recovered. On October 21, 1979, Yusuf Bell went to the store to buy snuff for a neighbor, Eula Birdsong. A witness said she saw Yusuf getting into a blue car before he disappeared. His body was found on November 8, 1979, in the abandoned E.P. Johnson elementary school. He was still wearing the brown cut-off shorts he was last seen in. He had been strangled. The police did not immediately link his disappearance to the previous killings.

The next victim, 12-year-old Angel Lenair, was the first female victim of the killer. She disappeared March 4, 1980 and was found 6 days later, strangled, tied to a tree and possibly sexually assaulted. On March 11, 1980, Jeffery Mathis disappeared while on an errand for his mother.

On June 9, Chris Richardson went missing on his way to a local pool. On June 22 and June 23, seven-year-old Latonya Wilson and 10-year-old Aaron Wyche went missing. The extended wave of disappearances and murders panicked parents and children in the city, and the government struggled to ensure the safety of children. Nonetheless, apparently linked murders continued. The murders of two children, Anthony Carter and Earl Terell, occurred in July 1980. Between August and November 1980, five more killings took place. There were no known victims during the month of December.

All the victims had been African-American children between the ages of 9 and 14 and most had been strangled to death.

The murders continued into 1981. The first known victim in the new year was Lubie Geter, age 14 who disappeared on January 3rd. Geter’s body was found on February 5th. Geter’s friend Terry Pue age 15 also went missing in January. An anonymous caller told the police where to find Pue's body.

In February two murders occurred, believed linked to the others. In March, four Atlanta linked murders took place, including that of Eddie Duncan, age 21, the first adult victim.

In April, Larry Rogers, age 20 and looked like a 14-year-old was murdered, as well as adult ex-convict John Porter, age 28 and Jimmy Ray Payne, age 21.

After William Barrett, age 17 went missing on May 16, 1981; his body was found close to his home. The last victim added to the list was Nathaniel Cater, 27 years old.

I will now give you the details of his arrest on the suspicion of having murdered Nathaniel Cater. Up to then, there was no suspicion by anyone that Williams may have been the Atlanta child murderer.

As the news media divulged that physical evidence was being gathered from the corpses, the FBI privately suspected that the killer would dump the next victim into a body of water to remove any evidence. Some victims had already been previously dumped in the river which bolstered their suspicions and another would also be thrown off a bridge and into Chattahoochee River. The police staked out nearly a dozen bridges including the James Jackson Parkway/south Cobb Drive Bridge over the Chattahoochee River between Atlanta/Fulton County and suburban Cobb County to monitor suspicious activity that might be connected to the murders.

On the last night of their stake-out, May 22, 1981, detectives got the first major break in the case when an officer heard a splash in the water beneath the bridge. He then saw a white 1970 Chevrolet station wagon turn around and slowly drive away from the bridge.

Now you have to admit that a vehicle turning around and heading back to where it had been coming from is highly suspicious. It makes you wonder why the bridge was the original and only destination the driver was heading to in the first place.

An Atlanta police patrol car and a second unmarked car carrying federal agents initially followed the car and then they stopped the station wagon about a half mile from the bridge. The driver was 23-year-old Wayne Bertram Williams, who said that he was a music promoter and freelance photographer. The Chevrolet wagon belonged to his parents whom he lived with. The police let Williams go but told him that if a body showed up in the river, they would ask him more questions.

Two days later, on May 24, the naked body of Nathaniel Cater, 27, was found floating downriver just a few miles from the bridge where Williams had allegedly stopped his car. The medical examiner determined the body had been in the river no more than 36 to 48 hours. Based on this evidence, including hearing the splash, the police believed that Williams had killed Cater and disposed of his body while the police were nearby.                           

As to be expected, Williams denied murdering Carter and also denied throwing his body off the bridge.

Many pieces of evidence led the police to consider Williams as the prime suspect. One was the fact that he was the only person stopped during the month-long stakeout of 12 bridges and that Williams had stopped on that particular bridge when the splash was heard. Another was the fact that Williams' appearance, when stopped by the police, was very similar to a sketch-artist drawing of the suspected killer, including a unique bushy afro sticking out from the sides of a baseball cap, and a birthmark on the back of the left cheek. Another was the fact that the federal agents who stopped Williams' on the bridge saw a 24-inch nylon cord, which was of a diameter consistent with the choke marks on Cater and other victims, laying in the car. The medical examiner on the case however ruled Carter had died of ‘probable’ asphyxia, but never authoritatively said he had been strangled by someone’s hands. This raises the specter that he was strangled with a rope. But was it with the rope found in William’s car?

When the police stopped William’s car after he left the bridge to go back home, they asked him why he was on the bridge in the first place. He told them that he was going out of town to audition a young singer, Cheryl Johnson. The police would later discover that that phone number for her that he gave them did not exist. The FBI tried to find Cheryl Johnson from the address and phone details given to them by Williams but were unable to find her. But what is really suspicious is that he turned his car around to head back home after he crossed the bridge.

If he was supposedly wishing to drive to Johnson’s home, why did he stop driving to her home right after he crossed the bridge? The reason has to be obvious. The bridge was his real destination and despite that, he denied stopping on the bridge and swore he knew nothing about anything or anyone being dropped in the river.

A couple of days later, Carter’s body did show up about two miles further down the river from the bridge. 

The police brought Williams in for questioning. Their suspicions about William’s role in Carter’s death increased after the results of his three polygraph tests came back conclusive. The police found a book on ‘How to beat a polygraph test’ when they searched his home. He actually believed that he could beat the polygraph test which is why he took the three tests given to him but after being tested with respect to only Carter’s death, he failed the polygraph tests all three times. In particular, the three key questions he was asked were; “Did you kill Nathaniel Cater? Did you kill him that night that you were on the bridge?” The third question was; “Did you throw Nathaniel Cater into the river?”

Up to that point in the investigation, the police didn’t have enough conclusive evidence that Williams had actually murdered Cater so they released him but they kept a close eye on him. I would be remiss if I didn’t add that after his original arrest, there were no more killings of children similar to the deaths of the children murdered between 1979 and 1981. 

Throughout the course of the investigation, police staked out Williams's home for several weeks while he taunted them with insults and jokes. During this time, people working in Williams's studio also told police they had seen him with scratches on his face and arms around the time of the murders, which the police thought could have been inflicted by victims during a struggle.

An eyewitness told the police that Williams and Cater, a 27-year-old homosexual, were seen leaving a movie theatre together. Convinced that Williams was their man, police detectives sent the car seat of his mother’s car containing the bloodstains in the car to the state crime lab in Atlanta for analysis on June 4, 1981. It was found that the blood type matched that of both Williams and Cater. Additionally, dog hairs found on the body of Cater were identical to those in Williams’ car. The dog in question was Williams’ German shepherd. The police also found hairs and fibers on one of the victims' bodies which were found to be consistent with those from Williams's home, car, and dog.

Meanwhile Williams held a press conference outside his parents' home, proclaiming his innocence. He was arrested on June 21, 1981, for the murders of Cater and 29-year-old Jimmy Payne. A witness had previously come forward and told the police that Williams had also been keeping company with Jimmy Ray Payne, a 21-year-old man later pulled out of the muddy waters of the Chattahoochee on April 27, 1981. Payne had been earlier reported missing after he failed to show up for a job interview.  

On June 18, 1981, Williams was indicted for the murders of Nathanial Cater and Jimmy Payne and no-one else as the police had in their opinion, conclusive evidence that it was Williams who killed both men.

Williams had previously printed leaflets offering young black men between the ages of eleven and twenty an opportunity to embark on a musical career through his influence, which was apparently limited if not non-existent. One of the men answering his ad was Patrick Rogers, an aspiring soul singer, who was later murdered. Williams was not charged with murdering that man.

As a direct result of police bungling, one seven year old girl was kidnapped from her home, and police mis-labeled bodies and shrugged off the cases of ‘runaways’. One young boy telephoned the task force hotline about finding a young child’s body but his call was dismissed. The ignored young child’s body, that of Patrick Balazar, was later found strangled to death. The identification of Wayne Williams as the Atlanta Child Murderer happened despite errors and obfuscations by police which has been a common thread in many serial killing cases and notorious murderer careers. Misidentification, sloppy forensic techniques, haphazard professionalism regarding crime scene handling and case evidence being destroyed made it possible for Wayne Williams to stay free much longer than he should have.

Wayne Williams is thought by many to be innocent, not least because he never confessed to the crimes and no fingerprints were ever found to match his at the crime scenes or on any of the evidence. There have been convictions with less evidence. For example, a man in Toronto was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend even though he never confessed to the crime and her body was never found.

Racial division in the American South, even in the late 1970’s, kept the general black public from wholly accepting the fact that an African American man could be the killer of so many black children, when instincts and history dictated that a white killer might have really been responsible for the murders.

The fact remains that of all the people living in Georgia in 1979-1980, only one man was driving on the same body-dumping bridge the night police were watching—Wayne Williams. Only one man had no alibi for any of the twenty-nine killings attribute to the Atlanta Child Murderer; again Wayne Williams. Only one man had DNA carpet fibers combined with DNA identified hairs from his dog matched with forensic evidence from victim’s clothing; and again it was Wayne Williams. And Williams used a ploy of interviewing young people who were alone with him, as he claimed that he was a music business talent scout of a business than in fact didn’t exist.

I am sure there is someone out there who actually believes that Wayne Williams is an alien from some distant planet whose sole role was to kill as many people on Earth that he could. No matter how ridiculous the protestations of Wayne Williams not murdering some of the Atlanta victims,  the fact is that he did murder some of them. How many, we will never know.

What convinced the jury that he murdered the two men he was accused of murdering? Apparently it what he said to the jury near the end of his trial. He said in a rather antagonistic tone of voice; “If you want to see the real Wayne Williams, I will show you the real Wayne Williams!” They saw the real Wayne Williams on the stand, the Wayne Williams who killed the two men. And for this reason, they convicted him. Williams admitted years later that it was that statement that was instrumental in the jury’s decision to convict him.

I watched a TV interview of Wayne Williams being conducted while he was in prison and he was extremely evasive in his answers to the questions put to him. If I was a member of a jury listening to his responses to those questions, I would vote for guilt without any hesitations whatsoever. 

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