Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children is a 2020 five-part HBO miniseries about the Atlanta Child Murders. Following the 1973 election of Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first Black mayor, the city launched an effort to rebrand itself. Adopting the tagline “The City Too Busy to Hate”, Atlanta tried to reposition itself as being focused on commerce and progress rather than upholding racist traditions. For two years, spanning 1979 to 1981, approximately 30 Black children and young adults went missing and were later found murdered. The string of murders brought attention to the city but for all the wrong reasons and shed light on how little things had changed for many Black residents.
During the Great Migration, Harlem became the Mecca for Black people in America. But Atlanta later emerged as a place of opportunity for Black people in the South. Despite segregation, or maybe because of segregation, insular Black communities developed and established a solid Black middle-class.
To attract and promote commerce in the city, Atlanta worked to develop an image of being “The City Too Busy to Hate”. The intent was to show that progress had been made and the city had moved past its racial issues. But the reality was that success had come for some Black people while things remained the same for many. And the metro area was still segregated as there was a Confederate/Klan presence, especially on the city’s outskirts.
Wayne Williams, the young man who would later emerge as the prime suspect in the Atlanta child murders was born and raised in this Atlanta. His parents were school teachers who were able to provide him with a comfortable life. He showed signs of intelligence from a young age. With support from his parents, he set up and operated a radio station from his home and later worked as a freelance news photographer. Williams was involved with a variety of interests but also seemed to be a bit detached from his peers and socially awkward.
What is the likelihood that Wayne Williams was the person who killed all of these kids? In some ways, his case reminds me of Henry Lee Lucas. Lucas was a convicted murderer who various police departments around the country allowed to confess to additional random murders as a method to have them marked as solved. Some believe Williams was also used as a patsy but he has always proclaimed his innocence.
It’s unfortunate but crime and murders occur in big cities. Based on statistics and how crime is reported, it seems that more crime takes place in areas with lower incomes. Thus, those most likely to be victims of crimes are the poor. They’re also less likely to have the resources to hire private investigators, attract media attention, or use connections to high-ranking officials to have crime within the community be seriously addressed. Given that these children were from lower-income neighborhoods and where their bodies were found, they were initially written off as typical local crime.
Although these disappearances and murders were mostly taking place in a particular area of Atlanta, the crimes were not publicized by the media or the police. Thus the community was unaware of the number of children that had gone missing in a relatively short space of time. Residents were not advised of the potential danger so they could put plans in place to hopefully stop future abductions and be on the lookout for the person(s) committing these crimes.
Learning more about the murders and the aftermath, I developed a great deal of respect for Camille Bell. She was the mother of Yusef Bell, one of the murdered boys. Bell and the other mothers took the initiative to take control of the situation and bring attention to the murders by establishing the Committee to Stop Children’s Murders. Bringing attention to the murders didn’t immediately stop them but might have helped to save the lives of other children.
The person that dies is not the only victim as their families, friends, and community are also affected by their murder. Especially in a situation like this where it’s not a one-off murder and children are still in danger. These women were living in this underserved community and the police, politicians, and media were attempting to ignore the murders of their children. Bell and the other mothers insisted that the lives of these children mattered. The group was disparaged by police and authorities throughout Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered but I respected that despite their grief, they fought to get justice for their kids.
Authorities stated in different ways throughout Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered that these were poor street kids who were being neglected by their parents. That might have been the case for some of the kids but certainly not all. These assumptions were made about these kids because they came from a low-income background and/or because of their race. Yet there are multiple examples of some of the kids being from two-parent homes, attending schools for the gifted, being involved in extracurricular activities, or otherwise just being regular kids.
Despite attempts to stereotype them and dismiss their murders, they were not a monolith. And even for those whose family lives might have been dysfunctional or they were on the streets fending for themselves, that didn’t give anyone the right to kill them. Everyone has a right to live regardless of if they’re from the nice part of town, a shining example of excellence, or just a regular child.
Even if it was a single murder, the police should have taken the lead from the beginning and swung into overdrive when the murders began increasing. These women were not police officers. The police should have been the ones investigating and publicizing what was happening in the media. But as often occurs when there are problems within the Black community, the community has to do the heavy lifting of fixing the issues. In many cases, that means Black women organizing when the justice system and other factions of government are falling short.
If Atlanta didn’t want this negative attention while trying to promote its new image, why wasn’t action taken earlier to solve and stop these murders before they became a huge problem? Instead, the problem was ignored until pressure from the mothers and the Committee to Stop Children’s Murders forced the formation of a task force.
There have been instances where one White child goes missing and it’s all hands on deck, especially if that child is from a prominent or middle-class/wealthy family. But it seems like if the child comes from a low-income background, especially if they’re not White, there’s less interest and urgency. This also happens to a degree with adults.
The media, politicians, and police departments pick and choose which cases deserve attention and resources. And it’s not just a matter of race or income level but lifestyle can also play a factor. For example, crimes against sex workers or drug addicts seem to not get as much attention. A victim has to fit certain criteria for crimes against them to receive attention. You have to fit the profile of being an “innocent victim” living a non-risky lifestyle for your case to receive sympathy and attention.
I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts, and unfortunately quite often, it seems like the police don’t care and/or don’t put in as much effort if the victim is living what’s considered a “risky” lifestyle. Sure, certain lifestyles put a person at greater risk for being a victim of crime. But that doesn’t mean that we should treat those crimes or murders as being any less important. Murder in such a case is just as inhumane as when some upstanding citizen meets with foul play. A human life is a human life and one is not worth more than any other.
With all of that in mind, it’s questionable that when a task force was put together, the person selected to be commander had no prior homicide experience. People were pulled in from different departments but the person in control of all of this has no prior homicide experience? Was there no other officer or higher-up muckety muck that could have led the task force? Whether right or wrong, it opens up the argument that the police were going through the motions but not seriously taking the steps needed to solve these crimes.
It’s not just a matter of solving the disappearances and murders that had already occurred. But also finding this person or persons committing these crimes and getting them off the street to prevent any additional disappearances or murders. It’s not enough to get someone or anyone but rather to arrest and prosecute the correct person or persons to put an end to their crimes.
If something like this was happening to children in a predominantly White community, that would also be terrible. But given the history of Black people in America and the South specifically, as this is taking place in Atlanta, Georgia there’s an added layer of complexity due to the race of the victims. And then the difficulty of obtaining media attention and police action at the outset only made matters worse.
Feeling as though enough wasn’t being done to investigate the murders and there was nowhere else to turn, members of the community formed a volunteer group. There was a sense that the police weren’t doing enough and the community was unfortunately proven right. Taking it upon themselves to perform a search of the neighborhood, the volunteers found the body of LaTonya Wilson in a fenced-in area that police claimed they’d searched just a day or two before.
The thoroughness of the police search is up for question but playing devil’s advocate I wonder if the body was placed there after the police completed their search. Knowing the area would be searched the next day, someone might have moved her body from elsewhere and placed it in the lot to avoid having it found in a location that could be linked back to them.
One of the interviewees states that the body was found on a locked property owned by her father and on which he kept horses. If the property was indeed kept locked, I would assume that he had sole or primary access to the key and thus the land. I would be curious to know if her father was ever considered as possibly being involved and if so, how was he cleared. Who if anyone else had access to the key and/or the land? Most of the other bodies were out in the open or at least didn’t require keys for access. Why did the killer go to the trouble of placing the body here? And putting aside the size of the child, how did they physically gain access to the land and place the body there if the property was locked up?
Regardless of the details, the fact that this volunteer group found the body further affected the community’s lack of confidence in the police investigation. This resulted in them taking an even more active role in trying to figure out what was going on and also trying to prevent additional murders. Black men, Chimurenga Jenga in particular, stepped up to organize a neighborhood patrol and came to be referred to as a vigilante group in the media. There was some negative bias in this coverage. Why was it automatically assumed that because these Black people were attempting to defend their children there would be disorder and violence?
A lot of the language was pejorative and denigrated the volunteers. Based on history and even the present, Atlanta’s Black community had good reason to distrust the police. As in other parts of the country and the South, in particular, there was a history of racism within the Atlanta Police Department. Many police officers had also been members of or affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan. And even after Black officers began joining the police force, they were discriminated against. Is it far-fetched that members of a community that face discrimination and the threat of violence from members of the police department might not trust the police to thoroughly investigate the murders of children from that community?
People fight tooth and nail for the preservation of the Second Amendment which grants the people the right to keep and bear arms. Much is made of people’s right to defend and protect themselves, their family, their home or other property, and their community. Yet, here it is in the South of all places, you have members of the media and law enforcement expressing their discomfort with Black people arming themselves with bats, clubs, guns, etc to patrol their neighborhoods after the disappearance and murder of multiple children.
Early before Williams was identified, the police specified one child that they believed had been harmed by his mother. Whether right or wrong, it lends credence to the belief that more than one person had to have committed these murders. The police stated and still believe this woman murdered her child. But even if she did, she certainly didn’t kill all of the other kids. And then stating that you and your partner heard this woman confess to murdering her child but having no recording of the interview, written statement, or any other kind of evidence sounds rather convenient.
Some of the boys were believed to have spent time in the home of a known pedophile. This struck me as weird because the man openly admitted to having “sex” with one or more of the boys. There’s no such thing as an adult having sex with a child as a child can’t consent to sex in that context. And it sounded like this man was never prosecuted for at least having inappropriate physical contact with these children.
The proper term depending on the circumstances of what took place could be molestation, sexual assault, statutory rape, rape, or a combination of those terms. But not “sex”. This use of euphemisms or incorrectly interchanging terms is a pet peeve of mine. Regardless of the victim’s race, gender, or age, it often misrepresents and downplays the severity of the situation.
There’s also the potential connection that several of the kids spent time at a local arcade in the nearby Omni Hotel where they might have come into contact with unsavory characters. The investigators discuss some of the kids being “street kids”. It’s alleged that some were selling their bodies or hustling for older kids. This came across as shifting responsibility for the crime from the suspect to the victims’ lifestyle.
Given that these abductions and murders were occurring in predominantly Black neighborhoods I would concur that it would be most likely that the perpetrator(s) would also be Black. Stranger murders are less likely than murders by an acquaintance. And most crime is intraracial as within America most people live around other people of the same race. But those should just be preliminary working theories not to the exclusion of other possibilities.
The city was still residentially segregated but White people are in Black communities all the time. White people kind of go wherever they want in America. Nobody stops a White person to ask them what they’re doing in a Black community. This is not true in the reverse as except in a limited context, a Black person would more likely stand out in a White community.
Look no further than the pedophile ring that was operating at least in part in the area and was found to be used by multiple White males. These White males were engaged in this kind of inappropriate contact with Black children in a Black neighborhood.
Some bodies being found on land versus in water and victims including pre-adolescents, teens, and young adults might be significant. As some state, the offender(s) could have been keeping tabs on the news coverage and made changes to their M.O. to avoid detection. Some killers stick to a particular disposal site or method of murder while others make changes based on what’s convenient or effective. And while serial killers tend to have a victim profile, it’s not unheard of for such a murderer to kill across age groups, gender, and/or race. Yet, it seems unlikely for all of those variations to be true for a single murderer.
The explanation of it being risky for the murderer(s) to drive down to the water’s edge to dump a body made sense. If you have to park or drive your car down to the water’s edge to dispose of a body, you might have to park some distance away due to lack of access roads or to avoid getting stuck. Though to be fair, it’s also possible to get your car reasonably close to the water from a dock or boat launch but the body would probably just wash back up on the shore. Either way, you run the risk of you and/or your car being spotted in what would typically be a relatively desolate and/or remote area after hours.
Dumping the body from a bridge should allow you to dispose of the body in water while quickly putting some distance between you and the corpse. At least in theory you could dump the body and more quickly drive away. And it might also be easier to explain driving over a bridge in the middle of the night versus being at the very water’s edge. Thus with bodies being found in water, it was a good idea to keep an eye on the bridges.
Wayne Williams’ connection to multiple kids in the area as a would-be talent scout, though not necessarily these kids, is interesting. His explanation for being on the bridge in the middle of the night made no sense. Granted, the events during his exchange with the police during the stop and search of his vehicle is a matter of he said, he said. Both parties had reason to lie about what exactly took place to fit their version of events. Williams sounded like a weirdo and it made sense to take a closer look at him. And him having previously gotten in trouble for impersonating a police officer is very disturbing.
Him promoting himself as a talent scout whether established or aspiring isn’t an issue on its own. People sometimes overstate their connections and abilities as a means of making themselves seem more professionally credible. Whatever his connections, there is a video proving that he was recording and working with the kids to make music and at least one of the kids attested to recording with him.
That’s not to say that he wasn’t using promises of making these kids stars as an excuse to get close to some of them for inappropriate reasons. People do stuff like this all the time to gain access and pressure people into sexual favors. It’s not far-fetched that Williams might have tried something like that with some of the kids but not with others.
America is a supposedly free country and Williams was under no obligation to provide a reason for being out or stopping on the bridge unless there was some sort of sign or barricade to restrict traffic. But, given that he chose to answer and proceeded to provide a weird cover story it made sense to be skeptical. Especially if as the police said, he was the first to refer to the children who were being murdered.
Unless you’re meeting someone for a drug deal or some other shady business, why would you be checking out the meetup spot in the middle of the night? It didn’t necessarily mean he was out killing someone and/or disposing of a body as he could have just been involved in something embarrassing that he didn’t want others to know about. For example, if he was out soliciting a sex worker, regardless of their gender. Maybe it was a matter of being caught off guard but providing that lame excuse coupled with a name and address that could never be verified was fishy. As was burning what neighbors said looked like photographs the morning after.
His behavior continued to be bizarre when the police began investigating him. Part of that might have just been him being socially awkward and wanting attention. He looked like a nerdy guy who most people usually ignored. Whether positive or negative, Williams was getting a bit of attention and might have enjoyed what he thought would be a moment in the spotlight. I’m sure he thought he was being quite clever handing out his resume to reporters and taking the surveillance cars on joyrides. He was incredibly naive about how serious the situation was and how bad it could get for him.
It would have been in his best interest to if not lay low then to at least not come across as taunting the police who were already catching flack for being perceived as incompetent. The police allowing him to leave the bridge that night and not arresting Williams shortly thereafter gave him a bit of confidence. It’s admitted that the prosecutor didn’t immediately file charges because they felt there wasn’t enough evidence. But don’t give them a reason to go looking for or to magically find some evidence.
Early on it seemed politicians didn’t want to get anywhere near the Atlanta child murders if it could be avoided. But this was no longer a local news story. With pressure from higher-ups such as the governor and the White House, everyone wanted to look like they were doing something. And with all those eyes watching, the Atlanta Police Department and the FBI didn’t want to appear incompetent. To save face all of those entities came at Williams with full force.
Despite not being wealthy, he was able to put together a decent defense team with help from his parents. But he thought he was smarter than he really was and instead of taking full advantage of his defense team’s expertise decided to take the lead and do his own thing. Being weird is not a crime and he was without a doubt intelligent but being socially inept, he had flawed ideas about how his behavior would be perceived. From his initial contact with the police and then on, he did himself no favors. This was a serious situation and whether innocent or guilty, it was not the time to be cute.
I find the justice system extremely intriguing and liked the insight into how the defense team came together and their legal strategy. There’s a saying that any defendant who serves as their attorney has a fool for a client. That’s not always the case but it certainly was here. Williams’ reasoning and his social awareness of what was and was not appropriate were off.
The police claimed that when the vehicle stopped on the bridge, there was then an audible splash as though something had been thrown into the water. A few days later, the body of a young man was found in the water which police believed was one of Williams’ victims and the object they’d heard him dump over the side of the bridge. I fully believe that Williams would have been physically capable of murdering and moving the bodies of the kids and teens. But, given his relatively small size, I’m less certain about the adults.
Williams could have easily overpowered the younger kids and even some of the teens as they looked quite small as well. And his size wouldn’t be much of a factor in the situations where a weapon was used to kill the victim. Four of the six adults seem to have been found in or near the Chattahoochee River. It would make sense to at least explore the possibility of a link between those four adults. But if one of the other two adults was found in an abandoned apartment and the other was in a vacant lot, how were they connected to the other four?
It would be interesting to know if there were signs of them having been attacked with an object, especially from behind. Were there signs of strangulation or few if any injuries and water in the lungs? If the bodies were in the water for an extended amount of time, would signs of an attack be lost to decomposition and/or skin slippage and thus make it impossible to tell if injuries occurred pre or post mortem?
Initially, I outright dismissed Williams being capable of throwing the adults over the side of a bridge. He didn’t seem to have the temperament to be a killer but I know from many other cases that looks can be deceiving. And people do all kinds of things in moments of desperation or to avoid getting into trouble. And who is to say that he didn’t have help?
None of the men looked exceptionally large with regards to height or weight. Williams had access to a station wagon as well as other vehicles so he wouldn’t have had to carry the bodies for long distances. Excluding maybe pickup trucks, most vehicles are designed for their trunks to be easy to load and unload. Station wagons in particular are lower to the ground and tend to have trunk doors that open fully to the side or overhead. If you imagine those old-school ambulances, it’s quite easy to pull a body in or out. To unload, you could pull the person out, place your arms under their armpits, and drag them a short distance.
I imagined the bridges as having a security wall of maybe three or four feet to prevent people from jumping. But the walls are described as being quite low which would make it possible to maneuver a body over the side without completely lifting it off the ground. If you hold their upper body and maneuver that over the wall, momentum could take them over the rest of the way.
Yet, even if Williams was able to drag the bodies rather than lift them, it would take at least a few minutes. If not longer. I would be curious to know how long the police said the car stopped on the bridge. A minute or two? That would feel too short. But maybe five to ten minutes? I can see that as being plausible.
Nathaniel Cater would be acknowledged as the last victim. His was the body that’s believed to have been thrown off the bridge causing the splash that police claimed they heard the night Wayne Williams stopped on the bridge. The body washed up two days later and the medical examiner estimated that was the amount of time the body had spent in the water. Williams’ defense team would argue that Cater had died and/or been in the water for more than two days.
There’s a supposed pattern between the murders but aside from all of the victims being Black and from roughly the same area, I don’t get the connection. The age range is rather wide, there are two female victims included, and just about every possible cause/manner of death is present.
Investigators developed a chart and checklist to track and visualize common factors between the deaths. It certainly looks like there are shared factors between some of the cases but more like clusters within the murders than the entire group being a series. What was the threshold or criteria for grouping the murders? Let’s say there were 10 traits or factors they were using, how many of those ten would need to be present for there to be a link? And which of the factors would be considered stronger or weaker links?
If simply matching any to a few of the chosen factors is considered enough, how can it be said that there are strong commonalities? As one of the interviewees pointed out, there are only but so many ways to murder a person. And then you have one group of people being found in bodies of water versus on land. Why is it assumed that the suspect was dumping bodies on land and then began dumping bodies in the water because of media coverage? The second to last body was found on land and some of the earlier bodies were found under a bridge or on a riverbank. Grouping everything together seems a little loosey-goosey.
Williams was believed to have killed almost 30 people but was only charged with the murders of two adult men. Why were the other 10 murders tacked on during trial? Why didn’t they charge and attempt to convict him for those 10 murders as well? If they would go on to close some of the other cases based on his conviction, why didn’t they add on those murders during the trial as well?
I’ve come to regard eyewitness testimony with a bit of skepticism. After listening to a lot of podcasts and documentaries about court cases, I know that people sometimes lie, misremember, and/or their words are taken out of context / misunderstood. Or cases of mistaken identity where the witness believes that they saw Person A but it was Person B. That’s not to say it should be completely dismissed but that it should be a data point backed up by evidence.
It seemed like much ado was made about Williams getting riled up in court while giving testimony. But I didn’t get that it was much of anything from what either side was describing. Maybe they didn’t do a good job of explaining just how angry and animated he became in court? Most people would be stressed in a situation where they’re facing years in prison. But if you’re too calm people will say you’re heartless and if you’re too emotional they’ll say you’re angry.
Most of the defense attorneys volunteered at least in part because it was a great opportunity to get media attention. How might the trial have gone if Williams had the funds to mount a more vigorous defense? Prosecutors had local police officers, FBI agents, state investigators, and crime labs available to collect and analyze potential evidence. And as happens in most cases, especially once the Feds get involved, that government money can be overwhelming to defend against. The defense was buried under an avalanche of evidence. They didn’t have the means to provide experts of their own who would have been able to poke holes in the evidence or data presented and identify junk science or junk math.
During the trial, I had some questions but for the most part, I was rocking with the prosecution. Unsurprisingly, Wayne Williams was convicted as I think he should have been but all of those murders shouldn’t have been pinned on him. Then within just days of his conviction, the task force was dismantled and the investigation into the other murders ceased.
To be clear, despite being originally charged with the murder of two of the adults and having another 10 murders added to his trial, he was only convicted for the original two adult murders. No one has ever been convicted for the murder of the other adults or any of the children. Yet, the only cases that remained open were those of the two female victims and one boy who went missing but his body was never found. It begs the question of what about the other 20 cases. Let’s put aside the 12 that were attributed to Williams during the trial. The police didn’t get concrete answers about the person(s) that were responsible for the other 18 or so murders.
Hearing about new information the defense presented and other potential suspects increased my discomfort with the closure of the cases. To start, the accusation that one of the witnesses allegedly testified under a false name was troubling. I’ve never been to court but from what I’ve seen of televised court cases, witnesses are asked to state their name for the record. Unless you’re in witness protection, wouldn’t giving a false name be considered lying? If you lie about something as basic as your name, how credible is your testimony? Not to mention just making stuff up for a vendetta or personal gain, wouldn’t that be perjury?
The defense alleged that there were multiple instances of evidence and reports changing to fit factors that would match the theory of Wayne Williams being the murderer. For example, the autopsy findings were allegedly edited for the body that was supposedly dumped into the river the night police stopped Williams. Forensic evidence related to fibers and dog hair had been presented as specifically tying the bodies of victims to environments related to Wayne Williams. But the defense explained on appeal that the significance of the data was being overstated.
Supposedly unique carpet fibers could not be accurately described as such because the quantity of carpet produced and thus the number of homes in which the carpet could be found was unknown. Likewise, the potential breeds of dogs that could have possibly shed the hair that was found on victims were believed to have changed when investigators learned the breed of the Williams family dog.
There is also the matter of there being other potential suspects but that by itself isn’t very surprising. With even a single murder, I would think many people, especially those close to the victim would be looked into.
A witness stated that he observed one of the boys, Clifford Jones, being sexually assaulted and then murdered in a laundromat. Other witnesses claimed to see either some portion of the attack or someone laying something down beside a dumpster which is where the boy’s body was later found. The man, Jamie Brooks, who witnesses identified as the attacker was the laundry’s manager and later went to prison for an unrelated sexual assault charge.
Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered presented different perspectives and left it up to the viewer to come to their conclusions. Because there are multiple sides and theories, I found myself nodding along with opposing viewpoints at different parts of the documentary. I felt it was more of a discussion of the murders rather than a definitive indictment of any one individual or theory. But because one person was convicted, I guess it could also be seen as taking sides to a degree.
Regardless of Atlanta trying to re-invent itself as being a progressive city focused on commerce rather than hate, it is still a city in the South with quite a troubled history. And while its racist views and principles of the past might no longer be at the forefront, they still exist in the hearts and minds of some residents.
A confidential informant provided testimony that at least one of a group of brothers, the Sanders, who were affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan had stated that he would kill a Black child. It’s believed that Lubie Jeter was then murdered in retaliation for accidentally running his go-kart into one of the men’s vehicles. By itself, the informant’s claim isn’t a solid indictment. The police investigated the informant’s claims, going so far as to bring one of the suspected men in for questioning but he was never charged.
All of that sounds in line with what should be done when you receive a tip about a potential suspect. But the police’s behavior after speaking with the potential suspect was suspicious. You’re investigating at least one man in connection with one in a series of high-profile murders. Yet, when the police were questioned during Williams’ appeal none of them recalled anything about the case or looking into these men? What are the odds?
There was a bit of discussion about a GBI officer, I believe his name was Jackson, who damaged the investigation which relied on the confidential informant. If you’re unfamiliar, the GBI is Georgia’s investigation group, sort of like a state version of the FBI. They help cities and towns investigate crimes that might be beyond their capabilities or where there is a potential conflict of interest.
The informant had been wearing a wire while hanging around the Sanders which resulted in hours of recordings. Nobody denies that those tapes existed. If there was nothing of value on the tapes, fine. But one would think you’d save the tapes just in case anyone came asking questions later. Even if just to show that you investigated the lead and it went nowhere. A GBI officer would be very familiar with participating in an investigation. Why would an experienced investigator take it upon himself to destroy the tapes?
For whatever reason Jackson decided to destroy the tapes. He stated that he didn’t necessarily listen to all of the recordings but doesn’t recall any mention of Lubie Jeter during these conversations. He was also unable to provide any reason as to why it would have made sense to destroy the tapes while the investigation or at least the trial was still ongoing. At that point, the majority of cases were not being prosecuted but were still open, thus he could have destroyed potential evidence. And let’s say this occurred by accident. Why then wasn’t this shared with the defense?
What if Wayne Williams had been found not guilty of the two adult murders and the prosecutors wanted to pursue charges for Lubie Jeter and/or some of the other murders? Couldn’t those tapes be important to show that all other suspects and avenues were explored and everything pointed back to Williams? By destroying that evidence, you then not only prevent the defense from presenting other possible suspects but you might also be hobbling the prosecution.
Earlier in Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered, when there was a discussion of how the evidence came together to convict Williams. It wasn’t just one thing. Instead, it was the dog hair, carpet fibers, eyewitness testimonies, etc. Those multiple little data points combined pointed to Williams being guilty.
But this also worked the other way for the defense. The statistics of the hair and fiber analysis being misrepresented, tapes being destroyed, witnesses being ignored, and multiple police officers having selective amnesia. Any one of those things on their own wouldn’t necessarily point to malice or ill intent. But those things combined start to make you question what’s going on.
I found myself asking all kinds of questions and think most others would as well. Did Wayne Williams do it? Did he not? Was he involved in all of the murders? Was he involved in some of the murders? Were there other people involved? Were there other situations and scandals taking place here that weren’t publicly connected (ex: the pedophilia ring)?
There were about 30 murders in total that were a part of what came to be known as the Atlanta Child Murders. As Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms explains, some of the murders that were included in the group probably should not have been. And there were probably murders that were not included that should not have been excluded. But by not thoroughly investigating every one of those murders to arrive at a most likely if not a definitive answer, these questions and theories will always remain. It’s a disservice to the victims, their families, and loved ones, and also the people of Atlanta who had to live through that terror.
You get the sense that the preservation of Atlanta’s image was a higher priority than getting justice for these children and young men. Most cities value tourism and commerce, having murders occur in your city can harm both. This results in places rushing to solve if not quiet down attention around crimes when they occur.
It’s not as simple as the police department and politicians wanted Black children to die. I don’t think that was the case. But I do think that given who these children were and where they were from, they weren’t perceived as being important. These children were from the voiceless areas of Atlanta’s society. They were growing up in communities that are largely underserved, underrepresented, and quite honestly ignored by many factions of society which includes law enforcement, government, etc. Things went from not giving the cases the attention they needed to blaming the victims for being victims to then trying to wrap everything up quickly.
So what’s my verdict? I don’t believe that Wayne Williams is completely innocent but I also don’t think he killed all of these people. The real answer is probably somewhere in the middle. If all of the murders were indeed linked and he was involved then he wasn’t working alone. I think it’s more likely that some of these were individual unrelated one-off murders but there might have also been clusters within the series. But it’s more convenient to blame one person versus having to investigate and prosecute 10+ suspects under pressure from all of this media and community attention.
In recent years it seems like there was a new interest in these murders, likely given the reopening of some of the cases. Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered was released last year but the conversation about the murders got overshadowed to a degree by COVID. I could be wrong, but I don’t recall hearing much if anything about developments in the investigation since the cases were reopened. Things might still be going on in the background but I haven’t heard any updates. I am curious to see what if any activity takes place in the coming years with regards to the investigations.
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