Wayne Williams

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Wayne Williams
Wayne Williams Mugshot, June 21, 1981
Wayne Bertram Williams

(1958-05-27) May 27, 1958 (age 60)
Criminal penalty Life imprisonment
Victims Convicted of 2 murders, suspected to have murdered at least 23
Country United States
State(s) Georgia
Date apprehended
June 21, 1981

Wayne Bertram Williams (born May 27, 1958) is a serial killer who was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1982 for killing two adult men in Atlanta, Georgia.[1] After his conviction, the Atlanta Police Department announced that Williams was responsible for at least 23 of the 29 Atlanta murders of 1979–1981, or the Atlanta Child Murders. However, he was never tried for the child murders, and continues to maintain his innocence of all the murders.


Wayne Williams was born on May 27, 1958 and raised in the Dixie Hills neighborhood of southwest Atlanta, Georgia by Homer and Faye Williams. Both parents were teachers, and of African-American heritage. Williams graduated from Douglass High School and developed a keen interest in radio and journalism. He constructed his own carrier current radio station and began hanging out at radio stations WIGO and WAOK, where he befriended a number of the announcing crew and began dabbling in becoming a pop music producer and manager.[2]

Trial and conviction

Williams first became a suspect in the Atlanta murders in May 1981, when a police surveillance team, watching a bridge spanning the Chattahoochee River (a site where several victims' bodies had been discovered), heard a "big loud splash", suggesting that something had been thrown from the bridge into the river below.[3] The first automobile to exit the bridge after the splash, at roughly 2 am, belonged to Williams. When stopped and questioned, he told police that he was on his way to check on an address in a neighboring town ahead of an audition the following morning with a young singer named Cheryl Johnson. However, both the phone number he gave police and Cheryl Johnson turned out to be fictitious.[4]

Two days later, on May 24, the nude body of 27-year-old Nathaniel Cater, who had been missing for three days, was discovered in the river. The medical examiner ruled he had died of "probable" asphyxia, but never specifically said he had been strangled. Police theorized that Williams had killed Cater, and that his body was the source of the "loud splash" they heard as his car crossed the bridge. Williams subsequently failed three polygraph tests, and hairs and fibers retrieved from the body of another victim, Jimmy Ray Payne, were found to be consistent with those from his home, car, and dog. Co-workers told police they had seen Williams with scratches on his face and arms around the time of the murders which, investigators surmised, could have been inflicted by victims during a struggle.[5] Williams held a press conference outside his home to proclaim his innocence, volunteering that he had failed the polygraph tests — a fact that would have been inadmissible in court.[6] He was arrested on June 21, 1981, for the murders of Cater and Payne.[7]

Williams' trial began on January 6, 1982 in Fulton County. During the two-month trial, prosecutors matched nineteen different sources of fibers from Williams' home and car—his bedspread, bathroom, gloves, clothes, carpets, dog and an unusual tri-lobal carpet fiber—to a number of victims. Other evidence included eyewitness testimony placing Williams with several victims while they were alive, and inconsistencies in his accounts of his whereabouts. Williams took the stand in his own defense, but alienated the jury by becoming angry and combative.[8] After twelve hours of deliberation, the jury found him guilty on February 27 of the murders of Cater and Payne. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.[9]

In the late 1990s, Williams filed a habeas corpus petition and requested a retrial. Butts County Superior Court judge Hal Craig denied his appeal. Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker said that "although this does not end the appeal process, I am pleased with the results in the habeas case," and that his office "will continue to do everything possible to uphold the conviction."[10] In early 2004, Williams sought a retrial once again, with his attorneys arguing that law enforcement officials covered up evidence of involvement by the Ku Klux Klan, and that carpet fibers linking him to the crimes would not stand up to scientific scrutiny.[11] A federal judge rejected the request for retrial on October 17, 2006.


Neither Williams nor anyone else was ever tried for the murder of the boy, later identified as Curtis Walker, aged 13, whose body was dumped into Atlanta's South river in 1981. This was the same case which led to the stakeouts of Atlanta bridges by the Atlanta Police and the FBI that resulted in Williams becoming a suspect in May 1981 and his apprehension in the following month.[12] Williams is serving his sentence at Hancock State Prison.[13]


Williams has maintained his innocence from the beginning, and claimed that Atlanta officials covered up evidence of KKK involvement in the killings to avoid a race war in the city. His lawyers have charged that the conviction was a "profound miscarriage of justice" that has kept an innocent man incarcerated for a majority of his adult life and allowed the real killers to go free.[14] In contrast, Joseph Drolet, who prosecuted Williams at trial, has stood by Williams' convictions, noting that after Williams was arrested, "the murders stopped and there has been nothing since."[15]

Other observers have criticized the thoroughness of the investigation, and the validity of its conclusions.[12][16] The author James Baldwin, in his essay The Evidence of Things Not Seen (1985), raised questions about Williams' guilt. Members of his community and several of the victims' parents did not believe that Williams, the son of two professional teachers, could have killed so many.[17] On May 6, 2005, DeKalb County Police Chief Louis Graham ordered the reopening of the murder cases of four boys killed in that county between February and May 1981 that had been attributed to Williams.[17][18] The announcement was welcomed by relatives of some victims, who said they believe the wrong man was blamed for many of the murders.[19]

Graham, an assistant police chief in neighboring Fulton County at the time of the murders, said his decision to reopen the cases was driven solely by his belief in Williams' innocence. Former DeKalb County Sheriff Sidney Dorsey, who was an Atlanta homicide detective at the time, also said he believed Williams was wrongly blamed for the murders. "If they arrested a white guy," he said, "there would have been riots across the U.S."[20][21][22][23] Fulton County authorities have not reopened any of the cases under their jurisdiction, however.[17]

According to an August 2005 report, Charles T. Sanders, a white supremacist affiliated with the KKK—and an early suspect in the murders—once praised the crimes in secretly recorded conversations. Although Sanders did not claim responsibility for any of the deaths, he told an informant for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in the 1981 recording that the killer had "wiped out a thousand future generations of niggers."[24] Police dropped the probe into possible Klan involvement when Sanders and two of his brothers passed lie detector tests. The case was once again closed on July 21, 2006. [25] [26]

Former FBI profiler John E. Douglas wrote in his book Mindhunter that, in his opinion, "forensic and behavioral evidence points conclusively to Wayne Williams as the killer of eleven young men in Atlanta." He added, however, that he believed there was "no strong evidence linking him to all or even most of the deaths and disappearances of children in that city between 1979 and 1981."[27]

DNA testing was performed in 2010 on scalp hairs found on the body of 11-year-old victim Patrick Baltazar. While the results were not firmly conclusive, the FBI's DNA laboratory listed odds of 130-to-1 against the hairs coming from any person other than Williams. The Baltazar case was included among ten additional victims presented to the jury at Williams' trial, although he was never charged in any of those cases. Dog hairs also found on Baltazar's body were tested in 2007 by the genetics laboratory at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, which found a 99 percent probability that the DNA sequence came from the Williams family's German shepherd. However, the director of the laboratory, Elizabeth Wictum, pointed out that while the results were "fairly significant", they were not conclusive. Only mitochondrial DNA was tested which, unlike nuclear DNA, cannot be shown to be unique to one dog. This means that while the report said the hairs on the bodies contained the same DNA sequence as Williams' dog, the same DNA sequence occurs in about 1 in 100 dogs.[28] The FBI report stated only that "Wayne Williams cannot be excluded" as a suspect in the case.[29]

A Department of Justice study, released in April 2015, concluded that numerous hair analyses conducted by FBI examiners during the 1980s and '90s "may have failed to meet professional standards". Defense attorney Lynn Whatley immediately announced that the report would form the basis for a new appeal; but prosecutors responded that hair evidence played only a minor role in Williams' conviction.[30]


  1. ^ Saferstein, Richard. Criminalistics: An Introduction to Forensic Science. 8. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall - 2004. 75. Print.
  2. ^ Police Chief says Wayne Williams Blamed for Too Many Cases by Stan Washington and Hal Lamar for Atlanta Voice
  3. ^ Police Officer possibly asleep on bridge: expert Gadsden Times - February 21, 1982
  4. ^ CNN SPECIAL: Atlanta Child Murders July 4, 2011
  5. ^ "CNN: Victims linked to Atlanta serial killings". June 1, 2010. Retrieved November 4, 2013.
  6. ^ Polk, Jim; Zdanowicz, Christina (September 6, 2010). "CNN viewers: Williams 'guilty' in Atlanta child murders". CNN. Atlanta, Georgia. Retrieved September 8, 2014.
  7. ^ "Lawyer Sees Hope for Retrial in Atlanta Murders". The New York Times. New York City: New York Times Company. August 30, 1987. Retrieved December 10, 2015.
  8. ^ Rawls, Wendell Jr. (February 25, 1982). "Final Testimony Hurts Defense In Atlanta Trial". The New York Times. New York City: New York Times Company. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  9. ^ Rowson, Kevin (April 30, 2015). "Atlanta Child Murders: Wayne Williams hopes for appeal". USA Today. McLean, Virginia: Gannett Company. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  10. ^ Robinson, Daryl A. (July 10, 1998). "Attorney General Baker Announces Wayne Williams' Convictions Upheld" (Press release). Atlanta, Georgia: Department of Law, State of Georgia. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  11. ^ "Convicted killer blamed for Atlanta child murders seeks new trial". WDUN. Atlanta, Georgia. The Associated Press. February 24, 2004. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  12. ^ a b Breed, Allen G. (May 15, 2005). "Atlanta Revisits 1981 Child Murders". Associated Press. Retrieved May 29, 2018 – via truthinjustice.org.
  13. ^ Boone, Christian (August 10, 2012). "Wayne Williams' old car finds a new home". Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Atlanta, Georgia: Cox Enterprises. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  14. ^ Radzicki McManus, Melanie (January 26, 2018). "Was the Wrong Person Convicted in the Atlanta Child Murders?". HowStuffWorks. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  15. ^ "Police Reopen Atlanta Child Killing Cases". Fox News. New York City: News Corp. Associated Press. May 7, 2005. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  16. ^ Kays, John (June 9, 2010). "Just a Few of The Anomalies of The Atlanta Child Murders!". NewsBlaze. Adelaide, South Australia: NewsBlaze Pty. Ltd. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  17. ^ a b c "Missing in Atlanta". The Investigators. Season 5. Episode 141. May 20, 2004. TruTV.
  18. ^ Police reopen some Atlanta child killing cases in The Augusta Chronicle May 7, 2005
  19. ^ Atlanta murder cases are reopened after 20 years in The Augusta Chronicle on October 5, 2005
  20. ^ Police chief reopens 5th child slaying case in The Augusta Chronicle on May 11, 2005
  21. ^ "Cold-case squad to probe decades-old Atlanta murders". CNN Justice. May 7, 2005. Archived from the original on July 8, 2012.
  22. ^ Former DeKalb sheriff prefers talk of Williams' innocence in The Augusta Chronicle on May 30, 2005
  23. ^ Child killer called innocent in The Augusta Chronicle on June 4, 1998
  24. ^ Weber, Harry R. (August 7, 2005). "Klan Was Probed in Child Killings In Atlanta". Washington Post. Washington DC: Nash Holdings LLC. Retrieved May 29, 2018.
  25. ^ "Was Wayne Williams framed?/Recruiter for KKK said to admit role in Atlanta murders". Houston Chronicle. Section A, Page 4, 2 STAR Edition. October 9, 1991. Archived from the original on June 15, 2012.
  26. ^ New Questions in Atlanta Murders - Did prosecutors withhold evidence of Klan involvement in children's death? p. 36 in ABA Journal, The Lawyers Magazine in May 1992
  27. ^ Douglas, J. and Olshaker, M. Mindhunter: Inside the FBI Elite Serial Crime Unit. William Heinemann (1986), p. 147-9. ISBN 0434002623.
  28. ^ Harry R. Weber (June 26, 2007). "DA: DNA Tests Link Williams to Killings". Associated Press. Retrieved November 26, 2017.
  29. ^ Jim Polk, CNN (September 6, 2010). "DNA test strengthens Atlanta child killings case". CNN.com. Retrieved February 10, 2014.
  30. ^ "Atlanta Child Murders: Wayne Williams hopes new information leads to appeal". Retrieved June 10, 2015.

Cited works and further reading

  • Whittington-Egan, Richard; Whittington-Egan, Molly (1992). The Murder Almanac. Glasgow: Neil Wilson Publishing. p. 160. ISBN 1-897784-04-X.
  • Wynn, Douglas (1996). On Trial for Murder. U.K.: Pan Books. pp. 128–131. ISBN 0-330-33947-8.

External links

  • Crime Library case details
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