Wayne Williams was born and raised in a Northwestern Atlanta
suburb, the son of two teachers who doted on him. He was a fairly intelligent child, and performed well in school. He was fascinated with journalism and radio broadcasting, eventually establishing his own small independent radio station in his parents' backyard at the age of 16, as well as developing an interest in becoming a music producer and promoter. He also became friends with many of the employees of the local radio stations. He attended university for a year, but dropped out. As an adult he found work as a freelance photographer and promoter, and lived with his parents, often spending their money on his quest to find the next big musical group.
On July 21st, 1979, a young African American boy, aged 14, went missing while on his way home from a skating rink. On the 25th one of the boy's friends, also 14, similarly went missing while on his way to a movie theatre. Both boys' bodies were recovered in a wooded area on the 28th; one had been shot and the other was probably asphyxiated. The next child disappeared on September 4th. Unlike the first two, which had been ruled by the police as drug-related, his death was harder to explain. His body also took longer to recover; he was found in mid-November, by which point another boy had already been abducted. This fourth boy was the first to receive notable media coverage, due to his mother's public pleas for his return. His body was discovered in early November, strangled to death. His discovery incited a measure of public interest in the resolution of the case, though at the time the deaths were not considered connected. There followed a period of inaction on the part of the killer, who did not reemerge until March of the following year. In early March of 1980 the first female victim vanished; she was found six days after she disappeared. She had been asphyxiated like several of the other victims, but her body was displayed in a way unlike the others, tied to a tree with panties in her mouth. The next boy to disappear attracted little police attention, despite allegations from a possible witness about seeing the boy being forced into a blue car, possibly by a white man. There followed an increase in the rate at which the killer operated, as between May and July he killed six more children, including abducting another female victim from her home while her parents slept. The abduction of the female and the possible transportation of the final July victim across state lines, as alleged by a phone call received by a relative of the victim, got the FBI
involved in the case. A further murder occurred in August, with a further four taking place between September and November. January and March saw six more murders, a further escalation, but also a shift in the modus operandi: the victims were getting older. Several adult victims followed, abducted in March and April, all five were over 20 years of age. They were followed in May by another teenaged victim, and the final adult victim, a 29-year-old man.
Williams first became implicated in the case when he was spotted driving over a bridge and acting in a suspicious manner. Police officers nearby reported hearing a loud splash as he drove over the bridge, as though he had thrown something into the river. He was stopped and questioned, giving false information to the officers. He was given a polygraph test which ended up being inconclusive, which only heightened suspicions, as did the presence of a book on how to defeat polygraph tests in his house. Fibres found in his house were found to be consistent with many fibres found on various victims. Several people who knew Williams claimed that they saw him with scratch marks during the time of the murders that could have been consistent with a struggle, believed to be marks left behind by victims. Williams was arrested in late June for two murders, those of two of the adult victims. Williams maintained his innocence throughout these proceedings. Further polygraphs indicated deception, and Williams' stories about his activities were found to be false. His trial began in early January of 1982, during which many witnesses placed Williams with or near various victims. Williams took the stand in his own defence, but was belligerent on the stand, distancing himself from the jury. The trial ended in late February; Williams was found guilty of both murders and sentenced to two life terms, to be served consecutively. He was later declared to have been conclusively responsible for at least 23 of 29 Williams continues to maintain his innocence, and there has been some controversy about whether or not he was actually responsible for the Atlanta murders. Some argue he was responsible for some but not all, while others believe he committed none. Currently he is held to have been responsible for most if not all, but investigation is ongoing.
In Other Media
Wayne Williams has received a great deal of media attention, mostly documentary or biographical in nature. The 1985 television mini-series The Atlanta Child Murders
features a sensationalized version of Williams' story, with Williams portrayed by Calvin Levels. He appears in the conspiracy-centric television movie Who Killed Atlanta's Children?
wherein he is played by Cle Bennett. Williams himself appears in a CNN documentary, The Atlanta Child Murders