Atlanta Child Murder detectives reveal how fibers helped catch killer

Detectives who investigated Atlanta Child Murders that inspired second season of Netflix’s Mindhunter reveal how fibers helped convict Wayne Williams – and why some still believe he is INNOCENT

  • Investigators involved in the Atlanta Child Murders have spoken to nearly four decades after the infamous case was closed
  • At least 24 black children and young adults, including Eric Middlebrooks, whose shoes contained fiber linked to killer, were murdered from 1979 to 1981
  • The case is a major storyline in the second season of Netflix’s Mindhunter, in which the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit agents explore the killings 
  • The victims were shot, strangled and asphyxiated, stabbed and bludgeoned, before being dumped in woods or rivers 
  • Former Detective Robert Buffington was the one to discover the fibers from a victim’s shoe that helped link the killer to the murders 
  • Wayne Bertram Williams, now 61, was given two life sentences in 1982 for only two of the deaths – but his convictions led police to close the 22 remaining cases
  • Former city councilman Derrick Boazman, 52, told he does not believe Williams would have been found guilty in a court of law in 2019
  • Prosecutor Joseph Drolet said most people who don’t believe Williams committed the murders ‘are totally unaware of the evidence’
  • In their own words, some of those who experienced the infamous case first-hand have spoken  to

It has been four decades since the Atlanta Child Murders – a dark period in the city’s history when for three years, 24 children, mostly young boys, along with six young men, vanished from African-American neighborhoods.

The victims were shot, strangled, asphyxiated, stabbed and bludgeoned; their bodies dumped in woods and rivers. One child, Eric Middlebrooks, was discarded at a dumpster behind a local bar.

The Atlanta Child Murders is now a major storyline in the second series of Mindhunter, directed by David Fincher, released on Netflix last Friday. 

The drama, which follows the FBI’s nascent Behavioral Science Unit, sees agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench interview serial killers including Charles Manson and ‘Son of Sam’ David Berkowitz, and consult on major crimes including the Atlanta Child Murders and the ‘BTK’ serial killer who terrorized Wichita, Kansas for two decades. 

Some of the Atlanta victims were missing clothes, others were discovered so badly decomposed they had to be identified by dental records. Darron Glass, who vanished aged 10 in 1980, has never been found.  

The Atlanta Child Murders is now a major storyline in the second series of Mindhunter, directed by David Fincher, and was released on Netflix last Friday and follows FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit as they investigate the cases. Actor Christopher Livingston (left) plays killer Wayne Williams (right)

Jonathan Groff (center) plays special agent Holden Ford. Investigators in the series  interview other serial killers including Charles Manson and ‘Son of Sam’ David Berkowitz,  and the ‘BTK’ serial killer who terrorized Wichita, Kansas for two decades

City leaders tamped down the outcries of grieving mothers who fought to bring attention to their children’s murders as well as the homicide detectives who feared a serial killer was at work in their midst.

There were rumors that the killers could be white cops. The Ku Klux Klan was strongly suspected.

‘It was absolutely terrifying,’ Derrick Boazman, a former Atlanta city councilman whose classmate, Charles Stephens, was murdered, told 

Under mounting pressure, a task force was established with 100 officers working around the clock. 

The FBI’s serial killer expert John E. Douglas, who had profiled Berkowitz, Manson and Ted Bundy, was drafted to help solve the case. Still, the body count rose, at times to as much as one victim a month.

At 3am on the final night of a Hail Mary stake-out in May 1981, an Atlanta police officer heard a splash in the Chattahoochee River and a car was seen on the bridge above.

Behind the wheel of the Chevrolet station wagon was Wayne Bertram Williams: a chubby 23-year-old wannabe music producer and part-time news photographer who lived with his elderly parents and loved to turn up at crime scenes.

Chris Richardson, (left), was among the 24 children who were killed in a string of murders in Atlanta from 1979 to 1981. He was strangled to death in June 1980 and Patrick Rogers, (right), was bludgeoned to death months later in November 1980 

Angel Lenair, (left), died from asphyxiation in March 1980 and Jefferey Mathis, (right), died in March 1980.  His death was undetermined 

Wayne Bertram William, a chubby 23-year-old wannabe music producer and part-time news photographer who lived with his elderly parents, was known to turn up at crime scenes. He was convicted of two murders in 1982 

Victims: Eric Middlebrooks (left) was 14 when he was found dead in a dead end street. Detectives  found a fiber on his shoe that would later lead them to Williams. Charles Stephens (center) was suffocated in 1980. Jimmy Ray Payne (right) was found a mile downriver from the Jackson Parkway Bridge, near where other victims were found

Williams was known to police and frequented the neighborhoods where the children went missing but he was never a suspect. Gloves and a ski rope were seen in his car.

Two days later, the body of Nathaniel Cater, 27, washed up downstream in the Chattahoochee – not far from where the body of Jimmy Ray Payne, 21, had been found weeks earlier. Both men were asphyxiated. 

The infamous murders have inspired the second season of Netflix’s Mindhunter which was released last Friday 

Williams was charged with the murders of Cater and Payne and convicted in 1982. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms without parole.

After he was convicted, authorities closed 22 cases, believing that Williams was responsible. 

He was never charged with the murders and some victims’ families have questioned if he was truly the culprit or if killer is still out there.

The Atlanta Child Murders remain a painful scar for the city, inflamed by accusations of police brutality, racial prejudice and media bias.

Williams, 61, is behind bars at Telfair State Prison in Georgia and maintains his innocence, claiming that officials covered up evidence of Klan involvement to avoid a race war.

Earlier this year, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, ordered the retesting of evidence in the Atlanta Child Murders case but has reminded the public that evidence already links Williams to many of the killings.

The operation, the first of the new Conviction Integrity Unit, will use the most up-to-date technology to test evidence such as cloth and carpet fibers for DNA.

A memorial is also planned to honor Atlanta’s lost children. 

In June, Mayor Bottoms created an advisory committee, the Atlanta Children’s Memorial Taskforce, in order to find a way to acknowledge the lost lives.

In March this year, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, (pictured), and Police Chief Erika Shields, announced that evidence will be reviewed  in the so-called ‘Atlanta Child Murders’ to see if any could be used for further testing

‘It is important for Atlanta to acknowledge the innocent lives lost during one of our city’s darkest hours. This task force will determine a lasting and appropriate tribute for the victims and their families and serve as a testament that those lives mattered. That African-American lives matter,’ she said.

In their own words, edited for clarity and length, some of those who experienced the infamous case first-hand speak to


Robert Buffington, 71, a Vietnam War vet and Purple Heart recipient, joined the Atlanta Police as a helicopter pilot but moved to narcotics and later homicide. 

He was shot on duty in 1977 and retired a few years after the child murders case was closed. He went on to become director of the state Police Academy in Georgia.

Former Atlanta Police Department Detective Robert Buffington was the one to discover the fiber evidence – which was dismissed by his superiors at first 

Retired Atlanta Police Homicide Commander Lieutenant Danny Agan, 65, was a rookie homicide detective in July 1979, when the remains of Edward Hope Smith and Alfred Evans, both 14, were found in woodland of southwest Atlanta. 

Later, Agan partnered with Buffington and the pair investigated one of the early Atlanta child murder cases, Eric Middlebrooks, 14, in 1980.

Agan: In the 70s, Atlanta was the murder capital of the U.S. We were on the cusp of that in 1979-81 with 240 murders a year, extreme for a city with 450,000 people.

In 1979, I was reassigned from narcotics to homicide. I’d been in the unit for three months when call came in that a body was found in the woods. It was a hot, humid Atlanta summer day. It was a young black male in an advanced state of decomposition. Animals had got to the body, parts were strewn around.

We searched and found another body, a young black male, about a hundred yards away, not as decomposed and with some clothing on.

Initially, no one suspected that these two bodies could be from the same murderer. It was a very isolated spot, an ideal place to dump a body.

This was the start of what became known as the Atlanta child murder investigations.

Buffington (pictured in the 80s) teamed up with rookie detective at the time, Danny Agan, to investigate one of the early Atlanta child murder cases, Eric Middlebrooks, 14, in 1980

Buffington: In 1976, Lou Arcangeli, Danny Agan and his partner, Charles Horton, were in narcotics and we stuck together. After I was shot on duty, those guys saved me. I asked for a transfer to homicide which I’d always wanted. Danny and I partnered up on morning watch – midnight until 8am.

About 5am, one morning in 1980, we got a call to the dead end of Flat Shoals Road [in south-east Atlanta]. A child’s body had been found.

At the scene, the boy was lying on his side with both shoes turned up, off the ground. His pockets were turned out like it was a robbery with pennies, nickels and dimes scattered all the way to the street.

On the bottom edge of his tennis shoe, I noticed a fiber caught in the rubber flap. I thought it was a fiber that could have stuck as he was pulled across a carpet. We seized it along with a few fibers from his hair.

Retired Atlanta Police Homicide Commander Lieutenant Danny Agan, 65, along with Buffington, worked for 36 hours straight to identify the schoolboy 

At 10am, I was at my desk putting the fibers in pharmaceutical wraps and writing my report. The lieutenant came in – he was not what you’d describe as a thinker. He asked what I was doing and I explained that the fibers may have come from the killer.

The lieutenant said: ‘You’re good Buffington. Why don’t you come to my house, we’ll clean out the dryer lint and you can clear every case in Atlanta.’

The guys on the day watch laughed but I gathered up my stuff and went to the State Crime lab with Danny to talk to [microanalyst] Larry Peterson. 

My idea was that the similarities between tracing a hair and a fiber were so close that you should be able to do it. Larry thought he could do it too.

Larry began researching fiber colors and materials, putting together a book on how many items with specific formulas were sold in the Atlanta area.

Agan: Bob’s discovery of the fiber evidence was a huge event but we didn’t realize it at the time.

Buffington: Danny and I worked for 36 hours straight to identify the kid. He looked like a middle schooler, so we went to the school nearest to where he was found.

We asked to see the absentee roster, explaining to the principal that it was likely that one of his students had been murdered. The principal was pretty arrogant, telling us to get a school detective.

Detective Agan (pictured right in his youth) said back then, people did not believe ‘that a black male could be a serial killer’

People were also reluctant to cooperate with police because they didn’t want to be viewed as a snitch and deal with their neighbors’ animosity, Agan (pictured) said 

I told him obstruction of a homicide investigation was a serious matter for which you could go to jail but he still wouldn’t give us the roster. I said to hell with this, cuffed him and put him in the back of the car.

When I came back, the secretary gave us the absentee list. Eric Middlebrooks was the only child who had missed school that day and the day before. People in the community said Eric would ride his bike to the store to bring neighbors a pack of cigarettes or a beer. That’s the way the kid made money.

At the time, we had a log called the ‘death book’ and we’d write in homicides and suicides. I went back a few years to compare to the last 12 months. There was a significant increase in the number of murders of young children. At that point, Danny and I believed we had a pedophile and a serial murderer.

I wrote a detailed letter about what I had discovered and included every victim, which was about half a dozen kids at this point. I sent the letter to my major and asked him to share with the chief.

The next day, I came to work at midnight. Usually, no ranking officers were there at that time but the major was waiting when I got off the elevator. I was pleased, believing he wanted to talk about my letter.

He said: ‘Buffington, do you like working homicide? What about auto theft? I think you’d be good there.’

I said, Major I don’t want anything having to do with stolen cars. I’m happy in homicide.

He said: ‘Good – if I see another letter like this, you’re going to auto theft.’

I was dumbfounded because I thought we were supposed to gain information and draw conclusions on where to go with the investigation.

The major made it abundantly clear that I was not supposed to tell anybody or do anything else. They didn’t want a serial murderer.

But, they had one. It was chaos in the community, little kids were dropping every month.

Agan: The victims were mostly black teenage boys who were all known to do odd jobs to earn money. They were trusting and would be easily exploited by a predator. It was a terrifying time for children but it made them take precautions.

People often wonder why the killer went from murdering children to young men – it was perhaps because kids were not as readily available after all the hysteria about the case.

Williams (pictured in 1982) targeted black teenage boys who were known to do ‘odd jobs’ for money

A black serial killer was rare back then, and people originally suspected the Ku Klux Klan was responsible 

The first FBI profile said that the killer would be white but local investigators knew that if someone had not fit into the neighborhoods where the murders were happening, people would have taken notice.

Back then people did not believe that a black male could be a serial killer – serial killers were white like Ted Bundy. This was an anomaly.

Buffington: The media didn’t help. There were rumors of white policemen being the murderers because they wouldn’t be noticed in a black neighborhood. We were under suspicion.

The Klan was under suspicion but I believe if the Klan had been killing black kids in Atlanta, they would have called a newspaper to get credit for it, just like bombers call in.

Every time we made headway in the investigation, a politician would get on TV and share the information. One politician told the public that we were finding fiber evidence, so the killer started shaving the victims’ heads, taking off their clothes and dumping them in the river.

Agan: The dumpsites changed over time – bodies were being found in Dekalb, Rockdale and Fulton counties, outside Atlanta city limits.

Back then, in the ‘Stone Age’ of police work, we didn’t have computers so there were few ways of tracking crimes across jurisdictional lines. There was little communication between police departments.

Sometimes, people were reluctant to cooperate with police. They didn’t want to be viewed as a snitch and deal with their neighbors’ animosity. 

In the South, black folks have a distrust of the police because they’ve been abused and mistreated.

One recent story highlights what were up against in the investigation. A man [Derwin Davis] came forward to a newspaper after 40 years to say he knew that Williams was guilty because he had tried to abduct him all those years ago.

As a teenager, he had taken a ride in a stranger’s car and the man began saying inappropriate things. The boy got scared, punched him in the head and jumped out the car. He didn’t make a report to the police at the time.

The victims were shot, strangled and asphyxiated, stabbed and bludgeoned, before being dumped in woods or rivers. Pictured above is Niskey Lake Road, where several bodies were discovered 

A police officer holds his had to his head as he directs other officers toward the floating body of a nude black male by the river bank. The body was discovered in the Chattahoochee river

Serial killers don’t kill everybody they come in contact with, that’s not the way it works but [Davis] is exactly the kind of so-called ‘surviving victim’ you would need to crack a case.

There’s still six unsolved cases that are not connected to Williams through physical evidence or witness testimony. There have been advances in forensic technology and I hope re-examining the evidence now might shed light on those cases.

But regardless of how much solid evidence you present, some people believe that Williams didn’t do it. They have their reasons. I can’t judge them for it.

I hope [the new evidence testing] brings the families some closure but their child is still dead. They’ve suffered through grief and anguish for decades.

For me, the facts speak for themselves – Wayne Williams did the majority of these murders. The only two murders I’m convinced he didn’t do were the female victims, Angel Lanair and Latonya Wilson.

Williams is a homosexual predator, little girls had no attraction for him. They are completely out of the pattern.

He would have kept going if he hadn’t been caught. I don’t know that he can control what is inside of him that makes him do this. He’s not a prisoner that can be rehabilitated. He’s a danger.

Just like Jack the Ripper, we’re going to be looking at the Atlanta Child Murder case a hundred years from now and still talking about it.

Buffington: I understand why they’re re-examining the evidence but I don’t think it’s going to be successful. When that evidence was seized, we had no idea about DNA. Fingers were used to pick up fibers.

If all of the evidence was properly stored for temperature changes and condensation, and bacteria didn’t get to it, they might get DNA. I hope they will but it has been 40 years.

Wayne is a pedophile and a necrophile, he liked playing with the bodies and the killing part.

Williams had all his appeals and the verdict has been upheld by the Supreme Court. He’s where he’s going to stay.


Derrick Boazman, 52, served two terms on Atlanta’s City Council and is now a radio show host and community leader. 

In May, he moderated a panel discussion, titled, ‘Did Wayne Williams Kill Anyone?’ 

The panel included Catherine Leach, mother of victim Curtis Walker and Anthony Terrell, brother of victim Earl Terrell. 

Williams spoke via telephone from prison to the audience. 

Boazman grew up on Atlanta’s Southside where Williams stalked his victims and was a schoolmate of victim Charles Stephens, who was suffocated in 1980.

‘I was 13 when the murders began. Young boys and girls were getting snatched out of this very community and from my school.

Derrick Boazman, 52, who served two terms on Atlanta’s City Council, was a schoolmate of victim Charles Stephens, who was suffocated in 1980

I’m the youngest of six. My school was less than a mile from home but my mother and father would not allow us to walk. 

Our older brother had a car and he had to pick us up. Sometimes, if I was being rebellious, I wouldn’t wait on him. 

I would get near my home and where there was some abandoned apartments, I would run.

When Charles Stephens came up missing, it brought home the fact that this really could happen to us. It was terrifying when you heard a child’s body had been found. Your momma looks at you differently.

Elected officials called on the community to be vigilant and watch out for our children. You would see doors swinging open when school buses came by, other parents providing watchful oversight.

As a former city council member, Arthur Langford [former Georgia state senator and Baptist minister] was my mentor. 

As an adult, I learned more about the cases from him because he had organized searches for the missing and murdered children. [Arthur’s brother Michael Langford now sits on the Atlanta Children’s Memorial Taskforce].

Recently, Mayor Bottoms stepped forth to say she wants to reopen these case and it created a firestorm of conversation. Last month, we had a forum to facilitate the conversation. It was helpful and therapeutic.

Wayne Williams’ people wanted to get him on the phone for the event. I was prepared to tell him he could not speak because in that room there were people who absolutely believe he did it, like Patrick Rogers’ brother, Isaac Rogers. 

He says that not only did Wayne kill his brother, he at one point tried to grab him when he was seven years old.

But the majority of people wanted to hear from him. Williams told us his biggest mistake was getting on the stand and running his mouth. 

The prosecution destroyed his credibility, they angered him and pushed his buttons, he said. It was a turning point in the trial.

Williams is very intelligent, he built a radio station at his home. He wanted to be in the inner circles, make his way around politics. 

He had a fascination with law enforcement, he went way too far and he was a willing patsy.

I think you had a 23-year-old who believed he could outsmart the police but what he did not realize is that this whole country wanted the case stopped. 

At the time, the vice-president, George HW Bush, flew into town and wanted it solved. A couple of weeks later, it’s solved. These things do not make for a coincidence.

Williams ended up being held responsible for the most grisly periods in our city’s history and certainly in a progressive black city like Atlanta.

If you ask me based on what I’ve seen and heard of the evidence, I don’t think a jury would find him guilty today.

I don’t know anybody who’s actually seen the files. Nobody has gone through the cases, one at a time, and said what is the manner and cause of death. 

The body of Jimmy Ray Payne, 21, is taken to Fulton County Medical Examiners office in Atlanta in 1981 after it was discovered in the Chattahoochee River. He was the 26th person to die 

Wayne Williams (second from left) and his father (left) talk to policemen on the lawn of their home. A witness who reported seeing 23-year-old Wayne Williams with one of Atlanta’s 28 young black murder victims two days before he disappeared

We heard everything from genital mutilation to genital extraction. There were so many different theories, like that the Klan was involved.

All that was said was we believe Williams did this to two adults and we’re going to close the cases on another 20 young people, with no explanation.

This was a case in which we were basically dealing with fiber evidence that can be picked up in casual exchanges. And we’re being told that various victims had these same fibers on them.

But there’s no serological evidence, there’s no blood. The manner of death – there’s no knife, no weapon. In 2019, I don’t think that would be sufficient.

One thing you find in the whole criminal justice system is that eye-witness accounts are the most unreliable. The mind can make you see what you don’t see.

That is not to say Williams didn’t know the victims. He was fascinated by the music industry that has been an Atlanta staple for decades. Everybody is the next RnB singer, talent scout, rapper.

I think there are those who would say that a white guy could not just roll up in the neighborhood but as a 13-year-old, what we were hearing was that [the killer] was wearing police uniform. 

The only way you get into certain black communities is to be an authority figure. And who could do that? Atlanta Police.

According to them, they stopped Williams on Jackson Parkway Bridge. They questioned him that same night. 

One of the investigators looked in the car and saw a rope. The detective is going through the car because Wayne consented to it and they allow him to drive off. 

Who does that? The Keystone cops don’t even do that. None of it makes sense to us.

The evidence of the rope never shows up. Williams may be the killer but the prosecution did not prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt.

The one thing that Atlanta does very well is its police apparatus. The FBI and investigatory agencies involved worked to keep evidence from the people.

Williams’ story is very compelling and I can tell you he’s gotten better at telling his story but he maintains his innocence.

However, I am convinced that Wayne is going to die in jail because he shot his best shot legally. He seems to be at peace with that. He’s hopeful, but what else does he have?

I pray that an appropriate memorial comes out of this. I think that’s really what these families want, for it be acknowledged that their children did nothing wrong and they were victims.

Their children were pawns in a much bigger game. They just want their lives to be recognized and their loss to be recognized.

The real tragedy of it all is that we knew children were going missing every week and we could do absolutely nothing to stop it.


Joseph Drolet, 75, was head of the appellate division at Fulton County District Attorney’s office and part of the legal team which successfully saw Wayne Williams convicted after his trial in 1982.


1. The Cheryl Johnson story

(On May 22, 1981, Williams was stopped by police at 3am on Jackson Parkway bridge over the Chattahoochee River.)

A police recruit was below the bridge and heard a splash. Another officer saw a car turn around in a parking lot at the end of the bridge. The car was stopped by police. Wayne Williams can never get around that fact that he was there on that bridge.

When he was stopped, Williams said: ‘I bet this is about those boys, isn’t it?’

That was a little tell-tale remark because the killer knew that he didn’t kill the girls who are on the list of missing and murdered children. He’s killed only males.

In Williams’ car, there was a pair of thick, heavy gloves on the seat next to him. It was late May and 90F. 

In the back, there was a 24-inch length of a braided ski rope, the kind of thing you could use as a ligature.

Williams then told the first version of the so-called ‘Cheryl Johnson story’. 

Detective Agan said while he believes the facts ‘speak for themselves’ he does not believe Williams is responsible for the murders of two girls. ‘He’s a homosexual predator, little girls had no attraction for him. They are completely out of the pattern,’ he said 

Investigators said Williams fit the FBI profile very well. He’d been treated as a gifted child and then dropped out of school.  He was an only child whose parents doted on him. Pictured above is the house where he lived with is parents 

He claimed that he was out driving at 3am, trying to find the home of someone called Cheryl Johnson.

Later, Williams gave a slightly different story to an FBI agent, explaining that he was planning to meet two sisters – Cheryl and Barbara – the next morning.

Then Williams claimed he saw a truck on the bridge. No one else saw any vehicles. The FBI let him go. They didn’t have a murder at that point.

At the District Attorney’s office the next morning, we were told about Williams and began assessing the case.

The morning after he was stopped on the bridge, two FBI agents went to Williams’ house and he gave another story – that his mother took a phone call from Cheryl Johnson. Williams gave the agents a phone number. It didn’t exist.

Williams was brought into FBI headquarters to take a hair sample to compare to hair found on bodies. He took and flunked a polygraph exam. He offered to take it again if he could pick the victim. He chose Latonya Wilson, one of the girls.

Joseph Drolet, 75, was head of the appellate division at Fulton County District Attorney’s office. He said most people who don’t believe Williams committed the murders ‘are totally unaware of the evidence’

He was released and went home and held a press conference. Incredibly, he handed out resumes which are filled with fabrications about how he flew fighter jets and was a race-car driver.

He volunteered the information that he was the main suspect in the case. He then said that he never talked to Cheryl Johnson, one of his employees did. He commented how kids shouldn’t be out, running about the streets.

The case just kept getting stronger and stronger.

Two days later, the body of Nathaniel Cater was found a mile downriver from the Jackson Parkway Bridge, almost in the same spot where Jimmy Ray Payne had been found weeks earlier.

[Cater] was naked and had been strangled, very similar to prior cases in the last six months, in particular the Payne case. Both had died of asphyxiation.

In total, Williams gave seven different versions of the ‘Cheryl Johnson’ story and none made sense. No one ever did find a Cheryl Johnson.

On June 21, 1981, the DA decided Williams was to be arrested and his home was searched with a warrant.

2. The ‘fingerprint’ fiber evidence

At that time, we had all these fibers [found on the victims’ bodies] and Larry Peters at the crime lab knew if he could find the source of those fibers, then we’d probably have the killer.

The combination of fibers had come from an environment so unique, it was almost like a fingerprint. When they searched the Williams’ house, all those fibers were there.

One carpet fiber [found on victims] was incredibly unique. It came from the Wellman Company, in South Carolina, who had decided to try to beat the patent held by another carpet company for a unique trilobal carpet fiber which was very durable and didn’t show up dirt.

They created something different – a fiber that had one short leg and two long legs – but it was difficult to make and they quickly abandoned the effort after producing a very small quantity.

Wayne Williams (pictured) was given two life sentences for convictions in the deaths of two adults and evidence tied him to other murders

Wellman sold this carpet to West Point Pepperell Company in Georgia. West Point dyed the carpet 16 different colors – one-sixteenth of the small production line was dyed in ‘English Olive’.

English Olive was the color of the Williams’ carpet throughout the family home. Some 17 victims were found with a Wellman fiber on them.

The crime lab had also found a very unusual violet acetate fiber, interwoven with green cotton, on 21 victims. Williams’ bedspread was made of violet acetate and the green cotton woven together.

That was two fibers that were incredibly rare, both found on victims.

A yellow blanket, found under Williams’ bed, matched fibers on five or six victims. Additionally, there was dog hair found on around 20 victims. These hairs matched Williams’ German shepherd, Sheba.

There were also fibers from the carpets in Willams’ cars.

Williams first drove a [decommissioned] Plymouth detective’s car and he had equipped it with radio scanners, blue lights, and a siren. 

Fibers from the Plymouth were found on Alfred Evans, one of the first victims. When Williams got rid of that car, those fibers never showed up on victims again.

The Williams’ family then got a Red Ford LTD and fibers from that car started showing up on victims. When the car was sold, those fibers never showed up on victims again.

In October 1980, Williams got a Chevy station wagon from his uncle. Then those fibers were on victims. Never were fibers from cars found on victims when Williams didn’t have those cars.

It was extremely powerful evidence. Over the years people have said, “oh it’s just some fibers”. If you say that, then you don’t know what fiber evidence is.

3. The profile

We studied Williams’ background. He fit the FBI profile very well.

He was a person who appeared to have great promise and just fizzled completely. He’d been treated as a gifted child and then dropped out of school. He wasn’t holding a job, life was not going well.

He was an only child whose parents doted on him. He was a police buff who followed the crimes and he was articulate. All these traits were presented in the FBI profile.

For two years in the early 80s, you had 11 different police agencies, 102 officers working full-time, turning over every rock and suspecting everybody.

Everyone was trying to figure out, how somebody could commit these crimes and go unnoticed? There was no evidence of struggle in any of the murders – so why would a kid go with someone?

Drolet said – the jury was able to find Williams guilty due to his fabricated explanations, the blood evidence, the incredible fiber evidence, the scratches, victims being seen with him

It had to be someone that these kids felt comfortable with – like a presumed police officer in a detective’s 1978 Plymouth car who was wearing a police jacket, as we know Williams did. 

A lot of police officers thought Williams was a police officer when he showed up at crime scenes.

Or the news camera guy at a crime scene, like Williams. Or a music producer who was starting the next ‘Jackson 5’, like Williams.

Wayne could con just about anybody.

4. The eye-witnesses

More than a dozen eye-witnesses had seen Williams with victims. Three witnesses had seen him with Joseph Bell.

There was a witness called Sharon Blakley – Wayne Williams admitted to her that he had ‘dumped garbage in the river’. 

After the trial, Blakley indicated to me that Williams said the garbage was Nathaniel Cater.

Four or five eye-witnesses saw Williams with severe scratches down his arm, from the elbow to wrist. He was asked about them and said he had fallen and then that his dog bit him. It was completely inconsistent with the wounds.

A medical examiner testified at trial that if someone was being strangled, they would reach behind themselves and grab at the arms of the attacker and he would likely have scratches.

5. The bloodstains

There were two different bloodstains on the back seat of William’s Chevrolet station wagon.

Some victims had ritualistic stab wounds, horizontally inflicted, usually in the abdomen.

John Porter and Billy Barrett had been murdered in the 60 days prior to the car being searched in June 1981. The blood found matched the blood type of those two victims. The enzymes were still active and experts testified that the enzymes are only active for up to 60 days.

6. A weapon

A number of victims had been struck in the head by a flat, blunt object. At Williams’ house, hidden in a ceiling panel above his office, was a ‘slap jack’ – a flat, lead-weighted device made of leather that if slapped in the head, would inflict serious injury. 

Police remove the body of 21 year old Larry Rogers from an abandoned apartment

Most people who don’t believe Williams committed the murders are totally unaware of the evidence – the fabricated explanations on the bridge, the blood evidence, the incredible fiber evidence, the scratches, victims being seen with Wayne Williams. 

The jury found it to be overwhelming and all added to his guilt.


The team was made up of lead prosecutor, Jack Mallard, whose specialty was examining and cross-examining witnesses, and Gordon Miller, our fiber expert.

I was head of our appellate division, handling all appeals on murder, robbery, rape and drug cases. I was asked to join the team to make sure all the legal issues were handled properly.

Half the courtroom was reserved for press and people would line up every day for the trial, it was very hard to get in.

The FBI Behavioral Science Unit suggested that we should keep Williams on the stand as long as possible. 

As they described it, serial killers are real good in the short run, not in the long run. That proved to be true with Wayne Williams.

When he was questioned by his defense lawyer, Wayne was fabulous. 

Like many serial killers, he can be very articulate and sound like he was an expert on things which he knew nothing about. 

He is very narcissistic and self-confident. He also sounded like a really nice, intelligent young man.

Then the prosecution got to cross-examine. Wayne handled everything beautifully. I recall thinking, this guy is good, he can convince people that the sun rises in the West.

Around 5pm, Jack leaned over to me and said: ‘I don’t have any more questions.’ 

I knew we needed to keep him on the stand and bring him back in the morning. We recessed for the day and spent the night going through all his answers which had made no sense.

The next morning, Jack questioned Williams and he changed immediately. He became extremely combative, yelling, refusing to answer questions.

He was painted into a corner and he couldn’t get out of it.

He had danced around the day before and done a really good job. He thought that he could win at cross-examination but no witness being cross-examined can win. The best you can do is come out even.

Williams wanted to show that he was smarter than everyone but he when he was frustrated in that, he didn’t like it. He blew up on the witness stand. We were amazed.

The jury saw a person who changed from being completely competent and apparently able to explain the unexplainable, to someone who couldn’t do it anymore.


Prosecutors don’t always prosecute everything conceivable that you could charge a person with.

We prosecuted the Cater and Payne cases because Williams was stopped on the Jackson Parkway Bridge. 

Williams always maintained his innocence for the crimes and said authorities wanted to convict a black man because arresting a white man might have sparked a race war

Those were almost identical cases found in the same place, their bodies probably dropped from the same point.

At the time we indicted Williams, those were the two strongest cases we had. We convicted him on two murders and he got consecutive life sentences.

However, at trial, we presented 10 cases to show that they were all connected to Payne and Cater. 

We picked 10 cases, rather than 15 or 18, because it becomes unmanageable for a jury.

Another issue was that five of the murders did not happen in Fulton County so they could not be prosecuted by us, but we introduced some at trial to show their similarities.

Overall, you’ve got 24 victims that clearly fit a murder pattern – a pattern which ceased to exist after Williams was arrested. When Williams was put away, those killings stopped.

There were 17 murders by asphyxiation. There had been very few asphyxial deaths prior to that and there were very few after Wayne WIlliams became a suspect.

Some victims had been in the river a long time – Michael McIntosh, Timothy Hill, Eddie Duncan. They were all found in a very similar state to Nathaniel Cater. They were older kids or young adults.

One of them was developmentally disabled, none of them had cars. They were all folks who frequented the streets. And all were found strangled without clothing and dumped in the Chattahoochee River.


Wayne Williams appealed the verdict, challenging every ruling the trial judge, Clarence Cooper, made.

The case went to the Georgia Supreme Court. The reason I had been involved in the trial was to make sure that we were on sound legal ground in everything that we did. And the Supreme Court agreed that we were.

In 1985, after the series, The Atlanta Child Murders [starring Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones], was released, a dream team of defense lawyers filed a writ of Habeas Corpus to challenge Williams’ conviction, with great fanfare. 

Again, the Georgia Supreme Court didn’t find any merit in it.

The 1985 series fabricated events and changed testimony to make it make it look like Williams had been railroaded. 

Major Maynard Jackson [Atlanta’s first black mayor] asked me to go with him to community forums to explain the evidence to people.

Most people don’t know what happened during that trial and very few have read the thousands of pages of transcript. 

In the past 40 years, every time I have been able to go through the evidence, people are shocked by its significance.

I think if they want to [re-examine the evidence] using newer DNA techniques. That’s fine. There may be other bodies out there and I hope they find them.

It’s important to remember that there are six cases that were never closed, including the two girls. There’s still work to be done. 

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