Welp, I think we can all agree that Mindhunter’s second season was disturbing per usual! Aside from the typical rag-tag group of serial killers (hi, Charles Manson), the show introduced us to the horribly-named and absolutely devastating Atlanta Child Murders—a series of killings that shocked the nation between 1979 and 1981. This murder spree resulted in the deaths of at least 28 children, and led to a ton of controversy about who really committed the crimes.
Note: Before we get into it, please keep in mind that this article contains some disturbing details about acts of violence against children. Proceed with caution.
First, Some Background on the Atlanta Child Murders
Honestly, not gonna get into too much detail here because we’re talking about children. But the infamous murder spree started in 1979, when two 14-year-old boys disappeared (and were tragically later found dead) just days apart. The next few years saw the disappearance and death of a string of victims—mostly young African-American boys—who lived in the same general area of Atlanta.
“Every day, every night, it seemed like they were finding bodies,” Sheila Baltazar (whose 12-year-old stepson Patrick Baltazar was killed) told The New York Times. “The city was turned upside down. There was this big dark cloud over us. And we were just trying to hold on to our babies.”
So, Who Committed the Atlanta Child Murders?
It remains unclear. But the murders were attributed to Atlanta native Wayne Williams, who was convicted of murdering two adults in 1981. The killings stopped after Williams’ arrest, but he has steadfastly maintained his innocence.
Here’s what we know: Williams was found near the scene of a suspected body dump, police found gloves and a nylon cord in the passenger’s seat of his car, he failed polygraph tests, and on top of all that, fibers matching those in his home were found on several victims. Which, yeah sure, all sounds pretty incriminating. But the thing is…
The KKK May Have Been Involved
According to an investigative piece by Spin in 1986, officials covered up evidence to avoid a race war, using Williams as a scapegoat. Apparently, a white supremacist named Charles T. Sanders was an early suspect in the Atlanta Child Murders, and one of his former friends anonymously claimed that he’d taken credit for committing the murders.
Flash-forward to now, and many parents of the children killed still don’t believe it was Williams, and are still searching for answers. “It seems like the Atlanta missing and murdered children have, have been forgotten in this city. They have been forgotten. And I don’t know why,” Catherine Leach (whose son Curtis was murdered at just 13) recently told CNN. She added that Williams was a “scapegoat,” and that “[the police] had to do something for us, to cool this place down to … pacify the parents.”
On the flip side, some families of the victims remain convinced Williams is the culprit. Isaac Rogers (whose 16-year-old brother was killed in 1980) said he had a near-run in with a man he claims was Williams, saying Williams blocked him as he was trying to leave a neighbor’s house. “The only thing I could do was to turn back around, which is what I did,” he said. “I went back and I started to beat on Mrs. Willie Mae’s door to get her to open the door.”
Either Way, Police Are Reopening the Atlanta Case
On March 21, 2019, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields announced that officials would re-test evidence from the murders, meaning that Williams could be exonerated.
“I am not judging the officers. I am saying with Wayne Williams being convicted, it allowed all these boxes to be sealed, even if there was nothing in them that tied the victim to Wayne Williams,” Shields told The New York Times. “I think the investigators were under such political pressure that they were not allowed to do their jobs to the extent they could. We will see different patterns, but I don’t know that it will lead to an arrest. We are going make some headway, but I am not sure how much.”
In other words, the police attributed dozens of murders to a man who *may* not have committed them, and they’re finally doing something about it. Watch a reading of Williams’ reaction to the news below: