Between 1979 and 1981, the city of Atlanta, Georgia pulsated with fear. A killer was on the loose, and young, black children were being snatched from the city’s streets at an alarming rate; over the course of two years, 29 children and young adults were found murdered. A year after the killings began, the FBI joined local law enforcement to track down the suspected serial killer. When the elusive murderer was finally captured, many were shocked at his identity.

Young African-American boys and girls were vanishing in Atlanta and their dead bodies were being discovered in isolated areas. The youngest victim was 7-year-old Latonya Wilson, who disappeared on June 22, 1980. Most of the victims were strangled, but some were stabbed to death. Although most of the dead were children and teenagers, six victims were men in their 20s.

Photo Credit: J.H. Moncrieff

Some of the bodies were being dumped in different rivers, so police surveillance teams staked out bridges throughout Atlanta. Just before 3 a.m. on May 22, 1981, officers watching a bridge over the Chattahoochee River heard a loud splash and saw a vehicle speeding away, so they sprung into action and pulled it over. The driver was 23-year-old Wayne Williams, who lived in the Dixie Hills neighborhood of Atlanta. Williams told the officers that he was a music producer and was on his way to audition a new singer. Lacking any probable cause, officers let Williams leave the scene, but took note of the man.

Photo Credit: Murderpedia

Williams was born in 1958 and lived his entire life in Atlanta. Both of his parents were teachers, and he enjoyed a stable, middle-class upbringing. Williams enjoyed radio broadcasting, and his goal was to become a music producer.

Two days after Williams was pulled over near the Chattahoochee River, the nude body of a 27-year-old man was found downriver from the bridge. Police looked into Williams’ background and discovered he had previously been arrested for impersonating a police officer. Williams was taken in for questioning, and he failed several polygraph tests. Police obtained a warrant to search Williams’ parents’ house, where Williams was still living, and there they found hairs and fibers matching those from some of the murder victims. On this evidence, police built their case against Wayne Williams, and he was arrested on June 21, 1981.

Photo Credit: Emaze

Williams protested his innocence, but a jury found him guilty of murder on February 27, 1982. Though the case was largely built on circumstantial evidence, such as fibers and hairs, a judge threw the book at Williams and sentenced him to life. Throughout the years, Williams, and others, have maintained his innocence. Family members of some of the murder victims have even argued that Wayne Williams is not a murderer. In fact, Williams has claimed that the Ku Klux Klan was responsible for the killing of the young, black children, and that Atlanta police pinned the murders on a black man to avoid a race war.

Despite his pleas, and the pleas of others, 58-year-old Wayne Williams continues to reside at Hancock State Prison in Georgia.

Photo Credit: AJC

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