Milton Harvey grabbed his yellow ten-speed bike and went to the bank to run errands for his mother. I had to hand over a check for $ 100 to pay a credit card bill. However, the 14-year-old adolescent never reached his destination. A stranger kidnapped and brutally murdered him. Two months after his disappearance, in November 1979, his body was found by a homeless man near a garbage dump. Milton was the third victim of the so-called ‘Atlanta child killer’, a
serial killer who killed twenty-nine people – mostly minors – among the black community in this North American city.
The only one accused and convicted of two of these murders was Wayne Williams, a known photographer and scouts musical to which the Police related thanks to some fibers of carpet and hair of his pet. Sentenced to two life terms, the now sixty-year-old still claims for his innocence and points out that he was a scapegoat for Ku Klux Klan. Chain HBO will make a documentary series with his story.
From prodigy to monster
“A child prodigy”. This is how the Spanish journalist José María Carrascal described Wayne Bertram Williams during his time as a correspondent in the United States. Born on May 27, 1958 in Atlanta (United States), grew up in a modest family with good values where his parents dedicated themselves to the most creative professions. The father, Homer, was a photographer for the Atlanta Daily World newspaper, and the mother, Faye, worked as a teacher.
Thanks to this mix, the little one began to develop a special interest in photography, although radio and journalism dazzled him. So much so that, at thirteen, built his first home radio station, the WRAP, in the attic of his home. Wayne mixed the music broadcast with the news broadcast daily. Those communication skills made him very popular in his neighborhood and in two years, he made his station progress.
In 1973 the WRAP grew in power and advertising investment, becoming the WRAZ. The boy got the parents of his friends, some acquaintances and even the owners of shops in the area, to invest some money in this radio station. The success was such that the WRAZ came to join a larger network of stations and broadcast to a large audience. By then, the boy was already a celebrity in AtlantaBut financial mismanagement caused this radio to be declared bankrupt and Wayne had to reinvent himself.
He enrolled at the University of Georgia (never completed a journalism degree), worked on radio shows, also as photographer and reporter for local televisions, and undertook projects as a freelance. One of these had to do with the world of music production. Wayne was looking for young talents to form successful groups such as The Jackson Five.
He devised Gemini and began to wander in his vehicle through the different neighborhoods of the black community of Atlanta in search of the new Michael Jackson. He approached minors, chatted with them, asked them to audition … All this happened at the same time that numerous black children disappeared and were murdered in a mysterious way.
To this was added that in the late 1970s, the black population experienced a significant social and economic gap regarding white citizens. Poverty rates increased, only Caucasians held relevant positions, police repression was especially harsh and authoritarian, and began a wave of racism applauded by active groups in the Ku Klux Klan. Atlanta was a hotbed of hatred for blacks and disappearances, the trigger for its inhabitants. They felt helpless.
The ‘ATKID’ profile
The first of the crimes attributed to the so-called ‘ATKID’ (the acronym that the FBI gave to the ‘Atlanta Child Murders’, the ‘Atlanta child murderer’) was that of Edward Hope Smith. He disappeared in July 1979, at just fourteen years old, and his body was discovered a week later in a wooded area. He was shot in the back. Four days later and not far from there, they found the body of thirteen-year-old Alfred James Evans. He was strangled.
To Milton Harvey, fourteen, they found him near a garbage can after going out to run errands on his bike. As for nine-year-old Yusef Ali Bell, they strangled him and left his body in an abandoned school. The Police only had a single clue: the testimony of a neighbor who claimed to see how he got into a “blue car”.
From March 1980 until almost November, the authorities investigated a dozen more murders of African American youth, most of them minors, who after being kidnapped were beaten, strangled or shot, and found in wooded areas or near garbage containers. The press, which was already referring to the person responsible for these crimes as the Atlanta Atlanta child murderer, ’ the FBI would like to take action on the matter faced with the inaction of the Atlanta Police to find and follow leads.
During the three years that the murders lasted, the city was in panic, parents forbade their children to play on the street and, even, from the City council the curfew was imposed.
Hand in hand with FBI analysts Roy Hazelwood and John Douglas from the Behavioral Sciences Unit at Quantico, a profile was developed of the person who was killing the children. Like his victims, the perpetrator was African American because, according to the report, a white person “could not easily travel in black neighborhoods without creating great suspicion.” And all this despite the fact that “an African American serial killer was unusual.”
Other features that stood out from the author were: he did not have a permanent job, he had an intelligence above average and his figure inspired a certain respect and authority. Regarding the latter, the report indicated that the suspect had a certain admiration for the Police, something that translated into an aspect that imitated the agents. That is, he could wear dark glasses, a large mustache, drive a vehicle similar to patrol cars, or even keeping police dogs as pets. The murderer’s end was the search for power.
Regarding the pattern of their victims was always identical: Mostly African-American children and youth who lived in the same Atlanta area and knew each other. All the details of what the FBI baptized as the ‘ATKID’ case transpired in the press and led the black community to form citizen patrols equipped with baseball bats, the ‘bat patrolls’, to walk the streets in search of the murderer.
Then, the pattern of crimes changed. The serial killer played clueless and began looking for other victim profiles and abandon corpses in the Chattahoochee river. Until now, the evidence that the authorities had was several fibers: a kind of carpet fabric and another of dog hair. But with the bodies in the water, the finding of evidence was complicated.
When the murders reached 24, Douglas proposed that agents in the area take turns to watch over bridges to the river. The FBI analyst was convinced that the person responsible would act again and that he could be caught. red-handed. So it was.
A patrol was guarding a bridge over the Chattahoochee River when one of the police officers heard a “loud splash.” “It sounded like a body entering the water”Agent Bob Campbell said on CNN. They looked around and saw a white 1970s Chevrolet turn around and cross the bridge. It was almost three in the morning on May 22, 1981 and, Behind the wheel was Wayne Williams, 23.
Officers stopped the vehicle and asked him the reason for his trip. Williams replied that I was checking the address of a place where I was planning to audition to a singer the next morning. He gave them the name of the town and that of the young woman, as well as a phone. They let him go. But two days later, another corpse appeared in the river. It was Nathaniel Cater, 27 years old.
The new crime and that Williams Lied About His Alibi They were the trigger for his immediate arrest. In addition, in the records of the house and the car they found dog hair and carpet fibers compatible with those found in one of the latest victims. The evidence directly incriminated the music producer.
After his arrest on June 21, 1981, only was charged with the first-degree murder charges of Nathaniel Cater and Jimmi Ray Payne, the men found last. Atlanta Police and the FBI could not demonstrate that Williams perpetrated the other twenty-seven crimes.
The trial of the scout began on January 6, 1982 in Fulton County, and for five months, both African-American judge Clarence Cooper and the twelve jurors (eight black and four white people) heard the testimony of eyewitnesses. than related the accused to his victims before the killings and they saw circumstantial evidence as far as the fibers are concerned (eventually, they were scrapped). “You cannot convict a person with simple testing of textile fibers,” said one of the trial attendees.
In fact, the relatives of the other twenty-seven victims came to believe in Williams’ innocence and the need to “investigate other ways” to find the culprit. “I am convinced that Wayne Williams is innocentSaid Camille Bell, mother of one of the murdered children.
The defendant’s attorneys channeled their defense towards the innocent appearance of their defendant and the impossibility that the young man, very short and with little force, could murder and, even less, strangle two men with dimensions greater than his own. Regarding the interrogation made by the prosecutor Jack Mallard where he asked “How did it feel to hold your victims by the neck? Were you horrified? ”, the young man only glimpsed saying an almost inaudible “no”.
His life on television
There were also times when Williams could be seen completely angered and yelling at those present. “You intend to match me to that FBI profile, but I’m not going to help you!”he yelled at Mallard. It was not the only tone output. The defendant called the police officers who took the case “gorillas” and accused the prosecutors of “inept”, outbursts that did not fit with that apparent innocence and tranquility that the defense described.
Those moments of alteration, lack of control and violence they penetrated the members of the jury who, after twelve hours of deliberation, found him guilty of the murders of Cater and Payne. Despite that “I am innocent” that the accused came to whisper, the judge sentenced him to two consecutive life terms and to serve them at Hancock State Prison (Sparta, Georgia).
The social impact of the murders of the Atlanta children penetrated deep into American culture. Characters of the stature of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. or, groups like The Jackson 5They held concerts in honor of the victims and the proceeds were delivered to the families of the victims. Inclusively, Robert De Niro wore a green ribbon on his lapel in solidarity with the case when he received the Oscar for best actor in 1981.
In the meantime, Williams maintained his innocence and in the late 1990s, he filed a petition for habeas corpus in which he requested a new trial. The Butts County Superior Court magistrate denied this.
In 2004, the convicted person again requested a new trial arguing that members of the Ku Klux Klan were behind all the killings and that the authorities preferred to formally accuse him to prevent racial tension from growing further. This is how it became the scapegoat. Authorities, according to Williams, wanted to prevent a bloodbath at all costs. The request was again denied in October 2006.
On March 21, 2019, the Atlanta Police Department, the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation joined together to reopen the 27 unsolved murder cases. They wanted to reanalyze all tests thanks to innovative DNA technology. “There may be nothing left to prove. But I think history will judge us for our actions and we can say we tried“Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms explained to the media.
Authorities remain certain that Williams is solely responsible for all crimes. “He continues to be a threat to society. Don’t regret it ”said Danny Agan, one of the detectives who investigated some of the cases. American justice is convinced of his guilt. Hence, in December 2019, he was denied the last appeal to obtain parole. Until November 2027, you will not be able to file a new appeal.
Meanwhile, the now-sixties man spends his days reading spy novels, watching sports on television, or talking on the phone with some of his family. As some of the prison officials who know him say, Williams is a “good recluse” with a life marked by crime. This came to the small screen thanks to the Netflix series Mindhunter and, soon, it will HBO with a documentary series about him.