Case Study: Wayne Bertram Williams

Between 1979 and 1981, at least 28 African-American children and adults disappeared in Atlanta, Georgia. The bodies of all but one of the missing individuals were eventually found, the majority of them having been violently attacked and asphyxiated. This series of brutal murders became infamously known as the Atlanta Child Murders and an array of conspiracy theories circulated.

The FBI soon became involved in the incident as it became increasingly likely that the murders were linked, with victims being from the same geographical area, the majority having died from asphyxiation, and green-yellow fibres being found on numerous bodies.

The FBI placed surveillance over numerous bridges in the area where some of the bodies had been dumped. One morning in May, an officer staking out the area heard a sudden splash. Upon investigating the noise, the officers discovered a car parked on Parkway bridge, driven by Wayne Bertram Williams. After briefly questioning the driver, they allowed him to leave and it was only until later that police discovered the phone number he had provided was fake.

Two days after this incident, the body of 27-year-old Nathaniel Carter was found in a river. Although a cause of death was never entirely confirmed, it was deemed likely that the victim had died due to asphyxia. At this point police suspected that Williams had murdered Nathaniel and had dumped the body over the bridge two mornings previously.

Williams was submitted to a polygraph test, which came back as inconclusive. Following a search of the suspect's house, various fibres and dog hairs were collected that were later proven to match those found on the body of one of the victims. Also found in his home was a book detailing how to 'beat' polygraph tests. Along with statements from colleagues working in Williams' studio stating he had been seen covered in scratches around the time of the murders, this was sufficient evidence to arrest the suspect. Additional eyewitnesses placed Williams with different victims and even suggested that he was a paedophile with a particular attraction to young African-American boys. Further tests were conducted on the evidence and 19 different sources of fibres from William's house and car were linked to numerous victims. A series of green nylon fibres found in Williams' home were discovered to exhibit particularly unusual properties and had been manufactured in limited amounts, increasing the significance of matches made between fibres found on fourteen victims. Similarly, relatively unusual violet fibres were found on seventeen victims.

On 27th February 1982, Williams was found guilty of the murder of two victims and sentence to two terms of life imprisonment. Though he was not charged with additional counts of murder, it was suspected that Williams was responsible for more of the Atlanta murders.

BACM Research. 1989. Atlanta Child Murders & Wayne Williams: FBI Files.

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