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Officials will take a new look at a decades-old case, a string of brutal child and young adult murders dubbed the Atlanta Child Murders.
On Thursday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced at a press conference, alongside the Atlanta police, that evidence will be retested using modern-day technology.
“It may be there is nothing left to be tested,” she said. “But I do think history will judge us by our actions and we will be able to say we tried."
Bottoms said officials will look at "every single thing we have that is related to this case.”
The Atlanta Child Murders haunted the city of Atlanta for two years between 1979 and 1981 as the bodies of mostly African American children were found all over the city. It became "one of the most publicized manhunts in American history, politicizing a town and polarizing a nation, every step of the investigation steeped in bitter controversy," according to the book "Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit," which the Netflix show “Mindhunter” is based upon. The second season of the show promises to focus on this case.
About 29 children, teens, and young adults were found murdered around Atlanta during that two-year period. The majority of the victims were boys, and most of the crime scenes shared common details, according to the FBI. Racial tensions ran high at the time and local police were criticized for seemingly putting little effort into the case, with some accusing them of not putting in effort because the victims were black and from lower-income homes.
“It seems like the Atlanta Missing and Murdered Children have been forgotten in this city. We want some closure," Catherine Leach-Bell said at Thursday’s press conference. She is the mother of 13-year-old victim Curtis Walker. "I want to know who killed Curtis. His case is still sitting on the shelf, getting dusty and rusty.”
Bottoms said she began exploring the idea to re-examine the case after talking with Leach-Bell. Now, she says officials will “make sure their [the victim’s] memories are not forgotten and, in the truest sense of the word, to let the world know that black lives do matter.”
A man is already in jail for two of the murders attributed to the killer behind the Atlanta Child Murders, but he was never actually convicted of killing any children.
Wayne Bertram Williams, then just 23, was arrested and charged with the murder of 27-year-old Nathaniel Cater, the last victim in the string of killings. On Feb. 27, 1982, he was found guilty of murdering Cater and another adult victim, 21-year-old Jimmy Ray Payne. He was sentenced to two consecutive life prison terms.
He was never charged in the other murders, but police claim they linked him to at least 20 of the victims.
"Even though there is evidence tying Williams to these 22 children, he was only ever tried on the cases of two murdered adults," Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said at Thursday’s press conference. "This has caused some of the victims’ families to believe that they were never afforded justice.”
Since his arrest, Williams has maintained that he’s not a serial killer or the man behind the murders. Others also believe he wasn't responsible for all the killings; "The Atlanta Child Murders," a five-hour CBS 1985 miniseries, criticized the prosecution of Williams. More recently, a 10-episode podcast entitled “Atlanta Monster" debated the innocence of Williams.
Williams is still alive, still in jail, and still claims to be innocent.
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