Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Wayne Williams and the Atlanta Child Murders

Making Sense of the Crisis

Darron Glass
Darron Glass

On September 14, 1980, ten-year-old Darron Glass vanished. Shortly afterwards, his foster mother received an emergency phone call from someone claiming to be Darron, but when she answered the phone, the line was dead. The police ignored the case however, because Darron had run away several times before.

The black leadership, churches and community at large were mobilizing along a number of fronts to deal with this crisis. Activities ranged from prayer vigils, safety education programs, and even regular searches for the missing children. The Atlanta government had even gone so far as to bring in psychic Dorothy Allison, who had assisted in some high-profile cases.

Chet Dettlinger was the first to understand that there was a geographic connection to the victims. A number of the victims knew each other and either lived, were last seen or their bodies were found in several key areas of the city. Detlinger tried valiantly to explain the unfolding pattern that he saw emerging, so that police could concentrate their efforts in these critical areas, but police did not warm to his theories.

What the police were still wrestling with was a case in which there were many different causes of deaths, modus operandi, and signatures, only a few of which seemed to fit a pattern. Usually a serial killer selects a particular type of target that is either male or female, rarely both. While the MO can change based upon the killer's experience or opportunity, the signature, according to Robert D. Keppel (Signature Killers), is the killer's "psychological 'calling card' that he leaves at each crime scene across a spectrum of several murders. For example, when the killer in one murder intentionally leaves the victim in a position so the victim will be found open and displayed, posed physically spread-eagled and vulnerable; or when he savagely beats that victim to a point of overkill and violently rapes her with an iron rod". Part of the problem was the List itself. It was very unlikely that one individual or group of individuals was responsible for all of the murders and disappearances. Comparing the abduction of LaTonya Wilson with the stabbing death of Clifford Jones suggests very different perpetrators. However, at least in some of the cases, it appeared that at least one or possibly several unconnected serial killers were at work. As the murders and disappearances continued relentlessly, various patterns did emerge.


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