Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Atlanta Child Murders

Dettlinger and His Map

Jeff Prugh (L) & Chet Dettlinger (R)
Jeff Prugh (L) & Chet Dettlinger (R)

Dettlinger, an ex-police officer, public safety commissioner and consultant for the U.S. Justice Department, led a voluntary investigation into the Atlanta murders beginning from 1980 and continuing until Wayne Williams's incarceration. Dettlinger volunteered his services first to the police who refused him and later to the mothers who accepted his help to try and put an end to the murders. Dettlinger teamed up with Dick Arena, an ex-crime analyst, and private investigators Bill Taylor and Mike Edwards, along with the help of other volunteers, to assist in the investigation. Dettlinger and his group of volunteers completed much of the "leg work" the police didn't do, including going door-to-door in the neighborhoods where victims lived and disappeared, asking questions and seeking leads and connections into the murders. What Dettlinger discovered was a definite pattern including all of the victims on the List and many victims who never made the List.

Dettlinger's findings were significant in that they recognized a social and geographic pattern between the victims. During the peak of the Atlanta murders, he was able to predict with a degree of accuracy where victims would disappear and be found. Task Force Agents and police, who refused to acknowledge any connections among the cases, either geographic or social, at one point suspected Dettlinger in the murders. However, he was quickly released when authorities realized the information and knowledge Dettlinger had and which they lacked came from their own incompetence, mis-assimilation of information and mismanagement with the handling of the investigation. The FBI later used Dettlinger as an expert consultant, realizing that he knew more vital facts concerning the investigation than the police department.

Dettlinger first began his map of murder victims in the summer of 1980 who had initially made the List. However, he quickly discovered that there were many that police had left off that were worth examination. Dettlinger's list of victims had well outnumbered the Task Force's list. Several of those victims who had been first ignored by Task Force Agents, such as Aaron Wyche and Patrick Rogers had made Dettlinger's list soon after their disappearance. Some of those names were later added by Task Force Agents due to increasing pressure by Dettlinger, who was able to provide them with information they lacked that allowed them to later connect the cases.

Dettlinger mapped out the precise location of where the victims had lived, where they had disappeared and where they had been found. By doing this he discovered that the victims were connected to Memorial Drive and eleven other major streets centered in that immediate area. Dettlinger had also recognized that the murders moved in an eastwardly direction.

After Patrick Rogers' death, the victims that were found were older and their bodies were disposed of further outside the city limits. However, Dettlinger and Prugh are quoted in their book, The List as saying, "The streets didn't change, but it was necessary only to extend the streets on the map, not add new ones. Even those Chattahoochee and South River findings would occur at bridges carrying one of the streets on the map." Therefore, the parameters basically remained the same despite the ages of the victims.

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