Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Atlanta Child Murders

A Splash From the Bridge

"It" happened in the early morning hours of Friday, May 22, 1981 at the James Jackson Parkway Bridge that crossed over the Chattahoochee River where previous bodies had been found. Two police officers were staked out at the bridge in an effort to monitor suspicious activities. Officer Freddie Jacobs was stationed on the Fulton County side or southern part of the bridge. Officer Bob Campbell was stationed beneath the bridge at the northerly Cobb County side of the bridge. Officer Jacobs saw the headlights of a car approaching southbound over the bridge. At about that same time, Officer Campbell heard a car driving over the bridge. Campbell heard a splash in the water. It was the splash that had sent ripples around the world and would mark the beginning of one of the most famous trials in recent times.

Jackson Parkway Bridge
Jackson Parkway Bridge

According to Officer Jacobs, he had seen a car's headlights as it was driving over the bridge and was soon after radioed by his colleague Campbell, who had told him that he had heard a loud splash in the water. Jacobs recognized the slow moving vehicle as a white 1970 Chevrolet station wagon. He watched as the vehicle drove over the bridge into Fulton County, where there stood in view a liquor store. He watched as the car turned around and re-crossed the bridge. At the liquor store a veteran Atlanta police officer named Carl Holden was on watch for suspicious activity when he spotted the station wagon. He had followed it as it crossed the bridge into Cobb County.

According to Campbell, he heard a loud splash, unlike the sound that some of the river animals made when they dove in the water, and noticing ripples in the water made from whatever had landed in the river. He saw a car standing on the bridge. Then the car turned its headlights on above the area where he had heard the splash and had seen the ripples. He then radioed FBI Agent Greg Gilliland, who pulled the car over almost a half mile from the bridge. Holden had still been following the car from behind when it was pulled over. The driver of the station wagon was Wayne Williams.

Williams, almost twenty-three-years-old, was a freelance photographer and music promoter who said he was traveling across the bridge to find the home of a potential client with whom he had an appointment several hours later. He told the police the woman's name was Cheryl Johnson and that he intended to audition her with the possibility of promoting her as a singer. However, agents did not believe his story, particularly when the phone number was incorrect and the address didn't exist. Williams allowed the authorities to search the car. For over an hour, Williams was questioned about what he was doing on the bridge and his reason for being in the area.

Several hours later, officers dragged the Chattahoochee River around the bridge, but they found no evidence of a body. The next day, police again questioned Williams and began to realize that they were dealing with a most unusual man.

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