Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Atlanta Child Murders

Pulling it Together

Some of the problems with Williams' story were that the Cheryl Johnson part was hard to believe and the claims to have been at the Ben Hill Recreation Center and the Sans Souci before the bridge incident were false. When the authorities checked, they could find no Cheryl Johnson and no Spanish Trace Apartments and the phone number for her was bogus.

The FBI gave Wayne Williams three separate polygraph tests, all of which indicated that Williams was being deceptive in his answers.

Williams surprised everybody when he suddenly called a news conference at his home and handed reporters a lengthy resume much of which was exaggerated and some of which was false. He told the media that he was innocent and that the authorities were just trying to find a scapegoat. This was the beginning of a huge, continuous media event outside the Williams' home, which went on for quite some time.

During that time, FBI laboratories claimed that they were coming up with a number of matches between the fibers found on the victims and the fibers from Williams' home and cars. Also, the labs claimed similarity between the dog hairs on the victims and hair from Williams' dog.

The FBI was very excited about the fiber and dog hair evidence, but the district attorney of Fulton County, Lewis Slaton, was not so impressed. He did not want to prosecute a case on fiber evidence alone. This was such a major case and fiber evidence could be very confusing and unsatisfying to a jury. He wanted more traditional evidence, such as eyewitnesses, fingerprints, etc. It's entirely possible that Slaton may not have been thrilled to have the FBI telling him what to do in his own county. It was, after all, Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, who in desperation had brought in the Feds, not Slaton.

Several things helped persuade Slaton to finally go after Wayne Williams:

  • A number of witnesses materialized who swore they saw Williams with various victims. Hard to say why they had not come forward before, since none of the Task Force documents included a note on Wayne Williams. Williams had not been a suspect until the bridge incident.
  • A couple of recording studio people claimed to have seen serious-looking cuts and scratches on Williams' arms, suggesting the potential of a struggle with the boy victims
  • Pressure by Georgia Governor George Busbee to play ball with the Feds.

On June 21, William's lawyer, Mary Welcome and two county policemen went to Williams' home with the arrest warrant. Interestingly, Wayne Williams was indicted for the murder of two adults, Jimmy Payne and Nathaniel Cater. However, Georgia law allows that the prosecution can bring into court evidence from other cases if it could be proven that those other cases were part of a "pattern." That was how Slaton would tie in the murders of the children an activity that would create controversy for years to come.

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