Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Wayne Williams and the Atlanta Child Murders

Killing in Earnest

Angel Lenair
Angel Lenair
The lull came to a nasty end on March 4, 1980 when twelve-year-old Angel Lenair finished her homework and left her apartment in southwest Atlanta.  When she didn't come home for her favorite television show, her mother Venus Taylor called the police.  As Angel was approaching puberty, her mother worried more and more.  Their home was near Fort McPherson and men were starting to take an interest in Angel.

Venus Taylor's worst fears were confirmed on March 10, 1980 when the police found Angel's body tied to a tree with an electrical cord around her neck and a pair of panties that did not belong to Angel stuffed into her mouth.  Cause of death was asphyxiation by strangulation with the electrical cord.  Although Angel's hymen had been broken and there were some minor abrasions in the genital area, the medical examiner did not interpret those facts to mean evidence of sexual assault.  Those findings became controversial and did not mean that Angel was not the victim of some sexual abuse.

This particular case was quite different than the previous cases, in that the victim was female and her body was found under different circumstances than the previous male victims. There were two suspects, who were eventually cleared of the murder.

Jefferey Mathis
Jefferey Mathis
The very next day after Angel's body was found, Jefferey Mathis, aged ten, had left his home to buy cigarettes for his mother in the early evening. Like Yusef Bell, Jefferey would never return from his errand, which was only a few blocks away from his home. His mother Willie Mae Mathis became worried when he was gone over an hour and sent her other sons to look for him.  Later that night, a patrolman told Mrs. Mathis to call the missing person's department if he did not come home by morning.

What she did not immediately understand when she contacted that department the next day is that the missing person's department at that time in the Atlanta Police Department -- and in many major cities -- did very little to investigate the disappearance of young people.  It was assumed that children and teenagers were runaways and not the victims of foul play.

Jefferey had last been seen by a friend getting into the backseat of a blue car, possibly a Buick. Thirteen days after Mathis had gone missing, Willie Turner, who had recognized Mathis' picture from the newspaper, claimed that he saw Jefferey in a blue NOVA car, driven by a white adult man. Willie Turner also told police that the man he had seen with Mathis had later in the week pulled a gun on him before taking off in his car. Police did little in response to the information given by Turner. The report was filed away and forgotten. The blue car that was earlier seen by Mathis' friend in connection with Jefferey's disappearance was very similar to the description of a car seen by an eyewitness in a later disappearance case of a boy named Aaron Wyche. Jefferey Mathis' two brothers had also reported seeing a blue Buick in the driveway of a house that Jefferey frequented. Interestingly, shortly after Mathis' disappearance, boys from his school had complained to their principle that two black men in a blue car had attempted to lure them away from the schoolyard. The youngsters had memorized the license plate and reported it to police. Once again, police did little to investigate.

Eric Middlebrooks
Eric Middlebrooks
Eric Middlebrooks, 14, got a phone call around 10:30 P.M Sunday night, May 18, 1980.  He immediately grabbed his tools and told his foster mother he was going out to repair his bike. Early the next morning, his body was found a few blocks away.  His bicycle was nearby.  Eric had been bludgeoned to death.

As police looked into this murder, it was suspected that Eric had been eyewitness to a robbery and that the robbery suspects were also the murder suspects.  However, there was insufficient proof.  

Christopher Richardson
Christopher Richardson
Just outside the city limits of Atlanta in the Decatur, twelve-year-old Christopher Richardson lived in a nice middle class neighborhood with his grandparents and mother.  In the early afternoon of June 9, 1980, Christopher went to a local recreation center to swim.  He never got there.

LaTonya Wilson
LaTonya Wilson
A few weeks later in the early morning of June 22, 1980, an amazing crime occurred. Seven-year-old LaTonya Wilson was abducted from her home.  A neighbor claimed that she saw a black man remove the windowpane in the Wilson apartment, climb into the apartment and leave with the little girl in his arms.  Chet Dettlinger in his book The List describes how difficult it would have been to do what the neighbor claimed she saw:

"If , as the neighbor said, the kidnapper climbed through that window, he stepped squarely onto a bed where two other Wilson children were asleep.  Neither woke up.  Once inside, he stole LaTonya from her bed, carrying her past the door of her parents' room.  He walked out the back door, leaving it ajar.  Outside, he is said to have paused in the parking lot to speak to another black male, all the while holding the limp figure of LaTonya Wilson under his right arm."

Whoever was responsible for these murders and disappearances was approaching a record in the history of crime. What the citizens of Atlanta, the city government and eventually the FBI didn't realize was that it was just the beginning.  What Bernard Headley aptly named "A Summer of Death" was just beginning.

 

 

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