On July 21, 1979, the bodies of fourteen year-old Edward Smith and thirteen year-old Alfred Evans were found in Southwest Atlanta. Both had been murdered and authorities struggled to find a motive for the senseless killings. Over the course of the next two years, more than twenty children, adolescents and adults were found murdered in Atlanta. The homicides were dubbed by the media as the Atlanta Child Murders. Today, the crimes are a distant memory for many Americans but Atlantans will vividly recall the time period in which the primarily African-American areas of the city lived in fear as a killer was on the loose, preying upon young children, teens and adults. Less than forty years ago, a homicidal maniac terrorized the famed Southern Georgia city that served as the home of the 1996 Olympic Games.
When Wayne Bertram Williams was arrested on June 21,1981, the City of Atlanta breathed a collective sigh of relief. It now seemed as if Atlanta’s children could once again venture outdoors without fear of death. Authorities had been watching Williams for some time before taking him into custody and officially charging him with the murders of Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Payne, both of whom were adults at the time of their deaths. Williams was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison. To this day he continues to profess his innocence with defiant statements and baseless theories as to how the murders occurred. Eerily, prosecutors knew that their chances of convicting him on all of the murders were nearly impossible and to this day, some of them are technically unresolved. Williams was the main suspect but because he was never convicted of them, there is no formal sense of closure to those open homicides. Authorities had suspected Williams had help but were never able to prove it conclusively. Myths and rumors have plagued the Atlanta Child Murders nearly from the beginning, clouding the truth. But author Jack Rosewood has sought out to dis-spell these myths, telling the true story of Wayne Williams and the deaths in the City of Atlanta between 1979 and 1981.
The book is more a compendium than a biography of Williams or detailed examination of his trial and subsequent conviction. Rosewood’s purpose is strictly to relate what is fact and discard what is fiction. And the result is a chronological examination of the case from start to finish, giving readers the most complete picture of what really happened. The authors spares the reader from any bias and ridiculous fodder for gossip. The presentation in the book is streamlined with a steady but not too quick pace, keeping the reader engaged as the story picks up pace and Williams enters the cross-hairs of the Atlanta Police Department. Those who decide to make notes will find that the paragraphs are formatted perfectly for highlighting information to be retained for a later date. Rosewood covers each victim, not just as another number but as young kid or adult, driving home the savageness of the murders.
Major crimes have the tendency to cause speculation among investigators and citizens alike. All sorts of theories arose as to who was responsible for the murders. Rosewood covers those theories, as outlandish as they were and still are, and breaks them down until they no longer have any semblance of reality. Race has always had a large role in Atlanta, a city which was at one time was a hotbed of Ku Klux Clan activity. The city’s dark racial history reared its head again, becoming a political pawn in the mission to bring the killer to justice. And even today, the murders continue to bring up discussions about race, politics and law enforcement in Atlanta. Rosewood handles the subject perfectly and clears up any misconceptions that may exist.
Towards the end of the book, Rosewood gives interesting descriptions of other notable or perhaps forgotten African-American serial killers in the United States. Their names will undoubtedly be unfamiliar to many readers. And for others, the idea of black serial killer seems too surreal to believe. But Rosewood has done his homework and these killers are just as deadly or even more so than Williams. Curiously, after he was arrested, tried and convicted, the murders stopped. The cessation of the homicides led many to firmly believe that Williams was the right man. He has never admitted to killing anyone and will surely go this grave professing his innocence. But forensic evidence, damning witness testimony and Williams’ own implosion on the witness stand, sealed his fate and led to his confinement for life behind bars. His appeals have been exhausted and it is nearly certain that Wayne Williams will spend the rest of his life in prison. History may one day absolve him of some of the crimes attributed to him, but until then, the Atlanta Child Murders lays squarely on the shoulders of Wayne Williams.