I mentioned William Heirens and the Lipstick Murders a few posts ago. Heirens confessed to the Lipstick Murders to avoid the death penalty. Unfortunately, he was probably innocent of the crimes he confessed to, especially since even his confessions weren’t all that convincing. To make matters worse, the three crimes were probably not committed by a single offender; Brown and Ross were probably related crimes, but the Degnan case is questionable for me and I’m not the only researcher that thinks so. Even the FBI didn’t believe Heirens was responsible for the Lipstick Murders and had serious questions about the Degnan kidnapping/murder being related to the Brown/Ross murders.
Here’s the first of this three piece set: The Atlanta Child Murders – Wayne Williams. Wayne Williams was a little bit weird and an outcast. It is possible that he did even commit a few murders. However, it is very unlikely that he was responsible for all 28 murders he’s been connected with.
- The Atlanta Child Murders are a little bit like the Lipstick Murders; linking the victims is questionable. At least 28 children, teens, and adults were murdered and their murders all linked together to create the serial killer. While it is true that serial killers will grab victims of opportunity that do not exactly fit their preferred victimology; it is a stretch to imagine the person that killed 24 children and teens also killed 6 adults. To make it more unlikely all of the adult victims were males while not all of the child victims were.
- Many of the witnesses reported seeing 2 males during the abductions. Williams never confessed to having a partner and they never found anyone who would fit the bill. Also, a blue Chevrolet was reportedly the last car a victim was seen getting into. Williams had access to a white Chevrolet, but not a blue one. Also, there were witnesses to several of the child disappearances and none of them were able to identify Williams as one of the two men they saw.
- If all the murders were committed by a single person, they were very busy killing. There were 4 child abduction/murders in 1979, 13 child abduction/murders in 1980, 7 child abduction/murders and 6 adult murders in 1981. As a matter of fact, in March of 1981 there were 2 child murders and 3 adult murders. Oddly, only 1 child murder happened after the start of the adult murders in (March 13, 1981 was the date the 25th child victim was taken and March 20, 1981 is the date of the first adult murder, the last child would disappear on May 11, 1981 and Williams would be caught May 22, 1981).
- It was not uncommon for the child murders to happen very close together. There were 2 in July 1979, the first month it happened, 2 in March 1980, 3 in June 1980, and 2 each July 1980, November 1980, January 1981, February 1981, and March 1981. However, there was never a victim in April or December of any year.
- Williams was one of the very few suspects in the case. Whereas most serial killer cases have too many suspects, this one had too few. Williams became a suspect after it was reported that a splash was heard off a bridge and Williams was seen turning his van around at the location. A week or so later, the body of an adult victim, Nathaniel Carter, was found downstream from the bridge. Williams was seen with Carter and one of the other adult victims. Furthermore, hair and fiber found on a few others were linked to Williams’ house. However, none of that was found on the child victims.
- Most of the victims, young and adult alike, were strangled. However, that doesn’t mean that there could not have been two or possibly three serial killers at work in Atlanta during that time period. Williams may have killed the adult victims while a team killed the younger victims. Strangulation and asphyxiation are actually some of the more common ways that serial killers kill. Shooting them, like Zodiac preferred, is actually the least common MO for serial killers.
- The manner with which the children were abducted varied. A few were seen willingly getting into a blue Chevrolet. The same blue Chevrolet was reportedly at the scene where two men broke into a house and kidnapped a child home alone. One of them received a telephone call before rushing out of his house. His parents didn’t know who the call was from, but the child was later found beaten to death behind a garage. He is the only victim known to die in this manner.
- Even among police officers, there were doubts about Williams’ guilt. A few even voiced their opinion that Williams was not the only serial killer they should be looking for. However, the murders did apparently stop with the capture of Williams and that was used as part of the proof that he was the guy.
- But did the murders actual stop with the arrest of Williams? Researchers into the case suggest that they didn’t. They point to a handful of child abductions and murders in the 1980s that happened after the arrest of Wayne Williams that may have been related to the earlier ones. However, proving it without an eyewitness or actually capturing whoever was responsible would be nearly impossible.
- Finally, in an unprecedented reversal of opinion, John Douglas the man who put profiling on the map and worked the Atlanta Child Murders originally supported the notion that Williams was guilty of all the murders. Several years later, he cryptically changed his mind, saying in an interview that the case was more complicated than anyone realized. He also said law enforcement had some idea who the other killers were and that it wasn’t a single offender.
It is unlikely that Williams would murder six adult males and 24 children and teens of both sexes. Especially considering that all the adult victims were suffocated or strangled, but the children and teens were killed in various ways (some were suffocated or strangled while others were stabbed, shot, beaten to death, and several others the cause of death could not be determined – one body was also never recovered).
So who else was responsible? That is a murky question that has led to many conspiracy theories. Some see Williams as a scapegoat. The political pressure was on to solve the case. Atlanta in the early 1980s was a city filled with racial tension and the murder of so many young African-American children definitely got a lot of attention. As long as the murders stopped, what did it matter if they got the wrong guy? In the last decade or so, DNA testing has failed to exonerate Wayne Williams, however, they have only been able to do mitochondrial DNA… So while it doesn’t exonerate him, it also isn’t as definitive as nuclear DNA (mitochondrial DNA is DNA inherited by a child from its mother and stored in a different part of the cell from the nuclear DNA which is where we get our genetics from – The biggest problem with mitochondrial DNA is that it is not as person specific, each of us shares our mitochondrial DNA with about 1% of the world’s population or 80 million people; that means a serial killer in China could very well have the same mitochondrial DNA as you).
Let the conspiracy theories continue…