Wayne Williams in prison in 1991. CREDIT: AJC file photo
Photo: HANDOUT
Photo: HANDOUT

ID explores ‘Atlanta Child Murders’ March 23 two days after Atlanta reopens evidence from the 40-year-old case

Originally posted Thursday, March 21, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio &. TV Talk blog

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that multiple crime agencies will use modern technology to re-test evidence from the four-decade old murdered and missing children case just two days before ID debuts the documentary “The Atlanta Child Murders.”

This is not a coincidence. 

Atlanta producer Will Packer - behind hit movies such as “Ride Along” and “Girls Trip” - is the executive producer who created the documentary and Bottoms called him out by name at a press conference.

“I want to acknowledge and thank my friend Will Packer who is doing a documentary on the missing and murdered children,” Bottoms said.

Packer, in return, said, “I commend Mayor Bottoms and law enforcement for taking this important and overdue step. My hope is that the families experience some solace as these cases get the renewed national attention they deserve. Their stories deserve to be told.”

This news also came a year after Atlanta-based HowStuffWorks and Tenderfoot Productions released a popular podcast “Atlanta Monster” about the crime spree.

<<RELATED: My preview of “Atlanta Monster” last year

The three-hour ID documentary debuts Saturday at 9 p.m.

Over 23 months in 1979 and 1980, at least 29 black children were murdered. It became national news.

There was a belief it was a serial killer or killers and generated widespread fear among families in the city of Atlanta. Ultimately, the cops arrested a promoter Wayne Williams, who was imprisoned for life for the murder of two adults but was tied to most of the dead kids.

Over the decades, Williams has been steadfast in his denial that he was involved in the kid killings and the prosecutors never officially indicted him on those charges. Many people believe the city was so desperate to close the case, they loosely tied Williams to many of the child murders and moved on. 

The documentary talked to victims’ family members as well as former investigators, cops and journalists. A lot of vintage AJC headlines are used. “Nothing has eased the pain,” said Venus Taylor during the documentary. She is the mother of 12-year-old Angel Lenairwhose body was found tied to tree March 4, 1980.

“They were like throwaway kids - literally,” said Vern Smith, former Newsweek Atlanta bureau chief when the murders happened. 

Celebrities who were kids at that time talked about their own experiences including producer Jermaine Dupri and rapper Big Boi

Packer, in an interview, said though he didn’t grow up in Atlanta at the time, he was a young child in Florida and was aware of what was happening.

“It was like the real bogeyman,” Packer said. “It was a scary story if you were a young black kid. All our parents wanted to know where we were and to not talk to strangers. I grew up under that.” 

After college, he moved to Atlanta and got to know people who lived through it. “It gripped the city,” he said. “If they got home five minutes late, their parents would be in tears and ask, ‘Where the hell have you been?’” 

When Jupiter Entertainment and ID approached Packer about doing something on the child murders, he jumped on board. “This is a story I’ve wanted to tell for a long time,” he said. 

He said the documentary doesn’t in any way solve the murder mystery but presents the various theories and lets viewers decide for themselves. 

Packer said the crime spree resonates today because “black and brown children in general still go missing and don’t get national coverage,” he said. “It’s often the last among us who need the most protection.” 

He said it’s possible Williams may have been involved in some of the 29 murders but he doubts he was connected to all of them. 

And given today’s environment with so much social media and so many cameras, serial killers appear to be on the wane. “It’s more difficult to do what this person or persons did and people not know about it,” Packer said. 

Rather, it’s alleged predation like that of R. Kelly or mass murderers like the person who killed 50 at the New Zealand mosque last week.

ON TV

“The Atlanta Child Murders,”  9 p.m. Saturdays, ID

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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