From 1987: Atlanta child murders: Williams 'very like' FBI profile

Serial killer patterns found by psychologist
A 16-year-old Wayne Williams and friends gather at his parents' basement where he was building a low-wattage radio station. Williams is serving a life sentence after being convicted in two of the killings associated with the 1979-1981 series of "missing and murdered children" cases in Atlanta.

Credit: (c)2007 Boyd Lewis

Credit: (c)2007 Boyd Lewis

A 16-year-old Wayne Williams and friends gather at his parents' basement where he was building a low-wattage radio station. Williams is serving a life sentence after being convicted in two of the killings associated with the 1979-1981 series of "missing and murdered children" cases in Atlanta.

(This story was originally published August 30, 1987)

On Jan. 13, 1981, FBI psychologist John Douglas traipsed through the secluded, wooded sites where five of Atlanta's "missing and murdered children" had been found so he could formulate a profile of the killer.

Four months and 12 victims later, police arrested a man who fit many of the characteristics Douglas had outlined: Wayne Bertram Williams.

Douglas' involvement with Williams did not end there. As the FBI's expert on serial murderers, Douglas sat in on Williams' nine-week trial to help Fulton County prosecutors plan their cross-examination of Williams and other defense witnesses from a second profile he had prepared for them. He concluded that Williams "is very much like other serial killers researched and interviewed in the past by the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit."

"Wayne Williams, in all probability, thought he would really be enjoying this trial, " Douglas wrote as the prosecution wound down its case. "The personal attention he would be getting is something he has never legitimately obtained. He has made feeble attempts to attain fame by being a disc jockey, ambulance attendant, talent scout and police officer. All these positions represent power — particularly power over others. Wayne Williams, like many serial killers, never can imagine himself being convicted of his crimes. Serial killers think they are too intelligent to get caught."

Douglas' psychological profile of Williams has never been released, but a copy was obtained last week by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. From files on the case opened to the public by DeKalb County police, the newspapers also secured the profile Douglas prepared before Williams emerged as a suspect.

The two documents provide an intimate look at the role psychological profiling played in the investigation and prosecution of the Atlanta slaying cases.

Wayne Williams, dressed in prison whites, looks on as attorney Bobby Lee Cook stands to argue his case during a 1986 retrial hearing.


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Williams, 29, was convicted in February 1982 of murdering Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Ray Payne, whose deaths were among 30 slayings of blacks investigated by a police task force between 1979 and 1981. Police later alleged Williams was responsible for most of the other slayings and closed those cases. Williams, now serving two life sentences, is appealing his convictions.

Douglas' profiles were based on characteristics found to be common among the more than 25 serial and mass murderers interviewed by the Behavioral Sciences Unit, based in Quantico, Va.

Closely follow media:

Serial killers, the psychologists determined, generally have average to above-average intelligence and are articulate. They closely follow media coverage of the cases; change homicidal methods to suit their needs; have frequent changes in employment or are self-employed; and often are the only son in a family.

The report also said that serial killers of children, in particular, often were pampered and over-protected in their youth and may fixate on either boys or girls.

"It all fit, " said Joseph Drolet, an assistant district attorney in Fulton County who helped prosecute Williams. "It confirmed many of our thoughts in regard to the case."

Drolet became even more impressed with Douglas' profiling a few days before Williams took the stand, when the defendant claimed he was ill and was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital. Douglas had predicted that Williams, upon seeing his own counsel losing ground, might try to "feebly attempt" suicide to gain sympathy or feign a mental breakdown. Doctors who examined Williams could find nothing wrong with him.

In a rare prison photograph, Wayne Williams poses in the visiting room, which doubles as a chapel at the Valdosta Correctional Instution June 17, 1991. Through the years, Williams has maintained his innocence.


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For the courtroom profile, Douglas used data on the victims, crime scenes and evidence in the case as well as investigators' findings about Williams.

'Stress unbearable'

"The Atlanta child killings commenced when stress in the life of Wayne Williams became unbearable, " Douglas wrote. "He was living alone with parents old enough to be his grandparents, and he probably resented this. His parents, both college-educated and retired schoolteachers, were achievers. Between age 21 and 23, while fairly bright and articulate, Williams found himself falling to one failure after another, even going so far as causing his own parents to forfeit their savings by securing a loan for their son's personal business" and later causing their bankruptcy.

"Wayne Williams is an angry young man seeking power, who wears a mask to cover his personal inadequacies. The Atlanta serial murder case was his first success, and this furnished a sense of power to him. Wayne Williams orchestrated this case at will. He challenged authorities, intimidated them and played out his own script. He got almost every police jurisdiction involved in this case, and then created scenarios where all police jursidictions would become involved."

Assessing the trial testimony before Williams took the stand, Douglas observed that Williams had been "trapped in lies" and that witnesses had testified they had homosexual experiences with him. "Williams probably does not consider himself a homosexual; however, killer John Gacy of Illinois did not either. Gacy sexually assaulted and killed 33 boys and young men.. . . As the prosecution closes its case, he, for the first time, is concerned."

Before Williams took the stand, Douglas provided an outline for cross-examining him. He recommended that prosecutors keep Williams on the stand as long as possible, focus on his failures in life and the inconsistencies in his earlier statements and concentrate on his alleged homosexuality.

Except for the homosexual angle, prosecutors followed the outline. And, they said, it worked.

The second day he was on the stand, Williams became argumentative and lashed out at prosecutor Jack Mallard, calling him a "fool." At one point, when Mallard asked Williams if he had been coached for his testimony, Williams responded forcefully, "No. You want the real Wayne Williams? You got him right here."

Essentially, Douglas' courtroom profile of Williams was an enhanced version of the "unknown killer" profile he had prepared long before May 22, 1981, when the free-lance photographer and self-described talent scout was stopped for questioning by a stake-out team on a bridge over the Chattahoochee River. Two days later, Cater's body was discovered downstream, and Williams became a serious suspect.

During his January 1981 visit to Atlanta, Douglas visited the crime scenes for victims Alfred Evans, Edward Hope Smith, Milton Harvey, Christopher Richardson and Earl Lee Terrell, all of whom were found in wooded areas of south Atlanta.

He advised police to use the profile he developed as a "guide" in evaluating suspects as they emerged in the investigation. When Williams became a suspect, not everything in the profile matched, but there were marked similarities.

Following are excerpts from that report and data on Williams culled from investigative files:

Familar with crime scenes:

Ambulance attendants move the body of Nathaniel Cater from the Chattahoochee River in this 1981 photo. Police staked out the South Cobb Drive bridge over the river and heard a splash on May 22, 1981. Shortly thereafter a white 1970 Chevrolet station wagon driven by Wayne Williams was seen slowly driving away. Dog hair and fiber evidence in the vehicle would be a major factor in building the case against Williams.


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  • "Your offender is familiar with the crime scene areas because he is, or has resided in this area. In addition, his present or past occupation caused him to drive through these areas on different occasions . . . The sites of the deceased are not random or "chance" disposal areas. He realizes that these areas are remote and not frequently traveled by others."

According to task force files, in doing freelance work for WAGA-TV in 1978, Williams shot one assignment at Redwine Road and another at Interstate 285 and Washington Road, near Redwine Road. The bodies of Richardson and Terrell were found on Redwine, and Harvey's body was found nearby.

That same year, Williams shot videotape at Boat Rock and Campbellton roads, not far from Suber Road, where the body of victim Jeffrey Mathis was found. Williams also had an assignment on Niskey Lake Road, where the bodies of Smith and Evans, the first two victims, were found in July 1979. Even when he knew he was under surveillance by police, Williams repeatedly drove to Niskey Lake Road to pick up one of his proteges, a member of the Gemini band.

  • "A frequent tactic (to abduct "street smart" kids without being seen) is offenders' impersonating the law enforcement official who shows concern for the victim's safety, places him into his personal vehicle, and promises to take the victim home. He may conversely admonish the victim for walking the streets late at night and threaten to arrest the victim."

A neighbor who said he had known the Williamses for more than 20 years told FBI agents that neighborhood kids thought Williams was a policeman because he drove detective-looking cars, carried a badge and gave orders to the kids. "Many of them thought he started acting crazy two to three years ago . . . he would approach kids in official looking vehicles, telling them to get off the street or he would lock them up."

Another neighbor told investigators that about two years earlier, Williams had threatened to "arrest" him, showing him some sort of badge.

Williams was arrested by East Point police in 1976 on a charge of impersonating a police officer.

The 1970 Chevy station wagon that helped convict Wayne Williams has been salvaged by a retired criminal justice professor who hopes it will eventually exonerate one of Georgia's most notorious felons.

Credit: Courtesy of Edward Blackwelder

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Credit: Courtesy of Edward Blackwelder

When a detective-type car of Williams' was repossessed on Dec. 31, 1979— five months after the string of slayings began — officials found a police siren; blue, red and amber emergency lights, police scanner, CB unit and headlight equipped with flashers.

  • "In all probability, your offender is black. Generally, offenders of this type are fixated on same-race victims."

Williams is black. All the victims he is accused of killing were black. Several acquaintances testified at the trial that Williams had a deep disdain for lower-class blacks, whom he called derogatory names.

  • "Your offender has, in all probability, a prior criminal history for aggressive and/or assaultive behavior . . . He will always carry a weapon of some sort on his person and has threatened to use it on others in the past."

Williams' only prior criminal record was for impersonating an officer, unauthorized use of emergency equipment and filing a false stolen auto report to police. At the time of his arrest on the first two charges, he had a 12-gauge shotgun in his four-door Plymouth.

Employees of Southern Ambulance Services, which Williams sometimes visited, testified that Williams liked to "scuffle" with them and one employee said that he sometimes sprayed him with MACE.

  • "His favorite colors are black, dark blue and brown. This can be observed particularly in the clothing he selects to wear and the color of the auto he drives.

Alsofavored drab browns:

Williams' wardrobe favored drab browns. According to task force files and trial testimony, he drove numerous cars, both rented and owned, between 1979 and 1981. Their colors were faded white; burgandy; light blue; silver gray; brown; yellowish-brown; white and blue.

  • "This offender, in all probability, is single. He has always had difficulty relating to members of the opposite sex. As a youth, he was sexually abused. . . . The odds are high that he has spent time in juvenile detention homes, as well as other forms of incarceration."

Williams was single, and acquaintances told investigators that Williams was seen rarely with women and had no apparent girlfriend. A woman who worked for Williams in his struggling music business testified at his trial that she had had sex with him, but she had insisted to investigators during earlier interviews that she had not.

Investigators uncovered no evidence that Williams had been sexually abused, nor did he ever spend time in juvenile detention.

Information about Williams' sexual identity was mixed. Several acquaintances said they thought he acted "sissy, " had a high voice and displayed homosexual tendencies. None of the youngsters who worked with him, however, said he had approached them sexually.

Two prosecution witnesses testified about Williams' alleged homosexuality. One youngster said Williams fondled him. A man said he saw Williams walking down the street holding hands with victim Nathaniel Cater shortly before Cater disappeared. Williams denied both accounts.

  • "Your offender will generally fall between the ages of 25 and 29."

Williams was 23 when he was arrested.

Staff writers Bill Montgomery, Mike Christensen and W. Stevens Ricks contributed to this report.