Law officials escort Wayne Williams from the Fulton County Jail in 1981 on his way to a commitment hearing before Fulton County State Court Judge Albert Thompson. Heavy security was in effect for the hearing, weapons searches mandated for all those entering the courtroom, except sheriff's deputies. (Andy Sharp / AJC file)
Photo: Andy Sharp
Photo: Andy Sharp

Who are Georgia’s most notorious serial killers?

One stalked poor, black children in Atlanta. Another strangled elderly women in Columbus with their own pantyhose. A third slowly and deliberately killed her family by feeding them rat poison. Georgia has had its share of serial killers over the years. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution provides a look at the killers and their crimes.

Reinaldo Rivera mug shot from 2002. (The Augusta Chronicle)
Photo: The Augusta Chronicle/Augusta Chronicle

Reinaldo Rivera was captured in Augusta after a woman he had raped and stabbed in the throat helped police to locate him. He confessed to killing several young women in the Savannah area and sexually assaulting some of them. He was sentenced to death in January 2004 for the rape and murder of 21-year-old Army Sgt. Marni Glista. But in 2016, attorneys claimed he had falsely confessed to Glista's murder and that of 17-year-old Tiffaney Wilson. He also confessed to killing Melissa Dingess and Tabitha Bosdell, both 17. He remains on Georgia's death row. 

A composite mushot of Gary Michael Hilton from 2008. Hilton was convicted of killing four people, all on hiking trials in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, and he is suspected in two other killings. He is on Florida's death row. (Cobb County Sheriff’s Office)
Photo: Cobb County Sheriff’s Office/Cobb Co. Sheriff's Office

Gary Michael Hilton was sentenced to life in prison for the 2008 kidnapping, murder and decapitation of Meredith Emerson, a Georgia woman hiking in the Dawson Forest north of Cumming. After his conviction, he was extradited to Florida, where in 2011 he was sentenced to death for murdering and decapitating Cheryl Dunlap, a 46-year-old nurse and Sunday school teacher whose body was found in the Apalachicola National Forest near Tallahassee. Then in April 2013 Hilton received four life sentences after pleading guilty to kidnapping and murdering John and Irene Bryant, an elderly couple he encountered while they were hiking in a national forest in North Carolina in October 2007. Hilton, now 71, remains on Florida's death row. 

Mugshots of Charles Lendelle Carter from 2007 and 2011. Carter has pleaded guilty to killing three metro Atlanta women. (Fulton County Sheriff's Office)
Photo: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

Charles Lendelle Carter, who worked as a chef, pleaded guilty in Gwinnett in 2011 of strangling a Norcross mother of six in 2005. That resulted in his receiving a third life sentence. He was already sentenced after pleading guilty to the stabbing deaths of an Atlanta woman in 2004 and an Alpharetta mother of two in 2006. All three victims knew him. 

Then-police Sgt. Mike Sellers, left, escorts Carlton Gary into police headquarters after Gary’s arrest on May 3, 1984. (Ledger-Enquirer archives)
Photo: Ledger-Enquirer archives/Special Columbus Ledger-Enquirer

Carlton Gary, the "Stocking Strangler," is one of Georgia's most notorious serial killers and is currently on death row. He was convicted of raping and strangling three elderly women with their own stockings in a Columbus neighborhood 40 years ago. But authorities say that he raped and strangled seven women, as well as two others who survived, as he terrorized the city from 1977 to 1978. His case has drawn international interest, particularly because of conflicting DNA evidence. But his latest appeal was rejected by a Muscogee County judge on Sept. 1, 2017. DNA evidence also tied Gary to the 1975 rape and strangulation of a Syracuse, New York, teacher, a prosecutor there said. But the prosecutor decided to close the case because Gary was sentenced to death in Georgia. 

Wayne Williams, at the Valdosta Correctional Instution in 1991. (Jonathan Newton / AJC file)
Photo: Jonathan Newton/AJC

Wayne Bertram Williams was convicted in 1982 of killing two men in Fulton County. But after his conviction, Atlanta police said that Williams was responsible for more than 20 of the Atlanta child murders that horrified the nation from 1979 to 1981. Williams, though, claimed that officials covered up evidence of Ku Klux Klan involvement in the killings. He is serving a life sentence for the men's murders but has continued to appeal his conviction. He was never tried for the children's slayings. A podcast about the Atlanta child murders called "Atlanta Monster," debuted this month on iTunes and other podcast platforms. 

Joseph Dewey Akin turns himself over to authorities at the Jefferson County Criminal Justice Building in Birmingham, Al. on Aug. 22, 1991. (AJC file)
Photo: AJC file/Birmingham News

Joseph Dewey Akin of Marietta was a nurse suspected in the deaths of 17 patients in hospitals in both Alabama and Georgia. But he was convicted only in one 1991 death, that of a quadriplegic in Alabama who died of a lethal dose of lidocaine. Following that case, Fulton County reopened investigation into suspicious deaths in 1990 at North Fulton Regional Hospital in Roswell, where Akin worked. But he was never charged in any Georgia slayings. In 1992 he was sentenced to life in prison for the Alabama patient's death. 

Serial Killer Paul John Knowles in custody in Atlanta in December 1974.(Billy Downs / AJC Archive at GSU Library AJCP551-75a)
Photo: Billy Downs

Paul John Knowles, also known as the Casanova killer because of his charm and good looks, claimed to have killed 35 people in Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Virginia and Florida in 1974. The murder spree began following his release from prison in Florida. He was finally caught in Henry County, where he was shot to death after trying to grab the gun of a GBI agent. In 2011, the remains of a young female found in 1976 were matched to 13-year-old Ima Jean Sanders, believed to be one of his victims. 

These reports of some of the 1911 "Atlanta Ripper" killings were taken from The Atlanta Constitution editions from Sept. 2, Oct. 18 and Dec. 8 of that year. The killer or killers were never identified. (AJC Archives on ProQuest)
Photo: AJC Archives

The Atlanta Ripper terrorized the city from 1911-1915 and although the killer was never identified, the Ripper was blamed for the murders and mutilations of more than 20 people. At some murder scenes, police found notes signed "Jack the Ripper" with various threats. Victims were young black or mixed race women, so the first seven murders got scant attention from the news media. It was never proved that the same person was behind the murders. No one was ever convicted in the slayings. 

Roberta Elder, called "Mrs. Bluebeard" by Atlanta police, was suspected of killing three husbands, four of her children, three step-children, a grandchild, a cousin and the former wife of a husband during a 14-year murder spree. Police said she had taken out insurance policies on most of the victims, all of whom died from arsenic poisoning. She was arrested in 1952 and convicted of murdering her husband, the Rev. William M. Elder. Reportedly, she was sentenced to life in prison. 

Serial killer Janie Lou Gibbs at Hardwick Women's Prison in 1992. (Diane Laakso / AJC Photographic Archive at the GSU Library, AJCP407-140a)
Photo: Diane Laakso

Janie Lou Gibbs killed her three sons, a grandson and her husband between 1966 and 1967 by giving them rat poison. Her husband was the first to die, and his death was initially blamed on a liver disease. But after the first two of her sons died, questions were raised. Then, following the death of her other son and his baby, a hospital became suspicious and the Georgia crime lab found evidence of arsenic poisoning. The former Cordele nursery school operator pleaded insanity but was sentenced to life in prison for each victim. 

Aeman Presley pleaded guilty in Dekalb County Court to the deaths of two homeless men in 2014, and the murder of a woman he robbed. (Bob Andres / BANDRES@AJC.COM)
Photo: Bob Andres/

Aeman Lovel Presley in 2016 pleaded guilty to two counts of felony murder though he was accused of killing four people in 2014 - a Smyrna hairdresser shot in downtown Decatur and three homeless men. He is serving two life sentences without the possibility of parole. He has also pleaded guilty to deaths of homeless men Dorian Jenkins and Tommy Mims in which he received another life sentence. 

An undated mugshot of Emanuel Lovell Webb, who killed a Georgia woman in 1994 and was later connected to three murders in Connecticut through DNA evidence. Police consider him a suspect in six other murders in that state. (Georgia Department of Corrections)
Photo: Georgia Department of Correction

Emanuel Lovell Webb was charged in July 1994 with the murder of a Mount Vernon, Georgia woman who was sexually assaulted and strangled. He later pleaded guilty to reduced charges of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was paroled in 2001, but back in prison on a parole violation in 2006 when he was charged with the 1993 murder of a Bridgeport, Connecticut woman. DNA testing linked him to that murder and the murders of three other Connecticut women, although investigators said he might have been linked to six other homicides in the area. In 2008, he was convicted of strangling three Connecticut women and sentenced to 60 years in prison. 

Howard Belcher mugshots from 2000, 2002 and 2004. Belcher was convicted for killing one man and is charged with the slaying of another. Police believe he is responsible for killing four gay men in Midtown. (DeKalb and Fulton Sheriffs' Departments)
Photo: DeKalb and Fulton Sheriffs' Depa/Fulton County Sheriff's Dept.

Howard Milton Belcher was sentenced to life in prison for the October 2002 slaying of a Paulding County man. But he was accused of slaying three other gay men he was seen with at different times at a bar in Midtown. Police said he strangled a Midtown man, a DeKalb man and a McKinney man in October 2002. In 2011 he was charged with the slaying of the Midtown man, a case that had been delayed because Belcher did not take his HIV medications. He was convicted of murder in that case, too, but prosecutors did not seek the death penalty. 

Michael Darnell Harvey, also known as the "Mr. X" serial killer, was convicted in 2010 for the rape and murder of a woman in Reynoldstown in 1994. The mugshot on the left is from 2012 and the one on the right is undated, but more recent. (Fulton Sheriff's Office, Ga. Dept. of Corrections)
Photo: Fulton Sheriff's Office

Michael Darnell Harvey was convicted of murder in only one case -- the 1994 strangulation death of Valerie Payton in Reynoldstown, for which Harvey was found guilty of malice murder, rape, aggravated sodomy and aggravated assault. Payton’s nude body was found in an area that Harvey frequented, with more than 50 incision wounds made after she was dead, and a handwritten note saying, "I'm back Atlanta, Mr. X." Police at the time considered the mysterious “Mr. X” as a possible serial killer responsible for the deaths of as many as seven other women in the Reynoldstown neighborhood, but Harvey was never officially connected to any of those crimes (two other men were convicted for two of the murders). In 2010, Harvey was sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison. It’s still unknown if the other cases were connected, or whether “Mr. X” was responsible for any of them.

An article on the William "Junior" Pierce case from the Aug. 9, 1974 edition of The Atlanta Constitution. (AJC Archives on ProQuest)
Photo: AJC Archives
William Junior Pierce, in a recent mugshot. Pierce confessed to three murders in Georgia from 1970-71 and is implicated in five other killings in North Carolina and South Carolina. (Georgia Department of Corrections)
Photo: Georgia Department of Correction

William "Junior" Pierce was convicted of burglary, arson and other charges when he was initially sent to a Georgia prison. But in 1970, the Georgia parole board released him, despite the warning by staff psychiatrists who contended he could pose a danger. About a month after his release, police said he killed his first victim. By the time he was arrested in March 1971 in Louisville, Ga., on a theft charge, eight others had been slain. He ultimately confessed to three murders in Georgia, but was also implicated in the murder of victims in South Carolina and North Carolina.

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