It looks every bit its age, covered in rust and sporting a cheap paint job. The memories attached to the 1970 Chevy station wagon are even uglier.
But Edward Blackwelder guards Wayne Williams’ old Chevelle as if it was a first edition Corvette, hoping the car that helped convict Georgia’s most notorious felon will one day exonerate him.
“Better to keep things and not need them than to need something and not have it,” said Blackwelder, a defense consultant in Williams’ 1982 murder trial. He recently took ownership of the station wagon, at Williams’ behest.
Blackwelder regularly visits the Hancock State Prison inmate, where Williams, now 51, is serving two life sentences. They’ve become close friends, among the reasons its new owner would never sell the car, though he could likely turn a nifty profit.
For instance, someone bought Al Cowling’s white Ford Bronco for $75,000 – nearly twice its original value – following O.J. Simpson’s civil trial, according to CNBC.com.
No telling what will become of accused serial killer Gary Michael Hilton’s white van, used to kidnap Buford hiker Meredith Emerson in January 2008. For now it remains state’s evidence as prosecutors prepare their case against Hilton for the murder of Sunday school teacher Cheryl Dunlap.
The red Jeep used in a triple homicide earlier this year by former UGA professor George Zinkhan is now property of its insurer, according to Athens-Clarke County Police Capt. Clarence Holeman. “The insurance company came and towed it not long too long ago,” he said.
The white station wagon was returned to Williams’ father -- sans the back seat -- after his son’s 1982 murder trial. The west Atlanta native had become a prime suspect in the city’s missing and murdered children case after a police recruit staking out the James Jackson Bridge near the Cobb/Fulton border heard something splash into the Chattahoochee River.
The recruit spotted Williams slowly driving away in the Chevelle, and three days later the nude body of 27-year-old Nathaniel Cater was fished from the river. Williams would be charged with his murder and with killing Jimmy Payne, 29.
Carpet fibers and dog hair found in the car were central to the prosecution’s case against Williams, who was convicted of both murders and implicated in 22 others.
Blackwelder, 63, doesn’t believe Williams killed anyone.
“Somebody needed to be caught, and because all of the victims were black it needed to be a black person,” Blackwelder said.
Williams, he said, is nothing more than a convenient scapegoat with bad timing.
“The main thing Wayne had against him was being on that bridge at the wrong time,” he said.
After the elder Williams died in 2005 the station wagon remained at his home in Columbus. Four years of neglect have taken a toll; Blackwelder said the car is no longer driveable, even though it has logged a mere 26,046 miles.
Last week it was towed to what’s likely to be its final stop -- Blackwelder’s garage in Piedmont, Ala.
The retired criminal justice professor said he thinks Williams would be acquitted if granted a retrial, though he knows a new hearing is unlikely.
Keeping the old Chevelle is about more than faint hope.
“I got to know Wayne’s parents very well,” Blackwelder said. “I promised his mother Faye that I would never forsake her son, and I intend to keep that promise.”
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