Atlanta's Missing and Murdered is a necessary and important documentary series that resonates with current events and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The documentary series "Atlanta's Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children" begins this Saturday, July 18 on OCS Choc. This 5 episode docu-series looks back at the murders of black children in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981. Return on this icy case.
Atlanta's Missing and Murdered : what's it about?
In the 1970s, Atlanta is booming, thanks in part to the election of the city's first black mayor. However, beneath the surface, old racial and economic divisions persisted. When African-American children began to disappear, people became concerned. The city is on the verge of an unprecedented crisis.
In the period between 1979 to 1981, at least 30 African-American children and young adults disappeared or were murdered in Atlanta. Although 23-year-old Wayne Williams was prosecuted for two of the crimes, the rest of the cases were ultimately closed following his conviction in 1982. The docuseries hears from the victims’ families and examines the original trial materials and court documents, raising new questions for further investigation, and takes a closer look at the racial tensions and cultural clashes that brought Atlanta to a boiling point and caught the nation in a moment of transition
Atlanta's Missing and Murdered: know more
Directed by Samuel D. Pollard (who has collaborated on several occasions with Spike Lee), Joshua Bennett, Maro Chermayeff and Jeff Dupre, Atlanta's Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children is a documentary series about the 1979-1981 Atlanta murders. The Atlanta Child Murders was the focus of Mindhunter's Season 2 and was the subject of a mini-series entitled The Atlanta Child Murders. Broadcast in 1985 and hosted by Morgan Freeman, James Earl Jones, Martin Sheen and Bill Paxton, the series dealt with the consequences of the murders and the trial. Composed of 5 episodes, HBO Atlanta's Missing and Murdered looks back at the abduction and murder of at least 30 black children in Atlanta between the summer of 1979 and the summer of 1981.
In July 1979 in Atlanta, young Edward Hope Smith and Alfred Evans disappeared four days apart, their bodies were found on July 29. They are the first victims of what was later nicknamed "The Atlanta Killer" or "The Night Stalker". During the fall, several children disappear and their molested bodies are found lifeless. The victims are all black children from the poorer areas of the city. Yet the police do not immediately link the murders to each other. It will be necessary to wait for 9 disappearances and the uprising of the families of the victims before the case becomes interesting. The mayor of the city, Maynard Jackson then asks the White House to send the FBI to investigate (this is what is reported in Mindhunter). On July 30, 1980, when a twelfth child had just disappeared, the FBI officially intervened in the investigation. More than one hundred agents were mobilized, curfews were imposed and children were forbidden to play outside.
A total of twenty-four children or adolescents and six adults were abducted and murdered between July 1979 and May 1981. In each case, the victims were suffocated, strangled or stabbed, and many of them were found in the Chattahoochee River, which runs through the city. Surveillance was set up on a bridge.
The ideal culprit
On the evening of May 22, 1981, the police surveillance team heard a loud splash sound and deduced that something heavy had just been thrown into the water. They then stopped the first car that crossed the bridge. It is Wayne Williams, a 23-year-old African-American talent promoter. Two days after his arrest, the body of a 27-year-old man is found in the river. The victim, Nathaniel Cater, was asphyxiated before being thrown into the water. Fibres from Williams' home and car were found on his body. These samples also link the death of 21-year-old Jimmy Ray Payne, who disappeared a few weeks earlier, to Williams. After breaking the suspect's alibi, the police then conducted several polygraph tests on him. The results were conclusive: he's lying,
Wayne Williams publicly claimed his innocence, but was finally arrested on June 21, 1981 for the murders of Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Ray Payne. After a speedy trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, there is no evidence to link him to the murders of the children. It is this lack of evidence that still casts doubt on his guilt in the overall case.
Atlanta's Missing and Murdered provides a different perspective on this tragic and chilling case through archival footage, interviews with families and investigators, and the presentation of new evidence. The issue of racial tensions and the political interests at stake in the resolution of this case are clearly articulated. For the investigators, the guilt of Wayne Williams was beyond doubt and led to the conclusion of this degenerating case. Indeed, riots and demonstrations were taking place in Atlanta and Williams' arrest was a perfect fit for elected officials who wanted to bury this case as quickly as possible. Especially since the murders stopped after his arrest.
Reopening the investigation
In 2004, Wayne Williams' lawyers requested a retrial after discovering that police had allegedly withheld evidence of Ku Kux Klan involvement in some of the murders, but the request was denied two years later. The same year, Charles Sanders, a white supremacist who had belonged to the Ku Kux Klan, reportedly referred to the killings in a secret interview. Sanders is featured in David Fincher's series, but passes the lie detector test.
Mindhunter's offer to put the spotlight on the case and the new evidence made it possible, forty years later, to reopen the investigation. Indeed, in March 2019, the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, and the chief of police, Erika Shields, announced that they would officially reopen the investigation. The evidence is being re-examined using new technologies. At a press conference, Keisha Lance Bottom said: "There may not be anything left to test. (...) But I think history will judge us by our actions, and we can say we tried."
Atlanta's Missing and Murdered is a necessary and important documentary series that resonates with current events and the Black Lives Matter movement. The first three episodes are available July 18th on OCS Choc and OCS on Demand. The 2 following episodes will be broadcasted from July 25th.