Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms will be preserving the history of those lost during the Atlanta Child Murders with a monument.
For the uninitiated, Atlanta had one of the most infamous crimes in American history, a series of killings that would become known as the Atlanta child murders. From July 1979 to May 1981, at least 28 people in the Atlanta area, most of them impoverished black boys and teenagers, were kidnapped and murdered.
The first murder of the spree began in the summer of 1979 when 14-year-old Edward Hope Smith and 13-year-old Alfred Evans disappeared. The bodies of both boys were found in a vacant parking lot days later, although Evans wouldn’t be identified for more than a year.
The alarming issue with the first incident was the “Police wrote off the killings as drug-related and almost forgot them,” the Washington Post later reported.
A lot has changed in Atlanta since 1979,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a news conference. “We now know that DNA technology is much more advanced. It did not exist in 1981.”
In some cases, their bodies started to be discovered weeks or months later, leaving families and communities devastated. Wayne Williams was charged with two murders; Nathaniel Cater (aged 27) and Jimmy Ray Payne (aged 21). Payne was thought to be friends with Patrick Rogers (also known locally as Pat Man), another victim in the spate of tragedies in Atlanta.
Williams was convicted in 1982 in the cases of Cater and Payne, and is now serving a life sentence. The task force given the job of working the case believe Williams was also responsible for the other murders from the time period of 1979-1981, most of them children, but Williams has never faced charges in court for any of these other cases and neither has anyone else.
The has been rumors that it may have been the Klu Klux Klan behind some of the murders, but at the end of the day it was a case that the FBI’s fairly new (at that time) Behavioural Sciences Unit was heavily involved in.
Greg Pridgeon, a former aide to the Mayor, previously said that the time of the murders was “difficult” to live and work in.
“He [Mayor Jackson] put extra pressure on the police and on himself to make this bad situation go away,” Pridgeon explained in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s 2003 obituary for Jackson.
“It was a difficult time in his administration and his life – young black kids getting snatched up and killed… Him seeing young Atlantans, whom he loved dearly, killed, hurt him.”
As a result of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom and the council wanting to remember the victims in a unique way, the city has contracted Gordon Huether + Partners for the creation of the metal and stone monument, which will include an eternal flame, sculptural wall and benches on the grounds of Atlanta City Hall.
“This long surface of steel will act as the canvas upon which each of the thirty stainless steel names will be placed. Under each name, there will be a Corten steel shelf that will add visual texture, as well as a space for someone to place a personal touchstone, such as a candle, flower, or teddy bear. The taller end of the tapered steel will be the home of the eternal flame,” the proposal said.
A NBC mini-series was created in the 1980’s that took a look at the heinous crime spree.The Atlanta Child Murders is an American television miniseries that aired on February 10 and 12, 1985 on CBS. Inspired by true events, the miniseries examines the so-called “Atlanta child murders” of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Calvin Levels – Wayne Williams
Morgan Freeman – Ben Shelter
James Earl Jones – Major Walker
Rip Torn – Lewis Slaton
Jason Robards – Alvin Binder
Lynne Moody – Selena Cobb
Ruby Dee – Faye Williams
Gloria Foster – Camille Bell
Paul Benjamin – Homer Williams
Martin Sheen – Chet Dettlinger
Andrew Robinson – Jack Mallard
Bill Paxton – Campbell
According to Wikipedia, Atlanta officials criticized The Atlanta Child Murders, claiming that it distorted the facts of the case. After a series of negotiations, CBS executives agreed to insert a disclaimer alerting viewers that the film is based on fact but contains fictional elements.
However, the series did bring to light to many viewers the terrible events that occurred during the time period. Below is an updated news series that takes a look at the issues of the case and how it impacted people in Atlanta til this day.