New DNA testing of evidence from the notorious Atlanta Child Murders cases, an effort announced by authorities in 2019, will begin within 60 days, according to the Atlanta Police Department.
“Atlanta Child Murders” is the collective term for at least 25 African-American children and adults found dead in 1979 through 1981 around metro Atlanta, including in the areas of Brookhaven and Buckhead. Wayne Bertram Williams is serving a life sentence in state prison for two of the killings and was suspected by authorities of committing most of the others. But he has maintained his innocence, while some police officers, journalists and family members have suggested others were involved, possibly including the Ku Klux Klan.
The new DNA testing was announced in March 2019 by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields and former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. The announcement came on the eve of the airing of a television documentary about the cases produced by Will Packer, a prominent movie executive who lives in Atlanta and who was a supporter of Bottoms’ mayoral campaign.
In the nearly two years since then, some of the large amount of evidence has been reviewed and is about to be submitted for testing, according to APD spokesperson Officer Steve Avery.
“The cases are being actively investigated and this work requires meticulous and time-consuming effort to sort through evidence that is decades old,” Avery said in a written statement. “The investigative team advises that evidence for DNA testing has not yet been submitted to the crime lab, but they plan to begin hand-carrying it for DNA analysis within the next 60 days.”
The public should not expect results anytime soon.
“Once submitted, there is no estimated time for the results to be returned from the lab, but it is likely to take months,” Avery said.
The office of the new district attorney, Fani Willis, did not immediately respond to a comment request.
The wave of murders terrorized the city as the victims, most of them boys, began appearing in vacant lots, rivers and wooded areas. One victim who was found in a local area was Patrick Rogers, 16, whose body was discovered in the Chattahoochee River on the Cobb County side of the Paces Ferry Road bridge on Dec. 7, 1980, according to media reports at the time. Another was Patrick Baltazar, 11, who was found dead Feb. 13, 1981 in the Corporate Square office park in what is now the city of Brookhaven.
Williams, an African American man, became a prime suspect after police allegedly heard him dump a body off the James Jackson Parkway bridge in northwest Atlanta. In 1982, he was convicted of killing two adult victims. Police alleged that evidence connected him to most of the other killings as well, including those of Rogers and Baltazar, but he was never charged with those crimes.
At the time of Williams’ trial, DNA testing did not exist. He and his attorneys have long challenged the forensic evidence that helped to convict him, mostly involving analysis of hairs and carpet fibers. About 10 years ago, a limited form of DNA testing showed that Williams could not be confirmed or ruled out as the source of hairs found on Baltazar’s body, according to media reports. Similar results were reportedly returned for dog hairs found on Baltazar and other victims that authorities alleged came from Williams’ pet.