Atlanta's Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children S1E1 Script

Part 1 (2020)

[bright tone]

["Save Me" by Joan Armatrading playing]

♪ ♪

♪ Sinking ♪

♪ Caught up in a whirling motion ♪

♪ Such a strange sensation ♪

♪ ♪

♪ The currents uncertain ♪

♪ Like sails of a mill, I spin ♪

♪ Like wheels, I move in a circle ♪

♪ While you stand ♪

♪ On the bank ♪

♪ Immune or evasive ♪

♪ Throw me a lifeline ♪

♪ Save me ♪

♪ Save me ♪ The Atlanta child murders from 40 years ago are back in the headlines as investigators now plan to reexamine the evidence.

The man detectives believe is responsible is serving two life sentences, but he was never tried on any of the child murders.

[uneasy music]

The bodies were linked to his vehicles, his environment, his house.

The fiber evidence, I think, was the most important because it basically put a lot of dead bodies in his environment.

We can prove emphatically that Wayne was a pr-- was a homosexual.

He's gone all the time at night.

He driving all these cars.

And even--he got in a fight with his daddy where, I believe, Homer pulled a shotgun on him.

So stuff like that made Wayne out to be violent.

♪ ♪ Only people I think that can snatch some black children is white people.

It was kind of crazy how all those kids end up missing in broad daylight.

You go to a black neighborhood and snatch up a child in broad daylight, and a black person did it, they would know who did it, because we know black people.

It was numerous people that was doing the killing, a bunch of people that knew each other and was getting away with it.

♪ ♪ When you look at 30 murders over 23 months, that's a big deal.

For Atlanta to be able to move forward, you gotta get rid of this stain.

This stain is still here.

Good afternoon, and thank you all for being here today.

In 1979, I was nine years old.

I was the daughter of a single mother working two jobs, and my story was the story of many children across this city.

In the backdrop of that story is something that has stayed with me my entire life, and that was the era of Atlanta's missing and murdered children.

And for those of us who grew up in that era, in so many ways, it shaped our childhood.

It robbed us of our innocence, and it reminded us all that evil was real.

There is something sick about people who would snatch out the lives of little children.

Certainly afflicted by a fiendish illness that is beyond our comprehension.

A lot has changed in our world since 1981, when there was a conviction for two of these murders.

A conviction of Wayne Williams.

Wayne Williams? [stammers]

Who? Are you serious?

Wayne? All these kids?

I mean, half these kids were his size.

Now, I don't know how that little guy killed 29 people.

29?

We have to understand there's evil in the world, man.

I mean, nobody wants to look at evil and say, "Oh, why'd he do it?" He liked murdering people.

Wayne liked killing people.

Wayne was a killer, 'cause think, you have to be a killer to kill a kid.

You have to be a killer to choke the life out of a child.

He wanted to kill them. He killed them because he enjoyed killing people, and we have to accept that.

And those are kids.

How can you do that to a child?

♪ ♪ Are you human?

Are you beast? What are you?

And this case is a case of politics--

I say politics, greed, racism, and oh, yeah, murder.

And they shut the cases down two days after Wayne was convicted and said, "Yeah, he's probably done all the rest of them, but we're not gonna waste anymore time or money."

Okay, thank you, goodbye. Closed the cases.

That was it. Amen, goodbye.

The families never had any closure.

I commend the mayor for coming in and saying, "You know what?

"This is a really ugly, dark chapter, but we need to own it."

The Atlanta Police Department has numerous boxes of evidence.

We already have begun the process of going through these boxes to see if there's anything that was never tested.

Do I think that in some of the cases, there will be a different suspect?

Yes.

Lieutenant Danny Agan here-- he was a key investigator, along with Detective Buffington on the original investigation, and we spoke with him ahead of time, and he agreed that it's prudent to review the case.

So I appreciate you being here, Lieutenant.

Some people will refuse to believe whatever evidence you throw in front of them, and I'm convinced right now that if Wayne Williams confessed today and says, "Okay, I'ma tell you all, I did it," there would be people that would say, "Oh, no. It's not even possible.

You know, I've been asked a lot of times, was he guilty?

Did he act guilty?

And I have to say, he was a lot of things, and sometimes he made me...

Perhaps it's unladylike, but he made me pissing angry, because he was difficult, but while he was a lot of things, I never saw a killer.

We don't know what we'll find, but what we do know is, we have an obligation to these families to ensure that every imaginable investigative lead was followed.

Doubt. There's always doubt.

And if there's doubt that Wayne didn't kill my child, then who did?

How could you not support the mothers?

Obviously, somebody killed their children.

And I can't stand here today and not call their names.

They were Edward Smith, age 14, Alfred Evans... [readers echoing names]

Age 13, Milton Harvey, age 14, Yusuf Bell, age 9, Angel Lanier, age 12.

Jeffery Mathis, age 10, Eric Middlebrooks, age 14, Chris Richardson, age 12, LaTonya Wilson, age 7, Anthony Carter, age 9, Earl Terrell, age 10, Clifford Jones, 13, Darron Glass, 10, Charles Stevens, 12, Aaron Jackson, 9 Patrick Rogers, 16, Lubie Geter, 14, Terry Pue, 15, Patrick...Baltazar, 11.

11 years old.

Joseph Bell, 15, Timothy Hill, 13.

Clifford Jones, 13 years old.

Curtis Walker, 13 years old.

William Barrett, 17.

Adults Eddie Duncan, 21, Larry Rogers, 20, Michael McIntosh, 23, Jimmy Ray Payne, 21, John Porter, 28, Nathaniel Cater, 27.

♪ ♪ There have been some who've cautioned us not to touch it, to leave it alone, which I find very interesting.

You think about the attention that's given now when a child disappears, you think about the attention that's been given to JonBenét Ramsey, and multiply that by an extraordinary number of children.

I don't think it's right for all these kids to be killed in this city and nobody was concerned about it.

We loved our children, and it really hurt.

I want to know who killed Curtis.

His case is still sitting on the shelf getting dusty and rusty, and you can't see the page.

Anybody hear the sound of my voice, please, please help us, because I'm not gonna stop.

'Cause you know why I'm not gonna stop?

Because I'm a warrior, and I'm a prayer warrior, and I'm not gonna stop till I get it.

A fiberglass stretcher was sent to the bridge, and soon afterward, the body was taken by ambulance to the DeKalb County medical examiner's office for identification.

On Friday afternoon, about 3:30 or 4:00, my chief investigator notified me that they had found what appeared to be the body of a black child in the river in the south part of DeKalb County in Atlanta, Georgia.

For hours, reporters awaited word of who the young child in the river might be.

That was Curtis they pulled out the water.

Curtis Walker was 13 years old.

He'd been suffocated.

A lady two apartments from me-- she called me on the phone.

She said, "Catherine, look at the news, "'cause I think that's Curtis that they pulling out the water."

So I ran upstairs and cut the TV on and started looking at it and sat on the edge of the bed, and I was looking at the news, and I seen them when they pulled him out the water.

Can you tell us anything?

I haven't anything to tell you.

I don't know anything. I haven't been down there yet.

Well, have you been briefed at all?

No. Do you have a body down there? I don't know.

I just run out the house.

They had to catch me.

I just ran out the house like a wild woman.

I was screaming and hollering so loud.

[mournful music]

I just knew that was him.

I knew that was him.

We need all the vehicles moved off [indistinct] road...

I was so crazy.

They had to call the fire department.

Only thing I remember is, I'm laying down on the sofa with my boys sitting down on each side of me.

I mean, my mind had left me, 'cause I had a suicide spirit, and I wanted to cut my wrists because I felt like I didn't have nothing to live for.

♪ ♪ I couldn't sleep at night.

I couldn't eat.

I couldn't do nothing.

♪ ♪ You know, I wanted to know who did that to my son.

I wanted to know.

♪ ♪ There's no memorial.

There's nothing in the city other than institutional knowledge and your memory that tells you about these young people who were murdered, And their cases were never solved.

♪ ♪ Do what should've been done in 1979, 1980, and 1981.

Do the police work.

Solve the cases.

If you can find bin Laden, you can do anything.

But my question is, do Atlanta want to pursue this?

Because if they pursue this, it's gonna destroy the Atlanta name for a while.

It will turn Atlanta into the real Atlanta.

I understand why the city handled it the way they did and wanted it to go away, because the result of how they handled it is this beautiful city that we have today.

♪ Every man has a place ♪

♪ In his heart, there's a space ♪

♪ And the world can't erase ♪

♪ His fantasies ♪

♪ Take a ride in the sky ♪

♪ On our ship, fantasize ♪ Atlanta is the epitome of success in all areas of the black experience in America.

Atlanta is a city that has four historically black colleges, and they're all producing great students that come out into the workforce.

The jobs are available here.

♪ Forever ♪ From the African-American perspective, Atlanta is Wakanda.

Bye.

♪ ♪ There was a magnetism to Atlanta that's really existed for a long time.

Atlanta was what we would call the crown jewel of the South.

Well, you do feel a kind of pride that's associated with some of the fancier things about the city-- for instance, the black businesses here.

This is the main business artery in my district.

Most of the businesses up and down here are owned and run by black people.

You could live in Atlanta and be successful and not go downtown to a white bank.

There's a black hospital right here with black doctors in it.

There's a black movie, there's a black-- obviously, a nightclub, There's a black street called Auburn Avenue.

[upbeat music]

My ex-husband is in the entertainment business, so we lived in Augusta, which is about 2 1/2 hours east of here.

And he brought me downtown. I'll never forget it.

I saw black people with suits and ties and dressed so business-like, and I said, "This is where I need to be.

I am coming to live here."

♪ ♪ There was a lot of activists who had flooded into the city of all kinds from the Nation of Islam to communist organizations to, you know, civil rights organizations.

Many of us were involved in struggles and movements and going to jail and picketing and fighting the Klan.

There were boycotts, clearly, but the real energy of protest did not happen in the city of Atlanta.

This is not a resistance city.

This is the city of the middle class.

This was the city where the civil rights leaders come back to and have, relatively, racial harmony because it was not politically-- they wanted Atlanta to be the city too busy to hate.

That kind of description of Atlanta continued through the '60s and the '70s, but into the 1980s, and in fact, Atlanta was one of the first cities to elect a black mayor.

And Maynard Jackson was a mayor in full.

Now, you don't have to be crazy to be mayor, you know, but it helps. [laughs]

Maynard was the first black mayor of any major Southern city.

Never... Never.

Never... Never.

Never... all: Never!

Never... all: Never!

Never... all: Never!

Never shall I let you down.

[cheers and applause]

It was euphoric.

It was like, "Here's one of us getting to the seat of power, finally."

Maynard Jackson came in knowing that he had to do at least two things.

Number one is that black businesses had been locked out of city business, and the city was spending tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars, and black businesses were left to the crumbs, and he knew he had to change that.

The second thing he knew is that he had to get control of the police department, and that they had to acknowledge that the people that they were serving were mostly black people.

Maynard Jackson took over office in 1974, and one of the first things he said was, "I want to make the police department more brown."

He wanted to integrate it.

Well, if you were a white officer in the APD then, what's the message you got?

"There ain't room for me anymore."

So a lot of those who could, retired.

And Maynard was not playing about blacks getting their piece of the pie.

Mayor Jackson called this the most ambitious all-black project...

Made for some great stories because it was new territory for both the white community and the black community.

It was like a tale of two cities coming together for the first time.

And there were stories that abounded here in Atlanta unlike anyplace else.

It's time for us to understand, America is a sick, racist nation.

Hosea Williams, Julian Bond, John Lewis.

I mean, just many civil rights leaders, legends, tough folks who did great things.

But by the same token, it was not always that easy to deal with the J.B. Stoners of the world, KKK.

Oh, we have all of this propaganda directed against white people.

I remember interviewing him one time in Stone Mountain, such a Southern KKK foothold.

J.B. Stoner was holding a rally there.

Now, how I got that assignment, I'm not sure.

Maybe it was partly a joke.

Maybe it was to see, could I handle it?

And I heard him use the N word all the time.

I remember asking him, "Stoner," I said, "Man, you not gonna call me that word, not on camera."

And he's a little guy. He didn't call me on camera.

He said, "You finished now?" I said, "Yeah."

He said, "All right, nigger. You can go."

I have to put up with Jews and niggers on television whether I like it or not.

It was still the South.

Atlanta was-- during that time, it was kind of like you stay in your neighborhood, you stay in yours.

Klan presence was a real thing.

Atlanta as a city-- you know, they'll tell you when you come to Atlanta, Atlanta's the city too busy to hate, but go 15 minutes outside of Atlanta, and you will see, especially back then, the Confederate flags still flying, the Confederate symbols still around, the streets in the black communities being named after Confederate soldiers.

The reality is, it's the South, with old feelings and old ways.

When Maynard was running for mayor, the overall tone was, "You're not gonna take over this city."

We have reached the point in our history where it is time black leaders tell black audiences that for their own good, they must be able to think white.

You would read stuff in the paper, and you would hear the conversations, you know, and you would know that... if you were black, you had to get back.

It was all about growth and development and more people coming, more roads being built.

We have to keep getting bigger, and it was the new South.

This was supposed to be the city where black folks had all this opportunity, and there were a lot of black folks who found a lot of opportunity here, but in a lot of ways, for a lot of poor people in poor communities, they were starting to see that nothing was really changing.

The schools weren't really getting better.

They weren't getting more jobs.

The promises of the civil rights movement were not being realized.

The poorest families in Atlanta have a yearly income just under $2,500.

They live in areas like Techwood Homes, Summerhill, and Mechanicsville.

It's in stark contrast to their fellow citizens in some northern communities of the city, where average family income is $22,000.

'Cause I knew the history of this city, I started thinking about this issue of whether Atlanta was a black mecca or not, right?

And I thought that if you were a poor kid in Vine City or in English Avenue or Perry Homes, or any of the projects here in Atlanta, the black mecca was more myth than reality, that it did not ring true for everybody.

In these communities, this was being poor and black in Georgia, before Maynard Jackson.

This is poor and black in Georgia after Maynard Jackson.

So in that sense, you know, there had been hope that was crushed, but it was nothing new.

The public housing projects were utter poverty.

It was just another slice of Atlanta that many folks tried to avoid.

It was almost a hidden Atlanta.

White folks hardly saw it at all because they lived in the wealthier, northern parts of town.

So there was the black middle class and the black lower class, and of course, you had working class families as well, so it was like three divisions of black folks, and they didn't necessarily intermingle.

♪ ♪

Wayne Williams was the only child of Homer and Faye Williams.

I knew them as a true Atlanta family.

Homer and Faye Williams were great people.

Homer Williams was a photographer, and he freelanced for the "Atlanta Daily World."

Faye was a schoolteacher for years.

She taught some of the mothers of the missing murdered children.

♪ ♪ Homer and Faye Williams were very loyal to their son.

♪ ♪ They were very close. They were very close.

They just loved him and adored him.

♪ ♪ His mom and dad, middle income folk, were considered very good individuals in the black community.

Really a good family.

You can tell the house was a modest house that they had bought, in a modest neighborhood, well-kept, with mowed lawns, manicured hedges.

You know these were people who kept their house very well.

Wayne was an A student, very bright, very entrepreneurial.

Wayne was a young man who had a very promising life but got short circuited.

July 28th, 1979, police discover the decomposed remains of two children in a wooded area in southwest Atlanta.

Shift started at 4:00, and it wasn't long after 4:00 that the call came up.

A body had been discovered by someone who was scavenging the roadside, looking for cans or bottles, and in the process of doing this, they came upon a decomposing body of a human.

♪ ♪ I was a--what you call a rookie homicide detective.

I was still in training.

I was still trying to figure out, you know, what homicide detectives were supposed to do and how they were supposed to do it, and this body here is really in bad shape.

Cause of death was not known.

If you want to describe a rural section of Atlanta, this is it.

It's wooded.

It's a road that's not heavily traveled.

If you were gonna dump a body, this is the place that you would want to go dump a body.

And somebody says, "Well, let's conduct a concentric search

"and make sure we're not missing any other evidence that could be important."

So everybody fans out, starts prowling around, looking through the woods.

♪ ♪ Next thing you know, somebody walked upon another body-- black male, fully clothed.

And it's not as badly decomposed as the previous body, which made you think that the two bodies had been dumped at different times.

And they weren't initially considered to be related homicides.

One of them is quickly identified as 14-year-old Edward Hope Smith, but the second body is in such an advanced state of decomposition, it's impossible to say who it is.

Bodies are taken to the medical examiner's office for examination, and then the determination is made that one of them has been shot, and then the other one, cause of death was determined as strangulation or maybe unknown, initially.

Both of these boys, by the way, are black, and they're both about 15 years old.

The examiner called my mom, saying that they had found my brother.

She said that wasn't my brother, 'cause the body that was there-- it didn't match any of the clothing that my brother was wearing.

At the medical examiner's office, Alfred's father and two brothers looked at the body and said it wasn't the boy they knew.

I went to the medical examiner two or three times, looked--had to look through a little frosty window about that big.

But they showed me two or three different children that I had to look at.

The body stayed in the morgue until August 7, 1980, when the boy was buried in Crest Lawn Memorial Park as a pauper.

In October 1980, an Atlanta detective discovered Alfred's dental records.

Associate medical examiner John Fegel officially pronounced the boy in Crest Lawn to be Alfred.

He said his neck was broken, and that took the life out of me then.

Who would want to break his neck?

We put money together and gave it to him for the bus fare.

I say, "Now, this is for your bus fare, "this is for your snack, and the movie fare."

And I don't know if somebody broke his neck for that.

I just never understood that.

I feel like somebody knows something other than Wayne Williams.

[dramatic music]

Reporting on the story of the missing and murdered children, at first was a story-- it's just two boys who have been found, and maybe they were together.

We don't know what happened, but it was just reported.

Two young boys found dead, Niskey Lake Road.

Period.

Things started in the context of a high homicide year, one of the highest in the--

I think the highest in the history of Atlanta.

♪ ♪ The first year I was in in '79, I believe we had 230, 240 murders, and we were balancing two, three cases.

Every officer was, every detective.

♪ ♪ Most of the crime that you were dealing with: black victims, black perpetrators.

The people being victimized were the poorest people and the most vulnerable people in the city.

The initial reaction was, "These are the kinds of things that happen every year.

This is nothing extraordinary."

So it was par for the course, just the usual, what had happened before.

The disappearance in September of another 14-year-old also attracts little public attention.

Then nine-year-old Yusuf Bell disappears.

He wasn't the kind of little boy that would run away.

He's involved in everything.

He's in the gifted program at Dunbar.

He's involved in boys' club.

He's involved in a karate class.

He's running for treasurer of his school.

He plays in the band. He plays drum.

The initial police who showed up had, in fact, seen him going to the store, and we know that he got to the store and we know that he left the store, and...

It's like he dropped off the edge of the world at McDaniel and Glen, and nobody's seen him since then.

I was able to get a group of high school students that helped with the search, because at that point, missing persons consisted of a sergeant and two detectives for everything in Atlanta.

Nine-year-old Yusuf Bell has been missing since Sunday.

The nine-year-old is only one of about

500 missing or runaways the squad handles each year.

Okay, where was he last seen at?

And so, of course, we weren't a priority.

Just send him home.

Just let him go and let him call us.

We'll come pick him up.

They don't have to even bring him back.

Just turn him loose where he can get to a phone.

Just send him home.

For a child to be missing and for it to be important, they had to be somebody's child.

We did not know that other children were missing until they found a body, and they thought it might have been Yusuf's body, and it was, in fact, Milton Harvey's body.

There were also two other boys that were missing, but we didn't know that.

It took people a minute to really grasp the gravity of this, 'cause black children get killed all the time.

You know, they go missing all the time, and so I think it took a minute even for the black community to grasp the gravity of children missing over a relatively short period of time.

Yusuf Bell, nine years old, missing from his home for almost a month then found strangled in an abandoned school.

He had been strangled, and his body was put into the shaft in the floor.

The sergeant of the missing persons unit and someone else came over together to let me know that they had found Yusuf.

♪ ♪ I was angry. I was hurt.

I was relieved.

And I know relieved sounds weird, but...

Up until that point, in my head, someone has stolen my little boy and he's alive someplace, and they're torturing him, and at least I know that's not happening.

It is my hope at this particular point that the conscience of this city, the conscience of this nation, will be penetrated by the life and by the death of this young man.

Women like Camille Bell know the reality too well.

After her son was murdered, she created the Committee to Stop Children's Murders.

One of the things that happened fairly quickly:

Camille Bell, she started the committee to protect children, and the camera loved her.

Yusuf's dead.

We can't do anything about that.

But the citizens of Atlanta and the citizens of the surrounding area are going to have to take our community back.

And she was the real firebrand and organizer, and she was very smart, media-savvy, so she was able to attract attention to this issue.

How many children do we have to lose in our neighborhoods before the police department says, "Hey, we've got a problem"?

The reason there was an us at that point as a group was because A, we were being supportive of each other, but B, we were trying to-- since the mayor would not notify the city of Atlanta that something was going on, we were trying to notify them.

Yusuf was last seen here, and he was found here.

They did a good job, a great job, in fact, of creating an organization and then keeping that organization in the public eye as this calamity progressed.

I know my son and all.

You know there was a boy killed in his apartment.

There's one guy I'm interested in.

Camille Bell.

Of all the mothers, she was not taking it.

And she kept asking the mayor and asking the police chief and applying pressure to the point of where people started not taking her seriously.

You know, she's just a grieving mother.

And with us this morning in our Atlanta bureau to talk about all of this is Mrs. Camille Bell.

She has a special feeling because her nine-year-old son, Yusuf, disappeared on October 21st, 1979.

Mrs. Bell is chairman of a new organization trying to deal with all of this, a committee called Stop the Murders of the Children.

Is that the correct name, Ms. Bell?

No, it isn't, the correct name is the Committee to Stop Children's Murders.

She would just show up and demand to see the mayor, whether he was there or not.

She'd show up at city council meetings, and from the time that she came on the scene, every time that another child was found dead, she would be the headliner, the constant, constant pounding on it.

♪ ♪ The body of 14-year-old Eric Middlebrooks was found about 7:00 this morning behind a bar in the 200 block of Flat Shoals Road near Memorial.

We got a call.

I think it was 6:00 in the morning.

It was not quite daylight. It was still dark out.

And Danny Agan was working with me.

And this was a body that was dumped by the dumpster.

When we got out there, we saw that it was a child.

♪ ♪ His mother said he left his house at 345 Howell Drive just a couple of blocks away about 10:30 last night.

Police say he was killed soon after that.

When you work a case like that, you walk onto a scene, and you got nothing.

You got a body and any evidence that you can hopefully find.

Of course, we didn't have a lot of technology back then.

It was a pad and a pen, and, you know, roll out a tape measure and take measurements, take photographs.

And he had no identification, nothing.

And then his pockets were turned outside, like a robbery.

There were four small puncture wounds to the breastplate, and I felt that was pretty significant, because it was not a cause of death and it was postmortem.

There was no bleeding.

He was hit on the back of the head with some kind of blunt instrument.

So while we're stooped over the body, Bob notices a fiber attached to this boy's shoe.

And it was a tuft of sort of a reddish fiber.

♪ ♪ And so I was preparing it to go take it to the GBI lab, and so my lieutenant, BL Nikirk-- he walked over and he said, "Well, what are you doing, Buffington?"

And I tried to explain that we think that it can be something significant, and he was-- he didn't care about it, and he said to the guys.

He said, "Yeah, well, Buffington's gonna go home

"with me, and we're gonna clean out my dryer, and we'll solve all the murders in Atlanta," and they all laughed, ha, ha, ha.

Real funny.

We haven't uncovered anything now that would lead us to believe that there's any connection at all between this and any other of the homicides that we've had of the young people in the city.

At that time, of course, there was no DNA.

The only thing we could have is, if you had blood, then you could trace it back, male, female, black, white.

Hair, you could do the same thing.

Fingerprints, of course.

So there wasn't a whole lot to work with.

It was all work the street, talk to people, find out what the person did, if he had any enemies.

He was identified by some of the kids who went to school with him at Roosevelt High School.

We went to the address that was listed for Eric Middlebrooks and spoke with his foster mother.

Danny and I stayed out on the front stoop, and she talked to us through the screen door.

It's a lot like in the movies.

When you go into the neighborhood, a lot of people just don't want to talk to you, and so that's-- that's what we were faced with most of the time.

Really, the first murder is just a murder.

The second murder, in retrospect, is part of a pattern, but the fact is, in any large city in 1979, '80, '81, there was a fair amount of crime, and every large city newspaper and the local TV station has to figure out how to cover that best for its public.

You had kids who were a second-- who were afterthought, You had the media.

They were kind of late getting on board.

And by the media being late, law enforcement could take their time

'cause nobody's really looking at them, so you have, like, a perfect storm going on, and so that allowed it to-- to fester.

LaTonya Wilson, seven years old, kidnapped from the bedroom of her home on Verbena Street Southwest, missing since June 22nd.

I just want my little girl found safely and brought home.

I miss her, and I love her.

[sobs] I want her...

All together, nine children between the ages of 7 and 14 have disappeared in the last year.

Five were later found dead.

The other four are still missing.

There is something wrong with the heart of Atlanta.

There is something wrong with the spirit of Atlanta.

There was an image maintenance problem.

Atlanta was trying to establish that it was a good place to invest, a good place for conventions to come.

They opened the new Atlanta airport terminal, which at that time was a big deal.

It was very important to keep money and... white folks, primarily, coming to Atlanta and feeling safe here and feeling safe investing here.

Then I see our leadership, and only words that I have for it, because sometimes my vocabulary gets limited, is shucking and jiving.

Camille Bell and the mothers committee provided a great public service.

I'm not sure that that would've been the first reaction of the Atlanta Police Department, you know, which also was under the command of Lee Brown, a black commissioner, and so there was at first a bit of astonishment that the police department was being accused of ignoring murders of black children, you know, because that would be the last thing that Maynard Jackson or Lee Brown or any of the people working for them would've wanted.

Atlanta Public Safety Commissioner Lee P. Brown is standing by. Go right ahead.

You're on "Sunday Evening Live."

I would like to know why so many black kids have, you know, had to die before anyone got really interested in, you know, solving-- you know, wondering what happened to them, you know?

I mean, a bunch of them died before anyone got interested, you know?

Just 'cause they black kids.

From our perspective, we became concerned when we had the death of the first black child.

We all were saying to the administration, 'cause I had been the city hall reporter, "Why aren't we putting more resources into finding out who's doing this?"

It didn't become the story it should have been until, I think, there were nine young people who were dead, and that's when they formed the task force.

Investigation of the murdered and missing children is under a special task force of the Atlanta Police Department with assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

When the task force was formed, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Atlanta PD, the Fulton County Sheriff's Office, everybody was involved.

The head the task force is Major W.J. Taylor, whose background includes traffic, the SWAT team, and community affairs, but no investigative duties.

To my surprise, I was called into the commissioner's office and told that I was going to become the commander of that task force.

I was absolutely shocked at the time, because prior to that time, I had not worked any homicide cases.

It was sort of comical.

The homicide commander at that time made a joke about it, he said, "Taylor wouldn't know a dead body if he walked-- fell over it."

If you have any information, please call the Special Task Force on Children at 658-68...

We were getting thousands of leads and tips into the task force.

It was overwhelming.

We're not gonna leave any stone unturned.

And I suppose one of the biggest frustrations that we had: we invited to-- the commissioner invited-- well, I won't say he invited.

He was almost forced.

Dorothy Allison, which is a-- I guess she was a psychic contacted the media, and told the media that she had information regarding who was killing the kids.

Are you confident you'll be able to solve this crime? I'm positive.

I'm not confident.

There won't be any more dead. I'm here now.

So we get the psychic coming in.

We have to chauffeur her around to the various crime sites.

A visit by Dorothy Allison has all the trappings of a visit by a celebrity.

Her two-car caravan is filled with investigators and companions.

They pour into the house and hover over the psychic until she gets what she is after, and what she is after is a feeling, an impression, a mental image which will lead police to a solution.

And today, Dorothy Allison feels she will have answers.

And as a result of that one psychic, I think every psychic in the country decided they had information that we needed.

There. Oh, God.

♪ ♪ This is...bad.

Bad.

And then it's like...

And you sit there, and you're like, "What? What just happened?"

That's the kind of crazy that was going on in Atlanta.

Dressed in red berets and insignia T-shirts, New York's Guardian Angels came to teach Atlanta's children how to protect themselves.

There's no doubt that in the public housing projects, people had pretty much lost faith in law enforcement.

If a serious crime is being committed on this corner, we're not just gonna run to a telephone and call the police.

We are going to utilize our constitutional power of making a citizen's arrest.

We're gonna pursue that individual, detain him.

There's a lot of people that say, "We just don't see cops anywhere, we don't see it."

I brought that to the attention of Lee Brown, who was the public safety director.

He said, "Well, we have budgetary issues."

I said, "You might have budgetary issues, "but you need to get cops out there in uniform, showing people that you dare to care."

Everything you could think of, from psychics to dogs to profilers...

They were just throwing stuff up against the wall rather than getting back to basic police work.

But, Lord, I really hope they find out who's doing this and get them stopped, because this city can't handle losing many more children.

Christopher Richardson, age 11.

He vanished while playing near his home June 9th and is still missing.

We're just so upset.

We are concerned about our boy.

And all I want is just tell him

"Your mom's here."

He used to play with a little boy down the street.

They just disappeared from the neighborhood.

I called the police.

They told me that they couldn't do anything because it was...

I don't know how they handled it.

It wasn't the way I thought it would be.

I thought they would come, you know, sit down and talk to me and explain some of this stuff that was going on, but I didn't get a chance-- or they didn't get a chance to talk with me about it.

Just, I don't understand how people can just take your child like that.

We looked everywhere we knew to look, but I couldn't find my baby.

Anthony Carter, age nine, found stabbed to death July 7th, and Earl Lee Terrell, last seen on July 30th, still missing.

Earl Lee Terrell was my brother.

We was two years apart. He was the oldest.

♪ ♪ I remember how we used to play here all over this place.

All the kids used to be out here.

Whole bunch of kids out here.

That day, my brother Earl was like, "I want to go to the swimming pool."

My brother didn't have no clean swimming trunks, so I gave him my swimming trunks, and I gave him my money, and 20 minutes later, start walking-- they came to the pool.

That's when it all started.

Terrell was last seen in July, sitting outside a pool at South Bend Park.

Then he mysteriously disappeared.

It wasn't unusual for him to walk home.

He knew to go straight home.

So that's why I was kind of-- it's kind of crazy to me, like...

How?

We went looking for him, went all over the neighborhood where we always hang out at, and never found him.

♪ ♪ We were asking Maynard Jackson to warn the city that something was going on.

He told us he didn't want to alarm people in the city of Atlanta.

His own workers put Earl Terrell out of that swimming pool because they didn't know it was so unsafe out there, and that would've been fine if it had been 1978 in Atlanta, but it was 1980, and children were being murdered.

Clifford Jones became victim number 12.

His body was found behind a dumpster at the Hollywood Plaza shopping center.

Around September of '78, we moved to Atlanta from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

My nephew Clifford came in town to visit us, him and his sisters and his brother and his mother.

I was 13, the day before my 14th birthday.

I asked my older sister to bake me a birthday cake.

And we ran out of sugar, we didn't have no Kool-Aid, and I needed some salt, 'cause I'm making a homemade cake.

And I sent them to the store.

So we walked up Hollywood Road to the store called Big Star.

Clifford asked, could he stay outside to help people put groceries and stuff in they car, so I just told Clifford just stay in front of the store.

We got the stuff.

We was in there probably about 15 minutes, and while I was in the line paying for the stuff, I asked Emmanuel to go let his brother know we finna get ready to go, and he came back into the store and he said he didn't see him nowhere.

So I thought maybe he was in the store, so we looked around for him for a few minutes, and then we went back outside looking for him, but we couldn't find him nowhere, so we started to walk home.

When they came back in the door, there's no Clifford.

And I looked up the street, I just didn't see him.

And so we walked back to the Big Star store, and we were asking everybody as we pass people did they see a little boy.

♪ ♪ It was about 10:00, almost 11:00.

They knocked on the door.

They were trying to get me to look at the picture, and I didn't want to look at it

'cause I didn't want it to be Clifford.

♪ ♪ And I just fell to the floor, and I guess I must've passed out, 'cause my brother Ricky was the one who had to identify Clifford's body.

And when he came back in the door, he told me-- told me that it was him, said he's laying down there like he asleep.

♪ ♪ I'm just so sorry.

I was just so excited that I was gonna get that birthday cake, and-- that I took the-- went to that store and he didn't come back with me.

I'm sorry. [cries]

But you don't have no reason to be sorry.

You didn't do--you didn't have nothing to do with it.

No, you did not cause that to happen.

[sniffs]

I'm gonna always be big sister, no matter what.

I know.

I love you, big sister.

[crying]

♪ ♪

[soulful music playing]

♪ ♪ He was victim number 14, the latest to die.

12-year-old Charles Stephens, smothered to death.

In the face of all of our tragedies, we wonder sometimes, "Where is God?"

What is happening in the black community?

There's all this violence directed at us.

Nobody was really sure what was happening.

You know, a couple kids-- that's just a murder.

Five kids? Wait a minute.

Ten kids?

12 kids?

As it built, you could feel the anxiety building with people because this constant in the life of black people vulnerability, that at any moment, you could be stolen.

[uneasy music]

That's deep in our psyche, that we come from stolen people.

We know people who have been stolen in our family legacy.

And so the thought of children being stolen right in front of their house, right in their own community, walking home from school, from this neighborhood store...

♪ ♪

[stammers] It was hard to even process emotionally, you know, in the black mecca city of Atlanta.

In the community, there was a lot of frustration around the child murders, and it really came to a head with the October 1980 explosion at the daycare center in Bowen Homes.

10:22 on October 13th, an explosion with the force of 75 sticks of dynamite ripped the roof off the daycare center.

Sir, do you have children in there?

Yeah. Who?

Uh, my little-- I got nieces.

I got about nine nieces in there.

The Bowen Home explosion.

I was laying in my bed, and this is the daycare, and this is my apartment.

So it shook my whole bed.

It shook the whole apartment.

There were five people dead, four of them children, the fifth being a teacher.

The first ambulance to arrive held six-year-old Vermika Moreland, critically injured with a depression fracture in her skull.

From then, it was a horrifying parade of small, injured children.

The black community was panicked.

Nine children in Atlanta were already murdered.

Now this.

[shrieking] My baby!

There was a sense that the community was under attack.

Listen to me. Listen to me.

Can you confirm how many were dead, sir?

There are five confirmed dead.

♪ ♪ How does this happen?

People felt someone had planted a bomb.

Other people thought the Klan had come in.

Everyone assumed that there was a plot to kill mass numbers of black children.

There was a group of people, very angry, who insisted this was deliberate.

[shouting indistinctly]

I called the mayor, and he came.

♪ ♪ There was still smoke coming from the daycare center-- what was left of it-- debris scattered around.

You had all of these mothers and relatives...

Annie May? Annie May Barber.

Of these children who attended the daycare center, and in the middle of all this, Maynard Jackson with a megaphone trying to quell this crowd.

[somber music]

[indistinct]

♪ ♪

[megaphone crackling]

We want-- do you have another megaphone?

Maynard Jackson had no answers at the time other than to say that they could count on the fact that there would be more investigation.

I want you to know we will not rest until we turn every stone to find the reason for this, which at this point, appears to be an accident.

What else do we have?

There was a sense of questioning whether there was--you know, the competence of the people who were in charge.

Our fire and police officials have told us the only evidence we have at this time indicates that this was an accident.

[crowd murmurs] Just a minute.

Just a minute.

Everyone was so hysterical, so that when Maynard came...

♪ ♪ It was almost as if a sea of people wanted to attack him...

I know the frustration you feel.

I feel the same frustration.

[crowd clamoring] Just a minute!

Just a minute! Don't get mad at us!

That's the God's truth!

To blame him for what had happened.

I tell you, I want-- I want to do some volunteer--

I don't want no kind of publicity.

I wanna do some volunteer.

I wanna be the volunteer work.

I wanna go out there and find out why it happened and what it happened with and who did it.

That's what I want to find out--who did it-- because he didn't do it on his own.

Somebody had to have a key.

The door was open!

This could have turned into a riot, because people were that angry.

[people shouting]

See you on TV, we don't want to see you at voting time, we want to see you now about our children. Damn straight!

The mayor was painted with a broad brush as caring more for the city and its image than caring about the black children.

And I know you in a bad spot, but that's the price you pay when you're on the other side.

[cheers and applause]

The Bowen Homes thing was the landmark in this struggle, because... it really showed the divide between the community and the political leadership, the elected political leadership.

The blood of those babies are on the hands of this system that forces us to live like dogs.

[cheers and applause]

I don't know exactly what happened at Bowen Homes.

They said a boiler blew up, but Bowen Homes and the explosion at the daycare center there really acted as a catalyst because all of a sudden, it brought together the message of the child murders being, "you are powerless."

Who runs the Klan?

It's those rich dogs that wanna...

[shouting and applause]

It is, "you are powerless when these young people

"are being abducted one by one and taken out, "and now, look, we can just come in and blow up your babies."

Darn right, I'm emotional! That's right.

When the Bowen Homes thing happened, that's the closest it got to, "Okay, now this is gonna get bad."

City too busy to hate?

It's a slogan.

[somber string music]

♪ ♪


[bright tone]

KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS: The number is staggering.

Thirty murders?

We don't know if there was something else that we still haven't pieced together.

MAN: Somebody knows who's doing this series of attacks on our children.

He was the connection between all of these victims.

SPEAKER: Did Wayne Williams kill any of these children?

CROWD: (CHANTING) No.

After 40 years, we're still searching for answers.

♪ (SOMBER MUSIC PLAYS) ♪

♪ (MUSIC CONCLUDES) ♪