Atlanta's Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children S1E3 Script

Part 3 (2020)

Our candidate for president, Charles Lindbergh.

CHARLES LINDBERGH: The Jewish people are pushing the United States into this new war.

♪ (DRAMATIC MUSIC PLAYS) ♪ HERMAN LEVIN: Lindbergh wants to be another little Hitler himself.

This is my country!

BESS LEVIN: Not anymore!

It's their country.

♪ (MUSIC INTENSIFIES) ♪

We only think we're American.

♪ (MUSIC CONCLUDES) ♪

WOMAN: The bodies were adding up.

There were hundreds of suspects.

MAN: He was the connection between all of these victims.

♪ (DRAMATIC MUSIC PLAYS) ♪ WOMAN 2: Wayne Williams saw himself as a crime reporter.

MAN 2: He would cover accidents, murders even.

He's smart. He's like a nerd.

Did Wayne Williams kill anyone? We don't know.

WAYNE WILLIAMS: This isn't just about me clearing my name.

This is about getting some justice.

God willing, let's make it happen.

♪ (MUSIC CONCLUDES) ♪

[TV static drones]

[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 ♪

♪ ♪

[ominous music]

♪ ♪ Another major story we're following tonight.

A stunning turn of events as families of the Atlanta Child Murders gather to talk about the case.

The prime suspect called in from prison and maintained his innocence.

This all happened with victims' families right there in the room.

[indistinct chatter]

I'm Lou Arcangeli. Jarvis Miller.

Jarvis? Miller.

Miller. Hello, Mr. Miller.

I really hate that they let Wayne Williams... tease us and taunt us.

Every level of jurisprudence has reviewed this case multiple times, and they've always found he's guilty.

I have half of APD's case files...

Okay.

And over 16 kids had at least one Caucasian hair on their body somewhere.

That don't mean the person killed 'em...

No. But someone else could have been the killer.

Mr. Miller, you raise good points.

It's just that the jury found it overwhelming.

Well, we stick there-- we considered the time... it was a very, very different time, and the culture of the city was very, very different.

Agreed. I'm just saying, we have to--we have to count that in, that the culture of the time was very, very different.

[dramatic music]

They feel that these black children are not important!

But I firmly believe at the root of it all is racism.

[crowd murmuring]

In 1981, the image of Atlanta was being transmitted globally around the world, and the only thing people heard about Atlanta was

"children are dying," "children are dying."

People all over the world began to say, "What in the world are you all doing?

"How can you not protect our children

"in a community with these black elected officials, "a black mayor, black chief of police?

What in the world are you all doing in Atlanta?"

♪ ♪ Patrick Rogers' death has hit his family hard.

Seven-year-old Isaac Rogers, who nicknamed his brother "Pat-man," was the last to see him alive.

I was seven years old at the time.

So now my brother, he's gone, my mother is a wreck, and they haven't caught this person.

And there was this one time we decided to go to Miss Willie Mae's house to get some junk food.

We came out of Miss Willie Mae's apartment, and right as I stepped down on the first step, there's a grown man.

I have never seen him before, and he's looking up the stairs at us, and he starts to come up the stairs slow, deliberate.

And so I turn around, and I rush back to Miss Willie Mae's door.

Had Miss Willie Mae been 10 seconds, 20 seconds later in opening that door, my mother would have had two kids murdered by this guy.

♪ ♪ I remember driving home one night and saying, "This is scary.

I mean, he's out there. No one has a clue."

[foreboding music]

You know, I could count.

I said, "It's eight days since the last victim.

We're gonna have one next two--one or two days."

Sure enough, kid goes missing, couple days later, the body found.

♪ ♪

When I started with the task force, these were clearly... dumped cases.

They were victims who were placed.

So doesn't look like we're gonna find shoe prints and tire prints or fingerprints.

So trace evidence on the victims was gonna be a critical aspect of the investigation, because they might reveal the most recent place the victims were before they were killed.

Criminologists at the State Crime Lab compare and match fibers, rope or fabric, for instance, from different sources and are working under the assumption the fibers could be the first link with a suspect.

Sources tell us the crime lab now has possession of all the clothing found with the children on the task force list.

I started finding dog hair, violet acetate fibers, and also these unusual, distinctive green carpet fibers showing up on multiple victims.

I grew in confidence that they were important.

Larry said, "If you find this environment, you have found your killer."

There was a point where the paper published a story saying the task force had recovered hair and fiber evidence.

And then after that, victims started showing up in rivers.

This was evidence that there was potentially a single murderer.

Joseph Bell, Curtis Walker, and Aaron Jackson were found in or near the South River.

Patrick Rogers, Eddie Duncan, and Timothy Hill were all found in the Chattahoochee River.

Theory: water washes away any evidence and no crime scene can be established.

[grim music]

The fear was palpable, because at that point, we knew he was reacting to what he was reading.

And then I realized we're dealing with a single killer that--

'cause he is--he's playing a game with us.

He appeared to be learning.

This was a killer whose behaviors changed based on experience, and then the victims got older as time went on.

From the time the murders began in July of 1979, the victims were all under the age of 16.

In the last month, that common characteristic has undergone a change: all have been considerably older.

♪ ♪ Most of the serial killers that we know of did change along the way.

♪ ♪ The MO changes because it has to for him to do the crime.

They're always moving... more and more violent.

Always.

Jimmy Payne's body was found late yesterday afternoon in the Chattahoochee River. just north of Bankhead Highway.

He is the fifth victim to be discovered in the Chattahoochee.

Another similarity in many of these cases: few clues and a lot of dead ends.

[cameras snapping]

My initial thought was, "If I were trying to get rid of a body, "the last thing I'd wanna do is

"drive down to the bank of the river."

[somber music]

You could leave tire tracks. You could get seen.

You could get stuck.

I said, "I'll bet you that I would drop 'em off a bridge."

Pull up, get out, drop.

Three seconds later, I'm back in the car.

I'm gone.

And I said, "We should set up our surveillance on the bridge."

Agent Mike McComas said, "We wanna watch the bridges.

We think he's throwing the body off the bridges."

And I looked at him, and I said, "Are you guys crazy?

"Do you know how many bridges there are in Atlanta?

"There's hundreds.

How you know you're gonna have the right bridge?"

And then they said, "Do you have a better idea, dumbass?"

And I said to them, "No, I don't, right now."

I said, "Go for it."

We said, "Let's try it for 30 days.

We got nothing to lose. We got nothing else going."

[suspenseful music]

We had 14 bridges under surveillance.

And we were using police recruits under the bridge.

♪ ♪ You had an officer on each end and officers down below the bridge, next to the river.

♪ ♪ And the FBI was serving as the chase vehicles on top of the bridges.

♪ ♪ We burned somewhere around 140 to 145 people per night.

♪ ♪ It was decided that this particular weekend will be the last week that we were going to keep the bridges under surveillance.

[eerie music]

That night, I was at the southernmost bridge.

I was down there with a SWAT team guy with Atlanta PD.

♪ ♪ I remember sitting in the car.

The radio squelch broke, and I heard something about a splash.

And of course, my ears perk up, and I start playing with the radio, see what I can get, turn the volume up a little bit.

Ready at a 502.

The guys below hear a huge splash.

It was 3:00 in the morning, and you hear, "whoosh."

[haunting music]

And then they looked up on the bridge, and they can see headlights.

They're moving very slowly, were just starting to move.

♪ ♪ I hollered over to the Atlanta SWAT guy, "Get in the car, man.

We need to run north real quick."

I'm going up 285 North...

And I look over on the southbound side on the ramp.

And somebody's got lit up. There's a lot of blue lights.

I pulled in front, and I walked back.

I said, "What's going on?"

They had already pulled someone over.

I see his license.

He was 23 years old, and his name was Wayne Williams.

[indistinct chatter]

Hey. Hello, gentlemen.

How are you? How are you doing?

All righty.

[clears throat]

[clears throat, sniffs]

There was never any incident on the bridge.

I never stopped on the bridge.

I never threw anything off the bridge, and nobody ever testified that I did.

There was maybe three or four cars, plus Wayne Williams' car.

I pulled around 'em and pulled in front.

First thing out of my mouth was--I said, "Do you--do you know why we pulled you over?"

And he goes, "Yeah, it's got something to do with those missing kids."

And then immediately out of his mouth, he said, "Yeah, you know, um, Channel 2..." he says, "They're covering this really well."

And I thought, "How strange."

He said, "I'm a talent scout, and I have an early morning appointment"-- like 7:00 or 8:00--

"with Cheryl Johnson over at Spanish Trace Apartments."

He said, "I'm out here trying to find her apartment."

[dramatic music]

That just wasn't believable.

Who goes out at 3:00 in the morning for a four-hour--an appointment four hours later just to ensure that he's not late?

Just didn't cut it with me.

Two more cars of plainclothes officers came on the scene, and I recognized Captain Spence.

He was, at the time, head of Atlanta police SWAT team.

He says, "I'm searching this car.

You got a problem with it?"

And I told him in no uncertain terms that he didn't have any permission to search my car.

He informed he didn't need it.

He was tired of my "S" and all this.

He was dragging stuff all out on the seats and all.

I notice on the other side of Wayne was a pair of gloves.

They were almost, like, suede-like gloves with wool liner, which I thought was just a little bit strange.

There was a set of gloves that stayed in the glove compartment all the time, and that's exactly where they were.

And the way they got on the front seat when the other officers found them, Carl Holden had gone in the glove compartment, pulled the gloves out, and left them on the front seat.

So when the second set of officers came to do the search, the gloves were laying on the front seat.

♪ ♪ As he gets out, I stepped to the back, and I see on the hump of the car, there was a nylon rope there that was like a ski rope.

It was braided.

♪ ♪ There's an embankment.

They claim they found this wire, but that was a piece of wire, when they were looking around the area of the car, that was found up the embankment.

And when he found it and picked it up, he said, "This would make a nice ligature, wouldn't it?"

And I said, "Remember where you got that.

It was here, not in the car."

♪ ♪ I could hear the helicopter searching the river, and also, they were calling for some boat team to put in the river.

So I stayed there, waiting on them to finish their river search for about another hour till finally, one of 'em called and said, you know, "Zero in the river."

Whatever that means.

[unsettling percussive music]

We carried it as far as we could.

We had suspicious reason to stop him, but we really didn't have enough to arrest him.

So I ask the other guys, "Are you through back there?"

And they went, "Yeah, we're done."

I said, "Okay."

So I said, "Okay, you're free to go."

The FBI made the decision not to arrest him, because if you arrest this guy, you have just said, "This is the Atlanta-- the child killer."

And you better have it right.

And then Captain Spence said, "Well, I guess you can go."

He said, "But I got you this time, little nigger."

Quote, unquote.

[rain pattering]

[daunting music]

At first, we didn't think it was him, and we would honestly think we could pretty much wash him out as a suspect.

Looks like a little nerd, standing at--he's only about 5'7".

He's not very big in stature.

Spectacles and his Afro, he looks like Urkel, completely nonthreatening, and I'm saying to myself, "Get him out of here."

And then two days after the splash, the body of the last victim, Nathaniel Cater, washed up about a mile and a half, two miles south of the bridge.

[solemn music]

Sunday, the oldest victim yet was found in the Chattahoochee River, but investigators still don't believe the murderer or murderers are choosing victims at random.

Cater died just a couple of weeks before his 28th birthday.

He was found in the Chattahoochee, near the I-285 Bridge.

He had been dead several days.

♪ ♪ When the body of Nathaniel Cater washed up south of the bridge, we said, "I think Wayne Williams has a problem."

And I said, "I think you're right."

[dramatic music]

♪ ♪ The FBI had developed really detailed profiles of what the suspect should be like.

One of the many profiles was of a single black male living with his parents.

And they based that on victimology, studying the victims, the environment of the victims.

♪ ♪ He would also be very conscious of the media coverage.

He'd be very aware.

He would be an ambulance chaser.

And that was Wayne Williams.

And his car was all done up with lights and... it looked like a police car.

♪ ♪ Wayne had a police monitor in his car.

People would say, "That's strange."

Well, not if you're chasing news stories.

Because he would listen to the police monitor, and when he heard something going off, he would jump in his car and take off flying with this big camera in the car to go to try to get the news story.

It had been a detective car, had a scanner.

There was a whip on the back and everything.

And he put the blue lights back in, and he got arrested for having it.

Wayne was a police groupie.

He would hang out with police officers.

♪ ♪ He could easily have impersonated a police officer to overpower or to get these kids to get in his car.

♪ ♪ We generated a list of 3,000 names, and the only criteria on the list was: person arrested for impersonating a police officer, and race, gender were not criteria.

Wayne Williams is on that list

'cause he'd been arrested for impersonating a police officer earlier.

♪ ♪ However, I am convinced had we sent two agents out there-- even sent me out there-- we would have come back and said, "This is not the guy."

And after we got our Wayne Williams, then we looked at it and said, "Jeez, he fits the profile.

He checks all the boxes."

[somber music]

Okay, we're coming up. Remote one, sound and picture.

Ten seconds to the ID. Ten to the ID.

Sometime after Wayne was stopped on the bridge, the anchor from Channel 2 called me about 9:00 at night and said, "We--we've been told-- we have confirmation that there's a suspect."

So I got to the FBI office in downtown because they detained somebody.

[indistinct chatter]

[alarm sounding]

Is there a suspect inside?

The word is not "a suspect."

There's been, uh--there's someone who has been interviewed since this afternoon.

That's the official word, "interviewed since this afternoon."

[cameras snapping]

I get to the office, and I see this guy who was a photographer for a couple of the black newspapers in the city...

Homer Williams.

And I'm thinking, "This guy has the picture of this guy."

And I said, "Homer, how did you manage this?

And he said, "Well, it's my son.

They're charging my son with littering."

You know, I can't believe it. He kept saying... and finally, I said to him, "Homer, you need to stop talking to me, "because, you know, I represent the law people.

I'm in the side of the government."

Wayne takes a lie detector test, and the polygraph examiner shows him the results.

And Wayne says, you know, "What's this one, where there's a big spike?"

And he said, "Well, that's 'Did you kill Nathanial Cater?'"

"What's this one?"

"That's 'Did you dump his body in the river?'"

You know, and so forth.

And the three of them are the three questions about whether or not he's the killer.

♪ ♪ At that point, I knew I was a suspect.

There was no question.

In my stupidity and naivete, I had hoped that by trying to cooperate with these people I could rationalize and explain some things, and I figured sooner or later, they'd leave me alone.

[dramatic music]

I knew nothing about the bridge stakeouts.

I knew nothing about the splash.

I knew nothing about the bridge incident at all.

I'd never heard the name Wayne Williams.

♪ ♪ I had been to the autopsy and collected fibers from Cater's body.

I found a green carpet fiber.

That, to me, was a very strong indication that was a linkage to the other victims.

On June 3rd, my coworker and myself, we saw coming down the hallway a crime scene team from the FBI, been flown down from D.C.

So that seemed very unusual, that there's something big going on.

We were then informed that there was a suspect's vehicle in the basement of the federal building to be searched, and then I said, "Go get the crime scene equipment."

So I left my coworker processing the car.

And I left and went to the home.

♪ ♪ There was already a camera crew at the scene, which I thought was kind of interesting.

♪ ♪ Inside the house, there was a few detectives there, and then there was maybe four people from the FBI lab processing and doing different things inside the house.

♪ ♪ In a ceiling panel, they found a slapjack.

And a slapjack is a leather, flat device, maybe 10 inches long with lead inside.

If you strike somebody in the head--you know, you hit 'em--hit 'em upside the head, so to speak, you can kill a person very, very easily, because you're hitting 'em with--in effect, like hitting with a lead pipe.

[moody music]

There were boxes of slides of photos of young adults and what have you.

I mean, there were a lot.

Going through some of the slides, I found the slide I thought looked like maybe one of the victims.

And so one of the APD detectives was outside, and I wanted to show him the slide.

We were both looking at the slide, and Homer Williams came out and snatched the slide out of my hand and started going back into the house.

♪ ♪ In the backyard, in the barbecue pit, according to neighbors, photographs had been burned early on the morning of May 22nd, after Wayne Williams left the bridge, when he was released and he went home.

And then in the early morning hours, he and his father were out burning photographs in the barbecue pit.

♪ ♪ I saw there was wall-to-wall green carpet in several of the rooms.

The bed was a violet and green bedspread.

They had a German Shepherd dog.

I--yeah, I had an intense feeling of "This is big. This is--this is it.

This is gonna--this is what we've been looking for."

So I collected some fiber samples...

And I went back to the lab, and I put the fiber from the Williams' bedroom under the scope.

It matched the violet acetate fibers.

Then I looked at the green carpet.

I knew instantly from crime scenes that that was the fiber.

It was an absolute... eureka moment.

Bingo.

This is unbelievable.

This is--if this is not the source, I don't know what is.

[dramatic music]

[indistinct chatter]

♪ ♪ The way that they were treated.

The way that authorities went into the house, tearing up the carpet in the house and the furniture...

The car. The car.

♪ ♪ Mrs. Williams was very respectable people, both educators, very dignified and refined.

Peace-loving people to be treated like that, it was just-- it was unbelievable.

They were building this case.

They were going to implicate him by any means necessary, because they had to close the case.

They had to do something, because not only Atlanta, but America was disturbed about what was going on-- the world even.

♪ ♪ In one of the most tragic situations ever to strike an American city, President Reagan today took a direct hand in the Atlanta situation.

I want the people of Atlanta and the nation to know that this administration is doing and will continue to do what we can to help bring an end to this tragedy.

What do you have to say to people who say that Washington would have moved quicker if those children had been white?

We moved as quickly as we could and were aware that there was a need.

The fact they were black didn't mean that you had less concern or you had--you moved slower?

No, Sam, I think there's one thing, and I wanna make one thing very plain.

This goes all the way back to the campaign: this administration is totally colorblind.

[energetic music]

♪ ♪

When he first called me, he said, "I think...I'm in trouble.

"I think I need a lawyer, "and I know from your reputation that you are fearless."

♪ ♪ Everybody knew Mary Welcome.

Mary was this crusading city solicitor protecting the city.

Back when Mary Welcome was a smut-fighting city solicitor, she earned the nickname "Wild Mary" for her determined efforts to close down Atlanta bathhouses.

That's in section 20-180 of the city code of Atlanta, which provides that any nuisance may be abated or removed by the judge of the Municipal Court of the City of Atlanta.

♪ ♪ She was closing down all of the peep joints downtown and closing up the massage parlors.

You know, going in...

♪ ♪ We have closed the doors on every single bathhouse in this city.

Except for the Blue Fox.

Except--we've closed those doors too, but a higher court has said that they have right pending appeal.

I have no doubt that they too will be closed very shortly.

♪ ♪ Wayne wanted the publicity.

He wanted the notoriety, and the selection of Mary Welcome fit with that narrative of Wayne wanting to be important and wanting everybody to know who he was.

[tense music]

♪ ♪

[indistinct chatter]

♪ ♪ After returning home, the young man conducted a news conference, setting the condition that he would not be shown and that his name not be used.

Had you thought a lot about this murder case?

Some of them might be connected, but some of these kids are in places they don't have no business being at certain times of the day and night.

They're just running around in the streets wild.

I'm saying when you're doing that, you're opening yourself up for all kinds of things.

I just feel some of these parents just need to tighten up and get strict on the kids.

But you didn't throw anything in the river?

No. Even though they said that?

I told them that I dropped nothing in the river.

One agent thought I slowed down to one mile an hour, and the two agents were saying they were not in a position to see.

Wayne holds a press conference in his house.

And he hands out his resume... which shows he flies airplanes, and he's a race car driver, and all these other things, you know, that-- just absolute fiction.

Police, news reporters, an photographers smothered this quiet neighborhood.

The police said they were there to watch the man some call the prime suspect mostly for his own protection, they said.

Williams himself did not exactly go into hiding.

All right, everybody on this property--

I'm pressing against you two criminal trespass charges.

[indistinct radio chatter]

They released Wayne to be hounded by media for the next weeks.

[funky music]

[car horn honks]

♪ ♪ He dangled himself.

It was like--it was like he's a carrot.

"Look over here.

Here I am."

It's like he was waving at them, taunting them.

♪ ♪ My impression of Wayne was almost like a child, but parading in big boy clothes.

[car horn honks]

Hey, Wayne, where you going?

Wayne, where you going?

Whenever he leaves his home, agents madly scramble into their cars and follow him.

The first car, the FBI; the second, the task force; the third, the FBI, and so it has gone all day.

Get out the way! Homer.

Yeah. Forget it.

♪ ♪ You're gonna make a fool of yourself without talking to us.

[camera snaps]

Mr. Williams, can you tell us why you're taking pictures of us?

♪ ♪ Mrs. Williams, what is your husband doing?

♪ ♪ One of the nights that I was there, I heard Wayne yelling my name. "Angelo!"

And I go, "Oh, shit. Oh, what do I do now?"

He made an impassioned plea for the mayor to stop all this stuff, and I said, "I will pass the message."

And I--and I did.

Good morning. How is everybody?

Good morning. Mr. Slaton. Morning.

Good morning. Morning, sir.

District Attorney Lewis Slaton decided last night there was not enough evidence to charge the man.

No arrest warrants have been contemplated in the immediate future, and that's just where we stand.

Lewis Slaton had been the District Attorney in Fulton County for many years, and I think his reluctance was due to the fact that he didn't have any evidence.

There's an old adage: a good prosecutor can indict a ham sandwich.

Well, after you get him indicted, what are you gonna do if you don't have any evidence to support your allegation?

[tense music]

The FBI wanted to arrest this person in connection with the child murders, but local authorities refused.

There was a sharp disagreement over whether or not arrest warrants should be issued.

Lewis Slaton kept saying, "I don't have sufficient evidence to charge Wayne Williams."

He kept saying that publicly.

♪ ♪ My sources told me about a meeting at the Governor's Mansion.

♪ ♪ It included the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Georgia attorney general, and representatives of the task force.

That meeting with Lewis Slaton went on for seven hours on that Friday.

[dramatic music]

George Bush wanted the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office and state and local officials to be in the same room.

Clearly, having the meeting at the mansion, there was a message.

Slaton's taken inside and told...

"We're gonna bring charges if you don't."

The FBI and everybody else was being embarrassed internationally by the murders.

Officer, he's asked them to leave, and they refuse to leave.

I asked all the reporters to leave off this yard.

I think that they decided it's time to end it, and I think that Wayne Williams got the lucky ticket.

Mr. Williams, why have you asked for us to leave?

No comment.

He was being a pain in the butt to the police.

♪ ♪ ABC News has learned Slaton yielded yesterday under extreme outside pressure.

♪ ♪ I will say that there was no... that pressure or politics did not figure in to the timing at all.

♪ ♪ It was Father's Day, June 21st, 1981.

I heard the door knock, and my mom said, "Wayne, you gotta come out here.

I need to see you."

Walked into the family room, and they said, "Mr. Williams."

I said, "Yes," and Mary walked into the area.

And I said, "What's this about?"

And she said, "Well, Wayne, they come to arrest you.

You need to go with 'em."

And...

Everything stopped.

My world--everything just stopped at that point.

[solemn music]

I-I can't even describe how I felt.

I can remember how my mom started crying and all.

I can remember that.

And that was the longest five minutes-- one of the longest five minutes of my life.

♪ ♪

Williams was arrested for the strangulation murder of 27-year-old Nathaniel Cater, the 28th and last victim.

Nathaniel Cater lived in this apartment complex on Verbena Street Northwest with his father up until four months before he was murdered.

He moved out on his own, but came back often for visits.

The apartment is just a few blocks from Wayne Williams' home on Penelope Road.

[indistinct chatter]

Get out of the way there.

[engine turns over]

[desolate music]

Williams was also charged with the murder of another victim, 21-year-old Jimmy Ray Payne.

♪ ♪ Payne lived here with his sister on Magnolia Street.

He was last seen going to the Omni to sell some coins.

♪ ♪ Once we heard that he was being charged with the murder of two men, it all fell apart for us.

Okay, well, where's the solution to these dozens of children?

You know, "That's it."

It's--you know, "We found the killer, and that's it."

You know, but that really wasn't it.

Some Atlanta youngsters participating in the Safe Summer program said they feel only a little safer now.

Because it was more than one child being killed, and they don't know if he killed them all.

So it still could be more than one killer out there.

[somber music]

I'm seven years old.

The police have made an arrest.

The cops had him, taking a perp walk, and they showed him.

And I'm looking, and I don't what I--I drop whatever I had.

And I'm like, "Son of a bitch.

"That's the guy.

"That's the guy who was coming up the stairs

"at Miss Willie Mae's.

That's him."

I had a--I this crazy sense of calm that came over me, because I knew--I knew that they had the son of a bitch.

♪ ♪ I'd never tried a murder case, but I knew how to put a team together.

I get a call from Mary Welcome.

There was no other case like it at that point in history, that had that many alleged homicides involved.

[upbeat music]

I'm in my 30s.

At that point, I'd probably tried

20 or 30 homicide cases, conducted hundreds of preliminary hearings and several direct appeals to the Georgia Supreme Court.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪ I was well equipped to try and defend a criminal case and especially a homicide case.

William Northrop volunteered his time.

I was after the facts.

I wanted to know if there was prosecution evidence that could tie Wayne to the two murders he was charged with.

♪ ♪

[cameras snapping]

How's it going, Wayne?

Wayne was an unusual person and a very difficult client.

One day, I was visiting him in jail, and I said, "Wayne, is there anything that I can get for you?"

He said he wanted to see his boys in his band.

I said, "You don't need this."

But it was just easier to give in.

[upbeat R&B music]

♪ ♪ Young men came in.

He told them, "Are you keeping your grades up?

"Are you practicing?

"We need to figure out what kind of uniforms you're gonna have for the band."

His focus was everywhere but on... on this case.

[door closes]

It was--it was difficult.

What's the next step at this point?

[indistinct chatter]

Well, I'm not making any comments at all.

Tony, I think, wanted to have...control.

He wanted to call the shots.

He said, "The more time we give the prosecution, "the more time they are going to be able to tighten up their case."

My position was: we need to slow this case down.

This was my client, and I was not giving up control of the overall strategy.

It really became confrontational.

Wayne's position is: neither of you are in control.

[laughs]

I control.

Three months before the trial started, Mary and Wayne made the decision that they would try the case without me.

Wayne was the man behind the curtain, full of himself.

I had never been with someone at that young age that had that much control with saying, "This is who I am," and then say, "No, that's not who I am.

Let me just tell you who I am."

Playing the part several different ways, I'd never had that happen before.

Wayne Williams had fired Tony Axam, who was a very good lawyer.

So we were a little bit baffled by that, 'cause this was in October, and by that time, the trial was now scheduled to start at the end of December.

Joe Drolet is well known for his knowledge of case law.

He's expected to play a major role in the examination of witnesses, making sure the prosecution's every move is on firm legal ground.

The strategy was to present the evidence in such a way that the jury would understand the significance of it and know that all these things together pointed directly at Wayne Williams.

[dynamic music]

♪ ♪

[indistinct chatter]

Good morning. Good morning, Mary.

Good morning. How are you?

Good morning. Good morning.

Even Ms. Welcome admits her experience as a criminal trial lawyer is not particularly impressive.

So she was joined on the defense team by Alvin Binder of Jackson, Mississippi.

His horn-rimmed glasses, cigar, and somewhat brusque manner had become his trademarks.

Delay the start of the trial? No, sir.

Al Binder came in...

When the judge bangs that gavel, we'll be ready.

Good ol' Southern boy... I hope.

And he said, "This is the way I'm gonna handle this.

"I'm gonna go in and say," you know, "How dare you," you know, "do this to a human being?

"And this is unjust, and this is a violation of his rights."

He was dynamic.

And we said, "You go, person."

In Atlanta, Wayne Williams goes on trial today charged with committing two of the 28 murders that terrorized that city.

We have more from Bonnie Erbé.

Today's opening of the trial of Wayne Williams, the only person charged with any of slayings, will churn emotions in a city almost healed.

[solemn music]

15 deputies assigned to the Williams trial had been given special medical training to help them deal with any emergency which might come up.

Trauma training, could this be in case there was an explosion?

You are preparing yourself for that possibility?

Yes, we are preparing for that, but it was still just a basic first aid course.

[siren wailing]

When the trial started, it was sort of a surreal experience, because...it almost felt like I was in a trial in a movie.

And I know that all these people are actors, and I'm an actor too.

Good morning. How are you?

You're becoming the Diana Ross of Atlanta.

[laughs] What did--what did you say?

Are you becoming the Diana Ross of Atlanta?

Um, no. Every time I run into you--

Every time I check my purse, I don't have her money.

[laughs]

[dramatic music]

On a big day like this, they make extra seats in the courtroom for the press.

So they're only about 50 available for spectators.

Stay in line. Stay single file.

At 7:00 this morning, there were more than 300 people crammed in this lobby, hoping to get a shot at one of those seats.

Also here, three mothers whose children are on the task force list.

I don't think I would forget that feeling, because you're talking about hundreds of people.

You couldn't hear nothing.

You could hear all these breathing voices.

And then you had the cameras in the courthouse.

And, um--and then reporters wanted to hear from us once they found out that we was the parents, you know.

So when we came out the courthouse, you know, soon as we stepped out the room, they start, you know, putting the cameras all in our faces.

If he get charged for the two killings that they are charging him with, what about the other kids?

The other 27 kids.

[indistinct chatter]

That's--that's what I would like to know.

What they gonna do about the other kids?

I was asked several times, did I know any of the victims.

No, I didn't. I've never met any of them.

I didn't kill Nathaniel Cater, Jimmy Ray Payne, or anybody else.

There basically was no evidence against me.

I hadn't killed anybody.

[indistinct chatter]

During the trial, I was under a lot of pressure, stress.

What time did you guys get down here this morning?

6:30. When'd you get down here?

I remember one time that we went to court, there was a table with one chair behind it for me... and all these white men in suits.

And I looked at that, and I said, "Oh, my God.

What am I gonna have to contend with?"

[despondent music]

♪ ♪ In Atlanta today, the jury in the murder trial of Wayne Williams was led to the bridge from which Williams allegedly disposed of the body of one of the victims.

♪ ♪ Judge Cooper allowed us to take the jury to the bridge.

We wanted the jury to visualize our argument, that Wayne could not have stopped on the bridge.

♪ ♪ The took us out on the bridge.

They showed us where they thought the splash happened.

They showed us where they apprehended him out there.

♪ ♪ Why was Wayne Williams on the bridge?

Wayne claims he's out there to see Cheryl Johnson.

The mysterious Cheryl Johnson that no one has ever found in 38 years.

He crossed the bridge 'cause he was dropping a body.

Picture this in your mind.

He'd have to get out of the car, go to the back of the car, open the trunk, pull the body out, toss it over the bridge, and then get back in his car... close the trunk and close his door and then go up.

Now you--just imagine how long that would take.

At the trial, the officers testified they never saw the car stopped.

♪ ♪ The defense contends that this expansion joint in the bridge would have alerted police lookouts to the presence of Williams' car before he had the chance to dump a body, if in fact he did.

There is a separation in that bridge where you could hear "ka-plunk."

Every time a car went over that bridge-- and we checked this all out-- greater than five miles an hour, it went, "ka-clank, ka-clank."

[thudding]

It drove the cops under the bridge to go crazy.

They heard no clank that night, which means he coasted onto the bridge going under five miles an hour.

When they looked up on the bridge, the headlights weren't moving.

So the car must have been stopped.

And he gets out, and he...

[whistles]

Just pulls the body out of the trunk and just drags him, throws him off the bridge.

[water trickling]

Then after the splash, the headlights started to move slowly.

[insects chirping]

I mean, do you know what deadweight is like?

I couldn't imagine Wayne picking up deadweight, because he was a small person in stature, and he didn't have muscles.

He didn't have to pick the body up.

He just had to drag the foot over out the back of the station wagon.

You don't have to pick it up. You have to drag it.

You can drag--I can drag anybody in this room.

I know a guy in the FBI that's about Wayne's size, and he's the strongest man I ever met in my life.

Listen, man, you know a lot of strong guys that are really tiny guys.

Strength got nothing to do with your size.

I have no question in my mind that he could have leveraged a body over the bridge.

The guardrails of the bridge were only 2 1/2, 3 feet high.

Wayne had chosen his bridge carefully.

He probably used that bridge before.

[dramatic music]

Had I have tried that case, we would have had a 160-pound pig in the courtroom, dead.

I would have had Wayne stand up in front of the jury with a barrier erected the size of that bridge and watch you try to lift 160 pounds of deadweight, throw it over a bridge.

♪ ♪ They wanted to believe I was some type of Superman that could kidnap somebody, kill them in my house, car, or wherever, put 'em back in this car and go dump the bodies without any evidence being left.

Come on, that's ridiculous.

Defense attorneys launched an aggressive attack on prosecution evidence today as testimony started in the Atlanta murder trial of Wayne Williams.

A medical examiner today took the stand and conceded that he could not prove that one of Williams' alleged victims was indeed murdered.

First thing I wanted to do was find out whether we really did have a legal, medical murder.

[ominous music]

It was clearly evident Nathaniel Cater had been in the water more than two days.

♪ ♪ If you look at the medical examiner's report, it says he's been in the water for at least a week.

A police recruit heard a splash, and two days later, Cater's body was found.

♪ ♪ Two days? No.

Far, far more.

Medical examiners can tell whether a body has been in the water for more than two days.

You can tell by the decomposition.

Two days to a week-plus, that's absolutely too far apart.

♪ ♪ Somebody is lying.

It doesn't make sense.

Let me specifically point out something.

I mean, it's pretty clear.

Dr. Zaki says, "summation of autopsy findings for Jimmy Ray Payne"-- the second victim--

"had it not been for other killings, he "in all probability would have ruled the death an accidental drowning."

Jimmy Ray Payne was 21 years old.

He was found floating in the Chattahoochee.

He was in the typical floater position, which is the position your body absorbs when you drown.

He'd been in the water for quite some time.

He had skin slippage, which means that the outside layer of the skin dissolved.

He was found in swim trunks.

Seemed to me that he drowned.

I didn't believe that this was a legal, medical murder.

Dr. Saleh Zaki admitted he could not positively say Jimmy Ray Payne was dead when he entered the Chattahoochee River.

During cross-examination, Alvin Binder asked Zaki, quote, "You cannot say that man was not alive when he entered the water?"

Zaki said, "Based on the autopsy, no."

Jimmy Ray Payne's autopsy was first listed as undetermined.

And then it was changed to homicide.

Dr. Saleh Zaki allegedly changed the cause of death after Wayne was arrested, due to pressure from prosecutors.

He changes it because it was wrong.

Because there were two different death certificates, it became a huge argument for the defense.

♪ ♪ I've practiced law for over 40-plus years.

That is the only case that I have a memory of where the autopsy was changed from undetermined to a homicide.

It is so rare.

It is an extraordinarily rare occurrence.

How you doing? Hello.

We're only fighting two alleged murder cases at this point in time.

So we felt pretty safe.

Williams is charged only with two of the 28 murders on the special task force list, but the prosecution wants to introduce evidence linking Williams to ten additional victims, including one whose name was never on the list.

♪ ♪ Big mistake.

[dramatic music]

♪ ♪


[bright tone]

MAN: The state built its case that if Wayne Williams killed one, he killed them all.

MAN 2: The prosecution claimed that the fiber in Wayne's carpet was rare.

It was all fake math, and they presented it to the jury as hard facts.

OFFICER: Twenty-three cases were boxed up.

That is shockingly negligent.

There was somebody interfering in the decision-making process.

MAN 3: He dropped a body off a bridge, he got convicted, he's gonna die in prison.

That's a success story.

♪ (TENSE MUSIC PLAYS) ♪