45 years ago today, Atlanta Constitution editor was kidnapped, held for ransom

William Williams was arrested in 1974 after he kidnapped AJC editor Reg Murphy and held him ransom for more than two days. (Photo: Calvin Cruce, AJC)

ATLANTA — It’s been more than 40 years since Reg Murphy had one of the most frightening experiences of his life.

On Feb. 20, 1974, Murphy, the editor of The Atlanta Constitution, was kidnapped by 33-year-old William Williams.

For 49 hours, Williams drove Murphy around Atlanta, stopping to call in ransom demands. At the time, Williams claimed to represent a right-wing militia group. He demanded $700,000 in exchange for Murphy.

Williams played cat-and-mouse with FBI agents and newspaper executives as the city watched the episode play out on television.

Managing editor Jim Minter ended up delivering the ransom money. Minter drove an open-air Jeep, wearing only slacks, gym shoes and a T-shirt, as the kidnapper had directed.

Murphy was released, and within hours, Williams and his wife were caught.


At his initial trial, Williams was sentenced to 40 years for kidnapping and extortion.

In 1975, he was granted a new trial and found guilty again. This time, he was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison. He served nine years in federal prison before being paroled.

In 2014, Williams called AJC managing editor Mark Waligore -- out of nowhere -- to talk about the incident.

“I thought after 40 years, I should say something,” Williams told Waligore. “I’m still around and have no malice in my heart.”