ATLANTA - For the first time since Atlanta police reopened the case, Fulton County's district attorney is revealing there's a search for additional victims in the Atlanta Missing and Murdered Children case nearly four decades after police arrested Wayne Williams and closed the books on the investigation.
Investigators believe Williams was behind a total of 28 killings, mostly children and a few young adults, all African Americans.
[PHOTOS: Victims of the Atlanta Child Murders]
The killings shocked and terrorized the Atlanta metro in the late '70s and early '80s. Police discovered more than two dozen bodies over several years -- some in local waterways, others dumped in wooded areas and empty lots.
Williams was charged and convicted in the killing of two adults in 1981 but has never been charged in any of the children’s killings.
An investigator who worked the missing and murdered case back in the day says a splash into the Chattahoochee River near where James Jackson Parkway now turns into South Cobb Drive changed the course of the case.
Now, four decades later, the case is alive again and Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard is playing a major role.
“We’re looking at all of the deaths that involved black children in a similar manner during the time period of the Wayne Williams case,” Howard told Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne.
[Atlanta Child Murders: A chronology of the missing and murdered cases]
“Maybe some that were not a part of the so called missing and murdered case at the time?” Winne asked Howard.
“That’s correct,” Howard said.
Howard says though Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields played key roles in reopening the cases, Howard said he is coming at the cases with a blank slate.
“I think that’s the right way to do it,” Howard said.
Howard's office is now playing a key role in leading the investigation.
[The Atlanta Child Murders: An interactive timeline]
“How about locating the physical evidence? Is that a major issue?” Winne asked Howard.
“It’s a major issue,” Howard said.
Howard said the key is not limiting the list of cases under renewed investigation to the list of victims labeled as the missing and murdered years ago.
So, his office is looking at all homicides in Atlanta and certain other cold cases involving children under 18, killed in a similar manner during certain years.
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He told Winne that the list of cases investigators are looking at now is bigger than the list of cases investigated as the work of a serial killer or a group of serial killers nearly four decades ago.
“Have you seen any indication of any coverup of any motive that was known at the time that didn’t come out anything like that?” Winne asked Howard.
“I have not, but we still have a long ways to go. But, I have not at this point,” Howard said.
The mother of one of the children who were found dead, Catherine Leach, told Winne that Williams is not the killer. Williams is accused of killing her son Curtis Walker.
“I always believed Wayne Williams was innocent. Wayne Williams didn’t kill our children,” Leach said.
“Do you think he killed none of them?” Winne asked Leach.
“None of them,” Leach said.
Winne took that question to Howard.
“Do you doubt Wayne Williams' guilt for the murders for which he was convicted?” Winne asked Howard.
“I am not in a position at this moment to make any judgment because we have not gathered all the facts,” Howard said.
The DA told Winne he has brought in a special prosecutor to lead the investigation, Sheila Ross, who is a former assistant of his now with the Georgia Prosecuting Attorneys Council.
Howard said she is one of the top cold case investigators anywhere who has lots of experience using new technology, such as DNA.
“She is a go-getter. She’s a hard worker, but this is an overwhelming task,” Howard said.
Retired lawman Robert McMichael said before he arrested Williams in 1981, investigators looked at several child homicides they determined did not fit the pattern of Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered case.
Years ago, Winne interviewed Williams and he denied his involvement in the two murders of which he was convicted, as well as the rest of the more than two dozen other killings that had been considered part of Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered Children case.
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