Over 40 years ago, the city of Atlanta, Georgia closed the books on the “missing and murdered” children cases. From about 1977 through 1981, 28 Black children and young adults disappeared from Atlanta streets in an impoverished section of the city.
These youngsters, both male, and female were never again seen alive. Fear gripped Blacks in the city “too busy to hate.” The law enforcement authorities and the mainstream media was slow to recognize there was a mass murderer afoot in Atlanta.
In the early days, save for reports in the Black-owned Atlanta Daily World newspaper, there was hardly any coverage given to this story. Without media coverage, the police were slow in recognizing there might be a connection to the missing children reports that were mounting at the pace of a disco drum-beat.
When the child murders started, Maynard Jackson had just become the first Black person elected mayor in a major southern city. The white power structure that had run things in Atlanta since 1847 did not adjust well to the loss of their political power base at city hall.
Tension mounted when Jackson sought to replace the Chief of Police with Reggie Eaves, a law school classmate from Boston, Massachuset. The old chief vowed not to move out of his office. Gun-toting officers on both sides stared each other down. Jackson eased tensions by creating the position of Public Safety Commissioner. He hired Eaves for this position and placed the Chief of Police under the command of the Public Safety Commissioner, within no time, the Chief retired.
Jackson outsmarted the old bosses at every turn. Then reports of missing and murder children began to pop up until the city and police could no longer pretend that something was not amiss.
This week, Atlanta Mayor Keshia Lance-Bottom, a teenager when the missing and murder children case arose, called for a new investigation of these cases with the use of the twenty-first-century forensic technology that was not available in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
Lance-Bottom says she is moved to call for a new investigation because her mind is not settled with the outcome of the research and the conviction of Wayne Williams.
Williams was arrested, tried and convicted of two missing and murder children cases. Within hours of his conviction, the Fulton County District Attorney posited that they had gotten their man who single-handedly kidnapped and murdered all 28 people. Thus he closed the remaining cases without trying Williams for those murders. No trial, no proof, and no explanation of how Williams, a non-athletic music promoter and freelance journalist committed the remaining 26 murders.
The district attorney, wiped his hands one after another several time; and then, stored the case files in the Fulton County dungeon, cases closed, out of sight, out of mind.
The whole city blew a collective sigh of relief. The punny boogie man, although he testified, “I ain’t killed nobody,” was locked away for the rest of his life.
I was a law student when Williams was arrested and stood trial. Since Williams conviction, I have had an eerie feeling that somebody was anxious for the missing and murder children cases to go away. And if my gut is correct, why?
In March 2012, I interviewed the humanist, Dick Gregory, while he waited for the start of a vigil for Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. During this interview, Gregory intimated that George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin as an act to gain “admittance into some paramilitary or semi-police fraternal order.”
I pressed Gregory on this claim. He alluded to the Atlanta missing and murdered children cases.
Gregory advocated a theory advanced by James Baldwin in his 1985 essay: The Evidence of Things Not Seen. Baldwin posits that a racist based organization was behind the Atlanta missing and murdered children crisis. This book was black-balled as Baldwin fail to receive the national acclaim for his research for the first time since his debut as a writer.
Baldwin contended that as late as the summer of 1981 the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was investigating a Klansman named George Sanders. An informant told police Sanders stated the “…killer had wiped out a thousand future generations of Niggers.” (See AP, August 2005).
The informant later testified in court that Sanders told him, “The KKK was creating an uprising among the blacks; that they were killing the children, and they are going to do one each month until things blow up.”
Things were about to blow up when a daycare center that catered to Black children exploded. Atlanta’s black community, frustrated with no answers, no end to the disappearance and murders insight, became angry.
Tensions boiled over.
Mayor Jackson reported that the daycare center had not been the target of a bomb, but the boiler had exploded. He asked the city to remain calm. Then produced a television commercial with him surrounded with what he said was a million dollars, which he would give to anyone who came forth with information that led to the capture and prosecution of the person responsible for abducting the city’s Black children.
Within weeks following the airing of this commercial, Wayne Williams was targeted for arrest. To this very day, no one has come forth to claim the million dollar reward.
Luie Geter was one of the children snatched off the streets of Atlanta and murdered. He is one of the 26 whom the district attorney blamed on Williams but never charged him or tried him.
Ironically, the informant testified that Sanders “threatened to strangle one of the children, Luie Geter, because Geter ran into Sanders’ car with a go-cart” (See Houston Chronicle, October 9, 1991).
There is no evidence that Lance-Bottom is seeking to track down a link to a hate group. However, her call for a fresh look at the evidence, especially, in the 26 cases closed without charging or prosecuting anyone, is welcome. Additionally, it will bring closure to the mothers of the missing and murdered children. They deserve to know whether we witnessed justice or a miscarriage of justice in the mass kidnapping and murder of Atlanta’s Black children.
Harold Michael Harvey is an American novelist and essayist. He is a Contributor at The Hill, SCLC National Magazine, Southern Changes Magazine, Medium, and Black College Nines. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org