Known as "The City Too Busy to Hate," in the 1970s Atlanta is on the rise, fueled by excitement over the election of the city's first black mayor. Below the surface, however, long-held racial and economic divisions are percolating. When African American children begin disappearing and showing up dead, the city is on the verge of an unprecedented crisis. Outraged that their elected leaders seem more concerned with maintaining Atlanta's image than with protecting the city's children, members of the black community, led by Camille Bell, the mother of one of the slain boys, call for swift action. An explosion at a local daycare center leaves five dead, and their frustration reaches a fever pitch.
By 1980, as distrust in the police and city officials deepens, citizens organize to protect their neighborhoods and take matters into their own hands. When a volunteer search party finds a slain child in an area local police canvassed a day earlier and more and more children continue to disappear, the FBI is called to step in. But even the Feds seem to make little headway, and conspiracy theories of who might be behind the murders take root, from the Klan to a cult to pedophilia. We learn more about Wayne Williams, a local talent scout, who might have been recruiting some of the victims.
With the city's reputation on the line, and the murder count rising, law enforcement faces immense pressure to make an arrest. On May 22, 1981, an FBI stakeout of the city's bridges leads investigators to 23-year-old Wayne Williams, who becomes the main suspect in the killings and is promptly arrested in connection to the murders of two men in their 20s. As Williams' trial gets underway in January 1982, victims' family members, the press and the public descend on the courthouse to witness the trial of a case that has grabbed headlines across the country.
In a move that stuns Wayne Williams' defense attorney, Mary Welcome, prosecutors introduce pattern evidence mid-trial that they assert links him to ten of the child murders. Drawing predominantly on hair and carpet fibers found on the victims that allegedly match items in Williams' car and home, the jury delivers a swift guilty verdict in February 1982. Just days later, the Atlanta police department shuts down the task force investigating the 30 murders, and attributes most of the cases to Wayne Williams. A year later, as the dissent of an unconvinced community grows louder, the Georgia Supreme Court makes the controversial decision to deny Williams' plea for a retrial.
In the mid-1980s, Wayne Williams' appeals attorney Lynn Whatley anonymously receives shocking new evidence connecting members of the Klan to the murders. An undercover informant and several investigators take the stand as a judge evaluates Williams' plea for a retrial. Forty years after the murders began, the victims' family members gather to grieve, discuss Williams' guilt or innocence, and assert their unwavering commitment to finding out what really happened to their children.
Samuel D. Pollard
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