11 - آتلانتا

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11 - آتلانتا

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Chapter 11


In the winter of 1981, Atlanta was a city under siege.

It had begun quietly a year and a half earlier, almost unnoticed. Before it was over—if in fact it will ever be over—it had become one of the largest and perhaps one of the most publicized manhunts in American history, politicizing a town and polarizing a nation, every step of the investigation steeped in bitter controversy.

On July 28, 1979, police responded to a complaint of a foul odor in the woods off Niskey Lake Road and discovered the body of thirteen-year-old Alfred Evans. He’d been missing for three days. While examining the site, police discovered another body about fifty feet away—this one partially decomposed—belonging to fourteen-year-old Edward Smith, who had disappeared four days before Alfred. Both boys were black. The medical examiner determined that Alfred Evans had probably been strangled, while Edward Smith had definitely been shot with a .22-caliber weapon.

On November 8, the body of nine-year-old Yusef Bell was discovered in an abandoned school. He had been missing since late October and had also been strangled. Eight days later, fourteen-year-old Milton Harvey’s body was found near Redwine Road and Desert Drive in the East Point section of Atlanta. He had been reported missing in early September, and as with Alfred Evans, no definite cause of death could be determined. Both of these children were also black. But there wasn’t enough similar evidence to attach any particular significance. Unfortunately, in a city the size of Atlanta, children disappear all the time. Some of them are found dead.

On the morning of March 5, 1980, a twelve-year-old girl named Angel Lanier set out for school but never arrived. Five days later her body was found, bound and gagged with an electrical cord, on the side of a road. She was fully clothed, including her underwear, but another pair of panties had been stuffed in her mouth. Cause of death was determined to be ligature strangulation. The medical examiner found no evidence of sexual assault.

Eleven-year-old Jeffrey Mathis disappeared on March 12. At this point, the Atlanta Police Department still hadn’t made anything out of six black children either missing or turning up dead. There were as many differences as similarities among the cases, and they hadn’t seriously considered the possibility that some or all of them might be related.

But other people had. On April 15, Yusef Bell’s mother, Camille, aligned with other parents of missing and slain black children and announced the formation of the Committee to Stop Children’s Murders. They pleaded for official help and recognition of what they saw going on around them. This wasn’t supposed to be happening in Atlanta, the cosmopolitan capital of the New South. This was a city on the move, the town supposedly “too busy to hate,” which boasted a black mayor in Maynard Jackson and a black public safety commissioner in Lee Brown.

The horrors didn’t stop. On May 19, fourteen-year-old Eric Middlebrook was found murdered about a quarter mile from his home. Death was caused by blunt-force trauma to the head. On June 9, twelve-year-old Christopher Richardson disappeared. And on June 22, the second young girl, eight-year-old LaTonya Wilson, was abducted from her bedroom in the early hours of a Sunday morning. Two days later, ten-year-old Aaron Wyche’s body was found beneath a bridge in DeKalb County. He died of asphyxia and a broken neck. Anthony “Tony” Carter, nine, was found behind a warehouse on Wells Street on July 6, facedown in the grass, dead of multiple stab wounds. From the absence of blood at the scene, it was clear his body had been moved from another location.

The pattern could no longer be ignored. Public Safety Commissioner Brown set up the Missing and Murdered Task Force, which would ultimately include more than fifty members. Yet on it went. Earl Terrell, ten, was reported missing on July 31 off Redwine Road, near where Milton Harvey’s body had been found. And when twelve-year-old Clifford Jones was found dead by ligature strangulation in an alley off Hollywood Road, the police finally accepted a connection and stated that the investigation would now be conducted under the assumption that the murders of black children were related.

Up until this point, the FBI had no jurisdiction to enter a case that for all its hideous enormity remained a series of local crimes. A break came with Earl Terrell’s disappearance. His family had received several telephone calls demanding a ransom for the safe return of their son. The caller indicated that Earl had been taken to Alabama. The presumed crossing of state lines brought the federal kidnapping statute into effect and allowed the FBI to investigate. But it soon became clear that the ransom calls had been a hoax. Hopes faded for Earl’s life and the FBI had to back out.

Another boy, eleven-year-old Darron Glass, was reported missing on September 16. Mayor Maynard Jackson asked the White House for help—specifically, to have the FBI conduct a major investigation into the Atlanta child murders and disappearances. With jurisdiction still very much an issue, Att. Gen. Griffin Bell ordered the FBI to begin an investigation of whether the children who had not been found were being held in violation of the federal kidnapping statute; in other words, was there an interstate character to the crimes? As an added responsibility, the Atlanta Field Office was charged with determining if the cases were, in fact, linked. In effect but not in so many words, the Bureau was given the message: solve the cases and find the killer, as quickly as possible.

The media, of course, had seized on the frenzy. The growing gallery of young black faces published regularly in the newspapers became a proclamation of collective municipal guilt. Was this a conspiracy to commit genocide on the black population, targeting its most vulnerable members? Was this the Klan or Nazi Party or some other hate group set to make its stand a decade and a half after the major civil rights legislation? Was this simply one crazed individual with a personal mission to kill young children? This last possibility seemed the least likely. These kids were falling victim at an incredibly rapid rate. And while to date, the overwhelming majority of se rial killers had been white, almost never did they hunt outside their own race. Serial murder is a personal crime, not a political one.

But this did give the FBI another possible legitimacy in the case. If the interstate kidnapping angle didn’t pan out, we were still charged with determining if this fit the 44 Classification: violation of federal civil rights.

By the time Roy Hazelwood and I went down to Atlanta, there were sixteen cases with no end in sight. By then the Bureau’s involvement had an official case name: ATKID, also designated Major Case 30, though there was little public fanfare when the FBI came in. The Atlanta police didn’t want anyone stealing their show, and the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office didn’t want to create expectations they might not be able to be meet.

Roy Hazelwood was the logical choice to join me in Atlanta. Of all the Behavioral Science Unit instructors, Roy was doing the most profiling, teaching the National Academy course on interpersonal violence and taking on many of the rape cases that came to the unit. Our primary goals were to determine for ourselves if the cases were linked, and if so, was there a conspiracy?

We reviewed the voluminous case files—crime-scene photos, descriptions of what each child was wearing when found, statements from witnesses in the area, autopsy protocols. We interviewed family members of the children to see if there was a common victimology. The police drove us around the neighborhoods where the children had disappeared and took us to each of the body dump sites.

Without talking over our impressions with each other, Roy and I both took psychometric tests, administered by a forensic psychologist, which we filled out as if each of us were the killer. The test involved motivation, background, and family life—the types of things we’d put into a profile. The doctor who administered the test was amazed that our results were nearly identical.

And what we had to say wasn’t aimed at winning any popularity contests.

First, we didn’t think these were Klan-type hate crimes. Second, we were almost positive the offender was black. And third, while many of the deaths and disappearances were related, not all of them were.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation had received several tips about Ku Klux Klan involvement, but we discounted them. If you study hate crimes going all the way back to the early days of the nation, you find that they tend to be highly public, highly symbolic acts. A lynching is intended to make a public statement and create a public display. Such a crime or other racial murder is an act of terrorism, and for it to have an effect, it must be highly visible. Ku Klux Klansmen don’t wear white sheets to fade into the woodwork. If a hate group had targeted black children throughout the Atlanta area, it wouldn’t have been content to let months go by before the police and the public figured out something was going on. We would have expected bodies strung up on Main Street, USA, and the message would have been none too subtle. We didn’t see any of that type of behavior in these cases.

The body dump sites were in predominantly or exclusively black areas of the city. A white individual, much less a white group, could not have prowled these neighborhoods without being noticed. The police had canvassed extensively and had no reports of whites near any of the children or dump sites. These areas had street activity around the clock, so even under the cover of night, a white man could not have been around there completely unnoticed. This also fit in with our experience that sexual killers tend to target their own race. Even though there was no clear evidence of sexual molestation, these crimes definitely fit a sexual pattern.

There was a strong link among many of the victims. They were young and outgoing and streetwise, but inexperienced and rather naive about the world beyond their neighborhood. We felt this was the type of child who would be susceptible to a come-on or ruse or con from the right individual. That individual would have to have a car, since the children were taken away from the abduction sites. And we felt he would have to have some aura of adult authority. Many of these kids lived in conditions of obvious poverty. In some of the houses we found no electricity or running water.

Because of that and the children’s relative lack of sophistication, I didn’t think it would take much of a lure. To test this, we had Atlanta undercover officers go into these areas, often posing as workmen, and offer a child five dollars to come with him to do some job. They tried it with black officers and with white officers and it didn’t seem to matter. These kids were so desperate for survival, they’d do just about anything for five dollars. It wasn’t going to take someone all that sharp to get to them. The one other thing the experiment showed was that white men were noticed in these neighborhoods.

But as I said, while we did find a strong linkage, it didn’t seem to apply to all the cases. After carefully evaluating the victims and the circumstances, I didn’t think the two girls had been killed by the primary offender, or even by the same person as each other. The manner of LaTonya Wilson’s abduction from her bedroom was too specialized. Of the boys, I thought most of the “soft kills”—the strangulations—were related, not necessarily all the unknown causes of death. And other aspects of the evidence led us to believe we weren’t dealing with a single killer. Strong evidence in a couple of the cases suggested the killer had been a member of the victim’s family, but when FBI director William Webster announced this publicly, he was slam-dunked by the press. Aside from the obvious political problems with such a statement, any case separated from the Missing and Murdered list made that family ineligible to receive any of the funds that were starting to be contributed by groups and individuals around the country.

Even though we felt more than one person was responsible, we felt we were dealing with one particular individual who was on a tear, and he would keep killing until he was found. Roy and I profiled a black male, single, between the ages of twenty-five and twenty-nine. He would be a police buff, drive a police-type vehicle, and somewhere along the way he would insinuate himself into the investigation. He would have a police-type dog, either a German shepherd or a Doberman. He would not have a girlfriend, he would be sexually attracted to the young boys, but we weren’t seeing any signs of rape or other overt sexual abuse. This, I thought, spoke to his sexual inadequacy. He would have some kind of ruse or con with these kids. I was betting on something having to do with music or performing. He would have a good line, but he couldn’t produce. At some point early in each relationship, the kid would reject him, or he would at least perceive it that way, and he would feel compelled to kill.

Atlanta PD checked all known pedophiles and sexual “priors,” eventually getting down to a list of about fifteen hundred possible suspects. Police officers and FBI agents visited schools, interviewing children to see if any of them had been approached by adult males and hadn’t told their parents or the police. And they rode buses, passing out flyers with the missing children’s photos, asking if anybody had seen them, particularly in the company of men. They had undercover officers hanging out at gay bars trying to overhear conversations and pick up leads.

Not everyone agreed with us. And not everyone was happy to have us down there. At one of the crime scenes in an abandoned apartment house, one black cop came up to me and said, “You’re Doug las, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

“I saw your profile. It’s a piece of shit.” I wasn’t sure whether he was actually evaluating my work or pointing up the newspapers’ frequent claim that there were no black serial killers. This wasn’t exactly true. We had had cases of black serial killers of both prostitutes and members of their own families, but not much in the way of stranger murders, and none with the modus operandi we were seeing here.

“Look, I don’t have to be here,” I said. “I didn’t ask to come.” At any rate, the frustration level was high. Everyone involved wanted the case solved, but everyone wanted to crack it himself. As was often true, Roy and I knew we were down there to take some of the flak and be blamed if everything hit the fan.

Aside from the Klan conspiracy scenario, all kinds of theories were floating around, some more bizarre than others. Various children were found missing various articles of clothing, but none identical. Was this killer outfitting his own mannequin at home the way Ed Gein had tried collecting sections of women’s skin? On the later kills, was the UNSUB evolving by leaving bodies more out in the open? Or was it possible the original UNSUB had committed suicide and a copycat had taken over for him?

To me, the first real break came when I was back in Quantico. A call had come in to the police department in Conyers, a small town about twenty miles from Atlanta. They thought they might finally have a lead. I listened to the tape in Larry Monroe’s office, along with Dr. Park Dietz. Before becoming Behavioral Science Unit chief, Monroe had been one of the outstanding instructors at Quantico. Like Ann Burgess, Park Dietz had been brought to the unit by Roy Hazelwood. He was at Harvard at the time and just starting to get a reputation in law enforcement circles. Now based in California, Park is probably the foremost forensic psychiatrist in the country and a frequent consultant to our unit.

The caller on the tape professed to be the Atlanta child killer and mentioned the name of the most recent known victim. He was obviously white, sounded like a typical redneck, and promised he was “going to kill more of these nigger kids.” He also named a particular spot along Sigmon Road in Rockdale County where police could find another body.

I remember the excitement in the room, which I’m afraid I squelched. “This is not the killer,” I declared, “but you have to catch him because he’ll keep calling and be a pain in the ass and a distracting force as long as he’s out there.”

Despite the police excitement, I felt confident I was right about this jerk. I’d had a similar situation shortly before this when Bob Ressler and I had been over in England to teach a course at Bramshill, the British police academy (and their equivalent to Quantico) about an hour outside London. England was in the midst of the Yorkshire Ripper murders. The killer, who apparently patterned himself after the Whitechapel murderer of late Victorian times, was bludgeoning and stabbing women up north, mostly prostitutes. There had been eight deaths so far. Three more women had managed to escape, but could provide no description. The age-range estimates ran from early teens to late fifties. Like Atlanta, all of England was gripped in terror. It was the largest manhunt in British history. The police would ultimately conduct nearly a quarter million individual interviews throughout the country.

Police departments and newspapers had received letters from “Jack the Ripper,” confessing to the crimes. Then a two-minute tape cassette arrived in the mail to Chief Inspector George Oldfield, taunting the police and promising to strike again. As in the Atlanta case, this seemed to be the big breakthrough. The tape was copied and played throughout the country—on television and radio, on toll-free telephone lines, over the PA at soccer matches—to see if anyone could recognize the voice.

We had been told that John Domaille was at Bramshill while we were there. He’s a big-shot cop and the lead investigator on the Ripper cases. He’s told that these two profiling guys from the FBI are here and maybe we should get together. So after class, Bob and I are sitting alone in the academy pub when this guy comes in, is recognized by someone at the bar, and goes over and starts talking to him. We can read his nonverbals and know he’s making fun of the blokes from the U.S. I say to Ressler, “I bet that’s him.” Sure enough, we’re pointed out to him, he and the other guys come over to our table, and he introduces himself. I say, “I noticed you didn’t bring any files with you.”

He starts making excuses about how complicated a case this is and it would be difficult to bring us up to speed in a short amount of time and such like that.

“Fine,” I reply. “We’ve got plenty of cases of our own. I’d just as soon sit here and drink.”

This take-it-or-leave-it approach gets the Brits interested. One of them asks what we would need to profile a case. I tell him to start by just describing the scenes. He tells me that the UNSUB seems to get the women in a vulnerable position and then blitzes them with a knife or hammer. He mutilates them after death. The voice on the tape was pretty articulate and sophisticated for a prostitute killer. So I say, “Based on the crime scenes you’ve described and this audiotape I heard back in the States, that’s not the Ripper. You’re wasting your time with that.” I explained that the killer he was looking for would not communicate with the police. He’d be an almost invisible loner in his late twenties or early thirties with a pathological hatred of women, a school dropout, and possibly a truck driver since he seemed to get around quite a bit. His killing of prostitutes was his attempt to punish women in general.

Despite the fortune of time and resources they’d spent on getting this tape out, Domaille said, “You know, I was worried about that,” and later changed the course of his investigation. When thirty-five-year-old truck driver Peter Sutcliffe was arrested on a fluke on January 2, 1981—in the midst of the Atlanta horrors—and was proved to be the Ripper, he bore little resemblance to the one who had made and sent the tape. The impostor turned out to be a retired policeman who had a grudge to settle with Inspector Oldfield.

After listening to the Georgia tape, I spoke to the Conyers and Atlanta police and, off the top of my head, came up with a scenario I thought would take out this impostor. Like the Ripper’s, this guy’s tone was taunting and superior. “From the tone of his voice and what he’s saying, he thinks you’re all dumb shits,” I said, “so let’s use this.”

I advised them to play as dumb as he thought they were. Go to Sigmon Road but search the opposite side of the street; miss him completely. He’ll be watching and maybe you’ll get lucky and grab him right there. If not, he’ll at least call and tell you what idiots you are, that you’re looking in the wrong place. Park Dietz loves this, assimilating this off-the-cuff field stuff into his academic knowledge.

The police make a very public show of looking for this body, screw up the directions, and sure enough, the guy calls back to tell them how stupid they are. They’re ready with the trap and trace and get this older redneck right in his house. Just to make sure he’s not on the level, they search the right area of Sigmon Road, but of course there’s no body.

The Conyers incident wasn’t the only red herring in this case. Large investigations often have a fair number of them, and Atlanta was no exception. Close to the road, in the woods near where the earliest skeletonized remains were found, detectives discovered a girlie magazine with semen on some of the pages. The FBI lab was able to lift latent fingerprints and from that get an ID. It’s a white male who drives a van and he’s an exterminator. The psychological symbolism, of course, is perfect. For this type of sociopath, it’s only one small step from exterminating bugs to exterminating black children. We already know that many serial killers return to crime scenes and dump sites. The police speculate that he pulls along the side of the road in his car, looks out over his conquest, and masturbates as he recalls the thrill of the hunt and kill.

This development works its way up to the director of the FBI, to the attorney general, all the way to the White House. All of them are anxiously waiting to make the announcement that we’ve got the Atlanta child killer. A press release is being prepared. But a couple of things bother me. For one thing, he’s white. For another, he’s happily married. I figure there must be another reason why this guy was there.

They bring him in for questioning. He denies everything. They show him the magazine with semen stuck to the pages. They tell him they’ve got his prints on it. Okay, he admits, I was driving along and I threw it out of the car. This doesn’t make any sense, either. He’s driving along, one hand on the wheel, the other hand on himself, and he manages to throw this thing out of a car so that it lands in the woods? He’d have to have an arm like Johnny Unitas.

Realizing this is a serious jam he’s in, he admits that his wife is pregnant, due any day, and he hasn’t had sex in months. Rather than even think of cheating on this woman he loves, who’s about to bear his child, he went down to the 7-Eleven, bought this magazine, then thought he’d go out into these isolated woods on his lunch hour and gain some relief.

My heart went out to this guy. Nothing is sacred! He figures he’ll go off where he won’t bother anybody, mind his own business, and now even the president of the United States knows he was jacking off in the woods!

When they caught the impostor in Conyers, I thought that would be that; at least we’d been able to get this racist ass out of the way so the police could concentrate on their investigation. But I hadn’t factored one thing in properly, and that was the active role of the press. Since then, I’ve made sure never to commit that oversight again.

One thing I had realized was that, at a certain point, the vast media attention the child murders were getting became a satisfaction to the killer in its own right. What I hadn’t counted on was that he would be reacting specifically to media reports.

What happened was the press was so hungry for any possible break in the case that they heavily covered the police search along Sigmon Road, which came up empty. But soon afterward, another body is found in open view along Sigmon Road in Rockdale County: that of fifteen-year-old Terry Pue.

To me, this is an incredibly significant development and the beginning of the strategy for how to catch the killer. What it means is, he’s closely following the press and reacting to what they’re reporting. He knows the police aren’t going to find a body on Sigmon Road because he didn’t put one there. But now he’s showing how superior he is, how he can manipulate the press and the police. He’s showing his arrogance and contempt. He can dump a body along Sigmon Road if he wants to! He’s broken his pattern and driven twenty or thirty miles just to play this game. We know he’s watching, so let’s see if we can use that to manipulate his behavior.

Had I known this or considered the possibility beforehand, I would have thought about staking out the general area along Sigmon Road. But it was too late for that now. We had to look forward and see what we could do.

I had several ideas. Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. were coming to Atlanta to give a benefit concert at the Omni to raise money for families of the victims. The event was receiving tremendous coverage, and I was absolutely certain the killer would be there. The challenge was, how to pick him out of twenty-odd thousand people?

Roy Hazelwood and I had profiled a police buff. That could be the key. “Let’s give him a free ticket,” I suggested.

As usual, the police and Atlanta Field Office agents looked at me as if I were crazy. So I explained. We’ll advertise that because so many people are expected, additional security guards will be needed. We’ll offer minimum wage, require that each applicant must have his own vehicle (since we knew our guy had one), and those with some kind of background or experience with law enforcement will be given preference. We have the screening interviews at the Omni, using hidden closed-circuit television. We’ll eliminate the groups we don’t care about—women, older people, etc.—and concentrate mainly on young black men. Each one will fill out an application, on which we’ll have them list experience such as ambulance driving, whether they’ve ever applied for a police or security job before, all the things that will help us qualify our suspect. We can probably get down to a group of maybe ten or twelve individuals that we can then cross-check against the other evidence.

This idea went right up the line to the assistant attorney general. The problem is, anytime you have a large organization working on anything that isn’t right out of the book, “analysis paralysis” can set in. By the time my strategy was finally approved, it was the day before the concert and the feeble attempt to recruit “security guards” at that point was too little, too late.

I had another scheme. I wanted to have wooden crosses made up, about a foot high. Some would be given to families, others would be placed at crime scenes as memorials. One large one could be erected at a church in collective memory of the children. Once this was publicized, I knew the killer would visit some of the sites, particularly the remote ones. He might even try to take one of the crosses. If we had key sites surveilled, I thought we’d have a good chance of nabbing him.

But it took the Bureau weeks to okay the plan. Then there was a turf war over who got to make the crosses—should it be the FBI exhibit section in Washington, the carpentry shop at Quantico, or should the Atlanta Field Office contract it out? The crosses did eventually get made, but by the time they were usable, events in the case had overtaken us.

By February, the city was about out of control. Psychics were swarming around, all giving their own “profiles,” many dramatically contradicting each other. The press was jumping on any possibility, quoting anyone remotely related to the case who would talk. The next victim to turn up after Terry Pue’s body was found along Sigmon Road was twelve-year-old Patrick Baltazar, off Buford Highway in DeKalb County. Like Terry Pue, he had been strangled. At that time, someone in the medical examiner’s office announced that hair and fibers found on Patrick Baltazar’s body matched those found on five of the previous victims. These were among the ones I had linked together as having the same killer. The announcement of the forensic findings received wide-scale coverage.

And something clicked with me. He’s going to start dumping bodies in the river. Now he knows they’re getting hair and fiber. One previous body, that of Patrick Rogers, had been found on the Cobb County side of the Chattahoochee River in December, a victim of blunt-force trauma to the head. But Patrick was fifteen, five foot nine, and 145 pounds, a school dropout who had been in trouble with the law. The police were not considering his case related. Whether he was or not, though, I felt the killer would come to the river now, where the water would wash away any trace evidence.

We’ve got to start surveilling the rivers, I said, particularly the Chattahoochee, the major waterway that forms the northwestern boundary of the city with neighboring Cobb County. But several police jurisdictions were involved, one for each county, as well as the FBI, and no one could take overall charge. By the time a joint surveillance operation composed of FBI and Homicide Task Force personnel was organized and approved, it was already into April.

But in the meantime, I wasn’t surprised when the next body found—thirteen-year-old Curtis Walker—showed up in the South River. The next two—Timmie Hill, thirteen, and Eddie Duncan, the oldest at twenty-one—appeared within a day of each other in the Chattahoochee. Unlike the previous victims, most of whom had been found fully clothed, these three bodies had been stripped to their underwear, another way of removing hair and fiber.

Weeks went by with the surveillance teams in place, watching bridges and potential dump sites along the river. But nothing was happening. It was clear the authorities were losing faith and felt as if they were getting nowhere. With no clear progress being made, the operation was scheduled to be shut down at the 6 a.m. shift change on May 22.

At about 2:30 that very morning, a police academy recruit named Bob Campbell was on his final surveillance shift on the bank of the Chattahoochee beneath the Jackson Parkway Bridge. He saw a car drive across and apparently stop briefly in the middle.

“I just heard a loud splash!” he reported tensely into his walkie-talkie. He directed his flashlight into the water and saw the ripples. The car turned around and came back across the bridge where a stakeout car followed it and then pulled it over. It was a 1970 Chevy station wagon and the driver was a short, curly-haired, twenty-three-year-old, very light black man named Wayne Bertram Williams. He was cordial and cooperative. He claimed to be a music promoter and said he lived with his parents. Police questioned him and looked into his car before letting him go. But they didn’t lose track of him.

Two days later, the nude body of twenty-seven-year-old Nathaniel Cater surfaced downstream, not far from where the body of Jimmy Ray Payne, twenty-one, had been found a month earlier. There wasn’t enough evidence to arrest Williams and get a search warrant, but he was put under “bumper lock” surveillance.

He soon became aware of the police following him and led them on wild-goose chases throughout the city. He even drove to Safety Commissioner Lee Brown’s home and started honking his horn. He had a darkroom in his house, and before a warrant could be obtained, he was observed burning photographs in his backyard. He also washed out the car.

Wayne Williams fit our profile in every key respect, including his ownership of a German shepherd. He was a police buff who had been arrested some years earlier for impersonating a law officer. After that, he had driven a surplus police vehicle and used police scanners to get to crime scenes to take pictures. In retrospect, several witnesses recalled seeing him along Sigmon Road when the police were reacting to the phone tip and searching for the nonexistent body. He had been taking photographs there, which he offered to the police. We also found out that he had, indeed, attended the benefit concert at the Omni.

Without arresting him, the FBI asked him to come to the office, where he was cooperative and didn’t ask for an attorney. From reports I received, I didn’t feel that the interrogation had been properly planned or organized. It had been too heavy-handed and direct. And I thought he was reachable at that point. After the interview, I was told he hung around the office and acted as if he still wanted to talk about police and FBI stuff. But when he left that day, I knew they would never get a confession out of him. He agreed to a polygraph, which proved inconclusive. Later, when police and FBI agents got a warrant and searched the house he shared with his retired-schoolteacher parents, they found books that showed how to beat a lie detector.

That warrant was obtained on June 3. Despite Williams’s having washed out the car, police found hair and fiber linking him with about twelve of the murders, the exact ones I had profiled as being done by the same killer.

The evidence was compelling. Not only did they get fibers linking the bodies to Williams’s room and house and car, Larry Peterson of the Georgia State Crime Lab matched fibers from clothing some of the victims had worn on occasions prior to their disappearance. In other words, there was a connection to Williams before some of the murders.

On June 21, Wayne B. Williams was arrested for the murder of Nathaniel Cater. The investigation into the other deaths continued. Bob Ressler and I were at the Hampton Inn, near Newport News, Virginia, speaking before a meeting of the Southern States Correctional Association, when the arrest was announced. I was just back from England and the Yorkshire Ripper case, and I was talking about my work on serial murder. Back in March, People magazine had run a story about Ressler and me and that we were tracking the Atlanta killer. In the article, which headquarters had directed us to cooperate with, I’d given elements of the profile, particularly our opinion that the UNSUB was black. The story had gotten a lot of attention nationally. So when I took questions from this audience of more than five hundred people, someone asked my opinion of the Williams arrest.

I gave some of the background on the case and our involvement with it and how we had come up with the profile. I said he fit the profile and added carefully that if it did turn out to be him, I thought he “looked pretty good for a good percentage of the killings.”

I didn’t know the questioner was a reporter, though I’m sure I would have answered the same even if I had. The next day I was quoted in the Newport News-Hampton Daily Press as saying, “He looks pretty good for a good percentage of the killings,” leaving out my critically important qualifying statement before that.

The story hit the news wire, and the next day I was being quoted all over the country, on all the network news programs, in all the major newspapers, including a story in the Atlanta Constitution with the headline “FBI Man: Williams May Have Slain Many.”

I was getting calls from everywhere. There were television cameras in the hotel lobby and in the hallway outside my room. Ressler and I had to climb down the fire escape to get out.

Back at headquarters, the shit was hitting the fan. It looked like an FBI agent intimately involved with the case had declared Wayne Williams guilty without a trial. Driving back to Quantico, I tried to explain to Unit Chief Larry Monroe on the mobile telephone what had really happened. He and the assistant director, Jim McKenzie, tried to help me out and run interference with OPR, the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

I remember I was sitting in the upper floor of the library at Quantico where I used to go to write my profiles in peace and quiet. It also had the advantage of windows to look out of, unlike our subterranean offices. Monroe and McKenzie came up to talk to me. They were both big supporters of mine. I was the only one doing profiling full-time, I was completely burnt out from running all over the place, Atlanta had been a huge emotional drain, and the thanks I got for all of it was the threat of a censure for this statement that was picked up out of context by the media.

We had scored a major triumph for the art of profiling and criminal investigative analysis with this case. Our evaluation of the UNSUB and what he would do next was right on the money. Everyone was watching us, from the White House on down. I had stuck my neck way out, and if I’d screwed up or been wrong, the program would have died.

We’d always been told that this job was high risk, high gain. With tears in my eyes, I told Monroe and McKenzie I saw it as “high risk, no fucking gain.” I said it just wasn’t worth it and threw my case folders down on the table. Jim McKenzie said I was probably right, but they just wanted to help me.

When I went to headquarters to appear before OPR, the first thing I had to do was sign a waiver of my rights. Upholding justice in the outside world and practicing it inside are not necessarily the same thing. The first thing they did was whip out the People magazine. Jackie Onassis was on the cover.

“Weren’t you warned about doing interviews like this?”

No, I said, the interview had been approved. And at the convention, I was talking about our serial killer research in general when someone brought up the Wayne Williams case. I was careful about the way I phrased my reply. I couldn’t help the way it was reported.

They raked me over the coals for four hours. I had to write out a statement, going over the newspaper reports and what had happened item by item. And when I was finished, they told me nothing and gave me no feedback on what was going to happen to me. I felt as if I’d given the Bureau so much of myself without any reinforcement, sacrificed so many other things, taken so much time away from my family, and now I faced the prospect of being censured, being “on the bricks” without pay for some period of time, or losing my job altogether. For the next several weeks, I literally didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning.

That was when my father, Jack, wrote me a letter. In it, he talked about the time he’d been laid off from his job with the Brooklyn Eagle. He, too, had been depressed. He’d been working hard, doing a good job, but also felt he had no control over his life. He explained how he had learned to face what life throws at you and to regroup his inner resources to fight another day. I carried that letter around with me in my briefcase for a long time, long after this incident was over.

After five months, OPR decided to censure me, asserting that I had been warned after the People article not to talk to the press about pending investigations. The letter of censure came from Director Webster himself.

But as pissed off as I was, I didn’t have much time to stew about it unless I was prepared to quit altogether, and whatever my feelings about the organization were at that time, the work itself was too important to me. I still had ongoing cases all over the United States, and the Wayne Williams trial was coming up. It was time to fight another day.

The Wayne Williams trial began in January 1982 after six days of jury selection. The panel they ended up with was predominantly black, nine women and three men. Although we felt he was good for at least twelve of the child killings, Williams was being tried on only two murder counts—Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Ray Payne. Ironically, both of these young men had been in their twenties.

Williams was represented by a high-profile legal defense team from Jackson, Mississippi—Jim Kitchens and Al Binder—and a woman from Atlanta, Mary Welcome. Some of the key members of the prosecution were Fulton County assistant district attorneys Gordon Miller and Jack Mallard. Because of my work on the investigative phase of the case, the district attorney’s office asked me to come down and advise them as the trial progressed. For most of the proceedings, I sat directly behind the prosecution table.

If the trial were held today, I would be able to testify as to MO, signature aspects, and case linkage, as I have in many others. And if there was a conviction, during the penalty phase I could give a professional opinion on the defendant’s dangerousness in the future. But back in 1982, what we did hadn’t yet been recognized by the courts, so I could only advise on strategy.

Much of the prosecution’s case rested on about seven hundred pieces of hair and fiber evidence, meticulously analyzed by Larry Peterson and Special Agent Hal Deadman, an expert from the FBI lab in Washington. Even though Williams was charged only with the two murders, Georgia criminal procedure allowed the state to bring in other linked cases, something that couldn’t be done in Mississippi and that the defense didn’t seem prepared for. The problem for the prosecution was that Williams was mild-mannered, controlled, well-spoken, and friendly. With his thick glasses, soft features, and delicate hands, he looked more like the Pillsbury Doughboy than a serial killer of children. He had taken to issuing press releases about how he was not guilty and how his arrest was purely racial in nature. Just before the trial began, he said in an interview, “I would compare the FBI to the Keystone Kops and the Atlanta police to Car 54, Where Are You?” No one on the prosecution side had any hopes that Williams would take the stand, but I thought he might. From his behavior during the crimes and this type of public statement, I thought he was arrogant and self-confident enough to think he could manipulate the trial the way he had manipulated the public, the press, and the police.

In a closed meeting between the two sides held in Judge Clarence Cooper’s chambers, Al Binder said they were bringing in a prominent forensic psychologist from Phoenix named Michael Brad Bayless to testify that Williams didn’t fit the profile and was incapable of the murders. Dr. Bayless had conducted three separate interview examinations with Williams.

“Fine,” Gordon Miller replied. “You bring him in and we’ll bring in as rebuttal witness an FBI agent who’s predicted everything that’s happened so far in this case.”

“Shit, we want to meet him,” Binder said. Miller told him I’d been sitting behind the prosecution table for most of the trial.

But I did meet with both sides. We used the jury room. I explained my background to the defense and told them if they had any problems with my being an FBI agent or not being a doctor, I could get a psychiatrist we worked with, such as Park Dietz, to study the case, and I felt confident he would testify to the same things.

Binder and his associates seemed fascinated by what I had to say. They were cordial and respectful, and Binder even told me his son wanted to be an FBI agent.

As it turned out, Bayless never did testify. The week after the trial ended, he told reporters for the Atlanta Journal and Atlanta Constitution newspapers that he believed Williams was emotionally capable of murder, that he had an “inadequate personality,” and that, in his opinion, the motive in the murders was “power and an obsessive need for control.” He said that Williams “wanted me to do one of two things, and that was to change my report and not say certain things, or not testify.” He asserted that one of the key problems for the defense was Williams’s insistence on controlling everything himself.

I found this all extremely interesting, in no small part because it dovetailed so well with the profile Roy Hazelwood and I had come up with. But during the trial I found another incident equally interesting.

Like most of the out-of-town participants, I was staying at the Marriott downtown near the courthouse. One night, I was eating alone in the dining room when this distinguished-looking black man in his mid-forties comes up to my table and introduces himself as Dr. Brad Bayless. I tell him I know who he is and why he’s here. He asks if he can sit down.

I tell him I think it’s a bad idea that we’re seen together if he’s going to be testifying for the defense tomorrow. But Bayless says he isn’t concerned about that, sits down, and asks me what I know about him and his background, which turns out to be quite a lot. I give him one of my minilectures on criminal psychology and comment that if he testifies the way the defense wants him to, he’s going to embarrass himself and his profession. When he leaves the table, he shakes my hand and says he’d really like to come to Quantico and take our courses. I kind of wink and say we’ll see how you do on the stand tomorrow.

The next day in court, lo and behold, I find out Dr. Bayless has gone back to Arizona without testifying. At the bench, Binder is complaining about the “power of the prosecution” and how they’re scaring off his expert witnesses. I hadn’t set out to do that, if that’s what happened, but I certainly wasn’t going to back away when the chance fell in my lap. But what really happened, I think, was that Dr. Bayless had too much integrity not to call it as he saw it or to let himself be used by either side for their own purposes.

During the prosecution’s case, Hal Deadman and Larry Peterson had done a masterful job with the hair and fiber evidence, but it was extremely complex stuff and by its very nature, not a very theatrical presentation; all about how this carpet fiber twists in this direction and that carpet fiber twists in the other direction. Ultimately, they matched fibers from all twelve victims to Williams’s violet and green bedspread, connected most of them to the carpet in Williams’s bedroom, about half to the carpet in the living room, the same number to his 1970 Chevrolet, and in all but one case were able to make a connection to hair from the defendant’s German shepherd, Sheba.

When it was the defense’s turn, they had a handsome and charming Kennedy look-alike from Kansas who smiled a lot at the jury come in to rebut Deadman’s testimony. At the end of the session, when the prosecution team met to go over what had happened that day, everyone was laughing about how this good-looking guy from Kansas had not been at all convincing.

They came to me. “What do you think, John?”

I’d been watching the jury. I said, “Let me tell you something: you guys are losing the case.” They were shocked and it was the last thing they wanted to hear.

“You may not think he was convincing,” I explained, “but the jurors believe him.” I knew what Hal Deadman was talking about and I still found it difficult going. The defense witnesses may have been overly simplistic, but they were much easier to follow.

They were gracious enough not to tell me I was full of shit, but, incisive profiler that I am, I realized I wasn’t wanted here. I had a big backlog of cases waiting for me and I was preparing for the Mary Frances Stoner murder trial. All this time on the road was starting to take its personal toll, too. I was having marital problems based on my lack of involvement with the family, I wasn’t getting the exercise I thought I needed, I was stressed all the time. I called Larry Monroe at Quantico and told him I was coming back home.

No sooner do I get back to National Airport and drive home than I receive a message saying the prosecution’s had second thoughts. They’re starting to think some of the things I said may, in fact, be happening. They want me to come back to Atlanta to help them examine the defense witnesses.

So two days later I fly back again. Now they’re much more open, asking for advice. And the big surprise to all of them is that Wayne Williams decides to take the stand, which I’d predicted. He’s examined by his attorney, Al Binder, who has a deep, resonant voice. The way he hunches over as he asks questions, he looks like a shark, which is why he has the nickname Jaws.

He keeps making the same point to the jury. “Look at him! Does he look like a serial killer? Look at him. Get up, Wayne,” he says, telling him to hold out his hands. “Look how soft his hands are. Do you think he would have the strength to kill someone, to strangle someone with these hands?”

Binder put Williams on the stand the middle of one day and kept him on all the next day. And Williams did a tremendous job for himself, just as he must have known he would. He was totally believable as the innocent victim of an embarrassed, racially biased system that needed a suspect fast and had found one.

So the next question for the prosecution was, how are we going to cross-examine him? Assistant District Attorney Jack Mallard has the ticket. He’s the one on the spot. He has a low, slow voice and a mellifluous southern accent.

I didn’t have any formal training in courtroom procedure or examination of witnesses, but I had an instinct for what it would take. It was really all based on the idea of “walking in the shoes.” I asked myself, what would be upsetting to me? And the answer I came up with was to be questioned by someone who just knew I was guilty, regardless of what I tried to make him believe.

I said to Mallard, “Remember the old TV show This Is Your Life?” You’ve got to do that with him. You’ve got to keep him on the stand as long as you can, you’ve got to break him down. Because he’s an overcontrolled, rigid personality, he’s an obsessive-compulsive. And to get to that rigidity, you have to keep the pressure on him, sustain the tension by going through every aspect of his life, even stuff that doesn’t seem to mean anything, like where he went to school. Just keep it up. Then, when you’ve worn him down, you have to physically touch him, just like Al Binder did. What’s good for the defense is good for the prosecution. Move in close, violate his space, and catch him off guard. Before the defense has the opportunity to object, ask him in a low voice, “Did you panic, Wayne, when you killed these kids?” And when the time comes, that’s just what Mallard does. For the first several hours of cross-examination, he can’t rattle Williams. He catches him up in a number of glaring inconsistencies, but it’s the same calm, “How could it possibly be me?” Williams. The gray-haired, gray-suited Mallard methodically goes through his whole life, then at the right time, he goes in close, puts his hand on Williams’s arm, and in a low, methodical south-Georgia drawl says, “What was it like, Wayne? What was it like when you wrapped your fingers around the victim’s throat? Did you panic? Did you panic?” And in a weak voice of his own, Williams says, “No.”

Then he catches himself. He flies into a rage. He points his finger at me and screams, “You’re trying your best to make me fit that FBI profile, and I’m not going to help you do it!”

The defense goes ballistic. Williams goes nuts, ranting about “FBI goons” and calling the prosecution team “fools.” But that was the turning point of the trial. Jury members later said so themselves. They stared with their mouths open. For the first time, they had seen the other side of Wayne Williams. They could see the metamorphosis before their eyes. They could understand the violence of which he was capable. Mallard winked at me, then went back to hammering Williams on the stand.

After his eruption in open court like that, I knew that he knew his only chance was to get back some of the sympathy he’d built up throughout the trial. I tapped Mallard on the shoulder and said, “You watch, Jack. One week from today, Wayne’s going to get sick.” I don’t know why I picked the one-week time frame, but exactly one week later, the trial was interrupted and Williams was rushed to the hospital with stomach pains. They found nothing wrong with him and released him.

In her statement to the jury, Williams’s attorney Mary Welcome held up a thimble and asked them, “Are you going to let a thimbleful of evidence convict this man?” She held up a piece of green carpet from her office, saying how common it was. How can you convict a man because he has green carpet?

So that day, some other agents and I went to her law firm. We walked in, went into her office while she wasn’t there, and pulled up some carpet fibers. We brought them back and had the experts put them under the microscope and gave the evidence to the prosecution, demonstrating that the fibers from her carpet were completely different from the fibers in the carpet in the Williams home.

On February 27, 1982, after eleven hours of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict in both murders. Wayne B. Williams was sentenced to two consecutive life terms, which he is serving in the Valdosta Correctional Institution in south Georgia. He still maintains his innocence, and the controversy surrounding Williams has never died down or gone away. If he does ever manage to win a new trial, I am confident the result will be the same.

Despite what his supporters maintain, I believe the forensic and behavioral evidence points conclusively to Wayne Williams as the killer of eleven young men in Atlanta. Despite what his detractors and accusers maintain, I believe there is no strong evidence linking him to all or even most of the deaths and disappearances of children in that city between 1979 and 1981. Despite what some people would like to believe, young black and white children continue to die mysteriously in Atlanta and other cities. We have an idea who did some of the others. It isn’t a single offender and the truth isn’t pleasant. So far, though, there’s been neither the evidence nor the public will to seek indictments.

I got a number of complimentary letters and citations as a result of my work on the Wayne Williams case, including ones from the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office saying I had come up with the effective cross-examination strategy, and one from John Glover, SAC of the Atlanta Field Office, summarizing the entire ATKID investigation. One of the most moving and appreciated came from Al Binder, the lead defense attorney, who wrote to say how impressed he was by the job we had done on the case.

These came in just about the time the letter of censure did. Jim McKenzie, very upset about this turn of events, had put me in for an incentive award, not only for the Williams case, but for five other cases I’d contributed to.

It came through in May. So now I had a letter of commendation from the director to go with my letter of censure on the same case. It said, in part, that “through your talent, dedication to duty, and professionalism, you have indeed enhanced the Bureau’s fine reputation throughout the Nation, and you may be certain that your valuable services are truly appreciated.” A “substantial” cash award of $250 accompanied the commendation, which I figured worked out to about a nickel an hour. I promptly donated the money to the Navy Relief Fund for the benefit of the families of men and women who had died in service to their country.

If we were faced with a case like the Atlanta child murders today, I’d like to think we could get to the killer significantly sooner, before the trail of death and suffering was so appallingly long. We would all be much more efficient about coordinating our efforts. Our proactive techniques are more sophisticated and based on far more real-world experience. We would know how to stage the interrogation for maximum effect. We would plan better for the search warrant and get it before critical evidence could be destroyed.

But whatever mistakes we made, the ATKID case was a decisive turning point for our unit. We put ourselves on the map, proved the value of what we could do, and in the process achieved instant credibility throughout the law enforcement community worldwide and helped put another killer behind bars.

High risk, high gain.

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