How Many Victims Did Serial Killer Wayne Williams Actually Have?

In the late 1970s, Wayne Williams began his streak of wreaking havoc in Atlanta, Georgia. It all began in the summer of 1979, when the bodies of two Black teen boys — Alfred Evans and Edward Hope Smith — were found in the same vicinity, less than a week apart from each other, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Later that year, two more bodies of young Black boys would be found, and it was only the beginning of a fearful time period for the city. Black children were going missing, and their bodies were later turning up in different parts of Atlanta. Throughout the course of two years dozens more bodies were found. Who was doing this?

By the end of 1980, Wayne Williams, a freelance photographer, was the main suspect in what was now known as the Atlanta Child Murders. The case was national news. It was so big the White House got involved, and President Reagan pledged $1.5 million to support a task force dedicated to the investigative efforts, reported The New York Times in early 1981. The FBI stepped in to help with the investigation.

Williams wouldn't be captured until June 1981. By then he had allegedly claimed the lives of dozens of young boys, girls, and men.

The first victims of the Atlanta Child Murders

Like many serial killers, Williams liked the spotlight and sought attention from the press when he was designated a suspect, per another Atlanta Journal-Constitution report. He also played mind games with authorities before his arrest. When he was finally arrested, however, Williams was only charged for the deaths of two men, Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Ray Payne, who were found a few months before he was apprehended. He would be convicted and then sentenced to two life terms for their murders, but not for the other murders. Even though forensic testing of fibers found in Williams' home and vehicle were linked to the dozens of other victims, he was never tried for other murders, per FBI.

Once he was in custody, the murders ceased. The FBI links him to a total of 23 of what are believed to be 30 victims from that time. It all started with mostly young boys and girls. In July 1979 14-year-old Edward Hope Smith and 13-year-old Alfred Evans were found. In November 1979, the bodies of nine-year-old Yusuf Bell and 14-year-old Milton Harvey were found. Months went by and a new year had started, but by March 1980, another body would turn up. That month, the first female victim was found. A 12-year-old Angel Lanier was found dead. Then after a short period of dormancy, in May 1980, the body of 14-year-old Eric Middlebrooks was found just a day after he was reported missing. The following month, the body of 10-year-old Aaron Wyche was discovered. 

More victims turn up

Marking a year after the murders started happening, in July 1980 nine-year-old Anthony Carter became the eighth child victim. The city of Atlanta was facing a crisis and the state's investigations bureau got involved in the case by creating a task force (via FBI). Still, children would continue to disappear, and the gruesome discoveries didn't stop. By the end of 1980, six more bodies of children age 9-16 were found, and Wayne Williams was named as a suspect. But the deadliest year was approaching. In 1981, more than a dozen victims were found, with 15 bodies discovered between January and May of 1981 (via HBO). During that time, authorities were finding three or more victims every month, until Williams was arrested.

He was arrested for the deaths of two men on June 21, 1981 and his trial started the following year, per Biography. Investigators strongly believe that forensic testing of fibers tie Williams to somewhere between 20 and 29 victims.

Williams is still serving his sentence. He was denied parole last year. He can be considered again for parole in November 2027, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.