Wayne B. Williams leaves the Fulton County Courthouse after his court hearing in Atlanta on Oct. 20, 1981. (Kenneth Walker/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Kenneth Walker/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP
Wayne B. Williams leaves the Fulton County Courthouse after his court hearing in Atlanta on Oct. 20, 1981. (Kenneth Walker/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Now playing
02:02
Unsolved Atlanta child murders case re-examined
CNN/Getty Images
Now playing
05:29
Anti-Defamation League CEO calls for Fox News to fire Tucker Carlson
This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran's Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Iran's Natanz nuclear site suffered a problem Sunday, April 11, involving its electrical distribution grid just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges that more quickly enrich uranium, state TV reported. It was the latest incident to strike one of Tehran's most-secured sites amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
Planet Labs Inc./AP
This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran's Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Iran's Natanz nuclear site suffered a problem Sunday, April 11, involving its electrical distribution grid just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges that more quickly enrich uranium, state TV reported. It was the latest incident to strike one of Tehran's most-secured sites amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
Now playing
02:21
Iran claims 'terrorist action' caused blackout at nuclear site
jason carroll vaccine hesitancy maine pkg ac360 vpx_00000000.png
jason carroll vaccine hesitancy maine pkg ac360 vpx_00000000.png
Now playing
03:28
Health advocates go door-to-door to fight vaccine hesitancy
Now playing
02:48
GOP governor calls Trump's RNC remarks 'divisive'
CNN
Now playing
02:42
Michigan sees alarming uptick in Covid-19 cases
WASHINGTON, D.C. - APRIL 19, 2018:  The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., is the seat of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Judicial Branch of government. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, D.C. - APRIL 19, 2018: The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., is the seat of the Supreme Court of the United States and the Judicial Branch of government. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:39
SCOTUS blocks California Covid restriction on religious activities
Chris Hollins
CNN
Chris Hollins
Now playing
03:09
'Troubling': Ex-Harris County clerk reacts to leaked recording of Texas GOP official
ITN
Now playing
01:15
Prince Charles speaks following Prince Philip's death
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 10:  U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) (L) and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) (R) listen to remarks during a Congressional Gold Medal presentation ceremony at the Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center September 10, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded in honor to the men and women who were killed during the September 11th attacks for their heroic sacrifices.  One of the three medals will be provided to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania, the second will go to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York, and the third one will be directed to the Pentagon Memorial at the Pentagon.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 10: U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) (L) and Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) (R) listen to remarks during a Congressional Gold Medal presentation ceremony at the Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center September 10, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded in honor to the men and women who were killed during the September 11th attacks for their heroic sacrifices. One of the three medals will be provided to the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania, the second will go to the National September 11 Memorial and Museum in New York, and the third one will be directed to the Pentagon Memorial at the Pentagon. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:22
Harry Reid reacts to colorful anecdote in Boehner's book
CNN
Now playing
05:15
This event in Florida is requiring proof of vaccination
Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the NRA, arrives prior to a speech by US President Donald Trump at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meeting at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, April 26, 2019.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the NRA, arrives prior to a speech by US President Donald Trump at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meeting at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, April 26, 2019.
Now playing
02:30
NRA CEO says he needed to take shelter on a yacht
A second eruption of the La Soufriere volcano occurred at approximately 2:45pm local time, according to the UWI Seismic Research Centre.
UWI Seismic Research Centre
A second eruption of the La Soufriere volcano occurred at approximately 2:45pm local time, according to the UWI Seismic Research Centre.
Now playing
01:44
St. Vincent volcano erupts in Southern Caribbean
Getty Images
Now playing
02:25
Hear what Clyburn wants to tell Manchin after CNN interview
pool
Now playing
02:18
GOP congressman calls on Gaetz to resign
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - MARCH 28: Community activists light candles at a memorial near the site where George Floyd died at the hands of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on March 28, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The trial for Chauvin, who is accused of murder in Floyd's death, begins tomorrow. Security is heightened in the city in an effort to prevent a repeat of rioting that occurred in Minneapolis and major cities around the world following Floyd's death on May 25, 2020.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Scott Olson/Getty Images
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - MARCH 28: Community activists light candles at a memorial near the site where George Floyd died at the hands of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on March 28, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The trial for Chauvin, who is accused of murder in Floyd's death, begins tomorrow. Security is heightened in the city in an effort to prevent a repeat of rioting that occurred in Minneapolis and major cities around the world following Floyd's death on May 25, 2020. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Now playing
03:28
Sorrow flows through community at scene of George Floyd's death
INGLEWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 04:  DMX performs onstage during the Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour at The Forum on October 4, 2016 in Inglewood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Live Nation)
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
INGLEWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 04: DMX performs onstage during the Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour at The Forum on October 4, 2016 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Live Nation)
Now playing
03:22
Rapper and actor DMX dead at 50
(CNN) —  

Authorities will take another look at the decades-old Atlanta child murders, re-examining evidence in the hopes that technological breakthroughs might point to a definite killer in the cases, most of which were never solved, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Thursday.

The point is not to vindicate convicted murderer Wayne Williams, who was implicated as the prime suspect in the slayings, but to provide closure to the families of victims who have long sought answers about their children’s killers, said Bottoms.

The mayor was 9 when the murders began and now has four children of her own. Though there were adult victims – two of whose killings led a jury to convict Williams of murder, putting him away for life – at least two dozen were children between the ages of 7 and 17.

The families of Patrick Rogers, Terry Pue and Aaron Jackson don't know who killed their loved ones.
Bettmann Archive
The families of Patrick Rogers, Terry Pue and Aaron Jackson don't know who killed their loved ones.

Bottoms recently spoke to Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields, she said, to see if there is any evidence that could be re-examined “that may give some peace – to the extent that peace can be had in a situation like this – to the victims’ families.”

The city, Fulton County and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation will be examining never-before-analyzed evidence and re-examining other evidence in the case, though officials did not promise any outcomes that would change the 40-year-old narrative.

“We don’t know what we’ll find,” Shields said, but the city feels an obligation to do everything it can to provide answers and will look through every box of evidence to see if something warrants closer analysis.

“As we stand, there are some heavy hearts that still exist in our community,” said Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, explaining the case would be the first task for his office’s newly formed conviction integrity unit.

One of those hearts belongs to Catherine Leach, whose 13-year-old son, Curtis Walker, is counted among the unsolved murders. She thanked officials for their interest in reopening the cases and lamented that it wasn’t done sooner.

“I’ve been going through this for a long time. I have been let down,” she said. “It seems like the Atlanta missing and murdered children have been forgotten in this city. … I don’t think it’s right for all these kids to be killed in this city and nobody was concerned about it.”

She added, “I want some closure. I want to know who killed Curtis.”

Killings caught national attention

The case – which included 29 killings, mostly of black children, between 1979 and 1981 – terrified parents and children in Atlanta, which pre-1996 Olympics and a major airport expansion, was not the megalopolis it is today. Interest also abounded nationally.

Wayne Williams poses along the fence line at Valdosta State Prison, Valdosta, Georgia, in 1999.
John Bazemore/ap
Wayne Williams poses along the fence line at Valdosta State Prison, Valdosta, Georgia, in 1999.

Sammy Davis Jr., Frankie Sinatra and The Jacksons performed at benefit concerts to raise money for victims’ families. the murders spawned a 1985 CBS miniseries starring James Earl Jones, Morgan Freeman and Martin Sheen. Even today, Netflix’s second season of “Mindhunter” is expected to delve into the case, and Payne Lindsey – of ‘Up and Vanished” podcast fame – devoted a later project, “Atlanta Monster,” to the Atlanta child murders.

Donald Albright, executive producer of “Atlanta Monster,” told CNN that while he remembered hearing about the case growing up in California, he often wondered why it didn’t draw the national outrage that should accompany reports of so many missing and slain children. He feels the disappearances and deaths of children of color go underreported today and that the race of the Atlanta victims had to play a factor, he said.

“It didn’t affect all of America, and I wanted to ask the question: Why is that?” he said. “The attention paid to some cases is not the same as (that paid) to black victims. It’s not a new story.”

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan’s administration allocated more than $2 million to help track leads and fund after-school youth programs.

Years after Williams’ arrest, it was revealed that authorities had investigated the Ku Klux Klan as part of their probe into the murders, and Williams, in a CNN documentary, would curiously decline repeatedly to discuss whether he received CIA training that included the proper means to execute a choke hold.

Though the Atlanta Police Department declared he was responsible for most of the child murders, Williams was arrested Father’s Day 1981 and charged not in the youngsters’ slayings, but in the murders of Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Ray Payne, both adults whose bodies had been discovered in the Chattahoochee River. He was found guilty of both killings in 1982 and sentenced to life in prison.

The former news reporter and wannabe music producer was 23 at the time. He was convicted with the help of then-nascent forensic technology that connected dog’s hairs and numerous fibers – some from Williams’ home and car – to Cater and Payne. One juror would tell CNN decades later that he and others felt the chances were “astronomical” that anyone else could’ve been connected to all of the various fibers found on the bodies. The case was far from over, however. It would continue popping up for years.

Atlanta ‘in a panic’

Then-DeKalb County Police Chief Louis Graham, controversially expressing doubts that Williams was behind the murders, reopened five cases from his jurisdiction in 2005 – to no avail.

Wayne Williams stood trial for the slaying of two young African-Americans.
Bettmann Archive
Wayne Williams stood trial for the slaying of two young African-Americans.

Most recently, in 2010, Williams spoke to CNN after forensic experts said human hairs found on the body of 11-year-old victim Patrick Balthazar could not exclude Williams as the boy’s killer. Williams has always maintained his innocence, questioning the disappearance of certain evidence and accusing investigators of manipulating other evidence.

“The bottom line is nobody ever testified or even claimed that they saw me strike another person, choke another person, stab, beat or kill or hurt anybody,” Williams told CNN, “because I didn’t.”

He said Atlanta was “in a panic” over the killings and was bent on convicting a black man because arresting a white man might have sparked a race war and “Atlanta would’ve gone up in flames.”

“That fiber evidence may well have been manipulated in this case, point blank and simple, simply because they had a suspect – it was Wayne – and that manipulation no doubt has continued even after my trial and up until this point,” Williams told CNN.

Retired FBI scientist Harold Deadman, who testified about the hair findings in Williams’$2 1982 trial and later became head of the FBI’s DNA lab, said in CNN’s 2010 documentary, however, that the hair found on Patrick’s body was the strongest finding possible with this particular type of testing.

“It would probably exclude 98% or so of the people in the world,” Deadman said.

Of 1,148 African-American hair samples in the FBI’s database, the FBI said only 29 had the same sequence – in other words, only 2½ of every 100 African-Americans.

None of the Caucasian or Hispanic hair samples in the data base had this sequence. When those samples are added in the total, the odds rise to almost 130-to-1 against the hairs coming from someone other than Williams.