‘Mindhunter’: The Real Story of Wayne Williams and the Atlanta Child Murders Isn’t What You Think

Fans have been eagerly awaiting the newest season of Mindhunter even if watching it does make it harder to sleep at night. There’s something about watching FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench get into the minds of killers that’s totally addictive. And maybe the creepiest part? It’s all based on true stories.

The Atlanta Child Murders are some of the most horrific crimes in recent history, and perhaps the worst part is that some people believe the case remains unsolved. Yes, Wayne Williams was tried and found guilty of murder. But as so many other cases have shown, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s guilty.

Between 1979 and 1981 at least 28 black children were murdered in the Atlanta area. But who exactly killed them is still a big question.

Wayne Williams
Wayne Williams | Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Wayne Williams didn’t have any motive for murder

The conviction of Wayne Williams doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Williams was the son of two teachers and worked in the music industry before his conviction. When it came to likely candidates for serial killers, he was somewhere near the bottom of the list.

But that all changed in 1981 when police saw Williams’ car speeding away from the alleged scene of a murder. An officer apparently “heard a loud splash” and then saw his vehicle driving away from the Chattahoochee River. A few days later, the body of 27-year-old Nathaniel Carter was found in the water.

The evidence against Williams was very incriminating

It’s not like Williams was sentenced to life in prison for just a splash — there was more than that. Though he denies murdering anyone, his alibi of why he was in the area at the time was disproven. Plus, carpet fibers matching his home were found on the victim’s body, plus dog hairs matching his pet.

Wayne Williams was also caught handing out flyers requesting kids aged 11-21 to audition for a music group. All of this evidence is circumstantial, but put together it doesn’t look too promising for Williams. Still, he proclaimed his innocence the whole time.

Who really killed all those little kids?

Williams’ lawyer had a theory for who murdered those children if his client did not. White supremacist and KKK member Charles T. Sanders was one of the original suspects in the case. A friend apparently admitted that Sanders was bragging to committing the murders. (It’s also worth mentioning that Sanders had the same kind of dog as Wayne Williams).

Real-life Mindhunter profiler John Douglas believed that Wayne Williams was probably the true murderer, however. In his profile of Williams, Douglas wrote: “The Atlanta child killings commenced when stress in the life of Wayne Williams became unbearable. While fairly bright and articulate, Williams found himself falling to one failure after another… The Atlanta serial murder case was his first success.”

Williams is still in jail for the crime

Though Wayne Williams is still serving out his murder sentence, there is a chance he could be exonerated. Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields announced in March that the evidence from the case would be re-tested, and if the results come back differently, Williams could be granted a new trial.

Maybe convicted murderer Wayne Williams really was in the “wrong place at the wrong time” just like he said.