Netflix’s criminal profile drama Mindhunter enters further dark territory in season 2, covering a series of murders that took place in Atlanta, Georgia in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
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In the series, Jonathan Groff’s Holden Ford and his partner Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) are sent to the Southern US city to apply their criminal profiling techniques to investigate the crimes, which caused great unrest at the time.
But how much of the series is grounded in reality? Here’s what really went down.
What were the Atlanta Child Murders?
In 1979, 1980 and 1981, 24 children – aged seven to seventeen, mostly young African American boys – were abducted and killed in Atlanta, their bodies appearing weeks and often months after their disappearance.
The regularity with which these atrocities occurred during this period was the source of much anxiety amongst the community, as the trailer for the new season points out. In the clip, a news anchor asks “it’s ten thirty – do you know where your children are?” In 1981, a 9pm curfew was ordered for children under 15 years old “in the hope of preventing further deaths and disappearances”, according to a New York Times article from the time.
The series also features a scene transplanted from real life, which sees Mayor Maynard Jackson on TV with $100,000 in cash piled up on a desk in front of him: it was to be offered as a reward to anyone who could help them track down the killer. Muhammad Ali added $400,000 to the kitty later on, nothing that $100,000 “won’t even buy a Rolls-Royce.”
The killings were widely believed to have been racist, committed by a white man. “Why does the city deny that the killings are racist?” Atlanta’s then Police Comissioner Lee P Brown asked in a New York Times Magazine long read in 1981.
Who was Wayne Williams – and did he commit the Atlanta Child Murders?
In 1982, a 23-year-old African-America music promoter called Wayne Williams was arrested and charged with the murder of 27-year-old Nathaniel Cater and 21-year-old Jimmy Ray Payne.
During the trial, a fibre expert from the FBI testified that fibres and dog hair found on nine murdered black youths could be traced to Williams’ home and car. Police believe that he was responsible for most of the child murders, on top of the killings of four adults.
Williams was tried and convicted of the two aforementioned murders, and is currently serving two life sentences. However, he was never tried and convicted of killing any of the children. No one was. Nevertheless, 22 murder cases were closed after his conviction. He has remained insistent that he did not commit the Atlanta Child Murders.
Why have the Atlanta Child Murders cases been reopened?
Nearly forty years later, Atlanta’s current Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has re-opened the case and ordered that the evidence be re-tested using current DNA technology, in the hope that it will “help bring some peace to the families who for so long have felt like they were forgotten.”
Mindhunter season 2 is out NOW