Originally created 05/10/05

Atlanta murder cases are reopened after 20 years



ATLANTA - Some relatives of victims of the wave of child slayings that terrorized the Atlanta area more than 20 years ago believe the wrong man was blamed for the bulk of the killings and they hope a new police investigation will uncover the real killer.

The DeKalb County police chief has reopened the cases of four of the 29 victims - all black, mostly boys - whose deaths between 1979 and 1981 led to one of the most intensive investigations of the century. Wayne Williams, a freelance cameraman, was convicted of two of the murders. He was blamed for 22 others but was never charged in those deaths.

Among the reopened cases was that of Patrick Baltazar, an 11-year-old boy who disappeared while leaving an arcade and was found slain in 1981.

Russell Baltazar Jr. said Monday that he doesn't believe Mr. Williams killed his brother.

"I was under the strong impression of that since it happened," said Mr. Baltazar, a retired Marine who lives in Baton Rouge, La. "In my opinion, that man didn't kill all 29 of those kids. I really believe that."

Willie Mae Mathis, whose 10-year-old son, Jeffery, disappeared in 1980 while on the way to the store to get her a pack of cigarettes and was found slain a year later, said Mr. Williams has sent her several Christmas cards from prison professing his innocence.

"I told him I never believed he was associated with it," Ms. Mathis said, adding that she is glad the DeKalb County police reopened some of the cases. She said she hopes their findings reflect on her son's case, which occurred in nearby Atlanta and hasn't been reopened.

"I hope that all the parents that haven't gotten an answer like me that their soul will be at rest and that they catch the real murderer," said Ms. Mathis, 63.

Mr. Williams, 47, is serving a life sentence for the murders of 27-year-old Nathaniel Cater and 21-year-old Jimmy Ray Payne.

Mr. Williams was blamed for 24 of the kilings, and evidence of a pattern of conduct in 12 of the homicides was used against him at his trial.

The Georgia Supreme Court upheld his conviction in 1984 and later rejected an appeal for a new trial. Evidence against Mr. Williams included tiny fibers found on some of the bodies that were matched to rugs and other fabrics in the home and cars of Mr. Williams' parents.

Mr. Williams, who is black, has contended that he was framed and that Atlanta officials covered up evidence that the KKK was involved in the killings to avoid a race war in the city.

Willie Mae Mathis: Mother of boy who was murdered says she believes the wrong man was blamed for her son's death.