The Atlanta Police spokeswoman, while admitting the department isn’t quite jumping for joy at the prospect, promises full support, along with a warehouse worth of files. They will re-test 22 murder cases which have been deemed cold since 1981 by the city of Atlanta. One of the original detectives on the case is on hand to give his blessing, which his face says is long overdue.
The documentary then puts the killings into historic perspective. At the time of the killings, Atlanta was the beacon of the south, a city which called to black residents because of its progressive inclusion. Mayor Maynard Jackson was the first African-American to govern a southern city and the first action he took was to make the police force “more brown.” Civil rights leaders sought refuge in the racial balance, even though it teetered very close to Ku Klux Klan territory. Fifteen minutes out of Atlanta, Confederate flags few and white power was the only power. The Black Mecca of the expanding urban uptown businesses stood in stark contrast to the projects off the avenue.
The documentary features crime scene photographs, and a lot of the visuals are shocking. Some are in stark black and white, others in muted colors. Interspersed with the photos and archival news footage, the documentary includes contemporary interviews with the victims’ families, law enforcement officials, Williams’ defense attorney and Williams himself. We are first introduced to Wayne’s parents, Homer and Faye Williams, a photographer and a school teacher. They describe their son as a happy and enthusiastic child, intelligent and energetic, who avoided trouble in school.
The disappearances began in mid-1979. The first body found is 14-year-old Edward Hope Smith, the second is too decomposed to identify. The police did not think the two killings were related at the time. The parents of Alfred Evans didn’t think the second body was their child because the advanced stage of decay rendered him unrecognizable. A task force to investigate the killings wasn’t formed until nine children were dead.
As fear grips the city and parents stop letting their kids play outside, the investigation becomes a circus. In October 1980, Dorothy Allison, a self-proclaimed psychic, arrives and promises there will be no more murders now that she’s there. New York City’s Guardian Angels show up to offer tips on how people can protect themselves. Bill Cosby made public service announcements advising kids not to get into anyone’s car. Pop star Michael Jackson and boxing legend Muhammad Ali gave money for rewards. The documentary captures the anxiety of vulnerability which runs deep in the area.