Williams was born and raised in Atlanta's Dixie Hills neighborhood, from which many of the Atlanta Child Murderer's victims would later disappear. An aspiring DJ, he ran an amateur radio station from his parents' house, and was well-known in the area for scouting local musicians, particularly teenagers.
He also had a reputation in his community as a liar who invented impressive stories about himself, the details of which were too outlandish to be true. He was rumoured to be gay, but this has never been proven. His only encounter with the law prior to becoming a murder suspect was in 1976, when he was arrested (but never convicted) for impersonating a police officer.
He first became a suspect in the child murder case in May 1981. His car was spotted directly above the sound of a loud splash heard in the river by a stake out team. He was stopped by police and questioned, and claimed that he was going out of town to audition a young singer. This alibi fell apart after police found that the address and phone number he gave them didn't exist.
Three days later, the nude body of 27 year-old Nathaniel Cater, who had been missing for days, turned up in the river. The medical examiner on the case ruled he had died of "probable" asphyxia, but never authoritatively said he had been strangled.
Police theorized that Williams had killed Cater and had thrown him off the bridge the night they had pulled him over. Their suspicions about Williams increased after he failed a polygraph test, and hairs and fibers on one of the victims' bodies were found consistent with those from Williams' home, car, and dog. People working in Williams' studio also told police they had seen him with scratches on his face and arms around the time of the murders, which the police thought could have been inflicted by victims during a struggle.
Williams held a press conference outside his parents' home, proclaiming his innocence. He was nevertheless arrested on June 21, 1981, for the murders of Cater and 29-year-old Jimmy Payne.
Trial and conviction
Williams' trial began on January 6, 1982. The prosecution's case relied on an abundance of circumstantial evidence. During the two-month trial, prosecutors matched 19 different sources of fibers from Williams' environment: his bedspread, bathroom, gloves, clothes, carpets, dog and an unusual tri-lobal carpet fiber to a number of victims.
There was also eyewitness testimony placing Williams with different victims, blood stains from victims matching blood in Williams' car, and testimony that he was a pedophile attracted to young black boys. Williams himself took the stand, but alienated the jury by becoming angry and combative during a single instance.
Williams never recovered from the single outburst, and on February 27, the jury deliberated for 10 hours before finding him guilty of murdering Cater and Payne. He was then sentenced to two consecutive terms of life imprisonment.
Williams' conviction has been disputed. Many in the community did not believe Williams, the son of two teachers, could have killed so many children and adults. On May 6, 2005, DeKalb County Police Chief Louis Graham ordered the reopening of the murder cases of four boys killed in the area between February and May 1981 that were attributed to Williams.
However, the authorities in neighboring Fulton County, Georgia, where the majority of the murders occurred, have not moved to reopen the cases under their jurisdiction. Williams has always vehemently denied the charges. Dekalb County finally closed its case after finding no new evidence.
On August 6, 2005, it was revealed that Charles T. Sanders, a white supremacist affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan who had been investigated for a role in the Atlanta child killings, once praised the crimes in secretly recorded conversations. Although Sanders did not claim responsibility for any of the deaths, Williams' lawyers believe the evidence will help their bid for a new trial.
Sanders told an informant for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in the 1981 recording that the killer had "wiped out a thousand future generations of niggers." Police dropped the probe into the KKK's possible involvement after seven weeks, when Sanders and two of his brothers passed lie detector tests. The case was once again closed on July 21, 2006.
Former FBI profiler John E. Douglas wrote in his book Mindhunter that, while he believes Williams committed many of the murders, he did not commit them all. He added that he believes law enforcement has some idea of who the other killers are, and that "it isn't a single offender and the truth isn't pleasant."