Wayne Bertram Williams (born May 27, 1958) is an American murderer serving life imprisonment for the 1981 killing of two adult men in Atlanta, Georgia, and believed by police to be responsible for at least 24 of the 30 Atlanta murders of 1979–1981, or the Atlanta Child Murders. He was never tried for the child murders and continues to maintain his complete innocence.
Wayne Williams was born on May 27, 1958, and raised in the Dixie Hills neighborhood of southwest Atlanta, Georgia, by Homer and Faye Williams. Both of his parents were teachers. Williams graduated from Douglass High School and developed a keen interest in radio and journalism. He constructed his own carrier current radio station and began frequenting stations WIGO and WAOK, where he befriended a number of the announcing crew and began dabbling in becoming a pop music producer and manager.
Williams first became a suspect in the Atlanta murders in May 1981, when a police surveillance team, watching a bridge spanning the Chattahoochee River (a site where several victims' bodies had been discovered), heard a "big loud splash", suggesting that something had been thrown from the bridge into the river below. The first automobile to exit the bridge after the splash, at roughly 2 a.m., belonged to Williams. When stopped and questioned, he told police that he was on his way to check on an address in a neighboring town ahead of an audition the following morning with a young singer named Cheryl Johnson. However, both the phone number he gave police and Cheryl Johnson turned out to be fictitious.
Two days later, on May 24, the nude body of 27-year-old Nathaniel Cater, who had been missing for three days, was discovered in the river. The medical examiner ruled he had died of probable asphyxia, but never specifically said he had been strangled. Police theorized that Williams had killed Cater and that his body was the source of the sound they heard as his car crossed the bridge. Williams subsequently failed three polygraph tests, and hairs and fibers retrieved from the body of another victim, Jimmy Ray Payne, were found to be consistent with those from his home, car, and dog. Co-workers told police they had seen Williams with scratches on his face and arms around the time of the murders which, investigators surmised, could have been inflicted by victims during a struggle. Williams held a press conference outside his home to proclaim his innocence, volunteering that he had failed the polygraph tests — a fact that would have been inadmissible in court. He was arrested on June 21, 1981, for the murders of Cater and Payne.
Williams' trial began on January 6, 1982, in Fulton County. During the two-month trial, prosecutors matched nineteen different sources of fibers from Williams' home and car—his bedspread, bathroom, gloves, clothes, carpets, dog, and an unusual tri-lobal carpet fiber—to a number of victims. Other evidence included eyewitness testimony placing Williams with several victims while they were alive and inconsistencies in his accounts of his whereabouts. Williams took the stand in his own defense but alienated the jury by becoming angry and combative. After twelve hours of deliberation, the jury found him guilty on February 27 of the murders of Cater and Payne. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In the late 1990s, Williams filed a habeas corpus petition and requested a retrial. Butts County Superior Court judge Hal Craig denied his appeal. Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker said that "although this does not end the appeal process, I am pleased with the results in the habeas case," and that his office will "continue to do everything possible to uphold the conviction". In early 2004, Williams sought a retrial once again, with his attorneys arguing that law enforcement officials covered up evidence of involvement by the Ku Klux Klan, and that carpet fibers linking him to the crimes would not stand up to scientific scrutiny. A federal judge rejected the request for retrial on October 17, 2006.