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Investigators extract DNA tied to 2 cases as part of a re-investigation of the decades-old Atlanta child murders

<i>Jerome McLendon/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP</i><br/>Investigators pull the body of Nathaniel Cater out of the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta in 1981. Wayne Williams
Jerome McLendon/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP
Investigators pull the body of Nathaniel Cater out of the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta in 1981. Wayne Williams

By Rebekah Riess and Aya Elamroussi, CNN

Investigators in Atlanta were able to extract DNA from two child murder cases for additional analysis as part of the city’s probe into the dozens of decades-old unsolved killings, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Friday.

Authorities in March 2019 reopened the investigation into a series of child murders that took place between the 1970s and 80s to re-examine the evidence in the hopes that technological breakthroughs might point to a definite killer in the cases, most of which were never solved.

“Part of my asking that this be reopened was in light of where we are with DNA testing some 40 years later. What, if anything, more could we take a look at to make sure that we have examined everything possible to make sure that the person or people responsible are being held accountable,” Bottoms said in her announcement of the DNA findings.

Fiber evidence was re-analyzed in all 30 of the cases, and investigators also extended the timeline from 1970 to 1985 to ensure any additional children or victims are not overlooked, the mayor said.

At least two dozen of the 30 cases were children between the ages of 7 and 17, most of whom were Black victims.

Investigators methodically reviewed an estimated 40% of the collected evidence to determine which items can be sent to a private lab for further processing. Officials moved forward with that process on June 21, Bottoms said.

The private lab has extensive experience in analyzing deteriorated DNA, she said.

“So, we certainly hope to have that information back over the next few months,” Bottoms said. “And it’s truly my hope that with the analysis of this additional DNA, that we can have some additional answers.”

The killings terrified parents and children in Atlanta, which pre-1996 Olympics and a major airport expansion, was not the megalopolis it is today. There was huge national interest.

In 1982, Wayne Williams was convicted of murder after being implicated as the prime suspect in the killings.

Atlanta police said at the time he was responsible for most of the child murders. However, Williams was charged not in the youngsters’ slayings, but in the murders of Nathaniel Cater and Jimmy Ray Payne, both adults whose bodies had been discovered in the Chattahoochee River.

He was found guilty of both killings and sentenced to life in prison.

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