Victims' Families Welcome New Look at Atlanta Child Killings

Some relatives of children who were killed in a series of slayings that terrorized the Atlanta area more than 20 years ago believe the wrong man was blamed for most of the killings, and they are hopeful a new investigation will uncover the real culprit.

The DeKalb County (search) police chief has reopened the cases of four of the 29 victims — all blacks and mostly boys. The deaths between 1979 and 1981 led to one of the most intensive criminal investigations of the century.

Wayne Williams (search) was convicted of two murders and blamed for 22 others, but he was never charged in the other cases.

Among the reopened cases was that of Patrick Baltazar (search), an 11-year-old boy who disappeared while leaving an arcade and was found murdered in 1981. Russell Baltazar Jr. said Monday he does not believe Williams killed his brother.

"I was under the strong impression of that since it happened," said Baltazar, a retired Marine who lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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

"I told him I never believed he was associated with it," Mathis said, adding that she is glad DeKalb County police have reopened some of the cases. She said she hopes their findings reflect on her son's case, which occurred in nearby Atlanta and has not 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 Mathis, 63. "I hope they burn whoever is responsible."

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

Williams was blamed for 24 of the murders, and evidence of a pattern of conduct in 12 of the murders 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 Williams included tiny fibers found on some of the bodies that were matched to rugs and other fabrics in the home and cars of Williams' parents.

Williams was never considered a suspect in five other child slaying cases in that period.

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.

Baltazar, 57, said he believes more than one person was responsible for the series of killings.

"I think there were groups. It's not one individual," he said.

Like some of the victims' relatives, DeKalb County Police Chief Louis Graham has said he reopened the investigation because he believes Williams is innocent.

With no new evidence, the task will be difficult. Locating relatives after so many years also will be tough, Graham said Monday. Many of the victims' relatives have moved, while some have died. Graham is asking relatives to call police.

The man who prosecuted Williams, Joseph Drolet, has stood by his belief that Williams was responsible for the killings.