In spring of 2019, a decades’ old investigation into the murder of more than 25 black children in Atlanta WAS reopened by local authorities. And, on April 5th, HBO will delve into that case with Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children.
Over the course of the late Seventies and early Eighties, nearly 30 black children and adolescents and a handful of adults were killed; authorities suspected that it was a serial killer. In 1981, former club promoter Wayne Williams was arrested and convicted for the murders of the adults after fibers from his home and car were found on the bodies. Police suspected Williams was responsible for the child murders as well, but there was no evidence.
In 2019, though, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Atlanta police chief Erika Shields announced that they would be retesting evidence from the child murder case, as DNA has advanced far beyond what was possible 40 years ago.
“[We hope] to let them know that we have done all that we can do … to make sure their memories are not forgotten … and in the truest sense of the word to let the world know that black lives do matter,” Bottoms said.
The Atlanta child murders also reentered the public consciousness in August 2019, as Netflix series Mindhunter made the case the focus of Season Two. According to authorities, the show had no effect on reopening the investigation, and the timing was simply a coincidence.
“No TV shows or podcasts have had anything to do with our taking another look at this case,” said Carlos Campos, director of the Public Affairs Unit of the Atlanta Police Department. “Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms asked our Chief Erika Shields to take another look after she was approached by family members of the child murder victims.”
The five-part documentary picks up where we left off last year, with the reopening of the case. As one interviewee points out in the teaser, there’s no memorial to the children in Atlanta; there’s only that horrible memory of a fear that gripped a community. In interviews with family members of victims and via archival material, the series highlights efforts to finally seize justice for dozens of lost children.
Still, Anthony Terrell, brother of one of the victims, Earl Terrell, points out that the increased interest in the case could have real consequences. “If they pursue this, it’s going to destroy the Atlanta name for a while,” he says in the teaser. “It would turn Atlanta into the real Atlanta.”
The show is produced and directed by Emmy-winning team Show of Force and Oscar nominee Sam Pollard; it was executive produced by Patrick Reardon of Roc Nation and the Emmy winning team at Get Lifted Film Co. Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius and John Legend are also listed as executive producers.