Terror in Atlanta
By Debora Art
The terror in Atlanta caused by the murder of 20 Black children since July 1979 has spread at a cancerous pace, striking the families and friends of the victims, threatening an entire generation.
But perhaps the real terror is the fact that it took over one year from the time the first body was discovered — eight murders and numerous unsolved cases of missing children, all between the ages of seven and fifteen and all from poor families — before Atlanta police and city officials would admit they had ignored the early warning signs of a mass killer.
Their apathy towards the disadvantaged Blacks of Atlanta allowed the malignancy to fear to grow to such proportions that the local panic could no longer be concealed from the nation.
In late fall of 1980, in a desperate attempt to save face, the Atlanta police force pulled out all the stops and intensified the investigation, coordinating their efforts with local Black-organized groups like "The Committee to Stop Children's Murders" which had been formed after four murders were discovered.
The police Special Task Force assigned to the case was doubled and promised to devote 24-hours a day to it. The FBI was called in. A cash reward of $150,000-the largest in the history of the city-was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer.
New Jersey psychic Dorothy Allison flew to Atlanta and for two days tried to link her vision of the killer with existing clues. Also joining in was a group of Atlanta doctor-detectives, in the investigative style of TV's "Quincy." They studied each victim's case to determine a common element or motive.
But all of this was to no avail, as 1980 ended with the 13th murder and 1981 began with yet another disappearance and two more deaths. It wasn't until early February 1981 that the state crime lab discovered its first hard evidence connecting the cases of at least two of the (by then) 15 murdered children when fibers found on or near the bodies of the victims proved to be identical.
On March 6 the body of the 20th victim, in as many months, was found floating in a river, just three days before a scheduled Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra benefit. On Sunday the combined editions of The Atlanta Journal and Constitution decided, in the public's best interest, to publish a portion of a letter from a self-claimed killer who threatened more violence during the benefit.
Although two letters from the writer had been received by the newspapers in February, they withheld publishing them at the request of the police who felt such public information might compromise the investigation.
Police had previously received such letters and calls from people confessing to the killings, all proved to be unfounded. The following week, against the wishes of Atlanta officials, New York City's infamous "Guardian Angels" arrived in the city, not to protect the subways, as they do in New York (there are none in Atlanta), but to help mobilize the children to protect themselves.
In terms of dollars, the investigation is costing over $200,000 a month. The Davis/Sinatra benefit raised $200,000. The Justice Department has offered $200,000. Personal donations have exceeded $75,000. And the federal government has pledged over $1 million in support.
But despite the manpower, the money and the experts, the terror continues to grow, reaching the Blacks of Atlanta and cities nationwide. It has aroused anger and perhaps has created a lasting psychological impact on a generation of innocent children.
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From Blacklight Vol. 2, No. 5