Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children, debuting Sunday, April 5 (8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT) on HBO, is a five-part documentary series offering an unprecedented look at the abduction and murder of at least 30 African American children and young adults in Atlanta between 1979 and 1981. Forty years later, with the official re-opening of the case by Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, the series tells the inside story of this shocking tragedy, shedding new light on the horrific killings through interviews with those closest to the children and the investigation, as well as exclusive archival material. The series tracks the story from the initial disappearance and discovery of two murdered teenage boys to the fear that progressively gripped the city, ultimately building to the indictment and prosecution of 23-year-old Wayne Williams, revealing the rush to officially shut down the case and the continuing deluge of questions that remain unanswered.
Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children is executive produced and directed by the Emmy(R) and Peabody award-winning filmmakers Sam Pollard, Maro Chermayeff, Jeff Dupre, and Joshua Bennett for Show of Force. The five-part series is executive produced by John Legend, Mike Jackson, and Ty Stiklorius for Get Lifted Co. in association with Roc Nation.
Over a two-year period beginning in 1979, at least 30 black children and young adults were murdered in the city of Atlanta. By February 1982, Wayne Williams was found guilty of murdering two adults: 28-year-old Nathaniel Cater and 21-year-old Jimmy Ray Payne. Ten other children’s murders were linked to Williams by the prosecution. Days after Williams was sentenced to two life terms, most of the children’s cases were closed and attributed to Williams, without ever going to trial. The series explores how the victims’ family members – along with many others in the Atlanta community – remain skeptical of Williams’ guilt, despite circumstantial evidence linking the victims to him. The series points to alternate suspects, and the biases and unexplored leads that may have tainted the original investigation.
The series begins with the March 2019 announcement by Atlanta’s Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Chief of Police Erika Shields that the city would be re-examining evidence from the brutal killings. In exclusive interviews, Bottoms and Shields both assure the public and the victims’ families that every investigative lead will be followed, with Shields speculating, “Do I think that, in some of the cases, there will be a different suspect? Yes.”
Through never-before-seen footage, interviews, court documents and other materials, this timely documentary series brings new evidence to light, providing a powerful window into one of America’s most shocking chapters. Investigating the racial tensions and political clashes that brought Atlanta to a boiling point and caught the nation in a moment of transition, the series raises new pressing questions. Featuring interviews with key figures and experts, the series reveals a shattered community that has fought for justice for their children for forty years.
Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered: The Lost Children features a wide range of subjects who provide fresh insights on the murders from every angle, including several of the victims’ mothers and family members – Catherine Leach, Helen Pue, Sheila Baltazar, Eunice Jones, Airmentha Williams, Sirlena Cobb, Anthony Terrell and Isaac Rogers; journalists Karl Evanzz, Bob Sirkin, Clem Richardson, Maynard Eaton, David Hilder and Monica Kaufman Pearson; retired Atlanta police detectives Danny Agan, Bob Buffington, W.J. Taylor and Lou Arcangeli; retired FBI agents Jim Procopio and Mike McComas; Williams’ attorneys Mary Welcome, Tony Axam, Lynn Whatley and Ron Kuby; prosecutor Joseph Drolet; historians and activists Michael Simanga and Natsu Taylor Saito; former GA state representative Tyrone Brooks; Mayor Maynard Jackson’s Director of Communications, Angelo Fuster; and many others.
Debut date: SUNDAY, APR. 5 (8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT)
Known as “The City Too Busy To Hate,” in the 1970s Atlanta is on the rise, fueled by excitement over the election of the city’s first black mayor. Below the surface, however, long-held racial and economic divisions are percolating. When African American children begin disappearing and showing up dead, the city is on the verge of an unprecedented crisis. Outraged that their elected leaders seem more concerned with maintaining Atlanta’s image than with protecting the city’s children, members of the black community, led by Camille Bell, the mother of one of the slain boys, call for swift action. An explosion at a local daycare center leaves five dead, and their frustration reaches a fever pitch.
Debut date: SUNDAY, APR. 12 (8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT)
By 1980, as distrust in the police and city officials deepens, citizens organize to protect their neighborhoods and take matters into their own hands. When a volunteer search party finds a slain child in an area local police canvassed a day earlier and more and more children continue to disappear, the FBI is called to step in. But even the Feds seem to make little headway, and conspiracy theories of who might be behind the murders take root, from the Klan to a cult to pedophilia. We learn more about Wayne Williams, a local talent scout, who might have been recruiting some of the victims.
Debut date: SUNDAY, APR. 19 (8:00-9:00 p.m. ET/PT)
With the city’s reputation on the line, and the murder count rising, law enforcement faces immense pressure to make an arrest. On May 22, 1981, an FBI stakeout of the city’s bridges leads investigators to 23-year-old Wayne Williams, who becomes the main suspect in the killings and is promptly arrested in connection to the murders of two men in their 20s. As Williams’ trial gets underway in January 1982, victims’ family members, the press and the public descend on the courthouse to witness the trial of a case that has grabbed headlines across the country.
Debut date: SUNDAY, APR. 26 (7:45-9:00 p.m. ET/PT)
In a move that stuns Wayne Williams’ defense attorney, Mary Welcome, prosecutors introduce pattern evidence mid-trial that they assert links him to ten of the child murders. Drawing predominantly on hair and carpet fibers found on the victims that allegedly match items in Williams’ car and home, the jury delivers a swift guilty verdict in February 1982. Just days later, the Atlanta police department shuts down the task force investigating the 30 murders, and attributes most of the cases to Wayne Williams. A year later, as the dissent of an unconvinced community grows louder, the Georgia Supreme Court makes the controversial decision to deny Williams’ plea for a retrial.
Part 5 (Series finale)
Debut date: SUNDAY, MAY 3 (7:45-9:00 p.m. ET/PT)
In the mid-1980s, Wayne Williams’ appeals attorney Lynn Whatley anonymously receives shocking new evidence connecting members of the Klan to the murders. An undercover informant and several investigators take the stand as a judge evaluates Williams’ plea for a retrial. Forty years after the murders began, the victims’ family members gather to grieve, discuss Williams’ guilt or innocence, and assert their unwavering commitment to finding out what really happened to their children.