Atlanta’s Missing And Murdered: The Lost Children 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.
In the spring of 2019, the decades’ old investigation into their murders (in Atlanta) was reopened by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
Why did it take so long, you might ask? That’s the underlining question that links the five-part documentary. 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.
Long before the hashtag #Blacklivesmatter the frustrated Black Atlanta community banded together to do what the police would not or could not, they went to literally search for the Black missing children and found several, dead in areas mind you, that had just “searched.”
The series tells the inside story of this shocking tragedy, shedding new light on the horrific killings through exclusive archival material as well as interviews with those closest to the children and investigation.
The pace of the series is methodical. It tracks the story from the initial disappearance and discovery of two murdered teenage boys to the terror that progressively gripped the city, ultimately building to the indictment and prosecution of 23-year-old Wayne Williams, who was found guilty of murdering two adults while also being linked to the murders of 10 children. 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.
Without ever going to trial? Does something feel fishy here, does something feel undone? Does something make you ponder if an innocent Black man was shut away for crimes he did not commit?
There was a rush by Atlanta officials to officially close the case (why?) which produced more questions that remain unanswered, including how the victims’ family members – along with so many others in the Atlanta community – have a reasonable doubt of Williams’ guilt.
Years and years of no suspects, is that possible? The series says no, in fact, the documentary series points to alternate suspects (smart) and highlights the biases that may have tainted the original investigation.
I think you are following the importance of Atlanta’s Missing And Murdered: The Lost Children. For those of us that care about Black people being murdered, correction, Black children and young people being murdered, and almost forgotten, it’s more than stimulating entertainment. It’s an opportunity to see how America operates.
Through never-before-seen footage, interviews, and court documents, the series brings new evidence to the table while pushing new questions, important questions, related to the racial tensions and political clashes that brought Atlanta to a boiling point during this tragedy.
As terror runs through Atlanta parents stop letting their kids play outside and then the investigation becomes a circus. To wit in October 1980, Dorothy Allison, a self-proclaimed psychic, arrives and promises there will be no more murders now that she’s there (she lied). Bill Cosby made public service announcements advising kids not to get into anyone’s car. The late Michael Jackson and boxing legend Muhammad Ali gave money for rewards. Then New York City’s Guardian Angels show up to offer tips on how people can protect themselves.
The documentary perfectly captures the anxiety and the vulnerability which ran deep
And then we look at the social impact of the black churches in a terrified and furious community. Paranoia becomes King and Queen. Rumors swell about mutilated genitalia. Conspiracy theories grow like weeds in an unattended garden. Was it the Atlanta police department. Was it the government? Remember, America is run by liars and we stand on conquered land, made fertile by the blood of African slaves. And people are then reminded about the Tuskegee experiments (black people as guinea pigs). Then they bring up a child porn ring run by pedophiles living and working in the Black community. One of the most disturbing sequences is the images — boxes and boxes—of underage nude photographs, including some which may be of some of the victims. Who killed these Black kids? Was it someone the kids trusted? Williams, a known local, a self-proclaimed talent scout. He becomes a person of interest after a 16-year-old musician disappears on his way to a recording studio.
Anthony Terrell, brother of one of the victims, Earl Terrell, believes that the interest and this series could have real consequences. His thoughts are used in the trailer for Atlanta’s Missing And Murdered: The Lost Children; offering this: “If they pursue this, it’s going to destroy the Atlanta name for a while. It would turn Atlanta into the real Atlanta.”
I don’t want to say that Atlanta’s Missing And Murdered: The Lost Children is great storytelling (it is) or that it holds your attention (it does) because it’s about life and death which is too important to minimize. Could this happen again, in other states in America? It has happened in other states in America but it’s the people of Atlanta, folks like you and I, that would not let it rest. That’s a powerful take away from the five-part series.
The other take away is a creative look at race and politics in America which may answer why there are so many producers on the project. Here is the full credit block executive produced and directed by Sam Pollard, Maro Chermayeff, Jeff Dupre and Joshua Bennett for Show of Force; produced by Saralena Weinfield for Show of Force; executive produced by Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius and John Legend for Get Lifted Film Co. in association with Roc Nation. For HBO: supervising producer, Sara Rodriguez; executive producers, Nancy Abraham and Lisa Heller.
Atlanta’s Missing And Murdered: The Lost Children now playing on HBO.