Who Really Committed the Atlanta Child Murders in 'Mindhunter' Season 2?

Here's everything you need to know about this real-life serial killer.

Mindhunter Season 2 picks up where the Netflix series left off, following FBI agents Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany) as they profile serial killers in the late ‘70s for the Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) with the help of psychologist Wendy Carr (Anna Torv), all in the effort of analyzing similar patterns to solve crimes. While some of the central characters are fictional, many of the prominent serial killers represented in the series are adapted from real-life killers, and in Season 2, Mind Hunter tackles another serial killer story that really happened: the Atlanta child murders.

What Are the Atlanta Child Murders?

Per the Season 2 trailer, we know that under new leadership, the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU) expands the scope of its operation. Agents Ford and Tench are sent to Atlanta to help investigate the abduction and murder of numerous black children in the area.

“[The FBI] are the last guys in, they’re trying to help out something that has its own momentum and politics,” Mindhunter showrunner David Fincher said on KCRW’s “The Treatment” podcast. “It’s a divided battlefield. They’re coming in to throw this federal umbrella over everything to make everyone feel okay about sharing information.”

If you’re wondering who actually committed the Atlanta child murders and don’t feel like waiting for Mindhunter Season 2’s release later this week, here’s everything you need to know. Just be warned that what comes next could probably be considered a spoiler even though it happened in real life several decades ago.

mindhunter season 2 trailer
The core 'Mindhunter' team in the Season 2 trailer.

Murder history buffs know that, eventually, Wayne Williams is convicted of these murders, but the reality is much more complicated.

Between 1979 and 1981, at least two-dozen black children and teenagers were kidnapped and killed in the Atlanta area. The victims’ ages ranged between 7 and 17, and they were predominantly male. Six murdered adults under the age of 30 were also believed to be victims of the same killer. The method of killing was, in most cases, strangulation or asphyxiation. Bodies were disposed in seemingly random locations throughout the city, inspiring panic and fear in local residents.

“Do you know where your child is?” late-night news programs asked parents daily. The Mindhunter Season 2 trailer even depicts a real-life televised plea for help from Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson, offering $100,000 in reward money for anyone who helps identify the person(s) responsible for the murders.

By 1982, police arrested 23-year-old freelance photographer Wayne Williams for the murder of two adults, but blamed him for all of these murders based on his profile. He reportedly aspired to create the next Jackson 5, called Gemini, and tried recruiting young local black children to join the group. Evidence connected him to the murder of 27-year-old Nathaniel Cater, and then fibers discovered in his home and car matched some found on the body of 21-year-old Jimmy Ray Payne.

Seems like a simple case, except it’s not.

The Atlanta Monster podcast investigates this same case.

What You Need to Know About Wayne Williams

The FBI admitted in 2015 to forensic malpractice when handling the hair and fibers used to convict Williams, but local law enforcement supposedly also subdued emerging evidence of the Ku Klux Klan’s involvement in the murders, something the Mindhunter Season 2 trailer also hints at.

The New York Times reported in 1991 about Wayne Williams’ request for a retrial based on new evidence from career felon Bill Joe Whitaker that a member of the Ku Klux Klan admitted to the murder of a 14-year-old boy — one that Williams was originally connected to. Police had conducted an investigation into KKK activities in Atlanta as part of the Atlanta child murders, but nothing significant ever came of it. It’s unclear why.

Earlier this year, present-day Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced that the city would essentially reopen the case to re-examine the evidence in the hopes of solving it once and for all.

Interestingly, all of Mindhunter is based on a nonfiction book by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker called Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit. Douglas was involved in the real investigation into the Atlanta child murders, and in the book, he cast doubt on the local police’s assumption that Williams was the sole person responsible. “I believe the forensic and behavioral evidence points conclusively to Wayne Williams as the killer of eleven young men in Atlanta,” he wrote. That’s far less than half, but it still makes him seem like a serial killer nonetheless.


Mindhunter Season 2 will be released on Netflix August 16, 2019.

Get caught up for 'Mindhunter' Season 2 without Season 1 recap.