New DNA testing of evidence in the notorious Atlanta Child Murders cases, a highly publicized effort that was supposed to begin early this year, is on hold for unexplained funding issues.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in 2019 announced the evidence review, as well as a City Hall memorial to the murder victims. The memorial concept has progressed through City Council review, but the DNA testing effort went quiet. The Atlanta Police Department said in January of this year that the testing would begin within 60 days, but now says the work is on hold.

“The investigation remains open and we are awaiting approval for funding to cover the DNA testing of our evidence in this case,” said Officer Steve Avery, an APD spokesperson, in an email. “Once the funding is approved, we will submit the evidence to the crime lab and move forward with the testing. We do not have a timeline, at the moment, but are hopeful we will be moving forward with this soon.”

An image from the trailer for the new true-crime documentary series “The Atlanta Child Murders,” which aired in 2019 on the Investigation Discovery network, at the same time Atlanta and Fulton County officials announced the new review of evidence in the cases.

But Avery was unable to provide any information on the amount of funding needed and whose approval was required, including whether it is from APD’s internal budget or some outside source. 

The Atlanta Police Foundation, a nonprofit that funds APD programs, “has no role in this,” according to spokesperson Rob Baskin.

The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office and City Councilmember Joyce Sheperd, who chairs the Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee, did not respond to comment requests.

“Atlanta Child Murders” is the collective term for at least 25 African American children and adults found dead in 1979 through 1981 around metro Atlanta, including in the areas of Brookhaven and Buckhead. Wayne Bertram Williams is serving a life sentence in state prison for two of the killings and was suspected by authorities of committing most of the others. But he has maintained his innocence, while some police officers, journalists and family members have suggested others were involved, possibly including the Ku Klux Klan.

Wayne Bertram Williams, convicted of killing two men in the “Atlanta Child Murders” case, in a state prison photo.

The wave of murders terrorized the city as the victims, most of them boys, began appearing in vacant lots, rivers and wooded areas. One victim who was found in a local area was Patrick Rogers, 16, whose body was discovered in the Chattahoochee River on the Cobb County side of the Paces Ferry Road bridge on Dec. 7, 1980, according to media reports at the time. Another was Patrick Baltazar, 11, who was found dead Feb. 13, 1981 in the Corporate Square office park in what is now the city of Brookhaven.

Williams, an African American man, became a prime suspect after police allegedly heard him dump a body off the James Jackson Parkway bridge in northwest Atlanta. In 1982, he was convicted of killing two adult victims. Police alleged that evidence connected him to most of the other killings as well, including those of Rogers and Baltazar, but he was never charged with those crimes.

At the time of Williams’ trial, DNA testing did not exist. He and his attorneys have long challenged the forensic evidence that helped to convict him, mostly involving analysis of hairs and carpet fibers. About 10 years ago, a limited form of DNA testing showed that Williams could not be confirmed or ruled out as the source of hairs found on Baltazar’s body, according to media reports. Similar results were reportedly returned for dog hairs found on Baltazar and other victims that authorities alleged came from Williams’ pet.

The new DNA testing was announced in March 2019 by Bottoms, former Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields and former Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard. The announcement came on the eve of the airing of a television documentary about the cases produced by Will Packer, a prominent movie executive who lives in Atlanta and who was a supporter of Bottoms’ mayoral campaign.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.