For a span of two years in the late seventies and early eighties, a real life bogeyman was stalking the streets of Atlanta. From 1979 through 1981, twenty-eight black children and at least one adult went missing from the city, presumed victims of a kidnapper that was quickly dubbed, "The Atlanta Monster." It became such an epidemic that Atlanta t.v. stations began running ads every night at 10pm, asking parents, "Do you know where your children are?" to remind parents to verify that their kids had actually made it home safely. The mayor of the city at the time, Maynard Jackson, offered a $100,000 reward for information on the killer, leading to the iconic photo of Jackson below sitting in front of the money (Muhammed Ali shortly after donated $400,000 to the cause, after saying that the original $100,000 reward wasn't even enough to buy a Rolls Royce).
Eventually the bodies of the missing children started turning up. The majority of the kids met the same fate: asphyxiation due to strangulation. The disposal of many of the bodies was also similar, their remains washing up on the banks of the rivers around the city after, it was theorized, they were dumped off of bridges by their killer. That fact ultimately led to the arrest of the man that police believed to be the Atlanta Monster, Wayne Williams, after he was caught dumping something off of a bridge at 3 in the morning. Williams, who was intent on creating the next Jackson Five as the manager of "Gemini" and who had aspirations of becoming a music mogul, claimed to be on his way to interview a teenage singer for his group and claimed to just be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He was ultimately convicted of murdering two adults, but the police announced that he was also the man behind the killings of the Atlanta children despite never succesfully convicting him of any of those murders. Williams to this day denies any involvement in the killing of the children, and many believe that the police were willing to pin the murders on him simply to be able to say that the investigations were succesfully closed.
The details behind everything that led to Williams arrest and the factors that may have led to a coverup would require an entire book to cover, but if you're looking for an in-depth telling of the entire story check out the podcast Atlanta Monster. Here's the trailer for it:
This story held some increased significance for me and this blog, because the era of the Atlanta Monster would have been during the childhood of many of the key members of the initial wave of Atlanta rappers. Artists outside of Georgia made occasional references to it, Prince's Annie Christian being the most famous example, but I was surprised to find that Wayne Williams and the child murders appeared only a handful of times in Atlanta rap lyrics. For me as a child just seeing the kidnapping episode of Diff'rent Strokes was enough to scar me, I can only imagine what growing up in a neighborhood that averaged more than one dissapearance a month would have done. But Atlanta was heading into an era of urban decay and would soon face the effects of the crack epidemic, so that may explain why the rappers that grew up during that time had other, larger, influences than the Atlanta Monster.
If you know of others add them in the comments, but here are the Atlanta rap songs I was able to find that referenced Wayne Williams and the child murders:
In the song, Gipp mentions knowing Eddie Duncan, the first adult killed by the "Atlanta Monster." The song also makes reference to the Chattahoochee River, where Wayne Williams was discovered by police allegedly dumping one of the victims into the river.
In The Ends, Andre 3k drops the line that he "grew up in the town where they were murderin' kids / and dumped them in the creek up from where I live," and references Wayne Williams' efforts to recruit neighborhood kids into his music group. Andre seems to have been the most impacted of any rapper from the area, as he also dropped references to the Atlanta Monster on Goodie Mob's Thought Process and on the classic Aquemini (h/t Genius).