After 28 Murders, Atlanta Police Point An Accusing Finger at Wayne Williams

updated 07/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/06/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT

At 2:52 a.m. on May 22, Atlanta police heard a splash in the Chattahoochee River and found 23-year-old Wayne Williams in a car nearby. They questioned him, then trailed him for a month. Later the FBI interrogated him for 12 hours, and he was hounded by reporters. But to all, Williams exhibited the confidence of an innocent man. "Either arrest me or let me get the heck out of here," he told the FBI. He called a press conference to proclaim his innocence, then threatened to charge the reporters on his lawn with trespassing.

Last week Williams was arrested and charged with the murder of 27-year-old Nathaniel Cater, the 28th victim in black Atlanta's skein of murders, and he remains a suspect in a dozen more cases. But there are those who wonder why, if guilty, Williams would have been so cavalier with his pursuers.

He has few friends; no one knows him well. But he is remembered as a "child genius" who had big plans for himself that always failed. His parents, retired teachers Homer and Faye Williams, poured their money into his every enthusiasm. First it was photography. Then, at age 11, Wayne became fascinated with radio and built his own station, which could be heard for a block around and which got him a measure of local fame. But his station and his family went bankrupt in 1976. Wayne went on to Georgia State University, but dropped out after two years. He became a free-lance TV cameraman, "but his photography wasn't any good," one local news producer recalls. Then he called himself a music promoter and spent three years interviewing and auditioning 4,000 of Atlanta's youths to form a singing group that he said would rival the Jackson Five. That, like all his other projects, fizzled.

The group was to be named after his own astrological sign, Gemini. "By the nature of the very sign I'm born under," Williams said once, "I'm a strong-minded person. I'm no conformist." Even in the rubble of his multiple defeats, he never lost that sense of himself, and he has not lost it now. "Whether he's guilty of these crimes or not, Wayne has won," as one former business associate put it last week. "He has always wanted attention, and now he's got it."

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