Wayne Williams is suspected in many of the child murders that terrorized Atlanta from 1979 to 1981

By Christine Pelisek
July 25, 2019 10:00 AM
Wayne Williams after his arrest
Getty

In 1981, when he was seven years old, Isaac Rogers was walking with two cousins in his Atlanta apartment complex. It was a scary, sad time for him: The previous December, his 16-year-old brother had been murdered.

As the kids walked, they were startled when a stranger emerged out of nowhere — and attempted to block the kids in a stairwell. The cousins scattered, and Rogers approached his neighbor’s apartment door.

Rogers, now 46, says the man quietly followed him and watched as Rogers screamed and knocked on the door.

“I remember vividly how calm he was,” Rogers recounts in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “Like, he was on a mission, which told me he’s done this before.”

But the man disappeared. Rogers says the next time he saw him, it was six months later in a news report about the man’s arrest. “I told my mother, that’s the guy!”

That man, he says, was Wayne Williams.

Patrick Rogers
Getty

At the time, Williams, then a 23-year-old freelance photographer and self-described music producer, was suspected in the slayings of nearly two dozen boys and young men — including Rogers’ 16-year-old brother Patrick — who were found murdered or missing around Atlanta from 1979 to 1981. (The case was the the subject of the 2018 podcast, Atlanta Monster.)

• For more on the ongoing mystery surrounding the Atlanta Child Murders, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.

Rogers suspects that Williams came looking for him after he was interviewed by a magazine shortly after Patrick’s body was pulled out of the Chattahoochee River on Dec. 8, 1980. “Once that magazine began circulating, that pretty much put a target on my back, and low and behold, that’s when Wayne came back,” Rogers alleges. “He came back to get me. To try to tie up loose ends.”

Although Williams was never charged with Patrick’s murder or the killings of the other boys and has denied killing anybody, he was convicted in 1982 for the murders of Nathaniel Cater, 28, and 21-year-old Jimmy Ray Payne.

Evidence at his murder trial allegedly linked him by dog hair, carpet and bedspread fibers and witnesses to some of the boys’ cases. After his conviction, law enforcement concluded that Williams was responsible for most of the other slayings and closed many of the cases.

Wayne Williams
Fulton County Police Department

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Over the years, Williams, who is serving two life sentences, has steadfastly maintained his innocence.

Recently, the Atlanta Police Department, under the direction of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, has reopened the cold cases originally linked to Williams. Authorities plan to reexamine existing evidence and submit any new evidence for testing is welcomed by Rogers.

“I just want some closure and I want the truth to come out,” he says.

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