DNA evidence from decades-old unsolved child murders heading to private lab
DNA evidence from decades-old unsolved child murder cases in Atlanta are heading across the country to a private lab. From 1979 to 1981, at least 29 Black people, mostly kids and adolescents, were killed in the Atlanta area, according to the mayor's office. The first two victims were a 14-year-old boy and a 13-year-old boy who vanished within days of each other, the mayor's office said.
The body of a boy murdered during a series of killings that menaced Atlanta has rested in an unmarked grave on a grassy knoll roughly 56 miles southwest of the city for more than 40 years. © Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images Family members touch the headstone for Anthony Bernard Carter following its unveiling on October 24, 2021 in Hogansville, Georgia. Carter, a 9-year old, was one of the 29 murdered children of Atlanta, who were killed between 1979 and 1981.
It changed Sunday when a group of activists, family members, and local business owners banded together to unveil a memorial for Anthony Bernard Carter, who was found stabbed to death in July 1980 when he was 9.
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The headstone, which is made of granite and features small engraved flowers, was placed near where the family believes Carter was buried, in a cemetery in his hometown of Hogansville, Georgia, to provide some closure for his family, who hope the reopened investigation into the Atlanta child murders definitively solves Carter's case. © Bettmann/Getty Images Atlanta's missing and murdered children are shown; Anthony Bernard Carter can be found next to the letter N.
Authorities reopened the investigation in March 2019 into the murders that took place between the 1970s and 80s to re-examine the evidence in hopes technological breakthroughs may point to a definite killer in the cases, most of which were never solved.
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© Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images Hazel Jenkins, aunt of Anthony Bernard Carter, is embraced by Pastor Collier Starks (C) and Bill Stankiewicz, mayor of Hogansville.
Carter's death has loomed particularly large for Hazel Jenkins, his 85-year-old aunt.
Carter stayed with Jenkins often after his mother Vera left for Atlanta for an unknown reason in the late 1970s, Jenkins, who is Vera's older sister, told CNN over the phone. © Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images Family members hold balloons at the unveiling of a headstone for Anthony Bernard Carter.
"He didn't have a good life. He never had a chance," Jenkins said, crying. "He was a sweet child."
Piecing together history
Carter was born on Aug. 31, 1970, in Hogansville, of Troup County, which, in 1980, was home to roughly 50,000 people, according to US Census data published by the Associated Press.
Nicholas Burnston remembers playing with his younger cousin when they were boys.
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"Anthony was a smiling, muscular young man that was very smart who had just moved onto the fifth grade," Burnston told CNN. "He was a smart kid. He was fast. He had speed that no one could match, no one. He always smiled."
Carter liked eating bologna and spiced ham sandwiches, along with fried chicken, his favorite food, Burnston said.
"I thought he would have been a football player," Burnston said.
Carter lived primarily with his grandmother but would move among the homes of other family members and on more than one occasion, was caught sleeping in a Hogansville baseball field, Burnston said.
One of the homes where Carter stayed belonged to LaTunya Bright's great-grandmother. Bright is also Carter's cousin.
"Anthony was a very nice, intelligent little boy. He was a little shorter than everybody, he was stocky. He was real fast when it came to sports," Bright told CNN over the phone.
Part of the reason for Carter's transient life was because his mother was living in Atlanta, Burnston said.
"His mom didn't give him the attention he needed. His father ... had no love for Tony; wasn't there," Burnston said.
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In an attempt to give Carter some stability, he left Hogansville in the summer of 1979 for Atlanta to reunite with his mother.
Roughly a year later, on July 7, 1980, Carter's body was found "dead, decomposed, face-down on a grassy bank in the rear of a warehouse," according to the Fulton County Medical Examiner's report.
Carter had been stabbed multiple times in his chest and back, the report said.
In a written account of the details surrounding Carter's death which was signed by former state Rep. Mildred Glover, Vera described the moment she saw her son in the morgue.
"With that, I snatched the cover off him, and saw a horror that will never leave my mind," Vera Carter said. "I fainted at the shock of my child's mutilated body."
Carter was the eighth victim in what would become known as the Atlanta child murders.
Carter was transported back to Hogansville where he was buried on July 12, 1980, Vera said in her account.
Vera Carter was never the same, said Glover, who was also the founder of an organization of slain children's parents, who spoke with the former Atlanta Constitution in Oct. 1986.
"Many of the other parents could get involved in conversations about other things. But Vera's conversations would be about Anthony," Glover, who held meetings at her home with the parents, said at the time, according to the Constitution. "She would talk about the times they had and how she found him so mutilated. She would just cry when she got to that part."
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Vera Carter was shot and killed in late September 1986 after getting into an argument with her neighbor, the Constitution reported. She was 34.
A memorial months in the making
An artist's rendering of Carter was placed at the front of Springfield Baptist Church Sunday, where more than three dozen people gathered to remember the boy and "honor his legacy and life," Pastor Collier Starks said from the pulpit.
"Anthony Carter was a child. Anthony Carter's life mattered," Collier said. "We came to finish unresolved business."
Sitting in the back of the church was Burnston who, after seeing a TV special on the Atlanta child murders some years ago and noticing how little attention Carter received, was determined to make sure his cousin was not forgotten.
"They only talked about him for like five seconds," Burnston said, remembering the TV special.
Burnston connected with Amie Davis, a private benefactor, this summer after she had joined a Facebook group for Atlanta's missing and murdered children he was part of.
"When he came to me in July, I asked him specifically if he wanted me to step in and attempt to do something. He said absolutely," Davis said, recalling her conversation with Burnston about creating a headstone for his cousin. "The reason that I finally asked was because there was just something different about the way Nicholas was talking about it. A different sadness."
Davis worked with Sunshine Lewis, the founder of Grace and Mercy Concierge Bereavement Services in Atlanta, William Murray, owner of William Gayleano Murray and Son Funeral Home, and others to coordinate and create the headstone.
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In remembrance of Carter, Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz declared Oct. 24, 2021, a day of remembrance.
"All citizens of this city are asked to pause and reflect on a life so tragically cut short," Stankiewicz said Sunday, reading from the proclamation he presented to Jenkins.
Still seeking closure
While the unveiling of the memorial helped provide some closure for the Carter family, it is not enough, Bright said.
"We don't have a person who really, truly, killed Tony," Bright said. "We all feel that Wayne Williams wasn't the one to kill Tony. And that's not just me, that's all the members of the Carter family except for one or two."
Wayne Williams, the man implicated as the prime suspect in the slayings and who was convicted in two of the deaths, was sentenced to life in prison in 1982. Williams claims he is innocent and said Atlanta was "in a panic" over the killings and was bent on convicting a Black man because arresting a White man might have sparked a race war, according to an interview he did with CNN in 2010.
Bright's sentiment was echoed by other family members, including Burnston, who hope the effort by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to identify a new suspect bears fruit.
On Oct. 18, Bottoms tweeted investigators were traveling to Salt Lake City to provide a private lab that works with old DNA "evidence from the Missing and Murdered children cases."
"It is my sincere hope that there will be concrete answers for the families," Bottoms tweeted.
Fiber evidence was re-analyzed in all 30 of the cases, and investigators have also extended the timeline from 1970 to 1985, to see if there are any additional children or victims who may have been overlooked, the mayor said.
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