The Atlanta Child Murders

Watch The Atlanta Child Murders

  • 1985
  • 4 hr 5 min
  • 6.7  (468)

The Atlanta Child Murders is a 1985 crime-drama movie that chronicles a serial killing case that occurred in Atlanta, Georgia between 1979 and 1981. The film stars Jason Robards as Police Commissioner Lee Brown, James Earl Jones as civil rights leader Chet Dettlinger and Rip Torn as prosecutor Lewis Slaton. The movie begins by highlighting the gruesome discovery of bodies of young black boys, all of whom have gone missing in the city of Atlanta. The local police and FBI are at a loss in trying to solve the case, as the families of the missing children begin to feel ignored by the authorities.

The tension among the public and state officials continues to escalate as the number of missing and dead children rises. Commissioner Brown assigns young detectives like Pat Appling (Morgan Freeman) to the case, as they try to uncover clues to the killer’s identity.

The racial tensions surrounding this case increase, as the murdered children are all African American. Moreover, the theory that the killer is also an African American man causes even more fear and unrest in the Black community, with some fearing that they will be the next victims.

As several promising leads eventually turn out to be dead ends, a break finally comes when suspicion falls to Wayne Williams (Calvin Levels), a Black man who is a music promoter, and one who the authorities suspect has murdered the children to cover his illicit deals. The authorities finally apprehend him only to launch a case that tested the limits of technological and forensic evidence. Nonetheless, Williams is convicted of two of the murders and sent to jail, despite the popular belief that he was responsible for at least one to two dozens of the Atlanta murders.

The themes of prejudice and racial profiling explored in the film are engrossing and highly relevant, even today. The challenge of obtaining justice for the murdered children also brings to the forefront the issue of unsolved cold cases of Black children across the country. The movie exposes how systemic biases in the criminal justice system can impact investigations and verdicts, leading to a nationwide distrust of police, prosecutors and their legal processes.

The performances by Jason Robards, James Earl Jones, Rip Torn, and other cast members are commendable. Morgan Freeman also gives an impressive portrayal of Pat Appling, who is one of the detectives who tries to deal with the injustices of the case as well as the dangers of investigating a serial killer suspected of targeting law enforcement officers.

The Atlanta Child Murders is an emotive and gripping movie that highlights the importance of police, political leaders, and community members working together, to find and stop heinous crimes in the society. The Atlanta Child Murders case highlighted glaring loopholes in the American criminal justice system, which led to a more extensive overhaul of the system in efforts to provide more support and safety for vulnerable communities.

In overall, this film is highly recommended to those who enjoy true crime stories that are grounded in telling thorough community, societal and systemic impacts of tragic events like the Atlanta Child Murders.

The Atlanta Child Murders
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  • Release Date
  • Runtime
    4 hr 5 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    6.7  (468)