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The Atlanta Child Murders 

The city of Atlanta, Georgia, is terrorized by a rash of child murders occurring in its black community. When a black photographer is arrested for the crimes, controversy erupts over ... See full summary »




Nominated for 2 Primetime Emmys. Another 1 win. See more awards »


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Series cast summary:
Jason Robards ...  Alvin Binder 2 episodes, 1985
James Earl Jones ...  Major Walker 2 episodes, 1985
Rip Torn ...  Lewis Slaton 2 episodes, 1985
Morgan Freeman ...  Ben Shelter 2 episodes, 1985
Calvin Levels ...  Wayne Williams 2 episodes, 1985
Lynne Moody ...  Selena Cobb 2 episodes, 1985
Ruby Dee ...  Faye Williams 2 episodes, 1985
Gloria Foster ...  Camille Bell 2 episodes, 1985
Paul Benjamin ...  Homer Williams 2 episodes, 1985
Andrew Robinson ...  Jack Mallard 2 episodes, 1985
Christopher Allport ...  Larry Peterson 2 episodes, 1985
Guy Boyd ...  Mike Edwards 2 episodes, 1985
Gary Graham ...  Ken Lawson 2 episodes, 1985
Bill Paxton ...  Campbell 2 episodes, 1985
Percy Rodrigues ...  Mayor Jackson 2 episodes, 1985
William Allen Young ...  Withers 2 episodes, 1985
Martin Sheen ...  Chet Dettlinger 2 episodes, 1985
Tina Andrews ...  Gwendolyn 2 episodes, 1985
Michael Alldredge ...  Bobby Tolin 2 episodes, 1985
Jim Antonio ...  Gilliland 2 episodes, 1985
Stephen Godwin Stephen Godwin ...  Jerry Heckler 2 episodes, 1985
Ernest Harden Jr. ...  Cool Breeze 2 episodes, 1985
Don Hood ...  McLean 2 episodes, 1985
Kenneth Kimmins ...  Broderick 2 episodes, 1985
Christopher Maher Christopher Maher ...  Dr. Saleh Zaki 2 episodes, 1985
Alley Mills ...  Amy Kennear 2 episodes, 1985
CCH Pounder ...  Venus Taylor 2 episodes, 1985
Veronica Redd Veronica Redd ...  Sharon Blakely 2 episodes, 1985
Henry G. Sanders ...  Judge Clarence Cooper 2 episodes, 1985
Lisa Blake Richards ...  Helen Dettlinger 2 episodes, 1985
Barbara Sammeth ...  Connie Levine 2 episodes, 1985
Essex Smith Essex Smith ...  Robert Henry 2 episodes, 1985
Harold Sylvester ...  Hindsman 2 episodes, 1985
Royce Wallace Royce Wallace ...  Margaret Carter 2 episodes, 1985
Charles Weldon ...  John Bell 2 episodes, 1985
John Wesley ...  Tombe Chorro 2 episodes, 1985
Mark Arnold ...  David Dingle 2 episodes, 1985
Beau Billingslea ...  Commissioner Lee Brown 2 episodes, 1985
Ed Cambridge ...  Mr. Cobb 2 episodes, 1985
Marilyn Coleman Marilyn Coleman ...  Lois Evans 2 episodes, 1985
Noel Conlon Noel Conlon ...  Psychiatrist 2 episodes, 1985
John Devlin John Devlin ...  Cassidy 2 episodes, 1985
Clarence Floyd III Clarence Floyd III ...  J.J. Coleman 2 episodes, 1985
Zero Hubbard Zero Hubbard ...  Patrick 2 episodes, 1985
Barbara Harris Barbara Harris ...  Mary Welcome 2 episodes, 1985
Steve James ...  Policeman #1 2 episodes, 1985
John Lafayette ...  Young Lawyer 2 episodes, 1985
Lawrence Lott Lawrence Lott ...  Dr. Sack 2 episodes, 1985
Felton Perry ...  Rev. Avery 2 episodes, 1985
John Petlock John Petlock ...  Pathologist 2 episodes, 1985
Jack Rader ...  Rackleff 2 episodes, 1985
J.W. Smith J.W. Smith ...  Nathaniel Carter 2 episodes, 1985
Maurice Sneed Maurice Sneed ...  Roommate 2 episodes, 1985
Christopher St. John ...  Baltazar 2 episodes, 1985
Kristoff St. John ...  Sheldon Kemp 2 episodes, 1985
Olga Talyn Olga Talyn ...  Mrs. Sack 2 episodes, 1985
Robert S. Telford Robert S. Telford ...  Polygraph Operator 2 episodes, 1985
Anthony Thompkins Anthony Thompkins ...  Darryl 2 episodes, 1985
Ellen Tobie Ellen Tobie ...  Gloria Patterson 2 episodes, 1985
Myrna White Myrna White ...  Robin Shelter 2 episodes, 1985
Noble Willingham ...  Jerry Armstrong 2 episodes, 1985
Erica Yohn Erica Yohn ...  Ruth 2 episodes, 1985


The city of Atlanta, Georgia, is terrorized by a rash of child murders occurring in its black community. When a black photographer is arrested for the crimes, controversy erupts over whether he is the actual killer or a scapegoat offered up by the city's mostly black leadership. Based on actual events. Written by Anonymous

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Crime | Drama | Mystery


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Release Date:

10 February 1985 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Atlanta Child Murders See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


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Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


The mini-series cast includes two Oscar winners: Jason Robards and Morgan Freeman; and three Oscar nominees: Ruby Dee, Rip Torn, and James Earl Jones. See more »


Camille Bell: We've got ourselves a black mayor, we've got ourselves a black commissioner of public safety, black councilman, we've got everything black from top to bottom! We got everything! But protection for our black children.
See more »

Alternate Versions

Originally shown on CBS as a two-part mini-series, part 1 ran for two hours and part 2 ran for three hours. The UK VHS version was released (circa 1985) as a three-part mini-series. See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

Dusturbances in Atlanta.
13 February 2016 | by rmax304823See all my reviews

In the 1980s black children began disappearing from the streets of Atlanta, Georgia, and it took the authorities quite a while to catch on. The press wasn't paying much attention because the murder of a visitor of high social standing was dominating the news. But because of the prodding by police detective Morgan Freeman and the pro bono investigations of a former detective Michael Sheen, the polaroid image of a serious serial killer slowly emerges from the emulsion. They got him, but not before many more victims.

It would have been easy to turn this into a politically correct story of indifferent white mayors and cops versus innocent, quietly suffering black families. That's what I expected, since this was written by Abby Mann, who also wrote "Judgment at Nuremburg," in which every single German was guilty of being complicit in the Nazi genocidal program. There was simple good, and then there was simple evil. He accepted his Academy Award "in the name of all intellectuals everywhere." For whatever reason -- perhaps because Atlanta was run largely by African-Americans -- Mann provides a much more balanced film here. It's a surprisingly intelligent script. James Earl Jones, who in real life radiates good will, is the stubborn mayor who refuses to address the problem with all the city's resources. The police treat the early disappearances as examples of bad parenting in dysfunctional families, forcing the mothers to take lie detector tests and otherwise humiliating them.

The antagonists themselves are now black "from top to bottom." Some of the white guys are actually on the side of the angels, while Atlanta's black community is quick to blame whites for trying to kill off blacks. The African-Americans are not only mistaken but their anger seems to be only a recent explosion of their underlying hatred of whites. "Hate is the only reality," shouts one protester, demonstrating the point. Acknowleding black racism in a made-for-TV movie is unusual enough to warrant the observation that we're all imperfect.

Atlanta's black children are understandably terrified. They're just old enough to understand the threat. And their denials and fantasies are sadly uninformed. One boasts that the killer will never get him because he's watched so many Bruce Lee movies and has learned Dai Gwan Do.

After a year and a half and a few dozen bodies, the bridges of Atlanta have been staked out by police. One cop hears a splash and alerts the others. The man driving slowly off the bridge is Wayne Williams, a presentable young black man who wears aviator glasses. He's a perfect target and the authorities are desperate, yet no one saw him stop his car, drag a bundle to the rail, and drop it into the Chatahootchie River, nor does an immediate search turn up a body. Williams is picked up and questioned by the police. He fails a polygraph test and his lawn and home become the center of a paroxysm of media attention. The press is savaged but Williams himself begins to do things that are weird. He calls a "press conference" in which he just hands out papers of his mostly faked resumé. He brags about having outwitted his police tail.

When he's arrested, he's defended by Jason Robards, Jr.. The prosecution is led by the grim Rip Torn, aided by Andy Robinson, a human teratoma, the serial killer from "Dirty Harry." The movie clearly takes Williams' side. In a script by Abby Mann there must be outrage against injustice. There must be impassioned speeches. Any intellectual will tell you that.

I won't go through the trial itself, which is presented in the usual Perry Mason fashion: the prosecution spends a moment presenting evidence; the defense by the unimpeachable Jason Robards, Jr., spends twice that time tearing it apart. It's easy to cast doubt on scientific evidence because science is based on probability, never certainty. That rules out "yes" and "no." If you ask a scientist to say he's absolutely certain of something, he must answer no. Will the sun rise tomorrow? The only correct answer is "probably." Then again every study has limitations. You say the DNA at the crime scene matches that of the suspect. Did you test the DNA of everyone on earth? No? Then you can't be sure, can you? Of course eyewitness testimony is more appealing but even more likely to be suspect, as social psychologists have repeatedly demonstrated.

Morgan Freeman's juiced up detective is a triumph. He's an exceptional actor who has always elevated whatever film he's appeared in, through villainous and heroic roles. Sheen is casual and effective. Some of the supporting cast stand out as well, including Lynne Moody as a bereaved and angry single parent, while others out-herod Herod. CCH Pounder is memorable too. And Ruby Dee, my co-star, is always reliable. Ernest Harden Jr. as a street smart witness called "Cool Breeze" is side splitting.

The media are shown as ruthless agents of tabloid journalism. That's okay, but Mann has the message spelled out by a shouting parent, while it's already been amply displayed on screen. The script doesn't always give the viewer much credit for sensitivity. The camera lingers on a hysterically sobbing mother. If anyone wants to see how such grief can be handled differently, watch Fritz Lang's "M", a German movie about a child murder, in which mothers grieve mostly offscreen. Lang figured that we already KNOW they're mourning.

John Erman has exercised care in his direction. Excellent staging and camera placement, without directorial excess, except for one or two dysrhythmic shots. The editing is noticeably good too; some of the cuts come at precisely the right unexpected instant.

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