The special police task force investigating the missing and murdered children here identified a 22nd victim this afternoon. He was Eddie Lamar Duncan, 21, whose partly clothed body was pulled from the Chattahoochee River 30 miles southwest of Atlanta in Douglas County around midnight Tuesday.

Two children remain missing.

Although Duncan, reported missing by his mother March 20, was older than the 21 children found slain here in less than two years, police said the circumstances surrounding his death were too coincidental to dismiss him as a random homicide.

For one thing, he was discovered stuck on a tree limb in the middle of the river -- about two miles from the spot where the 21st victim, Timothy Hill, was found Monday. For another, he was dressed only in boxer shorts. Hill and two other male victims have been found wearing only underwear.

"There are some similarities between the situation of Eddie Duncan and Timothy Hill," said Atlanta Police Chief George Napper, who delivered the grim news to Duncan's family this afternoon in the Techwood Homes housing project downtown. Shocked neighbors sobbed in anger and disbelief.

"We are assuming there is some relationship" between Duncan and the other cases, "in spite of the fact that he is 21 years old and falls somewhere out of the prototype of the other youngsters," said Naper, leaving the dingy brick apartment for his shinny black sedan. "But the task force will be looking at it."

One factor that discounts Duncan's age is the fact that he was slightly retarded with a speech impediment, most certainly less streetwise -- and more vulnerable -- than younger victims who ranged in age between 7 and 16. "He may have been 21 on the books, but mentally he was a child," said Chuck Young, 26, a friend. "He didn't talk too plain, but he never bothered anyone."

He worked at the corner grocery parttime, stacking boxes, carrying out garbage for a few dollars. A special education student who dropped out of school long ago, he lived with his mother, clinging to his neighborhood, spending his time walking about the project between the tall skyscrapers of downtown and the nearby Coca-Cola headquarters. Like several of the other children, he was a follower, friendly to a fault, eager to please. He said hello to everyone, but friends say he lacked the instinct that makes survivors out of the ghetto-born.

"All anyone had to say was, 'Bubba, come on and let's drink some beer,' and he'd be off," said Young.

"He just didn't see bad in people," said his older sister, Gloria, 23. "If someone talked nice enough to him and sounded sincere, he would trust them."

Duncan disappeared the same day tense Techwood Homes tenants, frustrated by the apparent freedom of a killer or killers to strike in spite of stepped-up police patrols, organized "bat patrols" to guard -- with baseball bats and guns -- their neighborhood against who was stalking the city's young black children. All the victims have been boys, except two. Duncan is the first adult.

Some neighbors today blamed bat patrol organizers and the publicity they received for possibly luring a killer to the neighborhood. Some police also espouse the theory that the killers respond to publicity. "The bat patrols might have brought the killer over here," fumed Gerry Bryant, 26, a janitor. "Now everyone here will be on pins and needles wondering who will be next."

Douglas County Sherriff Earl Lee, whose men pulled the body from the river after it was discovered by a canoeist Tuesday, said an autopsy revealed Duncan "was alive when he went into the river."

"There are no obvious traumatic injuries," said J. Byrom Dawson, assistant director of the state crime lab whose autopsy will not be completed for several days. "All we know at this point is that he wasn't shot, stabbed or cracked over the head."

Authorities feared the body might turn out to be one of the missing children, Joseph Bell, 16, but his dental records did not fit. Darron Glass, 10, also remains missing.