In what has become a grim weekend ritual down by the river, police pulled the nude body of another young black male from the muddy Chattachoochee River today, the 28th apparent victim in a string of baffling killings that have plagued this southern city for 22 months.
Asked if the body appeared to be connected to the other cases of missing and murdered young blacks, Fulton County Deputy Police Chief Lewis Graham said, "Ain't no question about it. No question."
Fulton County Medical Examiner R.E. Stivers said tonight that police were not going to disclose the tentative identification of the victim until they had a chance to track down his friends and flesh our his "life pattern" as part of their hunt for clues.
"We just need some breating room," he said.
What worries police now is that any killer whose victim is a black male will strip the victim and throw them in a river to make it appear as if it is part of the "pattern" murders, Stivers said. "That's what scares the hell out of us."
Dr. John Feegel, associate county medical examiner, said the victim appeared to be in his early 20s. His descrption of the body's condition indicated it had been in the river for a day or more.
An autopsy is to be performed Monday.
Only one name remains on the official task force list of missing persons -- that of 10-year-old Darron Glass, who disappeared from his foster home last September. But Atlanta police broadcast alerts within the last two days for two young black men.
Ronald Crawford, 22, the latest black reported missing here, is a slight young man described by some accounts as slow or mentally retarded, as were two other adult victims. His mother reported him missing last Wednesday night; his family last say him May 15.
The Atlanta police missing persons until has taken on Crawford's case, along with that of another missing man, Clyde Austin, 26, who dropped from sight Friday after he took his wife to the hospital. He is older than any other victim, whose ages range from nine to 23.
One source in the medical examiner's office, however, ruled out either Crawford of Austin as the latest victim.
The 28th victim was found by two teen-agers fishing on the river during a hot late-spring morning, officials said. Police received a phone call about 11:30 a.m., went into the river with boats and pulled the nude, half-submerged body from the water three hours later.
While the task force had not officially added the victim to its list, officials said circumstances surrounding the discovery made it likely that they would do so.
The last victim on the list, 17-year-old William Barrett, was found asphyxiated beside a dead-end road just off an eastbound interstate highway 12 days ago. Medical examiners ruled that he had been asphyxiated, a cause of death ascribed to at least 15 victims.
Today's discovery marks the sixth young black male police have pulled from the Chattahoochee River. Some officials theorize the killer -- or killers -- is stripping the victims of clothing and dumping them in the river to wash away any evidence. Several of the victims have been found wearing only undershorts.
Others believe the killer is throwing bodies off river bridges and speeding off as a way to quickly dispose of his victims and escape without leaving a trace.
Three other victims have been discovered either in or on the banks of the South River in suburban DeKalb County.