Wayne B. Williams, free-lance cameraman and self-styled talent scout who promised music stardom to young blacks, was indicted today for two of the 28 murders that terrorized this city for almost two years.
"The grand jury did return an indictment charging Wayne Bertram Williams with two counts of murder," announced Fulton County District Attorney Lewis Slaton, who trailed behind the 22 members of the grand jury as they filed from the deliberation room at 3:15 p.m.
The indictment named Williams in the deaths of Nathaniel Cater, 27, the last and oldest victim, and Jimmy Raye Payne, 21, victim No. 26.
Both bodies were found in the Chattahoochee River about 500 yards apart. Both victims had been strangled. Payne's body was found April 28 and Cater's on May 24.
The indictment charged that Williams, 23, "did unlawfully and with malice cause the death of Nathaniel Cater, a human being, by strangling and asphyxiating him with objects . . . which are to the grand jurors unknown." The indictment for Payne's murder was virtually indentical.
Slaton said it would take about three days to assign the case to a court. He said he did not know when a trial date would be set, and declined to comment on whether the grand jury had considered other indictments against Williams.
One source, however, said fibers similar to the ones found on Cater's body -- which matched those from Williams' home, dog and car, and played a key role in testimony that sent the case to the grand jury -- were found on Payne, too.
Authorities have said fibers link Williams to as many as a dozen slaying. But forensic experts caution that such evidence is, by its nature, circumstantial and best used to bolster other evidence. The other evidence reportedly includes several witnesses who allegedly saw Williams with some of the victims.
Slaton has played his cards so close that the indictment of Williams for a second murder came as a surprise. "It may have been a surprise to the public, but it wasn't to us," he said in an interview.
Payne, a high school dropout who had just been paroled from state prison for two burglary convictions, wanted to become a draftsman and "make some money off his singing," according to Johnny Jinks, a friend.
He had gone to sell some Canadian coins at the Omni, a downtown entertainment complex also frequented by several other victims, when he disappeared April 22.
Cater, a day laborer with a reported drinking problem, lived in a gray, aging downtown hotel. He disappeared May 21, the day before he was scheduled to pay his rent.
Williams first came to the attention of police the next day, in the early morning hours of May 22, when he was stopped near the Chattahoochee River. Officers testified they had heard a splash after watching Williams drive slowly across the bridge twice. Two days later, Cater's body was found downstream.
Authorities arrested Williams June 23 after he tried to elude stakeout officers during a high-speed chase through Atlanta. There were also reports that he had tried to charter a plane to flee the city.
Since he has been locked up, the slayings that occured at the rate of one a week in March have stopped. Authorities say no other arrests are imminent.
Williams cruised the city in his white Chevrolet station wagon, passing out leaflets inviting blacks between 11 and 21 years old to audition as a "professional entertainer."
On an inflated resume, he boasted of connections with recording studios. He told a judge last week at his bond hearing that if he wasn't released, he stood to lose $150,000 on a recording deal with two record companies. Officials at the studios said they had never heard of him.