Posted: May 25th, 2022
Wayne Williams Case
A forensic investigator with experience working crime scenes is encouraged after locating key fibers on a victim. That is because the investigator’s training has taught him that even small fibers can lead to a suspect. In the Wayne Williams child murder case, the use of fibers as evidence not only enabled law enforcement to prove that Williams was the killer, the use of fiber evidence in that case has become helpful in subsequent police investigations. The Williams case represented a classic crime incident in which trace fibers were absolutely vital in the prosecution of a murderer, and as such, this case represents an extremely valuable example for use in future forensic discoveries at crime scenes. This paper reveals crime scene strategies that were foolproof and linked Williams beyond any doubt to the killings.
Fibers and Wayne Williams’ Guilt
Williams was a suspect in multiple murders that took place in the Atlanta area between 1979 through 1981. And after Williams failed a polygraph test, the fibers on one of his victim’s bodies were found “to be consistent with those from Williams’ home, car, and dog,” according to a review of the case by Chaney in the Princeton University website. Williams was so certain that he would not be found guilty he “taunted [police] with insults and jokes,” but he was nonetheless arrested on June 21, 2981 and his trial began on January 6, 1982 (Chaney). The prosecution’s case was built around fibers which came from 19 different sources — including Williams’ bedspread, bathroom, gloves, clothes, carpets, his dog and an “unusual trilobal carpet fiber” — and were matched beyond any doubt to several of his victims (Chaney).
The National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS, 1984) reports on “Part 1” of its report that the fibers matched between the bodies Williams’ victims and Williams’ home and car was “an essential part of the case.” While fibers have been used as forensic evidence in the past in other cases, the NCJRS stated that the Williams case differed in “several ways,” including the fact that fibers were used to link Williams to “a large number of victims”; in those cases, “fiber evidence was the main evidence” (NCJRS, p. 1). In order to link fiber to a suspect or his belongings or home, the fiber in question “must be similar to, or the same as, fibers in the composition of a particular object” (NCJRS, p. 1).
The forensic examiner uses “many scientific techniques” to “compare characteristics and properties” of fibers found on the victim to the suspect, and in the Williams case, the Georgia State Crime Laboratory found “a number of yellowish-green nylon fibers and some violet acetate fibers on the bodies of victims murdered in the Atlanta area” (NCJRS, Part 2). Those fibers found on several of the victims “appeared to have a common source,” and after Williams became a suspect, forensics investigators were able to determine the manufacturer of some of those fibers; they were from carpeting manufactured by “West Point Pepperell” (NCJRS, p. 1).
Because this particular kind of carpet found in Williams’ home and on victims, investigators came up with a mathematical formula: “they determined that the chance of randomly finding a housing unit with this type of carpet was 1 in 7,8792” (NCJRS, p. 1). To a competent, well-versed forensic fiber examiner, “the fiber evidence linking Williams to the murder victims was overwhelming” (NCHJRS, p. 1). To make sure the jury fully understood the linkage from the victims to Williams’ home and belongings, the prosecution used more than 40 charts and more than 350 photographs, pointing out that because that particular fiber was rare, it helped link Williams to the crimes.
In conclusion, the case against Williams was solved and he was successfully prosecuted due to the ability of the forensic investigators to link fibers from the victims to Williams. Not only that, but several different kinds of fibers, and dog hairs, found on the victims also led investigators directly to Williams. The important part of that case is that it represents opportunities for law enforcement in the future to follow a similar path from fiber to suspect.
Chaney, A. (2008) Wayne Williams. Princeton University. Retrieved July 20, 2013, from http://www.princeton.edu.
National Criminal Justice Reference Service. (1984). Fiber Evidence and the Wayne Williams
Trial (Part 1). Retrieved July 20, 2013, from http://www.ncjrs.gov.
National Criminal Justice Reference Service. (1984). Fiber Evidence and the Wayne Williams
Trial (Conclusion). Retrieved July 20, 2013, from http://www.ncjrs.gov.
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