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Atlanta police beef up probe of child killings, but still have no suspects

By Robert M. PressStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / February 26, 1981



Atlanta

Nineteen months after the first of 18 child murder victims was discovered here, police still have made no arrest. But as national and international attention focuses on this city, investigative efforts are being intensified. So far, police have given no indication a breakthrough is imminent.

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Investigators say they may have linked as many as five of the murders by evidence found at the scenes of the crimes. And police reportedly are looking for two unidentified persons who appear in police videotapes of funerals of two of the recently discovered victims.

Law enforcement officials hope now that the killer or killers will make a slip. But if this happens, only the massive amount of police footwork and analysis that has occurred here would enable that slip to be recognized as such and fill a gap that could lead to an arrest.

The bodies of two more black children were found earlier this month. And the unsolved death of another last May was added to the police task force's list Feb. 21. Two other children are missing: one since last September and one since Feb. 19.

The Atlanta Police Department's child murder task force has been reorganized -- and, says one top state law enforcement officer, improved. The city's deputy chief, who had overseen the task force and other criminal cases at the same time is now free of all other duties except those relating to the children's murders. And he now reports directly to the Public Safety Commission, Lee Brown.

A police major with mostly community relations experience has been removed as the task force's top investigator. His replacement is a veteran of the Georgia Bureau of Investigaion (GBI). These moves were "not just a token," says GBI Director Edward P. Peters, but "a real effort to increase the effectiveness of the task force."

The GBI's crime laboratory has been giving top priority to analyzing clues in the child murder cases, he says.

The number of local task force investigators remains at 35. The number of Federal Bureau of Investigation agents assigned to the murder cases remains at 26, according to the bureau. (A local FBI spokesman says, "We've expanded our commitment, including personnel.") A federal task force was formed recently to coordinate federal help.

Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina says the federal government should bear some of the expense of the city's investigation. Mayor Maynard Jackson is seeking $1.5 million in assistance. Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. are scheduled to give a benefit concert here March 10 to raise funds for the investigation.

Police, meanwhile, are using a variety of techniques to try to catch the killer or killers: door-to-door canvassing for information, combing the scenes where bodies have been found, feeding clues into computers to search for patterns, surveillance in unmarked cars. Police even have listened to opinions from psychics. Volunteers comb wooded areas for clues on many weekends, as parental efforts to keep track of youths continue.

On March 1 and 15, black students associated with the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social change will lead a march here to encourage public cooperation, avoid racial divisions in the city, and pr ess for more government efforts to end the ordeal.