February 20

This Day in History

Crime

Feb 20, 1974:

Atlanta Constitution editor is kidnapped

Reg Murphy, an editor of The Atlanta Constitution, is kidnapped after being lured from his home near the city. William Williams told the newspaperman that he had 300,000 gallons of heating oil to donate to the poor. The 33-year-old Williams abducted Murphy, who was well known for his anti-Vietnam War stance, at gunpoint.

For the next 49 hours, Williams drove Murphy around the city, stopping to phone in ransom demands to the newspaper. Williams claimed to represent a right-wing militia group and insisted on receiving $700,000. Finally, managing editor G. James Minter delivered the money to Williams and Murphy was released.

Within hours, Williams and his wife Betty were caught in their home outside the city with the ransom money. At the subsequent trial, Williams attempted a plea of mental instability and told the jury about being abused as a child. There was also evidence that he had been using amphetamines, but the motive for the crime remains a mystery. Williams was sentenced to 40 years for kidnapping and extortion, and his wife received three years' probation for her concealment of the crime. In 1975, Williams was granted a new trial, found guilty again, and sentenced to 50 years in federal prison. He served nine years in federal prison before being paroled.

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