ATLANTA -- Hopes for an early break in Atlanta's sensational child murder cases were dashed Friday when police and the FBI said they had checked out a suspect named by a civil rights group and found no reason to arrest him.
Public Safety Commissioner Lee P. Brown and the FBI Agent John Glover declined to name the suspect, reportedly a cab driver who moved to Atlanta from Miami three years ago, because 'we do not want to have his or her' reputation damaged.
The announcement by Brown and Glover capped two days of excitement that began when Roy Innis of the Congress of Racial Equality announced from the steps of Atlanta's City Hall that CORE had a witness who could provide police with information that would help solve the slaying of 25 young blacks during the past 21 months.
The witness, whom UPI interviewed Thursday, was Shirley McGill, a Miami woman who said her former boyfrind had called her boasting of being involved in the killings. She said her boyfriend had moved to Atlanta from Miami three years ago to work as a cab driver.
Innis initially issued an ultimatum that unless officials acted on Miss McGill's information by 1 p.m. Saturday, CORE would step in and 'make the collar.'
Brown said however, that 'Mr. Innis has been advised of the legal consequences (of making a citizen's arrest).'
Innis told reporters later that 'I'm ready to pull back that 72-hour deadline and send my people back out into the field to continue our investigation.'
He said that his suspect and Larry Marshall, a black homosexual arrested in Connecticut and returned to Atlanta to face assault and robbery charges, 'have worked together.' He said Miss McGill 'identified the individual that you call Larry Marshall and she identified him under a different name.'
Marshall, who knew Timothy Hill, one of the recent victims, has refused to answer questions about the killings, sources say. He is being held in Fulton County jail.
'We still consider our suspect the key link to break this case,' said the obviously angry Innis. 'We're not going to back off an inch' from that investigation.
In writing off the CORE suspect, Brown and Glover said in a joint announcement:
'Over the past two days, investigtators from the FBI and Atlanta metro task force on missing and murdered children have conducted an extensive and exhaustive investigation into the information provided by Mr. Roy Innis on April 22, 1981.
'As a result, the individual named by Mr. Innis and his 'witness' has been located, interviewed and is not considered a suspect at this time. We do not question Mr. Innis' or his witness' sincerity, but as has been the case in a number of instances, what was believed to be valid information did not turn out to be that way after our investigation.
'We appreciate the fact that many people have beliefs and theories about the cases, but those theories are best handledby law enforcement without public fanfare.'
Brown said police had located and questioned CORE's suspect the same day Innis held his news conference.
'We are obtaining more information every day, but the bottom line is we don't have enough to make any arrests,' Brown said.
He conceded the task force set up especially to investigate the crimes was no closer to solving the case than it was a month ago.
Innis, however, refused to dismiss its suspect.
'I'm still very confident of our leads and I am still convinced that he (the suspect) is the vital link.'
While tensions were building over Innis' announcement, Miami police released a photograph of a 'Shirley McGill,' a woman with a long police record. The photograph did not match the characteristics of the woman UPI had interviewed. CORE also denied it was the same person.
Miss McGill told UPI her former boyfriend and his accomplices had killed at least four to 25 vicitims, including two 21-year-old retarded young adults who have been found slain.
Miss McGill said she began getting calls from her former boyfriend in recent months in which he boasted of being connected with the murders. She said he told her in advance of a couple of the slayings, but that she paid no particular attention to him until his predictions concerning the two retarded victims came true.
'I didn't want to believe him' she said. 'I just want to block him out of my mind.'
Meanwhile, a search was underway for another young black who has been reported missing. Authorities said Jimmy Payne, 21, was last seen Wednesday.
He came from a area where several other of the victims have lived, and police said his case 'fits the profile' of the victims.
His case, however, has not yet been turned over to the special task force.
Brown would say only, 'We are still actively trying to locate him.'