ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Two years before the horrific killings of more than two dozen of Atlanta’s children, a serial killer was tormenting young couples in a southwest neighborhood.
“The first victims were found basically nude in almost sub-zero weather,” said former AJC reporter, Ken Willis.
Willis said very little was ever reported on the crimes, as police intentionally left the media in the dark.
“If they talked about it, that they would create a public panic that would bring a lot of pressure and they had no answers,” he said.
Dubbed the Lovers Lane murders – three black couples were gunned down over a three month period – inside their cars at two city parks.
Then, the killings stopped.
“That to me is very telling,” said CBS46 crime scene investigator, Sheryl ‘Mac’ McCollum.
Three people survived.
The killer – only described as a large black man – remains free.
Mac said a killer so brazen likely never quit.
“It could be that he was dormant for 10 years and then when he did move on, and re-offend it was in such a different way that we didn't notice they were connected at all,” she said.
Mac said to heat this case back up, first start at the crime scene – the secluded Adams Park.
“There’s very little evidence. There’s no historical data like newspapers, things like that. There’s no video. There’s nothing,” she said. “On this case you literally have to start from zero.”
On January 16, 1977, Brian Lovett and Veronica Hill were in the throes of romance when a man walked up to their car and started firing.
Despite several gunshot wounds, Lovett managed to drive off before crashing into a bus stop sign.
“The only thing that the female in the vehicle could state was that she was shot by a friend of hers. Never provided a name. Subsequently both of those victims died,” said Atlanta homicide Sgt. Raymond Layton.
Layton’s spent hours re-creating the 42-year-old case files in hopes of solving it.
Police eventually ruled out victims’ friends and ex-boyfriends.
“We never close a homicide,” he said.
According to the case files, detectives discovered a precise patter to the crimes after the second shooting occurred 28 days later.
The killer would strike continuously every month.
“There were a number of stakeouts,” said Layton. “Officers were pouring back over repeat offenders that lived in the area that were related to other crimes - prowlers, burglars, things like that.”
The second couple – Dennis Langston and Deitria Tatum – survived several gunshot wounds and gave police a vague description.
“These were fairly poor lit areas. The victims didn't see the assailants coming and in the chaos of being shot, would have a hard time identifying anybody,” he said.
The couple was parked at West Manor Park just four miles away from the first shooting.
Ballistic testing linked the killer to all three shootings.
“We know that the weapon used was a 38 caliber colt pistol,” Layton said.
In March, the killer returned to Adams Park, where Gordon Whitfield and his fiancée Diane Collins were hanging out in their car.
This time, said Layton, the killer was able to open the car door and shoot.
Collins was killed instantly and Whitfield severely wounded.
It wasn’t until this shooting, that Willis was tipped off by a receptionist at Atlanta police headquarters.
“One of them motioned me over and said ‘there's a really big assault case buried in the 'burglary' file,’” Willis said.
The police were trying to protect their investigation.
“Here we had the information and we weren't telling anybody,” he said. “If there was a murderer going around the parks in Atlanta and the newspaper knew about it, we had a duty to disclose that.”
Police had a strong feeling the killer would keep his pattern and strike again within 28 days.
“They knew that if they broadcast it, the killer would be on to them,” Willis said.
So, the AJC agreed not to publish any stories until then.
But the killer never resurfaced.
Only one survivor is still living.
Now, detectives are trying to track down stored evidence, including a blood sample
“They were able to test that blood in 1977. You could only type blood you couldn't get DNA profiles from blood,” Layton said.
Mac said the killer has likely bragged about his crime.
“They always tell somebody, always. So maybe somebody will come forward,” she said.
If you have any tips that can help solve this case, please call Atlanta Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477.