1981 Atlanta child murderer is traced using rare nylon fiber Police staking out a bridge over the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta, Georgia, hear a loud splash, and begin chasing Wayne Williams as he attempts to drive away in a station wagon. After questioning him about his involvement in the unprecedented string of child murders in Atlanta over the two previous years, Williams was released. However, he was arrested two days later when the body of Nathaniel Cater was found in the river near the bridge. In a spree that began in July 1979, 29 black children and young men disappeared or were killed in the Atlanta area. The only clue detectives had to go on was that many of the bodies had the same rare yellow-green nylon fiber on them, leading investigators to believe that all of the killings were connected. As they desperately searched for the manufacturer of the fiber, a newspaper reported on the significance of the fiber evidence. Fearing that he was on the verge of being discovered, the killer then began dumping the bodies of his victims in the Chattahoochee River. This, in turn, inspired the police surveillance that ensnared Williams on May 22. The rare fiber was eventually identified as a yarn that was sold to a Georgia carpet company, West Point Pepperell, which used it to make a line called Luxaire. The color of the fibers found on the bodies, including Nathaniel Cater, matched Luxaire English Olive; this was the type of carpet found in Williams’ home. Experts estimated that one in approximately 8,000 Atlanta area homes contained Luxaire English Olive carpet. Prosecutors used this probability, along with fiber and hair evidence from Williams’ car and dog, to establish the fact that it was an extremely small chance that anyone other than Williams could be the killer. Adding to the already damning evidence against him, the killings immediately stopped after Williams was arrested. On February 27, 1982, the jury found Wayne Williams guilty of the murders of Cater and Jimmy Ray Payne, and he was sentenced to life in prison. After the verdict, the Atlanta police department closed 22 other cases, but Williams was never tried, or charged, for those crimes. Since that time, some conspiracy theorists have advanced the idea that it was members of the Ku Klux Klan, not Wayne Williams, who was responsible for the killings in the hopes of starting a race war. Though this theory has not been accepted by the courts, an investigation into five of the murders for which Williams was not convicted was reopened in 2005. It was closed again in 2006 after police dropped an unpromising probe into the Ku Klux Klan’s possible involvement. 1843 A thousand pioneers head West on the Oregon Trail The first major wagon train to the northwest departs from Elm Grove, Missouri, on the Oregon Trail. Although U.S. sovereignty over the Oregon Territory was not clearly established until 1846, American fur trappers and missionary groups had been living in the region for decades. Dozens of books and lectures proclaimed Oregon’s agricultural potential, tweaking the interest of American farmers. The first overland immigrants to Oregon, intending primarily to farm, came in 1841 when a small band of 70 pioneers left Independence, Missouri. They followed a route blazed by fur traders, which took them west along the Platte River through the Rocky Mountains via the easy South Pass in Wyoming and then northwest to the Columbia River. In the years to come, pioneers came to call the route the Oregon Trail. In 1842, a slightly larger group of 100 pioneers made the 2,000-mile journey to Oregon. The next year, however, the number of emigrants skyrocketed to 1,000. The sudden increase was a product of a severe depression in the Midwest combined with a flood of propaganda from fur traders, missionaries, and government officials extolling the virtues of the land. Farmers dissatisfied with their prospects in Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and Tennessee, hoped to find better lives in the supposed paradise of Oregon. On this day in 1843, some 1,000 men, women, and children climbed aboard their wagons and steered their horses west out of the small town of Elm Grove, Missouri. The train comprised more than 100 wagons with a herd of 5,000 oxen and cattle trailing behind. Dr. Elijah White, a Presbyterian missionary who had made the trip the year before, served as guide. The first section of the Oregon Trail ran through the relatively flat country of the Great Plains. Obstacles were few, though the river crossings could be dangerous for wagons. The danger of Indian attacks was a small but genuine risk. To be on the safe side, the pioneers drew their wagons into a circle at night to create a makeshift stockade. If they feared Indians might raid their livestock—the Plains tribes valued the horses, though generally ignored the oxen—they would drive the animals into the enclosure. Although many neophyte pioneers believed Indians were their greatest threat, they quickly learned that they were more likely to be injured or killed by a host of more mundane causes. Obstacles included accidental discharge of firearms, falling off mules or horses, drowning in river crossings, and disease. After entering the mountains, the trail also became much more difficult, with steep ascents and descents over rocky terrain. The pioneers risked injury from overturned and runaway wagons. Yet, as with the 1,000-person party that made the journey in 1843, the vast majority of pioneers on the trail survived to reach their destination in the fertile, well-watered land of western Oregon. The migration of 1844 was smaller than that of the previous season, but in 1845 it jumped to nearly 3,000. Thereafter, migration on the Oregon Trail was an annual event, although the practice of traveling in giant convoys of wagons gave way to many smaller bands of one or two-dozen wagons. The trail was heavily traveled until 1884, when the Union Pacific constructed a railway along the route. 1967 Fire in Belgian department store kills hundreds A fire at the L’Innovation department store in Brussels, Belgium, killing several hundred people on this day in 1967. Poor preparation and safety features were responsible for the high death toll. At L’Innovation, it was the first day of a heavily promoted American fortnight exhibition, a salute to American fashion. There were many United States flags displayed through the store as part of the promotion and hundreds of clerks were on hand for the expected crowds on opening day. There were approximately 2,500 people shopping in the store during their lunch hours when fire broke out in the furniture department on the fourth floor, just after noon. However, virtually no one in the store was aware of the fire because no fire alarm went off, nor were there any sprinklers. The fire spread quickly because there were only a few handheld extinguishers on hand and some reported that the many flags on display helped fuel the flames. In addition, firefighters were slow to arrive because the store was located in a crowded area of the city with narrow streets. Panic set in when the shoppers realized what was happening. Many suffered trampling injuries after getting caught in the stampede of people trying to leave the store. At the same time, looters added to the general chaos. Then, several explosions were set off as the fire hit some butane gas canisters in the camping area of the store. Not too long after that, one side of the store collapsed on to some fire engines parked outside. Many people made it to the roof seeking an escape route; at least three died jumping from the building. One firefighter, Jacques Mesmans, jumped from the second floor with a woman whom he was trying to save and broke both of his legs. Most of the fatalities were from smoke inhalation. Despite speculation that the fire was a deliberate anti-U.S. action, most of the available evidence pointed to an electrical fire.