When 9-year-old Anthony Murrill vanished from his Atlanta housing project in 1971, there was no public outcry, just the anguish of his family and those who knew him. The lovable little boy was well-known in his community and often made grocery runs on his purple bicycle for elderly neighbors.
A lot has happened since that day, Nov. 14, 1971. Eight years later marked the beginning of the 1979-1981 “Atlanta child murders” which, along with other shocking cases during that time, awakened the nation to the problem of child abduction. In response, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) opened in 1984, and the next four decades brought steady advancements in DNA testing, technology and forensic genealogy.
Now, 51 years later, NCMEC is helping Atlanta police try to determine what happened to Anthony and whether he’s still alive. A retired investigator with NCMEC’s Team Adam helped facilitate the collection of DNA from his family, and one of our forensic artists created an age-progression of what the nine-year-old boy may look like today at age 61.
“Anthony has been missing for more than five decades, but the answers are still out there, so our search for him continues,” said Carol Schweitzer, who oversees NCMEC’s Forensic Services Unit. “We’re hoping people who knew him and his family, who lived in his neighborhood and attended his school, will come forward to share their stories about what was going on in Atlanta in 1971. The smallest bit of information or the most distant memory could help connect the dots.”
At the time, Anthony was living in the Harris Homes housing project in Atlanta with his mom, Ola Lee Murrill, and his three brothers, Stuart Knox, Vincent Murrill and Alfred Murrill. His parents had split, and his father was living in North Carolina. Their single mom would “work her fingers to the bone” so her kids would never go hungry and always did her best to make holidays and birthdays extra special, said Vincent Murrill, 65.
Anthony and his family lived at the Harris Homes housing project in Atlanta.
When Anthony disappeared, his distraught mother never gave up hope of finding her youngest child. She chained Anthony’s bicycle to the front porch for him and always left the light on so he could see his way home, his brothers said.
“Lordamercy, that thing stayed on that porch a long time!” Stuart Knox, 67, said of his little brother’s beloved bicycle. “That’s the only thing she had.”
Anthony’s mom died 15 years ago without ever knowing what happened to her son. His father, Lawrence Murrill, died in 2011.
Back in 1971, Atlanta police considered Anthony a runaway, although he’d never run away before and had never gotten into any trouble, his brothers said. The family doesn’t believe for a second that he ran away. A neighbor told the family he had seen Anthony playing outside, then saw him get into a vehicle with an adult male.
“There was no reason to run away,” said Stuart Knox, who, along with the rest of the family, believes police at the time put little effort into finding him, despite his young age. “He was the king of the family. He was the youngest, he was the baby, he got whatever he wanted.”
“He was my favorite brother,” Vincent Murrill said. “Momma was crazy about him. He was a lovable kid. He was not a runaway.”
Anthony age progressed to 61 years old
Bobby McCann, a senior at a Sandy Springs high school in nearby Georgia, helped underprivileged kids and tutored Anthony. A photo of Bobby and Anthony was featured in a local newspaper article. McCann remembers Anthony fondly, including the time he and his then-girlfriend took him out to dinner at a diner.
“He kind of got my heart,” said McCann, 71, who is now retired and living in North Carolina. “He was a sweet kid.”
McCann was attending college in South Florida when his mother called to let him know that Anthony was missing, that police said he ran away. Ran away? That didn’t sound like the Anthony he knew.
“I think of Anthony from time to time,” McCann said. “It always broke my heart. Atlanta was very different back then than it is now.”
Anthony's former tutor, Bobby McCann, 71.
Over the more than five decades Anthony has been missing, McCann went on to become a teacher, then a principal and is now retired in North Carolina. When he started his own family in South Florida, he used to take his two-year-old son to the Sears store at a shopping mall in Hollywood, Florida. Around that time, 6-year-old Adam Walsh was abducted from the same store on July 27, 1981. Adam was later found murdered.
“Everyone was freaking out,” McCann said of Adam’s abduction. “We wouldn’t let our children out of our sight. We were all so scared as young parents.”
McCann didn’t realize that Adam’s parents, John and Reve´ Walsh, co-founded NCMEC, which is now helping Atlanta police take a fresh look at Anthony’s case. Both he and Anthony’s family are heartened by the new development.
Atlanta police Sgt. Niya Mitchell said the family’s DNA will be entered into CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), the FBI’s DNA database. She hopes that either CODIS or forensic genealogy will yield some answers. NCMEC works with the Family Tree DNA and GEDmatch genealogy websites to find relatives of missing children, and Mitchell encourages the public to submit their DNA. “You never know, it could be the daughter of Anthony,” she said.
The wife of Stuart Knox, Alice, who made the report about the cold case on behalf of the family, said his relatives distributed flyers in his Harris Homes neighborhood after Anthony went missing and held an event with mothers of other missing children in the community. Harris Homes has since been demolished.
“You can imagine how devastating this was to his mother and father until the day they passed,” Alice Knox wrote in her police report to Mitchell. “Thank you so much for opening his case and, hopefully, we all will have some information on the whereabouts of Anthony and/or what happened to him.”
If you have any information about Anthony Murrill, please contact Atlanta Police at 1-404-577-TIPS or NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).