The strange sad story of a schizophrenic murderer who worshipped Sigourney Weaver as a goddess

Alexander Williams was still a minor when he committed the heinous crimes that would define the rest of his life. He was also a Black teenager, living in Georgia, with an abusive home life, and a then-undiagnosed case of schizophrenia — which may or may not have contributed to both his actions, and the fact that he worshipped Sigourney Weaver as his own personal deity, engaging in his own esoteric rituals to show his devotion. Williams was ultimately sentenced to death for the rape and murder he committed as a youth, but his time on death row raised a lot of complex legal questions about mental competence and insanity pleas in the judicial system, as well as the statute of limitations, and the exceptions that the courts make for underage offenders.

Williams' story is (mostly) the subject of the newest episode of the popular Badlands true crime podcast, for which I wrote the script. Badlands typically focuses on the sex, drug, and murder scandals of sports and TV/film celebrities, so in this case, the episode is technically supposed to be about Sigourney Weaver. Which it is! But it turns out Sigourney Weaver is a pretty wholesome person on her own, as far as anyone can tell.

When my editor on the series reached out to me with the initial idea to frame the episode around the horrifying yet tragic story of Alexander Williams, I was immediately intrigued by the idea. Badlands episodes typically lean into the lurid pulpiness of the real-life situations they depict. But I'd demonstrated an ability to juggle the tittilating parts of the stories without being exploitative, like with Robin Williams and Armie Hammer. So they knew that I would take some care with the story of a schizophrenic teenage murderer from the 80s — that I could make it thrilling, while staying sympathetic, and do it all tastefully, with the awareness that schizophrenics, like all people with mental disorders, are statistically less likely to act violently towards other people. I think I pulled it off that delicate balance pretty well. Alexander Williams' story is tragic; and legally fascinating; and also, frankly, horrific. All of those things can be true at once. There's no question that he did what he did — but the rest of it gets endlessly complicated. And that's the kind of storytelling I live for.

Also Sigourney Weaver. She's pretty rad.

Sigourney Weaver: A Goddess, Beasts and Demons, and Paying Tribute from Death Row [Thom Dunn / Badlands]