Is Samuel Little America's Most Prolific Serial Killer With Up To 90 Murders?

By comparison, Gary Ridgway, the infamous Green River Killer, is currently considered the country’s worst serial killer following his conviction for murdering 49 victims in Washington during the 1980s and ’90s.

December 11, 2018

Samuel Little [Wise County Jail]

Samuel Little [Wise County Jail]

By: Aaron Rasmussen

Samuel Little recently confessed to going on a 35-year, cross-country murdering spree, claiming he took the lives of as many as 90 women from California to Florida between 1970 and 2005, possibly making him the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history.

According to a new FBI report, 78-year-old Little, who is also known as Samuel McDowell, has a long rap sheet of nearly 100 arrests dating back to the 1950s, including for drugs, shoplifting, kidnapping, and rape. But his murderous past only recently came to light after DNA connected him to several unsolved cold cases.

In 2012, Little was arrested in Kentucky, where he was staying in a homeless shelter, and extradited to California to face an outstanding narcotics charge. He submitted his DNA to the Los Angeles Police Department, and Little’s genetic material came up as matching that found on three female victims who had been beaten and strangled to death in the late 1980s.

Though he proclaimed his innocence, Little was convicted of the crimes in 2014, and a judge sentenced him to serve three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

After his arrest, but before his sentencing, the LAPD decided to pass his DNA to ViCAP — the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program — to put together a more complete background on Little in hopes of connecting him to other unsolved murders.

“We found a case out of Odessa, Texas, that sounded very much like him, and we could place him passing through the area around the same time,” noted ViCAP Crime Analyst Christina Palazzolo. “We sent that lead out to the Texas Rangers, who were eager to follow up on the long-cold case.”

It turned out the 1994 strangulation death of Denise Christie Brothers in Odessa would open the floodgates. When Palazzolo, Texas Ranger James Holland, and other officials interviewed Little in California, they got more information than they bargained for, since the killer, hoping to move from the wilder Los Angles County prison to the more peaceful Ector County jail, was suddenly willing to talk.

“Over the course of that interview in May,” said Palazzolo of the spring 2018 meeting, “he went through city and state, and gave Ranger Holland the number of people he killed in each place. Jackson, Mississippi — one; Cincinnati, Ohio — one; Phoenix, Arizona — three; Las Vegas, Nevada — one.”

Little ultimately confessed to around 90 murders across at least 14 states. “By the time we are done, we anticipate that Samuel Little will be confirmed as one of the most prolific serial killers in American history,” said Bobby Bland, the district attorney of Ector County, Texas. By comparison, Gary Ridgway, the infamous Green River Killer, is currently considered the country’s worst serial killer following his conviction for murdering 49 victims in Washington during the 1980s and ’90s.

The FBI said Little could recall in extreme detail his trail of destruction, like the kind of car he was driving when he preyed upon a certain woman, and if he dumped his victim’s body in a dumpster, or maybe near a hog pit. He even sketched with clarity pictures of the women he murdered.

Officials said Little did run into trouble when he had to remember the dates of his crimes. Still, agents have officially confirmed that 34 of his 90 murder claims have checked out to be true so far.

Little, who grew up in Ohio, always lived a nomadic lifestyle before his arrest, traveling from town to town to steal for drugs and alcohol before moving on to the next destination. He was able to get away with so many murders for so long, explained the FBI, because whenever he had problems with police they often just wanted him to move on, which he was happy to do.

“He got off over and over and over again,” Los Angeles County prosecutor Beth Silverman told The New York Times after trying Little for the three California homicides that sent him to prison for life. “There are a lot of agencies around the country that dropped the ball on this case.”

Little largely targeted sex workers, addicts, and other marginalized women, many of whose deaths were never fully investigated because they went unidentified or weren’t reported missing right away.

"Little's method of killing also didn't always leave obvious signs that the death was a homicide. The one-time competitive boxer usually stunned or knocked out his victims with powerful punches and then strangled them," the FBI report stated. "With no stab marks or bullet wounds, many of these deaths were not classified as homicides but attributed to drug overdoses, accidents, or natural causes.”

However, Fitzsimmons pointed out, “a Jane Doe who turned up dead in an alley in New Orleans may look like an isolated event, but when entered into the ViCAP database and examined with other mysterious deaths or missing persons, patterns emerge.”

Texas Ranger Holland has now conducted multiple in-depth interviews with the wheelchair-bound prisoner, who is suffering from diabetes and heart disease, in order to solve as many of the cold-case murders as possible before Little dies and the information is gone forever.

Authorities said Little is matter of fact when talking about the homicides, and he shows no remorse for his actions. “Believe it or not, you only see evil a few times in your career,” LAPD cold case detective Tim Marcia said of investigating the serial killer. “Looking into his eyes, I would say that was pure evil.”

Read more: FBI, CNN, BBC, The New York Times

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