It was a full year ago that Samuel Little shocked the world by confessing to 93 murders between 1970 and 2005.
Little (AKA Samuel McDowell) started running afoul of the law in 1956, while he was still a juvenile. As the years went on, he would be arrested more than 100 times, and his crimes got increasingly violent — from shoplifting, fraud, drug solicitation, and breaking and entering, to kidnapping, rape, attacking a government official, and armed robbery.
But in each case, Little would either escape conviction or be given an extremely light sentence — in 56 years of criminal activity, he served less than 10 years behind bars. “The fact that he hasn’t spent a more significant period of his life (in custody) is a shocking thing,” said Los Angeles County Prosecutor Beth Silverman. “He got off over and over and over again.”
His violence against women became known to authorities at least as early as 1976, when Pamela Kay Smith, half naked, her hands bound behind her back, had escaped from Little and ran to a nearby house for help. Little had strangled, bitten, beaten, and sodomized her. He was convicted of assault with the intent to rape.
For that assault, he was only sentenced to three months in county jail.
What the authorities didn’t know was that Little had already killed almost a dozen women in multiple states.
His killing spree continued after he was released. His victims were mostly black women who worked as prostitutes or were addicted to drugs — in other words, women whose deaths might not be noticed or investigated as thoroughly. The prizefighter would knock out his victims with powerful punches before he strangled and raped them — or masturbated over them. He would then dump their bodies and leave the state before any pattern could emerge for law enforcement to pick up on. With no fixed address, bank account, or job, or even a car registered in his own name, he was nearly impossible to locate.
Because he left no stab marks or bullet wounds on their bodies, many of these deaths were attributed to drug overdoses, accidents, or natural causes. Many of his victims’ bodies were never found.
So it isn’t surprising that he was able to get away with it for so long — until 1982, when he was arrested in Mississippi and charged with the murder of 22-year-old Melinda Rose LaPree. But despite witness testimony identifying Little as being with her before she went missing, and other witnesses (all sex workers) describing Little assaulting them in the same manner as the victim, a grand jury declined to indict him for it. (In light of his confession, the case has been reopened).
While under investigation for LaPree’s murder, Little was transferred to Florida to stand trial for beating, raping, and murdering a 26-year-old mentally disabled woman, Patricia Ann Mount. The prosecution’s witnesses testified that Little had been with Mount at a bar on the night before her disappearance. But the jury didn’t trust the witness testimonies, possibly because they had all been drinking, so Little was acquitted.
A free man, Little continued traveling around the country, killing women, eventually ending up in San Diego. There, in 1984, he was arrested again — this time, in the backseat of his car with an unconscious woman, Tonya Jackson, who had been beaten and strangled. They were able to connect him to an assault a month earlier, in that same location, on 22-year-old Laurie Barros. She, too, had been kidnapped, beaten, strangled, and dumped by the side of the road; she only survived by playing dead. He was convicted of both crimes and sentenced to four years — but only served a total of two and a half years. Once he was released, he went right back to killing.
His lucky streak finally broke in 2012, when Los Angeles authorities were looking for him in connection with some unsolved murders from the late 1980s. They were able to trace him through his Social Security benefits, which were being deposited on a pre-paid Wal-Mart card. The card had last been used in Louisville, Kentucky. Samuel Little was arrested in a homeless shelter there on an outstanding warrant for drug charges.
When he was extradited to California, the Los Angeles Police Department obtained samples of his DNA to see if they were a match to their unsolved murders. The women — Carol Ilene Elford, Guadalupe Duarte Apodaca, and Audrey Nelson Everett — had been beaten and strangled to death, their bodies dumped in an alley, garage, and a dumpster.
His DNA was a match. He was charged with the murders, but maintained his innocence, despite testimony from multiple women who described narrowly escaping Little’s abuse.
He was found guilty, and, in 2014, given three consecutive life sentences with no possiblity of parole.
The Los Angeles authorities submitted Little’s DNA to ViCAP, the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program. A 1994 murder in Odessa, Texas — that of Denise Christie Brothers — was a match. So FBI crime analyst Christina Palazzolo, Department of Justice senior policy adviser Angela Williamson, and Texas Ranger James Holland flew out to California in the spring of 2018 to talk to him.
And he was willing to talk, in exchange for a transfer to a better prison. Over the course of 78 days, while eating pizza and drinking Dr. Pepper, Little told them he had murdered 93 women in 19 states between 1970 and 2005. He recalled very specific details about the murders: what city they were in, what car he was driving, and what the victim looked like. He even drew portraits of each of his victims.
Investigators say Little showed no remorse for any of his killings, and even laughed when recounting them. When asked how he felt when he was killing them, he is reported to have said it felt like “heaven. Felt like being in bed with Marilyn Mon-roe!”
Usually, law enforcement officers are skeptical of killers who confess to such large numbers of crimes — many are simply attention-seeking, making up crimes or taking credit for murders committed by others in order to win infamy.
But with Little, the details in his confessions have been largely corroborated, though he has admitted he doesn’t remember the exact dates well.
Currently, 50 of his confessed killings have been confirmed, surpassing the number of women killed by Gary Ridgeway, AKA the Green River Killer, making him the most prolific serial killer in the country. If all 93 of his alleged murders are confirmed, he would be responsible for more deaths than Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer combined.
Little, , now 79, uses a wheelchair and suffers from diabetes and heart disease. He remains in the Ector County jail in Texas, where he expects to stay until his death. Authorities across the country are working to link their cold cases to his confessions before time runs out.