Samuel Little may not be a household name yet, but the FBI believes he could be one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history.
Little, 78, has confessed to at least 90 murders in 37 different cities dating back to about 1970. FBI crime analysts have confirmed at least 34 of those killings, with “many more pending confirmation.”
Police arrested Little, a former competitive boxer, at a homeless shelter in Kentucky in September 2012 and extradited him to California, where he faced a narcotics charge, the FBI said in a release on Tuesday.
Little’s alleged crimes followed a pattern seen in many serial killer cases. His alleged victims were almost exclusively women and predominantly black. At least some of them were prostitutes.
“Little chose to kill marginalized and vulnerable women who were often involved in prostitution and addicted to drugs. Their bodies sometimes went unidentified and their deaths uninvestigated,” the FBI said.
The world’s most prolific serial killers in modern history have been known to target marginalized groups, including women, children and sex workers. And while two-thirds of serial killer victims are white, black victims are overrepresented. A 2016 Vox report found that black people accounted for roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, but they comprised 24 percent of all victims of serial killers.
Little confessed to the slaying of at least one black woman in Pascagoula, Mississippi, in 1977. Lt. Darren Versiga, an investigator in Pascagoula, told the Los Angeles Times that police at the time may have been reluctant to believe black women, and especially sex workers, who came forward with assault claims.
“At that time frame, through societal ways, we just didn’t believe prostitutes when they cried rape,” Versiga said.
Little chose to kill marginalized and vulnerable women who were often involved in prostitution and addicted to drugs. Their bodies sometimes went unidentified and their deaths uninvestigated.
FBI press release
The FBI also noted that many of Little’s alleged killings “were not classified as homicides but attributed to drug overdoses, accidents, or natural causes.” He is believed to have hit his victims first, knocking them out before strangling them.
Many of the killings also occurred in the 1970s and early 1980s, before DNA profiling became common practice in the law enforcement toolbox.
Once Little was in custody in 2012, though, detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department were able to obtain a DNA sample from him, which proved a match to samples gathered from victims in three unsolved homicides from 1987 and 1989. Police charged Little with three counts of murder, and, in 2014, Little was convicted and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences without parole.
Little had previously been linked to sex workers’ deaths by strangulation in Mississippi and Florida in the early 1980s but, according to the FBI, he “escaped indictment in Mississippi and conviction in Florida.”
Little agreed to talk to law enforcement agents in May about his other alleged crimes in exchange for a prison move, the FBI said. During that interview with Texas Ranger James Holland, Little detailed the number of his alleged killings by city and state. “Jackson, Mississippi—one; Cincinnati, Ohio—one; Phoenix, Arizona—three; Las Vegas, Nevada—one,” said Christina Palazzolo, an analyst with the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, in the release.
In total, Little confessed to 90 killings, often remembering victims in uncanny detail. “He remembers where he was, and what car he was driving. He draws pictures of many of the women he killed,” Palazzolo said.
The FBI did not release information about the 34 confirmed killings. But the agency released a map and an accompanying list of 60 other killings Little confessed to, in which either the victims have not yet been identified or the murders have not yet been corroborated by law enforcement.
Of those unconfirmed or unidentified killings, the largest number ― 15 in total ― took place in Los Angeles between the late 1980s and mid-1990s.
Little is currently being held in Odessa, Texas, where he was charged in June with the 1994 murder of Denise Christie Brothers. The FBI said the suspected killer is “in poor health and will likely stay in prison in Texas until his death.”
Bobby Bland, the district attorney of Ector County, Texas, in which Odessa is located, told The New York Times that law enforcement agents are focused now on corroborating Little’s confessions.
“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,” he said.