Samuel Little (pictured) occasionally chuckles as he describes the many women in his life that he has murdered
A smile playing across his grandfatherly features, Samuel Little occasionally chuckles as he describes the many women in his life.
‘Oh, man, I loved her. I forget her name,’ he says of a woman he met in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1994. ‘Oh, wait: I think it was Ruth.’
It could be the wistful reminiscences of any 79-year-old, except that Little didn’t, in fact, romance any of these 93 women. He murdered them.
After a long investigation into the extraordinary confessions of the wheelchair-bound former boxer, the FBI has confirmed that Little is the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history.
He has been matched to 50 cases, said the Bureau, with 43 of his confessions pending confirmation. It adds that ‘all of them are credible’. The investigators have asked for the public’s assistance in verifying the remaining cases in a hitherto-undetected murder spree stretching from 1970 to 2005.
America’s current murder ‘record’ is held by the lorry driver Gary Ridgway, the ‘Green River Killer’ convicted of 49 murders in the 1980s and 1990s. He confessed to a further 20.
Like Jack the Ripper, Little went undetected for so long because he chose his all-female victims among those least likely to be missed or mourned. They were prostitutes, drug addicts and other troubled women on the fringes of society.
Sometimes he didn’t even learn their names. The police often had difficulty identifying them.
Equally important to his ‘success’, say investigators who admit to being almost impressed by his remarkable ability to avoid capture, Little knew not to hang around.
Pictured: Sketches by Little of just some of the 93 women that he claims to have murdered
A homeless drifter and petty thief, he came to town, murdered a random victim and moved on again before the body had even been discovered.
He put his huge, strong boxer’s hands to terrible use, knocking the women senseless with a single punch before throttling the life out of them with just one hand. He dumped their naked bodies by roadsides, in ditches and bins.
Though his killings stretched across 19 states as far apart as South Carolina, Texas and Ohio, his favourite stalking grounds were Miami and Los Angeles at opposite sides of the country.
Already in prison for life without parole after DNA evidence helped convict him in Los Angeles in 2014 of three murders during the 1980s, Little could have gone to his grave with just those killings to his name, were it not for a chance encounter with a detective who had a hunch about the highly intelligent criminal.
Police had long suspected Little of dozens of unsolved killings but he had successfully protested his innocence.
However, in recent years, the FBI began to piece together how, year after year and in state after state, Little had repeatedly escaped charges for violent crimes — often in places where women had disappeared.
This caught the attention of police investigating the murder of prostitute Denise Brothers, 38. She had gone missing from a motel car park in Odessa, Texas, in 1994, only for her body to be found a few streets away, hidden in brush, a month later.
She had been strangled and Little had been in west Texas at the time. James Holland, a member of the state’s elite law enforcement arm, the Texas Rangers, suspected Little had killed her. He went to see him in his California prison last May.
Little claims that he has come clean about the murders in order to help wrongfully convicted people
The once-hulking 6ft 3in thug had steadfastly refused to cooperate with police but Holland had extracted dozens of confessions out of killers, usually when there was no evidence linking them to the crime.
He quickly latched on to the fact that Little was upset that investigators and prosecutors had labelled him a sexual predator. Holland told him they both knew that he was a killer not a rapist.
‘That appealed to him, that’s how he defines himself,’ said Holland.
In May last year, Little finally began to confess — starting with the murder of Ms Brothers. He recalled she wore dentures, a detail that had never been publicly revealed.
In the course of 700 hours of softly-softly interrogations, washed down with pizza and Little’s favourite cola, Holland struck up a rapport with him and had him temporarily extradited to Texas. Little confessed to dozens of murders, helping police close 50 cold cases.
Why did he finally come clean? Although Little had run out of legal appeals and probably has little time left on Earth anyway, Holland believes his success was also down to other factors.
Investigators normally try to play on a suspect’s feelings of remorse and sympathy for his victim’s families. But Little said of his victims: ‘They were broke and homeless and they walked right into my spider web.’
Holland knew it would be pointless to expect regret from such a killer. ‘At the end of the day, maybe Sammy just likes me,’ he said. ‘He was so good at what he did. He did the crime, left town.’
The Texas Ranger says Little, who did not finish school and who became a prizefighter while in prison for petty crimes, was adept at sizing up his victims and his surroundings. ‘The first thing I picked up on was how wicked-smart he was.’ He was astonished by Little’s recall of crimes committed almost 50 years ago.
As he thinks about a crime scene, he will stroke his face. As he tries to visualise a victim, he closes his eyes and stares upwards.
‘He has this revolving carousel of victims and it’s just spinning and he’s waiting for it to stop at the one he wants to talk about,’ says Holland, adding: ‘He basically takes a photograph in his mind of exactly what he sees as he leaves them.’
After discovering Little liked to sketch, Holland gave him paper and chalk pastel crayons. He has sketched around 50 of his victims, sometimes scribbling chilling captions, including one that reads: ‘Sam killed me but I love him.’
The FBI continues to release sketches in the hope that witnesses may be able to identify the women. The agency says the task is urgent because of Little’s poor health and sometimes failing memory. Video footage of some of his interviews with Holland shows him becomingly disturbingly excited by the memory of his sordid crimes.
‘You know that she’s fighting for her life and I’m fighting for my pleasure,’ he said, almost laughing, as he recalled a 1990s murder.
Holland is aware some will be upset that a monster has had to be treated with kid gloves. After decades of tough questioning by other investigators had failed, he insists it was the only way to persuade him to talk.
A trail of investigators from across the U.S. have beaten a path to Little’s prison cell to find out what he could tell them about unsolved murders and disappearances stretching back decades. Prosecutors first agreed that he wouldn’t face the death penalty in any state that still enforces it.
Lieutenant Darren Versiga of Pascagoula Police in Mississippi, went to visit Little about one murder and came away with two, after the prisoner mentioned one of which police hadn’t been aware.
The detective told me he listened as Little admitted to killing 22-year-old Melinda LaPree, a mother and prostitute who disappeared with a man who’d asked for ‘a date’ one night in September 1982. At the time, witnesses said the man — who drove a battered Ford Pinto estate car — was a smooth-talking, light-skinned black man with reddish brown hair.
The victim’s badly decomposed body was found three weeks later in a graveyard ditch. Police arrested Little over the LaPree killing at the time but didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute him.
‘He remembered all the details of how he got Melinda in his car, how he killed her and where she was dumped,’ said Lt Versiga. ‘Is it proof positive? No, but I find it hard to believe he’d remember all these details if he hadn’t been there and seen it all first-hand.’
He was further convinced, he said, because Little flatly denied being involved in several other unsolved murders the detective raised. If he was purely set on burnishing his notoriety, he would surely have admitted to them, too.
‘He was calm and jovial, he just wanted to talk,’ said Lt Versiga of his interview. The policeman suspects Little may finally have confessed to the murders to gain what prisoners call ‘creds’, credibility points to impress fellow inmates with the scale of his crimes.
Unconvincingly, Little told the news network CBS he wanted to help people who had been convicted for his crimes.
‘If I can get somebody out of jail then God might smile a little bit more on me,’ he said. Other officials have suggested Little may simply be lonely and craving media attention.
He has been convicted of at least eight murders and it is unclear how many more charges he will face.
Asked by a Florida detective what drove him to kill, Little told him: ‘God put me on Earth to do what I did. He made me.’ But Lt Versiga countered that the motive was clearly sexual as Little would masturbate as he strangled his victims.
He said there was nothing in Little’s background beyond being a petty criminal to suggest a serial killer in the making. ‘He’s a broke individual and he figured out a way to get away with it,’ he said.
Exploiting America’s sheer size, the difficulty of police pursuing investigations outside their state and the fact that there would usually be many possible suspects when a prostitute was murdered, Little just kept moving on, forever evading justice.
Born in Georgia, he was raised by his grandmother in Lorain, Ohio. He had been arrested for burglary by the time he was 16. He spent time in youth custody only to be arrested again, for breaking and entering, a few months later.
In his late 20s, he went to live with his mother in south Florida and worked for the sanitation department and at a cemetery.
He later began travelling the country. Between 1957 and 1975, he was arrested 26 times in 11 states for crimes including armed robbery, rape, theft, solicitation, shoplifting, fraud and aggravated assault on a police officer. In prison, he started boxing.
Little’s modus operandi for the murders rarely changed. He would arrive in a city, shoplift for three or four days then take his loot to druggy neighbourhoods where he could exchange it for cash.
In the early hours he would go off alone, looking for prostitutes. He would either share drugs with them before killing them or murder them straight away. Little insists he committed all his murders alone but, for 14 years, he travelled with an older woman, Orelia Dorsey.
Police are convinced she knew what he was doing because she would clean up his car after it was used for a killing. She died in 1987.
Only one of his victims is known to have got away. In 1976, he was convicted in St Louis, Missouri, of assault with intent to rape a drug addict named Pamela Smith.
She was found banging on the door of a house shouting for help, naked below the waist, her hands tied behind her back with electrical cord. She told police her attacker had picked her up, choked and raped her but she had got away.
He was given a mere three-month prison sentence, in part because of his victim’s lifestyle and her unreliability as a witness.
He escaped conviction several more times. He was helped by the fact that, unlike in rape cases, Little rarely left DNA traces inside his victims’ bodies. Another problem was the reliability of witnesses who were primarily prostitutes and drug-addicts, and often didn’t want to get involved.
When he was finally imprisoned for the three California killings, the list of previous convictions presented at trial stretched to 100 pages, detailing 75 offences including assault, armed robbery and drugs crimes. Incredibly, he served just ten years for all of them.
When investigators tried to link him to the murders in his savage wake, Little assured them it was just unfortunate coincidence.
‘I just be in the wrong place at the wrong time with people,’ he would shrug. Now, at least, his victims’ families can have a modicum of closure.