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For more than 30 years, serial killer Samuel Little went undetected as he terrorized women across the country, claiming upwards of 93 victims.
Although he was not convicted of murder until 2014, Little was no stranger to law enforcement. In a crime spree that began in the 1950s, he was arrested more than 100 times on charges including kidnapping, rape, robbery and assault. Despite these charges, Little spent fewer than 10 years in prison, reported The New York Times.
The serial killer preyed on vulnerable women such as sex workers and drug addicts living in high-crime areas, usually beating or knocking them unconscious before strangling them to death, according to the Los Angeles Times. In some instances, Little raped his victims, telling police he received sexual gratification from the murders.
His crimes finally caught up to him in 2012, when he was charged with three Los Angeles murders stemming back to the 1980s. Little was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
While he maintained his innocence at trial, Little ultimately confessed to investigators and cataloged his numerous murders, providing key details and even sketches of his unidentified victims.
Now 79, Little has been convicted of eight murders in California, Ohio and Texas. Some of the killings have been matched to Jane Doe cases going back to 1972, and FBI analysts believe his 93 confessions are credible, reported The Baltimore Sun.
“Catching A Serial Killer: Sam Little,” streaming now on Oxygen, explores the most prolific serial killer in history and how he was finally captured by law enforcement.
Before tuning in, get up to speed on the case with the timeline below:
June 7, 1940
Samuel Little is born in Reynolds, Georgia to 16-year-old Bessie Mae Little. He told investigators his mother was a sex worker, though a 1940 census lists her occupation as “maid,” according to the monthly periodical Cleveland Magazine. His father was a 19-year-old named Paul McDowell, and Little used the alias “Samuel McDowell” throughout his life. Little later moved to Lorain, Ohio, where he was raised by his paternal grandmother.
Little is committed to the Boys’ Industrial School, a reformatory for teenagers near Columbus, Ohio, according to Cleveland Magazine. He would later say he was sent there for stealing a bicycle. By the time he left, a year and a half later, he had been reported 47 times for disciplinary infractions.
Little is arrested in Omaha, Nebraska, and sent to a youth authority for burglary, reported Cleveland Magazine.
Little is convicted of burglary for a break-in at a Lorain furniture store and sentenced to three years in prison, according to Cleveland’s Plain Dealer newspaper.
Little is arrested in Cleveland, Ohio, for assault and battery after beating a woman, reported Cleveland Magazine.
January 31, 1970
Little picks up his first victim, Mary Brosley, 33, at a bar in North Miami Beach, Florida. He then drove her to a secluded area near the Everglades and strangled her to death before burying her in a shallow grave, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Little is charged with armed robbery in Cleveland, according to The Plain Dealer. While awaiting trial, he is charged with sodomy. He was later found not guilty on robbery charges and never tried on the latter count.
After his acquittal, Little takes up with a woman named Orelia “Jean” Dorsey, who was 30 years his senior. She would remain his girlfriend, traveling companion and partner in crime until her death from a brain hemorrhage in 1988, according to Cleveland Magazine.
Throughout the 1970s, Little and Dorsey moved around the Midwest and South, supporting themselves by shoplifting, burglary and fencing stolen goods. Little would confess to committing multiple murders across both regions during the decade, according to the FBI. Most of the victims, however, remain unknown.
Though he was often arrested for an assortment of petty crimes, he spent little time in jail, according to The Plain Dealer.
Little is arrested for intent to ravish-rape outside St. Louis, Missouri. His victim tells police Little choked her from behind with an electrical cord, forced her into his car, beat her unconscious, then drove to a remote location and raped her, according to the Associated Press. He is sentenced to three months in county jail.
Little is arrested for shoplifting in Pascagoula, Mississippi. After authorities discover he matches the description of a suspect in the death of Melinda Rose LaPree, he is charged with her murder, reported the Associated Press. A grand jury, however, declines to indict him. He is subsequently extradited to face charges for the rape and murder of Patricia Ann Mount in Gainsville, Florida.
Little is tried for the murder of Patricia Ann Mount, with whom he was seen leaving a bar in 1982. Her bruised, naked body was later found in a field. After deliberating for less than a half-hour, jurors acquitted him on all charges, according to local newspaper The Gainesville Sun.
Little told investigators he killed at least 10 women in the South and Midwest in the early 1980s before relocating to California. Some of the murders have been linked to existing Jane Doe and missing person cases, while other victims have been identified as a result of Little’s confessions, such as Mary Jo Peyton, according to Cleveland ABC affiliate WEWS-TV, and Frances Campbell, according to the Savannah Morning News, both of whom were killed in 1984.
Little is arrested for two assaults in San Diego and later tried for attempted murder. After the jury deadlocks, he pleads guilty to assault and false imprisonment and serves two and a half years in prison, reported the Associated Press.
Following his release from prison, Little moves to Los Angeles. In July of that year, he murders Carol Alford, afterwards dumping her body in a South Central alleyway, according to the Associated Press. Alford was one of seven women Little claims he murdered in the city that year, though their identities remain unknown.
Little murders Audrey Nelson that August and Guadalupe Apodaca a month later, according to the Associated Press.
Little told the FBI he murdered numerous women throughout the decade in Los Angeles, the South and Ohio.
Little steals a carton of cigarettes back in Lorain and hits someone while trying to flee the scene of the crime. He is arrested and charged with aggravated robbery, according to The Plain Dealer.
Little pleads guilty to attempted robbery for his arrest in ‘91 and is sentenced to two years in prison, reported The Plain Dealer.
Little claims his final victim was a woman named Nancy whom he strangled in Tupelo, Mississippi, according to the Los Angeles Times. Investigators believe her identity could be Nancy Carol Stevens, whose body was found off a road that August.
Little is arrested in Los Angeles for possession of cocaine and pleads guilty, reported the Associated Press. After failing to attend a court ordered drug rehabilitation program, a bench warrant is issued for his arrest.
September 5, 2012
Little is arrested at a homeless shelter in Louisville, Kentucky, and extradited to California to face the narcotics charge, according to the FBI.
Los Angeles Police Department detectives find a DNA match between Little and the Alford, Nelson and Apodaca murders. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office charges Samuel Little with three counts of murder and special circumstances for multiple murder, reported the Los Angeles Times.
Following a brief trial, a jury finds Little guilty on three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Alford, Nelson and Apodaca. He is later sentenced to three consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole, reported the Los Angeles Times. At sentencing, Little screamed, “I didn’t do it!”
After gaining Little’s trust, Texas Ranger James Holland begin interviewing him in 2018 with the help of FBI analysts Christie Palazzolo and Angela Williamson. Up until that point, the 78-year-old had maintained his innocence, but he soon began detailing his crimes.
Little shared what names he could remember and even sketched what his victims looked like. Over the next year and a half, Little gave investigators 650 hours’ worth of interviews, eventually putting the number of his victims at 93, though he said he stopped counting at 84, according to the Los Angeles Times.
That December, Little pleaded guilty to the 1994 murder of Denise Christie Brothers in Odessa, Texas. As part of his plea deal, he avoided the death penalty and received another life sentence, according to NBC News.
Little pleads guilty to the murders of four women in Ohio — Anna Stewart, whose body was found in 1981 in a suburb of Columbus, the 1984 murder of Mary Jo Peyton, the 1991 murder of Rose Evans in Cleveland and an unknown woman he says he murdered more than 30 years ago, whose body has yet to be discovered. He was sentenced to four consecutive life terms, according to The Plain Dealer.
The FBI confirms Samuel Little is “the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history,” and says he has been “matched to 50 cases” of the 93 murders he claims he has committed. The FBI also releases a timeline of Little’s life and crimes in hopes of identifying more of his victims.
As Little’s confessions are matched to existing cases and as new victims are identified, more murder indictments are being filed across the country.
Now in failing health, Little continues to work with Texas Ranger James Holland to help identify his victims and detail his crimes.
Watch “Catching A Serial Killer: Sam Little” now on Oxygen.
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