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A Mississippi woman who was killed more than four decades ago by a convicted serial killer has been identified, authorities said.
Clara Birdlong, who for 44 years was known only as “Escatawpa Jane Doe,” was identified using DNA testing, officials announced Tuesday.
Serial killer Samuel Little is the prime suspect in Birdlong’s cold case slaying, police said.
“After further investigation and elimination of all other living and deceased relatives, investigators concluded the victim known as Escatawpa Jane Doe, was Clara Birdlong, born in 1933 in Leflore County, MS,” the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.
Little died in prison in December 2020. Two years before his death, he confessed to a string of killings, including the murder of Escatawpa Jane Doe, though he didn’t recall the woman’s name. Police later verified Little had been in Jackson County in 1977, around the time of Birdlong's death.
“Investigators eventually learned Samuel Little was arrested in Pascagoula in August of 1977 for petit theft. Although he is now deceased, Samuel Little is considered a prime suspect in the death of Clara Birdlong.”
Little confessed to fatally strangling at least 93 women between 1970 and 2005.
On Dec. 27, 1977 Birdlong’s body was found by hunters near what is now Highway 613 and Interstate 10 in Jackson County.
An autopsy concluded the victim was a Black woman, who was small in stature, and possibly wearing a wig. The examination also revealed the victim had a gold front tooth. She’d been killed three to four months before her body was discovered, according to medical examiners.
Birdlong’s cause of death remains unknown.
Over the decades, officials released a number of facial reconstructions and computer composites of Birdlong to help identify her. Other attempts to identify her through DNA proved fruitless.
In 2012, a Pascagoula police detective uploaded Birdlong’s information to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database.
In January, authorities contracted a Texas DNA research lab to construct a family tree for the yet-to-be identified woman using her genetic material, and found a distant cousin of Birdlong’s was also living in the state.
Birdlong’s relative in Texas provided investigators with contact information for the dead woman’s 93-year-old biological grandmother. DNA testing later confirmed that the elderly woman, who is originally from Leflore County, Mississippi, was indeed her grandmother.
She told law enforcement Birdlong had vanished from Mississippi in the 1970s. A different cousin of the missing woman told investigators that Birdlong went by the nickname “Nuttin.”
That family member described the missing woman as a “small woman who had a gold front tooth and wore a wig.” She said Birdlong disappeared more than 40 years ago.
Months later, investigators pinpointed another woman who said she’d known Birdlong. The witness told police Birdlong had departed Leflore with an African American man who said he’d been traveling through the state on his way to Florida. She said she never saw Birdlong again.
A spokesperson for Jackson County Sheriff's Office didn't immediately respond to Oxygen.com's questions surrounding the case on Wednesday.
Anyone with additional information related to Birdlong’s suspected murder are urged to contact the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office at 228-769-3063 or by calling Mississippi Crime Stoppers at 877-787-5898.
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